Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | Hasidism

Jul/12

23

Balkanization Watch

Via the New York Post:

Brooklyn has lost its right to bare arms. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish business owners are lashing out at customers at dozens of stores in Williamsburg, trying to ban sleeveless tops and plunging necklines from their aisles. It’s only the latest example of the Hasidic community trying to enforce their strict religious laws for everyone who lives near their New York enclave.

“No Shorts, No Barefoot, No Sleeveless, No Low Cut Neckline Allowed in the Store,” declare the English/Spanish signs that appear in stores throughout the Hasidic section of the hipster haven. The retailers do not just serve Jews — they include stores for hardware, clothes and electronics. Hebrew speakers are also put on notice: “Entry here in modest dress only,” the signs read. When a Post reporter visited Lee Avenue in a sleeveless dress, some store owners stared at her shoulders, while others refused to look her in the face. The policy, an outgrowth of the sect’s 200-year tradition of dressing modestly, is rankling non-Hasidic residents.

“Religious freedom is one thing, but we do not have the right to enforce our beliefs on someone else,” charged Bob Kim, 39, comfy in tight jeans and a T-shirt.

“Why should they be able to say that on their signs? It’s not OK,” added Hana Dagostin, 32, wearing a sleeveless top.
“People should be able to wear what . . . makes them comfortable,” said Fabian Vega, 34, also wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
Store owners and managers defended the dress code.

“We have our way of life, and this is the way we want everyone to respect that,” said Shalom Cooper, a manager at Glauber’s Cuisine on Division Avenue.

Orthodox men typically wear suits and black hats in public, while women dress in long-sleeved blouses and below-the-knee skirts.

“We’re not concerned about the way women dress in Manhattan — but we are concerned with bringing 42nd Street to this neighborhood,” said Mark Halpern, who is Orthodox and lives in Williamsburg.

Some called the policy un-American.

“It’s further evidence of this era’s move toward Balkanization in the United States,” said Marci Hamilton, a First Amendment scholar at Cardozo School of Law. “It’s no longer sufficient that they have shared norms among themselves, they are increasingly trying to impose their norms on the rest of the culture.”

The dress code appears to be the latest effort by the Hasidic community to separate itself from the greater population. There’s an Orthodox ambulance service and a private police force called the Shomrim. On the B110, a privately operated public bus line that runs through Orthodox Williamsburg and Borough Park, women are told to sit in back, also in accordance with Orthodox customs. The neighborhood embarked on a successful 2009 crusade to remove bike lanes from a 14-block stretch of Bedford Avenue — fearful of the scantily clad gals who would pedal through. Even Hillary Clinton was caught up in the mix last year — her image in the situation room the night of Osama bin Laden’s killing was scrubbed from a Brooklyn-based Hasidic newspaper because readers might have been offended by a woman’s presence in a sea of men.

“There’s a movement toward insularity among religious groups. It’s dangerous for tolerance, and it’s also dangerous for peace,” Hamilton said.

City lawyer Gabriel Taussig said the signs appeared kosher, provided they don’t “impermissibly discriminate based upon gender, religion or some other protected class.”

But the dress code covers up a bigger problem, according to Shulem Deen, a former Hasid who now lives in Bensonhurst.

“It goes to the basic human value of empathizing with others that are not like you, and I think the Hasidim have no awareness of such a concept,” he said

It’s up to those who own the stores to set the dress code for their customers, but it’s difficult not to feel a little depressed by this tale. E Pluribus Unum and all that…

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Apr/12

22

Hikikomori (of a sort)

Via Salon:

When I first brought home our sleek, silver, double-deck, Panasonic stereo cassette player during the summer of 1993, my then-wife, Gitty, frowned.

“It has a radio,” she said with an accusing glare.

The device, fresh out of the box, lay on the chintzy oilcloth on our kitchen table, and she stuck her index finger at a spot on the top, near the volume control. Tape, AM, FM, printed in tiny white letters along the ridge of the circular switch. There was no denying it. And in our all-Hasidic village in Rockland County, N.Y., radio — along with TV, movies, newspapers and other sources of secular influence — was verboten.

“We’ll do what everyone does,” I said, slightly annoyed at the suggestion of impiety. Many of my friends had cassette players, and when the device came with a built-in radio tuner, there was a standard procedure for it: Krazy Glue the switch into the tape-playing position, paste a strip of masking tape over the channel indicators, and put the antenna out with the next day’s trash…

That seems sad to me, but there it is…

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Oct/11

19

Rosa Parks, Sadly Missed

Via the New York World:

On the morning of October 12, Melissa Franchy boarded the B110 bus in Brooklyn and sat down near the front. For a few minutes she was left in silence, although the other passengers gave her a noticeably wide berth. But as the bus began to fill up, the men told her that she had to get up. Move to the back, they insisted.

They were Orthodox Jews with full beards, sidecurls and long black coats, who told her that she was riding a “private bus” and a “Jewish bus.” When she asked why she had to move, a man scolded her.

“If God makes a rule, you don’t ask ‘Why make the rule?’” he told Franchy, who rode the bus at the invitation of a New York World reporter. She then moved to the back where the other women were sitting. The driver did not intervene in the incident.

The B110 bus travels between Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn. It is open to the public, and has a route number and tall blue bus stop signs like any other city bus. But the B110 operates according to its own distinct rules. The bus line is run by a private company and serves the Hasidic communities of the two neighborhoods. To avoid physical contact between members of opposite sexes that is prohibited by Hasidic tradition, men sit in the front of the bus and women sit in the back.

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May/11

10

This Seems Vaguely Familiar

Via the The New York Jewish week:

[A]n Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish newspaper, Der Tzitung, has determined that the photo of top U.S. leaders receiving an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden was too scandalous. What was so offensive about the image? U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the photo and, based on good intel, the editor of Der Tzitung discovered that she is a woman. The Hasidic newspaper will not intentionally include any images of women in the paper because it could be considered sexually suggestive.

The publisher later apologized, but Failed Messiah was unimpressed:

An apology that really isn’t is based on a ‘Jewish law’ that really doesn’t exist.

And the photoshoppers at Der Tzitung were not alone. Failed Messiah reports here that De Voch, another Hasidic publication, also edited out the Secretary of State.

Their right to do so, of course, but really

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Apr/11

17

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Via the New York Times:

In the Hasidic enclave of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, there are many things that women can’t or just don’t do: Be counted as one of the 10 people needed to make up a minyan, or prayer quorum. Walk around in pants. But vote?

According to the bylaws of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, a social service agency and community pillar that has received millions of dollars in government grants over the years, only those who meet the following requirements can vote for its leadership:

Jewish and religiously observant residents of Crown Heights
Married, previously married or at least 30 years old
Male

Now Eliyahu Federman, a Crown Heights resident and recent law school graduate, is challenging that last requirement, saying he believes it to be unconstitutional.

In Crown Heights, religion and life are inextricably interwoven. But the council itself is not a religious organization, Mr. Federman argues. And in 2008, according to the most recent tax filings available, the council received $1.9 million in government grants. “Women, especially widows and divorcees, are gravely impacted by decisions regarding the distribution of food stamps, housing subsidies and other vital social services” that the council handles, Mr. Federman, 26, wrote in an April 7 letter to the council and the local rabbinical court. “It should hurt us to see religion being misapplied to wrongfully subjugate women in a context that has no basis under Jewish law and is probably unconstitutional.”

Since Mr. Federman first raised the issue, in 2009, he has heard several explanations for the policy: that voting is immodest, that this is how it’s always been done — and that allotting women votes could sow discord among married couples, working against the ideal of “Shalom Bayit,” or marital tranquility.

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Mar/11

26

The Rush for Judgment (2)

Via FailedMessiah.com (for some background on that site, here’s a New York Times piece from last year), here’s another tale of someone else who sees the tragedy in Japan as an example of divine retribution. On this occasion it’s a Hasidic rabbi who sees Japan’s detention of some students accused of drug smuggling as the cause of God’s wrath. Here’s what is described as a loose translation:

God is landing blow after blow on the Japanese. But they’re like Egypt and Pharaoh. Japan does not understand that it is holding the detainees [Satmar yeshiva students arrested for drug smuggling] for no reason. They think the yeshiva students know what this drug is, but from where would Hasidic yeshiva students know what this is? Only goyyim [non-Jews] know what drugs are. Rather than [Japan] admitting its mistake, it continues to hold them, and for that [Japan] is punished.

Ridiculous.

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