Monday, August 27, 2012

Concern that ultra-Orthodox are tightening an intolerant grip in Israel.

by Gary Berg-Cross
Ruth Marcus, published a small article August 7 in WAPO called The ultra-Orthodox tighten their grip in Israel. It started with an eye opener story about the treatment of some women by conservative (aka ultra orthrodox) Jewish groups. We have been reading a bit about the war of women here from fundamentalists and certainly of women in some Moslim countries, but the Jewish story has been perhaps less reported on. Marcus bravely took it on.
Nili Philipp is an observant, modern Orthodox Jew. Marcus reports how Philipp was hit by a “rock on the side of her helmet as she biked last year along the main road in this Jerusalem suburb. A few years earlier, the spitting had begun, as Philipp jogged on a road bordering an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. Men called her names: Shikseh, the derogatory term for a Gentile woman. Prutzah, whore.”
As reported the Philipp’s story “speaks volumes about intolerance among the ultra-Orthodox”

Whenever people tell me, respect their society — their society doesn’t respect me,” Philipp says, voice quivering as she describes a recent incident in which a woman with an infant was pelted with stones while shopping here. “We all see ourselves as vulnerable, and we’re all scared.”

Marcus’ story got over a 1000 responses and resonated with many woman. One talked about having to had to give up her seat on a flight home from Israel

“because a religious man had to sit next to another man. I’m ashamed to say that three years ago on that Continental flight bound to the U.S., I gave into the demands of one such fanatical Jew.… Good for you for exposing this ugly reality in Israel. I love Israel, but this radicalization of Judaism cannot be ignored.”

You can read more about here experience in her blog. She deepens the feelings by discussing how just these types of separations and frustration of 2nd class status were describe in a book about Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham and Joshua Heschel.
As the book notes Young Martin, for example, grew up in the 1930′s in segregated South and was not allowed to swim in a pool or drink from a water fountain or even use a public bathroom because he was black. This was paralleled also in the 30′s by a “scared young Jewish rabbi Nazi-occupied Poland who could not find a job, use regular transportation, or attend university because he was a Jew.”
One might add Rosa Parks later experience, but the point being made is the concern about a something like this happening now:
“new kind of segregation taking hold in certain Israeli towns where small but fanatical groups of ultra-Orthodox Jews are looking to bend and warp Halacha (Jewish law) to their benefit in order to separate Jewish women from public life. All in the name of modesty.”
Marcus describes some of the problems in a way that may sound familiar to those of us fighting intolerance that mixes gender & culture wars with a separation of church and state battle:
One difficult set of questions in a country where religion and government are officially entangled is how much the state should accommodate the religious needs of the ultra-Orthodox — for example, the ultra-Orthodox public radio station that bleeps out the voices of female members of the national legislature, the Knesset, lest men suffer from “impure” thoughts on hearing women’s voices, or public health clinics with separate days for men and women. If higher education is key to integrating the ultra-Orthodox, should the state fund scholarships for gender-segregated classes?
Even more troubling are the mounting instances in which the ultra-Orthodox have insisted that their religious needs take precedence — for instance, demanding separate seating at public ceremonies or even, as happened last year, barring a female pediatrics professor from going on stage to accept an award from the ultra-Orthodox health minister.
There are other signs of growing power going along with this intolerance among some of these Jewish conservative communities and their leaders. In an infamous sermon, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the head of Shas’s Council of Torah Sages and a senior Sephardi adjudicator showed perhaps a bit too much of the implications of that politically incorrect, old time, bronze age, tribal religion when he said, among other things "The sole purpose of non-Jews is to serve Jews.
This, is his answer to the Q “Do Jews have the right to treat all non-Jews as god-created servants? according to. but you can read about it in his Wikipedia entry and you can apparently see a version of some of the sermon’s translated quotes on YouTube. Some of his attributed (translated) quotes include:

  • “Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel,” he said in his weekly Saturday night sermon on the laws regarding the actions non-Jews are permitted to perform on Shabbat.
  • the liv"es of non-Jews in Israel are safeguarded by divinity, to prevent losses to Jews."
  • “In Israel, death has no dominion over them... With gentiles, it will be like any person – they need to die, but [God] will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money.
  • This is his servant... That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew,” Yosef said.
  • “Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat.
  • That is why gentiles were created,”

It’s a bit retro and if Marcus is right disappointing to see it ascending in influence. Yosef’s Saturday night sermons have seen many controversial statements from the 90-year-old rabbi. Yosef caused a diplomatic uproar when he wished a plague upon the Palestinian people and their leaders, a curse he retracted a few weeks later, when he blessed them along with all of Israel’s other peace-seeking neighbors.

The Shas Rabbi is apparently not that much a fringe person in Israel. A recent article notes him as Key Israeli Spiritual Leader Calls Jews to Pray for Iran’s Destruction (from Yossi Gestetner reports political news associated with and relevant to the Jewish Community.) Now that is a scary religious-state and military fusion.

Image Credits:

Ultra orthodox and athletic women confrontation:

Caption - Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man hurries to distance himself from Hundreds of women taking part in an Athena Women's Walk physical fitness event near the Jaffa Gate. Jerusalem, Israel. 15/09/2011.

Ruth Marcus:

Rabbi Picture from

Jerusalem Post page from:

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