Orthodox Growth Tests Multiculturalism in Flashpoint Beit Shemesh

Scandal-Ridden City Is Test Case for Israeli Society

getty images

By Nathan Jeffay

Published January 26, 2014, issue of January 31, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

Likewise, in the bureau of Greenberg’s ally Abutbul, who represents another Haredi party, Shas, there is denial of any push to make the public sphere more religious. Questioned by the Forward, Abutbul’s spokesman, Mati Rosenzweig, claimed that the politician’s comment about Beit Shemesh’s importance as a Haredi city pertained only to the number of Haredim it would accommodate, not to the ratio of Haredim to others or to the city’s character.

Out on the streets, Greenberg’s contention that only one sign remains is patently untrue. Some of his supporters insist that the signs are legitimate, while the imposed Haredi-ization of public space is shown to go deeper than 20 individuals. And there is something that grates with the non-Haredi public even more than Sabbath road closures would — an attempt to create a frum, devout, sidewalk.

On a street with two large kollels, talmudic institutes, that have dozens of students between them, signs mounted on lampposts ask women to cross the road to allow a few yards of sidewalk to be for male-only use. A teacher from one of the kollels — a hard-liner who refuses to vote in elections because he wants nothing to do with the State of Israel — told the Forward that the idea is that men studying there will not need to see or encounter women. “Of course it’s right,” insisted the teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “People need to understand our outlook and their place in the world.”

For this man, who is in his 20s, the multiculturalism that Cohen believes hangs in the balance was never an option. Asked about the gulf between the Haredi and non-Haredi populations, he said: “It’s not a problem, it’s a good thing. We need separation.”

There are many Beit Shemesh Haredim who take a very different view, enjoy good relations with their non-Haredi counterparts and hope for coexistence. “We have a good chance to live together; people just need to calm down a little,” said Rafael Perlman, 52, a Haredi real estate broker.

But the questions still to be answered are what is the strength of the more extremist Haredim and to what extent will they set the tone in the city? Avrohom Leventhal, a rabbi who describes himself as occupying the line between the Haredi and the Modern Orthodox community, said that while he believes the extremists to be in a small minority, the reticence of rabbis and politicians to stand up to them means that they wield strength far beyond their numbers.

“The problem is anyone who tolerates it — anyone that approves it with their silence,” said Leventhal, director of a local charity and candidate for council with a moderate religious party.

Leventhal believes that the correct leadership can rein in the extremists, but some Beit Shemesh old-timers say that the past few years have brought them to the same conclusion as the teacher from the kollel. Max Rodriges, a 44-year-old native of the city who works in transport, said: “Build them separate towns; it’s the only answer. The average Haredi can’t live with people who are different, because of their way of life.”

Broadening his comments to the national Israeli context, Rodriges commented: “In reality it’s not possible to work together. Here’s the classic example: We’re 20 years together, and then it explodes.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.