By Oren Rawls

Published July 25, 2003, issue of July 25, 2003.
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Unorthodox Behavior: A blogger going by the nom de guerre “Hasidic Rebel” and an agunah named Chayie Sieger are airing their ultra-Orthodox communities’ dirty laundry in the mainstream media.

Sieger’s story of a Bobover chasidic marriage gone bad — real bad — is chronicled in the July 28 issue of New York, a weekly magazine. For seven and a half years, Craig Horowitz reports, “Sieger has been locked in a divorce battle so ugly, so mean-spirited, and so entangled in Jewish law and observance that it has achieved the status of urban legend in Orthodox communities from New York to Jerusalem.”

Hasidic Rebel, for his part, tells his tale of frustration at ultra-Orthodox insularity on an anonymous web log, where the Village Voice finds him. “Controversial posts,” William O’Shea writes in the liberal weekly’s July 22 issue, “have made Yeedel [a name invented in order to protect the blogger’s identity] a kind of minor celebrity in Orthodox circles. His site gets several hundred visitors each day.”

According to the article, Hasidic Rebel’s site slams the “corrupt leaders” of the chasidic community, who “hold the masses in their vise-like grip.” The blog also charges that such leaders pocket “moneys meant for the needy” to distribute favors to “cronies and relatives” rather than those “truly in need.”

In the ultra-Orthodox world, where disputes are traditionally resolved internally, Sieger’s and Hasidic Rebel’s public airing of communal disputes have been met with charges of betrayal.

“Her children don’t speak to her,” Horowitz writes of the agunah — literally, a “chained woman.” “She’s a pariah in her community, with many of her former friends agreeing… that she’s ‘the Tawana Brawley of the Orthodox community.’”

The backlash against Hasidic Rebel has, to date, been confined to passionate denunciations from his online readers. Nonetheless, O’Shea warns, “Yeedel and several other Hasidic bloggers have put their lifestyle, if not their lives, on the line with their contentious chronicles.”

O’Shea even goes as far as comparing Hasidic Rebel to online diarists in Cuba, Iran and Tunisia who have been jailed for their postings. “Rebbes sometimes give you ridiculous edicts about how long women’s wigs should be or how thick their stockings should be,” O’Shea quotes Hasidic Rebel as saying. “I find that very similar to what the Taliban did. That’s not what Judaism is about.”

Horowitz, for his part, pulls no punches in taking on Orthodox mores about everything from gender relations to rabbinic law: “Sieger’s close-quarter domestic skirmishing has escalated into a legal war that raises disturbing questions about the rights of Orthodox women, the integrity of the rabbinic courts, known as the betei din, and the ethics of a number of ultra-Orthodox rabbis, who stand accused by Sieger of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to issue her husband the religious divorce ruling he wanted.”

But for sheer acerbity, nothing beats Sieger’s derisive denouncement of the famed Washington lawyer who is representing the accused rabbis: “Nat Lewin would represent a monkey, as long as it’s male and has a beard.”

* * *

Left to Its Devices: Last week this space was devoted to rumors in Baghdad that the Mossad is the real power broker in occupied Iraq. According to a report in The Guardian, though, the Israeli intelligence agency was too spooked to offer the Bush administration the information it wanted on Saddam Hussein’s regime.

In a “special investigation” piece in the July 17 issue of the leftist British daily, Julian Borger details the operations of the Office of Special Plans, “a shadow agency of Pentagon analysts staffed mainly by ideological amateurs to compete with the CIA and its military counterpart, the Defense Intelligence Agency.”

Citing anonymous sources, Borger lays blame for the war in Iraq on the by-now familiar cabal of Washington neoconservatives and their friends in the Likud Party. He departs from the standard conspiracy theories, though, in purporting to shed light on another shadow government run by the neoconservatives’ friends in Jerusalem.

“The [Office of Special Plans] was an open and largely unfiltered conduit to the White House not only for the Iraqi opposition,” Borger reports. “It also forged close ties to a parallel, ad hoc intelligence operation inside Ariel Sharon’s office in Israel specifically to bypass Mossad and provide the Bush administration with more alarmist reports on Saddam’s Iraq than Mossad was prepared to authorize.”

He charges that the handling of information leading up to the war in Iraq was the Bush administration’s “second catastrophic intelligence failure” and that the “Israeli influence” on the “ideologically driven network” has been clearly revealed. Borger’s anonymous sources, though, remain in the shadows.

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