The Israeli media reported this past week that an 8-year-old modern Orthodox girl in Beit Shemesh, Naama Margolese, was afraid to walk 300 meters (328 yards) to her school “because of harassment from some Haredim because of her attire,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
But it gets worse. A reporter for Israel’s Channel 2 interviewed a Haredi man, regarding the same story, who said it was permissible to spit at a school age girl if she was not dressed “properly.”
Wherever did he learn that? And who gets to define “proper” dress? The answers might be extremely sobering to Diaspora Jews.
There are so many ironic points this issue raises, but we’ll stick with two:
• Modern Orthodox girls and women, as is their custom, already dress modestly — apparently, though, not modestly enough for this man.
• The conflict in this story is not between Orthodox and liberal Jews, but between Orthodox and Orthodox Jews, and it’s not the first time. That’s a telling point; even among the most religiously conservative of our people, there are schisms, and those schisms are leading to un-Jewish behavior.
Many American Jews have criticized the Haredi for having a Taliban-style effect on Jewish life in Israel. We’re not prepared to go that far, but some of their practices are eerily similar, such as the Haredi community that recently required its women to wear burkas in public — until rabbis quickly quashed that practice.
What’s to be done?
As a long-term solution, Israel must change its political system. Members of the Knesset ought to be elected by district instead of proportionally, which would make them answerable to their constituents, and not their party leaders.
Second, Haredi Jews, along with anyone in Israel who riots and commits violent crimes, should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. The claim that they are acting on religious principle is no defense. If that were true, bombers of abortion clinics should go free.
Finally, and this is the toughest step, we all need to find ways to talk to each other, and narrow the gap, not just between Haredi and modern Orthodox Jews, but Haredi and liberal and secular Jews as well.
That last point is well worth taking to heart in Pittsburgh as well. Even in Squirrel Hill, where Jews of all flavors walk the sidewalks together and shop in the same stores, Jews from opposite ends of the religious spectrum are finding it increasingly difficult to talk to each other. It didn’t used to be that way. There were disagreements, but there also was mutual respect.
As Rabbi Victor Urecki of B’nai Jacob Synagogue in Charleston, W.Va., himself a graduate of Yeshiva University, told us in a recent interview, each stream of Judaism has something important to offer the Jewish people, and he tries to utilize it all in his rabbinate.
“I only steal from the best,” he quipped.
So should we. Before we can, though, we must break down these religious walls of our own construction. Once we do that we can share, not condemn; shake hands, not hurl saliva; heal wounds, not rub salt in them.