December 26th, 2011
02:00 PM ET

Ultra-Orthodox demands spark debate in Israel

By Guy Azriel and Kevin Flower, CNN

Jerusalem (CNN)–Eight-year-old Naama Margolis is afraid to walk to school.

She's afraid, her mother says, because life has become a nightmare for anyone who doesn't follow the edicts of the ultra-Orthodox Jews who have flocked in recent years to their city of 80,000 just outside of Jerusalem.

"They threaten everyone in town over everything they don't like," Hadassah Margolis told CNN on Monday. "We have suffered swearing, they have had eggs, tomatoes, stink bombs and rocks thrown at us. They do this to anyone who doesn't think, look or act as they do."

"I'm afraid when one of them passes by me," she earlier told Israel's Channel 2 "I don't know if he will spit on me or will curse me 'whore', 'slut', "bastards" 'go away from here' - exactly in those words."

The Margolis family, whose story was detailed Friday in a nationwide television broadcast, is the latest in a series of high-profile examples of what critics say are attempts by groups within Israel's ultra-Orthodox community to impose its religious beliefs on the public and excise women from the public sphere.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

Last week, for instance, a young Israeli woman made headlines when she detailed her experience refusing a ultra-Orthodox man's demands that she sit in the back of a bus. Several well-publicized rallies have also voiced opposition to various forms of gender segregation favored by the ultra-Orthodox.

In addition to demanding more modesty and trying to segregate bus passengers, ultra-Orthodox Jews have posted unofficial signs in some neighborhoods commanding men and women to walk on different sides of the street.

The issue has prompted responses from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who broached the topic Sunday for the fourth time in two weeks.

He ordered officials to take down the street signs and promised a stiff response to harassment, saying that Israel was a democratic, western and liberal state.

"There is no place for harassment or discrimination," he said.

The issue has played prominently in the Israeli press for weeks, and much of the debate has centered on Beit Shemesh, where the Margolis family lives.

In recent years, an influx of adherents to what critics say are the most extreme sects in ultra-Orthodox Judaism has inflamed tensions with other residents holding less strident views.

The Margolis family practice Orthodox Judaism, but are not considered strict enough by the extreme ultra-Orthodox faction in the community.

"I am not anti-religious, anti-Orthodox or anti-secular" Hadassah Margolis said, "I am anti-bad people and they are bad. They need to be taken out of here."

In the television report aired Friday, one unidentified ultra-Orthodox resident was asked whether he wanted the entire city to become religious.

"Not just Beit Shemesh - all of Israel will be ultra-Orthodox," he replied. "And nothing can help you. The country, at the end, will be an ultra-Orthodox country whether you want it or not."

In response to growing tensions in the city, Israeli police and the Beit Shemesh officials announced a plan to install more than 300 security cameras to document harassment.

Police also have deployed extra officers to prevent violence, spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Two suspects were arrested in separate incidents this week. One man spat at a passing woman. Another tried to attack television crews covering the events.

Much of the public debate in Israel has centered on who is to blame for the situation, with most holding the government responsible for ceding too much power to religious parties.

But much of the responsibility lies with Israel society, said activists who have worked on gender segregation issues.

"I believe while this government is responsible to the situation to a degree, they are not the only ones" says Shira Ben-Sasson Fustenberg of the New Israeli Fund. "All of us are to blame for not stopping this from happening when it first started, we could have taken a stand a long time ago."

Israelis outraged about the incident in Beit Shemesh have planned a candle-light protest Tuesday in support of residents there.

"There is a sense that extreme margins in the Israeli society are growing in confidence." event planner Tzviki Levin told Israel radio.

"There is an attempt to deny freedom and values of democracy, the values on which the state of Israel was created," she said. "The rally tomorrow is our way of making a strong statement."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Israel • Judaism

soundoff (470 Responses)
  1. Rainer Braendlein

    Redemption for Israel by Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

    Jews still (still after Jesus arrival) need gender segregation?

    Is that really necessary?

    Jesus Christ more emphasized the responsibility of the men. Jesus said the following, Gospel of Matthew 5:

    27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut if off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

    Did Jesus teach that we should mutilate ourselves?


    What did Jesus mean?

    He meant that the process of lust within us had to be stopped. Jesus meant that we should remove our lustful eyes and our lustful hands. He meant the process of lust within us should be stopped in such a perfect way that we become blind and dead for appealing women, as if we had removed our real eyes and hands.

    A few of us have access to the areas of their brain, were the lustful process run.

    How can we stop the lustful processes running within us?

    It is only God, who can stop these processes.

    According to Romans 6, we can get set free by the releasing power of Christ's death and resurrection.

    How do we get this power?

    Answer: Jesus has borne our sins, when he died for us on the cross. Believe that and get baptized. After baptism you can be sure that you are connected with Christ's releasing power. Just start to keep the commandments and don't look after the women any longer.

    How to get this faith?

    Just ask God that God may give you the faith as a costfree present. Feel free to ask repeatedly. Knock at heavens door until the door opens.

    Note: The gospel is not about removing real limbs of our body (that would be horrible), but about getting released from the lust, which dwells within us and causes that we abuse our eyes and hands.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Sid

      Whiner, give it up and get a life. There's no god and no one wants to bother to read your long, rambling whinings. They just get in the way of any real discussion that might happen here, not that there's much of that.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • just sayin

      I want to read his long rambling rant

      December 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • William Shelton

      Rainer, you've already posted this b.s. I didn't read it all of the way through the first time; why would you expect me to do so again?

      December 27, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  2. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    "If only he had joined a mainstream religion like Oprahism or Voodoo."
    -Professor Farnsworth

    December 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  3. reflection

    Sounds like every society and religion has a few nuts in their harvest!

    December 27, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  4. Frank

    Most importantly, these religious fascists have a disproportionate influence on American foreign policy; they do not consider the Palestinians, or women, to be fully human; they deny them basic human rights and want to steal more land from the Palestinians. Just like Muslim extremists, they will not compromise, or have logical discourse; all is informed with religious mythology. Why do extremists control our national debates and policies, and why are myth believers in charge?

    December 27, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Leela: That's not true. The first robot president won by exactly one vote.
      Bender: Ah, yes! John Quincy Adding Machine. He struck a chord with the voters when he pledged not to go on a killing spree.
      Professor: But, like most politicians he promised more than he could deliver.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  5. noname

    Another example of pea-brained people using religion to supress women. Comon out, if you have the guts, you cowards and say it. You hate women. Simple and straight forward. Don't hide behind ancient works of fiction. Be men about it.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • JIm

      Amazing how close these "ultra-Orthodox" guys are to the Muslim extremists trying to run things in the Muslim world...

      December 27, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  6. injudwetrust

    I went to high school with this girl naama's dad. he was my roommate. First of all their name is Margolese, not Margolis and he is one of my best friends. They are orthodox religious jews as well, the only difference is that as in anything there are fanatics and freaks and that is who they are talking about. These people are a small minority of orthodox people, they are low lifes that ruin the jewish name for everyone. I am not religous but the people that I kow that are religous are not anything like this at all and are wonderful people. All they need is some leader in Israel to step up and take care of it instead of pretending to care.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • injudwetrust

      PS the hole in the sheet thing is my favourite thing about judaism, don't lie

      December 27, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  7. Jew in Israel

    I am an Orthodox Jew who lives in Israel.

    These violent extremists terrorizing kids and women ARE NOT representative of Torah or Judaism or Israelis or "ultra-Orthodox" Jews. What they are doing is diametrically opposed to everything Judaism stands for. 99.99999% of the Jewish world is disgusted by their behavior.

    The segregation of women on buses and sidewalks is also NOT mandated or supported by Torah Judaism.

    Judaism teaches that to embarrass another person in public is akin to spilling their blood. These few twisted extremists seem to have forgotten that key point in order to uphold obscure, invented stringencies.

    p.s. the hole in the sheet thing is a MYTH i.e. totally untrue

    December 27, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Denis Kolesnik

      Women and Kids ARE NOT the only members of the society, but Men and Old people also the members!

      I'm agree, that there could be real "ultra-orthodox" who are closer to God and the more one is spiritually developed – the more peace he or she brings into the world!

      All 4 types of people are subject to terror if unprotected...

      December 27, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  8. Trueus

    Those are the settlers taking palestinian land.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  9. Danny

    Wow. Iran is building a Nuclear bomb under the world's nose and this is CNN's Headline news.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Jordan

      Only state facts that are proven...not speculated...that's how America got us into Iraq...we don't need another one of those...Diplomacy is the only way, and for some odd reason...our Government has forgot what the word means.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  10. Rob

    This article should be a warning to all Americans. This is exactly what the religious right in the USA wants to do to people. You either join them, or they consider you the anti-Christ and want to eradicate you from the planet. I think it is between this article and the virginity test article about Egypt that is the craziest religious news I've heard about in 2010.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      not agreeing, nor disagreeing with you, but this is still 2011, at least for the next few days.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • reflection

      Most of us Right Wingers want you to have the freedom to pray or not pray as long as your views are not imposed on me. Give me the same freedom to choose what and when I pray.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  11. Gats

    Indeed Israel is currently ruled by the people – the fanatical, extremist, racist and intolerant .. That's why difficult to realize peace between the peoples of Israel itself especially with the Muslim community in Palestine.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  12. Denis Kolesnik

    Dumb actions by ultra-ortodoxy... real jewish society consists not only of men

    December 27, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Denis Kolesnik

      The purpose of the Temple is not to split men from women, but to build symbolical servance(or service) to the Almighty. Judaism is not about to pressure on women, but to learn to live in harmony. Females should learn not to disturb men, but to help instead... that is the Almighty's way, there are cases of female domination in the world and in jewish societies and could be so, that both are happy, but it might be learned after one learned the way I named first – the way to serve which showed Moshe, especially if it is about to live in Israel. There are religions, in which females are dominant firstly, but it is not the Belief in Almighty, because even among females masculinum beginning has more power, than femininum.

      Both male and female – go develop your spirituality!
      If the action of ultra-orthodox is not a result of some provocation – than they are wrong...

      December 27, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Denis Kolesnik

      then they are wrong(corrected by a person who names himself/herself RIOT – it is related to a provocation case in my youth and could be double provocation, that a person who seems guilty is not guilty, but a result of another case of provocation)

      December 27, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  13. Martin Gar XV, el Decimo Quinto

    Religion kills. Christ sets free.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      So to make a relevant comparison. "guns don't kill people, people kill people." I see watcha sayin'.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Denis Kolesnik

      sure, a gun will not fire till someone uses it with objective to kill

      December 27, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  14. Hugh Allen

    Sounds as if Muslim and Jewish extremists ought to get on fine.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  15. Andrew

    Wow, all the misguided religious people arguing "my fictional book is better than yours".

    Here is the truth; god created man right after man created god.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Thinker23

      Andrew... How come YOU believe that YOUR fictional book is "the truth" and is somehow "better" than fictional books of the Jews, Christians or Muslims? 🙂

      December 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      by comparative reasoning: because his book told him it was the truth

      December 27, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • reflection

      Lucifer you not making reasonable sense if there is no God then how can there be Lucifer?

      December 27, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Irony: Look it up

      December 27, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @reflection: If there's no Roadrunner, how can there be a Wile E. Coyote?

      Because they're both fictional.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      The name says it all

      December 27, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Not Now John

      "Father forgive us for what we must do
      You forgive us and we'll forgive you
      We'll forgive each other 'til we both turn blue
      And we'll whistle and go fishing in the heavens"

      December 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Correct Sir!

      Ding Ding Ding!! Correct Sir!!

      December 27, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  16. idealist707

    Surprisingly few nut cases here. Although Rainer is doing its best (no gender hate here) to compensate.
    Why are jews the smartest?
    Because since pre-Christian times they have been debating (beginning in Babylon exile), questioning and answering with yards and yards of analyses of the Torah.
    It is practically genetically transmitted now.
    And you with your claim to exclusive enlightenment. How pitiful, but dangerous too.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      On a side note: thanks for the bagels, they are yummy.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  17. Marc Brent

    This doesn't reflect what Judaism is. This behavior is as weird in the eyes of religious Jews as it is to the rest of the world. There's no place in Jewish Law that says women and men have to walk on different sidewalks.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  18. Tired of it

    It seems to me that it is always the extreme ends that cause all the troubles in any group. Instead of focusing on the other groups we should look at the zealots in our own groups.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  19. srgge

    Religious people.. causing segregation, violence and hate since the creation of men.
    good job in following your religion's guidelines! (in fact, most only follow the guidelines that are convenient for them..)

    December 27, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  20. jmadey

    when will these "muslims" have gender equality!!! please tell us more of your kosher life. tell us of the milk baths and the hole in the sheet and cheese without meat. islam is 85% christian and 99.9% juadism.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      cheese without meat? that's a horrible way to live.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.