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Beatings and Burkas in Beit Shemesh

Something has gone horribly wrong in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

Zealots within the haredi community in that Israeli city near Jerusalem have engaged in sometimes violent confrontations with their secular and Modern Orthodox neighbors, as well as other ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Even The New York Times has taken notice. Back in September, the paper of record reported that a Ramat Beit Shemesh kosher pizzeria was apparently pelted with tomatoes, hot oil and gasoline — all for daring to seat both men and women.

The latest incident was an attack on an ultra-Orthodox American immigrant by a gang of crazies. “A bunch of goons, maybe 20 or 30 guys, attacked me — it was like a pogrom,” the victim told Ha’aretz. “They kicked me, beat me, and then just left me there. Luckily, I am a strong guy and was able to get up and go to the hospital.”

The victim, Ha’aretz reports, had previously been involved in efforts to stop the violence that has plagued Ramat Beit Shemesh’s Haredi neighborhoods. In response to the latest attacks, ultra-Orthodox residents finally came out and protested the violence of their more fanatical brethren.

The strangest story to have come out of Ramat Beit Shemesh, however, seems to have largely escaped attention here in the United States. A small group of ultra-Orthodox women, apparently influenced by a female religious guru in Ramat Beit Shemesh, have — to the dismay of rabbinic authorities and even their husbands —in an over-the-top display of modesty, taken to wearing burkas. Ha’aretz ran an article (unfortunately available only in Hebrew) on this phenomenon a few months back. The story has, however, in recently received a little bit of attention in the American blogosphere, thanks to earlier posts from the Muqata blog and Israeli blogger Tali Shapiro.

Reportedly, only a handful of Jewish women are donning the burkas. But the Muqata blog says the trend has already spread to other Israeli cities.

Any trend, no matter how small, deserves a name. And so I hereby dub this item of apparel “the Jurka” — the Jewish burka!

Read the Muqata’s take here, and Shapiro’s here.

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