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. Babak from LA

    Religon of peace an equality!! They make Muslims look nice.

    December 27, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  2. Vezu

    When do these guys get the time to learn the Torah if they are spending their time doing this. This is חילול השם‎ khillul ha-shem. I am not a Jew and i think they need to spend time learning the Torah not desecration the name of Hashem. It's not the woman's fault. They need to learn to control their evil inclination.

    December 27, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  3. Reality

    Dear Ultra-Orthodox Jews who did not read this on p.1 and p. 5 and p. 6.

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel – not one shard of pottery."

    December 27, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • .........

      Hit report abuse do not read this is bull sh it

      December 27, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  4. Siomara

    This really makes me mad, especially because I´m a woman. Who the hell do they think they are? They don´t have the right to tell people how to behave and take away women´s freedom. According to them, the religion must make people unhappy and God is so so snooty... This is when religion becomes against humanity... Pls ultra-Orthodox Jews, do whatever you want and leave the rest of us alone.

    December 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Norman

      Unfortunately doing whatever they want doesn't involve leaving the rest of us alone.

      December 27, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • The Bobinator

      Any system where it proposes that concepts are beyond critical examination are unacceptable for humanity.

      Religion included.

      December 27, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  5. Liz P

    Wait one minute here – Moses had a wife which helped him free the Jewish people. They didn't have the women on one side of the Nile as they were crossing!

    December 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • aly

      what i want to know is how they figure the israelites treated rahab the harlot! was she spit on and cursed at all her life because she was a gentile harlot in the israelite camp even though the israelites themselves pledged to keep her and her family from harm? did she have to sit at the back of the processional bus when they were marching? very messy business being a gentile harlot, it seems.

      December 27, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  6. Su Lynn

    I’m not sure what is more disgusting – the racist “ultra”-orthodox causing the problems or the racist responders. I am completely appalled by the garbage people spew in the name of religion, no wonder the world is such a mess.

    December 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  7. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    "I guess a robot would have to be crazy to wanna' be a folk-singer..."

    December 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • aly

      lol @ bender

      December 27, 2011 at 1:58 pm |

    Some people must be TAUGHT by hook or by crook that they live in the year 2011, soon 2012 and must be TAUGHT to behave like normal beings in a society.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  9. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    LOL, jacked that up didn't I? haha

    December 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  10. Avalon

    This reminds me of how Hitler wouldn´t allow jews to walk on the sidewalk.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  11. Lou G. Green

    As a non Jew living in a Jewish area in London I must say this does not surprise me a bit. Religion should be open to all yet they see everybody outside their common ground as transparent. I can clearly imagine a person who is "secular" and chooses not to fully adopt their orthodox customs, well lets just say I can see this causing enormous cracks within their society fabric.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  12. Christianity is not healthy for children and other living things

    Praying accomplishes absolutely nothing
    If you prayed for peace or tebow in 2011, look where that got you

    Look, I also can irritate people with my stupid troll name

    December 27, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • An inconvenient truth

      Yeah but then you are a liar

      December 27, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Since your religion is a farce, your opinions on lies are worthless

      December 27, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  13. Andy Garcia

    Intolerant and prejudiced people!!! incredible after so much suffering during the holocaust, they are behaving like the nazis

    December 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  14. JoeProfet

    They look like muslims in disguise...hmmm I think it is a muslim plot to disrupt the Jewish state and cause more enmity and division between zee Jews.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      Judaism and Islam are based on the same foundation. Why is everyone surprised? Judaism, Islam and Christianity are the three religions "of the book" and have fundamental similarities. See: Abraham.

      December 27, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  15. aly

    personally, i would just walk down the street with a water gun filled with pig's blood and announce that if any of the Ultra-Orthodox Jews comments on my dress, my race, my religion or me personally in any way, they will get a face full of swine's blood.

    Wanna bet I'd walk through without so much as a glance?

    December 27, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      brilliant, until a mob of hat wearers dragged you into the square and stoned you to death

      December 27, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Lucifer's Mom

      Now if you slaughtered a pig on every street corner you might have something! Repeat as needed.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Also, blood congeals and would gunk up your squirt gun

      December 27, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • aly

      lol, you're missing the point. i could be carrying kool-aid and they wouldn't know it, but the ultra-orthodox are so fanatical about both blood and pigs that there wouldn't be any need to use it. i say use their own zealousness against them.

      December 27, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • aly

      oh and i'd say the pig was slaughtered by a gentile, just to mess with 'em further. lol

      December 27, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Christianity is not healthy for children and other living things

      Hi Mom! See you at New Years!

      December 27, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Pray without ceasing in 2012

    December 27, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      "Up wherever your species traditionally crams things!" -Hermes

      December 27, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  17. Raul Figueroa

    Hitler was right.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  18. Rainer Braendlein

    Redemption for Israel by Jesus Christ, the Anointed One.

    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 1:27 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      What ever happened to "go forth and multiply" or however that quote goes exactly? No lust involved? Probably no marriage or babies, either. Sounds a bit counterproductive, if you ask me.

      December 27, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • William Shelton

      Rainer, you are just as intolerant and as disturbed as those you are supposedly trying to save.

      December 27, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  19. Gats

    Similarly, the demands on Israel that rejected Hamas in the Palestinian government, but Israel even let themselves be dominated by those extremists who are intolerant and racist in his government and in their own communities.. It's so pathetic..

    December 27, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  20. Norman

    Unfortunately it just takes a few to make many people's lives a misery. How many Muslims are suicide bombers after all? It's fortunate for us that all these people seem to do is curse and spit. And stay home sponging off the state studying the Torah.

    December 27, 2011 at 1:22 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.