The Municipality of Beit Shemesh removed the signs indicating which sidewalk was to be used by women and girls. Haredim began replacing them 10 minutes later.


One of the prominent spitters was jailed and released after a short time.


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It sounds like the treatment given Religious Zionist (Orthodox) extremists in the West Bank. An hour or two after the bulldozers leave a site where they have destroyed the homes of an illegal settlement, the residents get to work rebuilding it. Individuals picked up for violating the orders of the police or the army are usually released by the next day.


What links both stories is the involvement of rabbis. Not the same kind of rabbis, Heaven forbid. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis are likely to view Orthodox rabbis as beyond the pale, and vice versa.


Israel is a law abiding state, but not in the same way as aspired by Prussians, Americans, or other enlightened goyim. Perhaps because of suffering under the states of the goyim, the Jews adhere to modes of flexibility in their enforcement of the law. I''ve seen research indicating that administrators are less rigid here than elsewhere. Anyone with the status of a rabbi (Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox only; Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist claimants need not apply) has a special status in the Jewish state, no matter how outlandish his advocacy. Here there is no need to employ the his/her formulation of the politically correct.


The status of extremist rabbis reminds us of professors reluctant to discipline their colleagues on account of academic freedom, as well as physicians and lawyers who decline to be strict with colleagues charged with improper activity. More than these other professionals, the rabbis have two and a half millennia of Jewish texts to justify one or another posture that is not in accord with practices that currently prevail.


Several Haredim have set themselves apart from the extremists, but put their emphasis on the unfairness of a media campaign that they see as directed against them all.


We heard from a renowned ultra-Orthodox rabbi about his opposition to extremism. And also his opposition to force imposed on colleagues who preach unpopular doctrines. Force is not the way of Judaism. Persuasion is the way. Of course it will require flexibility, concessions from all sides, and time. Meanwhile, women should be patient, and stay on their side of the street.


Among the anomolies that we live with are Orthodox who identify as Religious Nationalists, or Religious Zionists, seek enrollment in the most difficult and dangerous units of the IDF and aspire to the officer corps, yet may adhere to rabbis who are extreme on issues of not listening to women singers, serving alongside of women, or acting against Jews who build where they will in the Land of Israel. There are ultra-Orthodox who do what they can to avoid military service, make life unpleasant for neighbors who prefer to drive or listen to radio or television on the Sabbath, expect the state to support numerous children fathered by individuals who avoid work in order to study sacred texts, object to their sons taught history, science, or anything else that detracts from their learning of sacred texts, and cite their poverty and large families as reasons for discounts or a free ride on municipal taxes and bills for water and electricity. 


There is a history of Jewish communities supporting the occasional brilliant student of Torah. What we have in Israel is every student of average skill, or even less, entitled to a monthly allotment of tax money to support him at study, perhaps with his academy claiming the enrollment of ficticious students in order to increase its income.


Opponents to the behavior of religious extremists agree that the state should stop their funding.


Easier said than done. The science of implementation, flavored with theology, is more important than any further declarations about equality or the rights of women.


The money for religious institutions typically flow from several sources. Among them are the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior, and municipalities. There are ample opportunities in the channels of funding to evade the orders that come from above. Moreover, the orders may not come from above. After pronouncing the need to enforce the law with respect to religious extremists, individuals at the heads of these administrative pyramids are quick to realize that religious parties are essential members of the national or municipal coalition. If religious parties are not members of the present coalition, one does not want to antagonize them and prevent their support in the future.


Israel is not a theocracy or a religious state, but it is a Jewish state, affected by norms of Jewish culture, reinforced by the many elements of religious law.


Which law will govern this state? The simple answer is the laws enacted by Knesset and judged by the courts of the state.


Yet some of our citizens accept the higher of the Torah, as argued and intepreted by all those generations of rabbis who trace their heritage to Moses. And among those who acknowledge the greater authority of the secular state, there are many who are reluctant to impose its discipline on those who cite rabbinic authority.


One needn''t applaud. Simply accept reality. If anyone knows how to change it, please send me a note.

 

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