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TAG | Ultra-Orthodoxy

Sep/12

2

“Religious Freedom”

Via The New York Post:

Two children are dead, more are injured — yet a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis say they plan to defy a health order in the name of religious freedom.

Less than a year after a Brooklyn tot died following an ancient circumcision ritual, the rabbis say they will ignore a proposed law that would mandate parental-consent forms before performing the dangerous procedure.

Over the past decade, at least one other newborn died after contracting herpes from the rite, in which the rabbi draws blood from the penis with his mouth.

But ultra-Orthodox leaders are lashing out at the city’s “evil plans” ahead of the Board of Health’s vote next week.

About 200 rabbis signed a proclamation claiming the Health Department “printed and spread lies . . . in order to justify their evil decree.”

“It is clear to us, that there is not even an iota of blame or danger in this ancient and holy custom,” the letter states.

Most modern mohels — men trained to perform religious circumcisions, who are usually rabbis or doctors — remove blood from the baby’s wound using a sterile pipette.

But some Orthodox Jewish parents insist on an ancient “suction by mouth” ritual called metzitzah b’peh.

The city’s law would require mohels to distribute consent waivers, detailing the herpes risk, before the ritual.
Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, said no one will comply with the law, even if it’s passed.

“For the government to force a rabbi who’s practicing a religious act to tell his congregants it’s dangerous is totally unacceptable,” Niederman told The Post

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Aug/12

9

Hikikomori, Again

Via the Washington Post:

JERUSALEM — It’s the latest prescription for extreme ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who shun contact with the opposite sex: Glasses that blur their vision, so they don’t have to see women they consider to be immodestly dressed.

In an effort to maintain their strictly devout lifestyle, the ultra-Orthodox have separated the sexes on buses, sidewalks and other public spaces in their neighborhoods. Their interpretation of Jewish law forbids contact between men and women who are not married
Walls in their neighborhoods feature signs exhorting women to wear closed-necked, long-sleeved blouses and long skirts. Extremists have accosted women they consider to have flouted the code.

Now they’re trying to keep them out of clear sight altogether.

The ultra-Orthodox community’s unofficial “modesty patrols” are selling glasses with special blur-inducing stickers on their lenses. The glasses provide clear vision for up to a few meters so as not to impede movement, but anything beyond that gets blurry — including women. It’s not known how many have been sold.

For men forced to venture outside their insular communities, hoods and shields that block peripheral vision are also being offered…

Sad.

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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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Jul/12

15

A Question of Identity (ctd)

More on this story (from the Guardian):

Proposals to draft ultra-Orthodox men into the Israeli army, ending an exemption that has lasted for 64 years, are bitterly dividing prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition government ahead of a crucial debate on Monday.

A new bill allowing the draft is due to be submitted for its first reading in the Knesset, following a ruling by the country’s supreme court that the Tal Law, exempting Haredi Jews from military service, was unconstitutional. That law is due to expire on 1 August, but what will replace it has become the subject of ferocious argument over one of the most sensitive issues in Israeli society…

Yaakov Uri, who runs a pizza parlour in Geula, an Orthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem, said the problem was that secular Israelis like Yosam had no understanding of the sacrifices religious Jews make for them. “You think it’s so easy to sit and study all day, bring up seven children on $700 a month? No, it’s very hard,” he said.

These men, in his opinion, are as critical for the defence of Israel as the army. They provide spiritual protection. “The Torah is saving and guarding the Jews,” Uri said. “Take the Iraq war. Saddam Hussein sent 39 Scud missiles into Israel. They didn’t touch anyone. What is this? It wasn’t the army – they sat with their arms folded. It was the Torah,” he said. “There many kinds of soldiers, on planes, on ships, but also in the yeshiva.”

As a compromise, he suggested that yeshiva students who were not truly devoted to Torah studies – around one-third, he thought – should serve in the army. But this was provided, of course, that they were served kosher food, given enough time to pray and segregated from women.

Okey dokey.

There are points when religious freedom becomes religious privilege, and this is one of them.

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Jul/12

7

A Question of Identity

I’m no fan of conscription, to put it mildly, but, if a state is going to insist on it, it should do so fairly.That does not appear to be the case in Israel, where the ability of the ultra-orthodox to avoid compulsory military service smacks more of religious privilege than religious freedom.

The New York Times reports:

Last year, about 17 percent of 18-year-old Haredim [ultra-orthodox] joined the Army, compared with about 75 percent of other Jewish men; an additional 14 percent of Haredim and 8 percent of Arab citizens signed up for civilian service. Over all, just over half of Israelis now do military duty, a far cry from the generally accepted notion that there is a universal draft.

But Israel’s governing coalition is in trouble over plans to change the rules granting an exemption from the draft to thousands studying in the country’s yeshivas (thanks to a Supreme Court ruling it is obliged to do so by August 1):

The leader of a committee that Mr. Netanyahu appointed — and this week disbanded — to prepare a replacement law released a 100-page report on Wednesday that called for 80 percent of the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the military by 2016, and for fines of about $25,000 for those who do not.

Shaul Mofaz, the Kadima Party leader whose surprise alliance with Mr. Netanyahu two months ago created an unheard-of 94-seat majority in the 120-member Parliament, said Wednesday that he would quit the coalition within days if the committee’s work did not form the basis of the new law. But religious and right-wing factions have also vowed to bolt the coalition if personal sanctions are included or Arabs are not drafted as well.

“It’s a possibility of civil war between sectors,” said Yedidia Stern, who…served on the committee charged with rewriting the draft law.

“What’s at stake is two cultures, two civilizations,” Professor Stern added, referring to the ultra-Orthodox…and other Jews here. “These two civilizations used to live in some kind of peace because each one thought that the other is going to disappear eventually. Nowadays I think everybody realizes that the two camps are here to stay, and we have to decide what will be the identity in the public sphere.”

At issue is not so much the pragmatic needs of the military, where integrating large numbers of Haredim promises to be more hassle than help, but a growing resentment over who serves the state and who reaps its rewards. Last year, about 17 percent of 18-year-old Haredim joined the Army, compared with about 75 percent of other Jewish men; an additional 14 percent of Haredim and 8 percent of Arab citizens signed up for civilian service. Over all, just over half of Israelis now do military duty, a far cry from the generally accepted notion that there is a universal draft.

…Some 56 percent of Haredim live in poverty, and the average annual income in their community is about half that of the national norm, with many of their large families relying on welfare, housing grants and subsidies for yeshiva study.

If demographics are destiny, it makes sense that this long-simmering tension is reaching a rolling boil. While Haredim account for less than 10 percent of Israel’s seven million citizens, and Arabs 20 percent, their high birthrates mean that about 46 percent of today’s kindergartners come from the two groups, growth that is “challenging the basic formula” of Israeli society, according to Aluf Benn, editor of the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz.

“These groups don’t want a larger slice of the pie, they want a different recipe,” Mr. Benn said in an interview. “If Israel defines itself as a Jewish democratic state, the Arabs would do away with the Jewish part, and the ultra-Orthodox at least in their dream would get rid of the democracy. They respect the authority of the rabbis.”

Einat Wilf, one of five lawmakers who served on the committee, said that the solution was not a universal draft, but an acceptance that “the people’s army” is a fiction — and a reworking of benefits accordingly.

“We have to accept the fact that 64 years ago they did not want the state to come about, and they still have no faith in the structures of the state,” Ms. Wilf said, referring to the utra-Orthodox and Arab citizens. “Solidarity is a two-way street. The state will guarantee everyone the absolute minimum, but beyond that the state will reward people who give, not just people who take.”

Starship Troopers here we come?

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Jun/12

24

Hikikomori, Again

Via the Forward:

“Dear Jew: You are entering a dangerous place. Shield your eyes.”

That’s the Hebrew-language text on a huge billboard that an Orthodox group has paid to post alongside a Brooklyn highway.
The “dangerous place” is Manhattan. The danger isn’t specified, but it’s clear they’re not talking about muggings.

Presumably directed at ultra-Orthodox Jews traveling to Manhattan for work, the billboard puts a stark spin on the new study out yesterday from the UJA-Federation of New York, which raised the possibility of an impending Orthodox majority among New York Jews.

New York’s Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews exist in separate, parallel worlds. In the broadest terms, each group has its own borough. Brooklyn Jews are poor, young, and religious. Manhattan Jews are rich, old, and more secular.

While Brooklyn’s Jewish community is exploding, Manhattan’s is shrinking. And judging in part by the highway billboard, the ascendant Brooklynites have little regard for the declining Manhattanites.

Hoping to preserve its massive growth, the ultra-Orthodox community has been on a war footing in recent months, striking back against web access in its homes and yeshivas by holding a massive anti-Internet rally and promulgating new bans against web use.

The billboard, which has been up for at least a few weeks, seems to signify the opening of a new front in the same war. The billboard was sponsored by an organization called the Congregation of Yad Moshe, which appears to have ties to New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

There’s no explanation on the stop sign red billboard, but the message is clear: Manhattan is unkosher. Stay in Brooklyn.

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Apr/12

28

Rage Against The Machinery

Via the Jewish Press:

Tens of thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews will participate in a huge rally to be held on Sunday evening, May 20, at Citi Field in Queens, New York, to combat the evils of the Internet and the damages caused by advanced electronic devices.

The NY Mets will be playing in Toronto on the same day.

The website JDN cites one of the event organizers who said: “This will be a mass rally never before seen in the history of Orthodox Jewry in the U.S. It will be a gathering of unity of all the Jews living in the U.S., a gathering to disseminate information and a prayer rally for the success of Klal-Israel’s war on the Technology which threatens the sanctity of the homes of Israel.”

The “Gdolei Israel” (leading sages) behind the conference have specifically ordered to schedule it for the eve of Rosh Chodesh Sivan, a day which is considered particularly fortuitous when it comes to children’s education, since the goal of their campaign is to save the generation from the ravages of advanced technology…

Okey dokey.

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Jan/12

2

Spitting on Children

More grotesque religious fanaticism in the Middle East.

AP reports:

(AP) BEIT SHEMESH, Israel – A shy 8-year-old schoolgirl has unwittingly found herself on the front line of Israel’s latest religious war.

Naama Margolese is a ponytailed, bespectacled second-grader who is afraid of walking to her religious Jewish girls school for fear of ultra-Orthodox extremists who have spat on her and called her a whore for dressing “immodestly.”

Her plight has drawn new attention to the simmering issue of religious coercion in Israel, and the increasing brazenness of extremists in the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community….The girls school that Naama attends in the city of Beit Shemesh, to the west of Jerusalem, is on the border between an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and a community of modern Orthodox Jewish residents, many of them American immigrants.

The ultra-Orthodox consider the school, which moved to its present site at the beginning of the school year, an encroachment on their territory. Dozens of black-hatted men jeer and physically accost the girls almost daily, claiming their very presence is a provocation.

Beit Shemesh has long experienced friction between the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about half the city’s population, and other residents. And residents say the attacks at the girls’ school, attended by about 400 students, have been going on for months. Last week, after a local TV channel reported about the school and interviewed Naama’s family, a national uproar ensued.

Well, at least this sort of behavior can still cause a “national uproar”, but for how long?

The abuse and segregation of women in Israel in ultra-Orthodox areas is nothing new, and critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye.

The ultra-Orthodox are perennial king-makers in Israeli coalition politics — two such parties serve as key members of the ruling coalition. They receive generous government subsidies, and police have traditionally been reluctant to enter their communities.

The ultra-Orthodox Jews make up 10 percent of Israel’s population. In the past, they have generally confined their strict lifestyle to their own neighborhoods. But they have become increasingly aggressive in trying to impose their ways on others, as their population has grown and spread to new areas.

“It is clear that Israeli society is faced with a challenge that I am not sure it can handle,” said Menachem Friedman, a professor emeritus of Bar Ilan University and expert on the ultra-Orthodox, “a challenge that is no less and no more than an existential challenge.”

If Prime Minister Netanyahu truly wants to do something about this sort of behavior he needs to go further than the denunciations he has already made. To start with, he needs to review his choice of coalition partners. This may not be in his interests politically, but it would, I suspect, be the patriotic thing to do.

For Professor Friedman is right: The growing clout of the ultra-Orthodox is indeed an existential threat to Israel, not only because of the danger this rapidly growing element may come to pose to that state’s internal cohesion, but because of what it could eventually mean for what’s left of Israel’s external support. Much of that support rests on the fact that Israel (for all its flaws) is the best the region has to offer in terms of western values, but it’s hard to see how this backing will survive if Israel’s political establishment continues to appease (and fund) the rise of an increasingly assertive theocratic cohort.

There needs to be a change of course. Soon. How about it, Mr. Netanyahu?

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Dec/11

21

Glimpses of Future Disaster

Demographic projections always have to be treated with a great deal of care, but this (from a piece in the National Interest) still makes disturbing reading:

A recent report compiled by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics makes some projections looking out nearly fifty years, to 2059. The report separates out for the first time in any such official public reckoning the growth of the ultra-Orthodox population, which has a significantly higher birth rate than other Israeli Jews. The ultra-Orthodox currently make up about ten percent of Israeli society but by 2059 are projected to constitute over thirty percent.

The disproportionate growth of the Haredim, as the ultra-Orthodox are also called, has severe implications for Israeli society and the Israeli economy. About 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox men do not work for a living. They spend their time in religious study at yeshivas while they and their fast-growing families subsist on government stipends. This already constitutes a major burden on the remainder of Israelis and is a contributor to the economic discomfort that stimulated widespread demonstrations earlier this year. If the projected increase in the ultra-Orthodox proportion of the population involves a proportionate increase in those not contributing to the economy, it is hard to see how the even larger burden on everyone else could be sustained. The ultra-Orthodox also are not subject to the same military service requirements as other Israeli Jews, constituting another area where the burden is all the greater on the others. Then there is the effect on social mores and freedoms. The growing influence of the ultra-Orthodox has already raised issues regarding the status and liberties of Israeli women. A further expansion of that influence will make Israel an ever more illiberal place.

Clearly these trends present Israel with a very serious challenge to its vitality and even to its survival as a society recognizable and acceptable to most of its current citizens. A major question is whether the privileges and influence of the Haredim can be curbed before they become so large a proportion of the population that curbing is no longer politically thinkable. There has been some official recognition of the danger, as reflected in efforts to get more of the ultra-Orthodox into the work force, including the performance by some of auxiliary duties in support of the military. But privileges that go so far and are so firmly entrenched will naturally be stoutly defended. When an ultra-Orthodox rabbi suggested last year that full-time, government-financed religious study should be reserved only for exceptionally promising scholars who are groomed to be rabbis or religious judges and that other ultra-Orthodox men should “go out and earn a living,” he was so vehemently denounced by his own political party, the ultra-Orthodox Shas, that he had to be assigned a bodyguard.

H/t: Andrew Sullivan

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Dec/11

21

Tanya Rosenblit

Via the New Zealand Herald:

She had no intention of emulating Rosa Parks when she set out to find a bus to Jerusalem on Friday but by yesterday Tanya Rosenblit had become a defiant symbol around whom a majority of Israel’s population was rallying, including Cabinet ministers. Rosenblit, who lives in the port city of Ashdod, boarded a bus that serves mainly the black-clad haredi, or ultra-orthodox, Jewish community, which constitutes about 8 per cent of Israel’s population.

The haredim had attempted to impose gender separation on buses connecting their communities in different cities. The Supreme Court termed this illegal but the authorities agreed to let the practice continue as long as it was on a voluntary basis and was confined to selected routes serving an almost exclusively haredi population. The bus driver Rosenblit hailed explained that secular women don’t usually travel on this line. The 28-year-old journalist nevertheless mounted the bus and sat behind the driver.
Haredi men looked at her askance but made no protest. On the second stop a haredi man boarding stopped inside the door and asked if she would move to the back. “No, I won’t,” she said.

After a brief exchange, she put on earphones and listened to music. At one point, when the man shouted at her, she took off the earphones and stated her case.

“There’s no cause for behaving this way to anyone, certainly not women. I made no provocation. I bought a ticket like you did. You won’t tell me where to sit only because I’m a woman. I’ll sit where I please.”

She held her ground despite an angry crowd of haredi men that had formed outside. The man continued to block the door and said he would do so until the woman moved. After half an hour, the driver called the police. The policeman attempted first to persuade the man to desist, then asked Rosenblit if she would mind, out of respect for their ways, moving to the back. She refused.

Good for her.

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