In the capital’s insular ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, haredi residents glean
much of their community news from posters covering the stone walls, plastered
onto seemingly every available surface. These stark black-and-white
announcements, called pashkevilim, expound on everything from the dangers of
technology to the proper (i.e. modest) attire to the latest boycotts to classes
given by famous rabbis.
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Sprinkled with references to Talmudic sources and
the great sages, these announcements provide a glimpse into the closed world of
the most stringent ultra-Orthodox, including conflicts between rabbinic rulings
and fears that ever-encroaching technology will ruin their way of
Yoel Krois, the 38-year-old unofficial spokesman of the Toldot
Aharon, a virulently anti-Zionist hassidic sect that provides many members of
the Eda Haredit communal organization in Jerusalem – has been collecting these
traditional announcements for two decades. The windowless stone storage room
next to his house in the Mea She’arim neighborhood is crammed with more than
20,000 of these pashkevilim, spilling out of the tops of black binders loosely
organized into subject, and piled haphazardly in every corner.
shared his collection with a handful of researchers over the years, who come to
study the announcements in this room, crowded among nostalgic items such as
olive oil cans from the 1940s. But a few years ago, he found an unusual partner
who was interested in bringing the collection to the broader public: the
National Library at the Hebrew University’s Edmund J. Safra campus at Givat Ram
Eda Haredit, known for its strong opposition to Zionism,
has had a herem, or ban, against visiting the National Library for more than 100
years, due to the library’s collection of non-holy books. Krois has never set
foot in the library.
“It’s forbidden for me to go there, but it’s not
forbidden for me to give them things,” he said, with a sly grin.
exhibit of the library’s collection, with Krois’ input, opened on September 15
and continues until December. More than 10,000 pashkevilim are available in
digital form on the library’s website, a large portion of them from
Krois, known by his nickname “Yoelish,” is something of a black
horse in the Toldot Aharon community. An outspoken, eloquent leader, he
courts the secular media and readily gives interviews about his collection of
pashkevilim and other issues in the community. He has a stormy
relationship with the police, who frequently arrest him for operating a chicken
slaughterhouse without the necessary permits from the municipality and for
fomenting violent riots. Members of Toldot Aharon do not deal with
anything related to the State of Israel, including permits for businesses, and
do not pay taxes or accept public healthcare.
In the early 2000s, during
the construction of Highway 6, at a protest against the Antiquities Authority’s
excavations of what Toldot Aharon said were ancient graves along the route of
the highway, Krois met Antiquities Authority head Shuka Dorfman, who reached out
to try to smooth over the situation.
Dorfman learned of Krois’ collection
of pashkevilim after the two met in Krois’s Mea She’arim office, and Dorfman
connected Krois with the National Library. The National Library has
gathered pashkevilim for years, but Krois’ extensive collection and local
knowledge allowed the library to flesh out its records and understand more about
the inner politics and history.
Krois seems to relish in his role as both
public leader of the community as well as resident renegade. He insists that
Toldot Aharon had no problems with his cooperation with the library because the
community wasn’t ready to invest in saving the pashkevilim. Instead,
representatives of the library brought him a computer, not connected to the
Internet, and a scanner. Once a month, someone from the museum comes to
collect the most recent batch of scanned pashkevilim.
the most important communication tool [for haredim],” said Dr. Hezi Amiur, the
Israel Collections curator at the National Library. “People are really
interested in pashkevilim because people are really interested in haredim. It’s
a really closed community and someone who’s not inside doesn’t understand, so
there’s a lot of curiosity.”
One of the reasons the pashkevilim offer
such an interesting view into the haredi society is because they deal with the
conflicts inside the community: clashing opinions about the best way to run the
war on immodesty, on technology, with the Zionist state, and for separation with
secular society. Though the details change, these themes of separating and
protecting the community come to light continually from the library’s first
pashkevil, printed in 1841, the year the printing press was brought to Israel.
This pashkevil warned against doing business with Christian priests, among other
In the fight against technology, for example, the first
pashkevilim warn against magazines, and then as time progresses, against
television, against cellphones and finally, the Internet. The same fear
mongering tactics, that technology will destroy the community’s insular way of
life, are used over and over throughout the years.
“If I can see that the
pashkevilim is against something, then I can see what the reality was,” said
Amiur. “The extremists show what was on the agenda.”
pashkevilim illustrated 20 ways for women to cover their neckline modestly.
Amiur noted the pashkevilim did not indicate that haredi dress codes were
becoming more stringent. Rather, the posters served as reminders to haredi women
to maintain their modesty, especially since they were working alongside secular
women in the workforce for the first time.
Most people refer to all of
the printed announcements as “pashkevilim,” though only about 10 percent of the
printed announcements are truly pashkevilim, said Krois. Most are notices,
imparting information to a public that has no access to television, radio or
True pashkevilim are anonymous, snarky attacks against
individuals, companies or communities that are usually used as an intimidation
tool for settling debts and other disagreements. A rumor-fueled pashkevil
campaign against a business can inflict real economic damage, including recent
campaigns against the Yesh supermarket chain for allegedly violating Shabbat and
the Electra real estate company for building in Jaffa on what the haredim said
were old Jewish graves.
But as with all old forms of media, the
pashkevilim are struggling in the 21st century. Both Amiur and Krois said that
with the widespread use of computers, the impact of a pashkevil has lessened
Until five years ago, many pashkevilim were still printed
using printing presses, taking at least seven hours from writing to printing.
Krois has a dusty but complete set of printing press letter blocks in his
storage room. Until five years ago, there were only about two pashkevilim
published each week, due to the timeconsuming process. Now, more than 20 to 30
new notices are posted around the neighborhood each week.
“It’s lost the
effect,” said Krois, who added that the technology allows people to add
realistic forgeries of the signatures of rabbis, making it difficult to tell if
a pashkevil is a fake or not.
Krois, a father of 13 (“for now,” he said)
views the attacks on the haredi way of life with paranoia. He will work
ceaselessly, and sometimes violently, to protect his community from the
encroaching Zionist and secular institutions, he said, including demonstrating
to have Mea She’arim included as part of a future Palestinian nation. But he
knows that the ultra-Orthodox won’t be able to keep modernity out forever,
despite the dire warnings of the pashkevilim.
“The world is like a
train,” he said, gesturing to the walls of his ad hoc museum, filled with knick
knacks such as soda bottles from the 1920s.
“Everything is the same, the
world is always moving forward,” he said, and no one, not even the haredim, will
be able to stop it. “We just want to make sure that we’re in the last car of the
The National Library exhibit on pashkevilim is located in the
lobby of the library and is open free of charge.