Police, haredim clash amid non-kosher phone riot in Jerusalem

What began as a demonstration quickly descended into chaos as rioters attempted to damage the cellphone store and attacked police officers.

Police clash with Ultra orthodox Jewish men during a protest against a cellular shop in the Geula neighborhood, Jerusalem, on January 16, 2023. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Police clash with Ultra orthodox Jewish men during a protest against a cellular shop in the Geula neighborhood, Jerusalem, on January 16, 2023.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Israel Police clashed with haredi rioters in Jerusalem Monday evening after a disturbance broke out due to opposition to the sale of non-kosher cellphones at a store inside a haredi neighborhood.

The protest was at first allowed to take place by police, but what started out as a demonstration soon descended into a riot in an attempt to damage the cellphone store. 

According to the police, the haredi protesters were also making "cynical" use of small children in the front lines of the protest to block traffic as they stormed onto the road illegally.

Protesters also threw various items, with one damaging a passing bus.

 Israel Police officers survey the damage after heavy rioting from ultra-Orthodox protesters in central Jerusalem, December 15, 2022. (credit: ISRAEL POLICE SPOKESMAN) Israel Police officers survey the damage after heavy rioting from ultra-Orthodox protesters in central Jerusalem, December 15, 2022. (credit: ISRAEL POLICE SPOKESMAN)

Police ordered the rioters to disperse but they refused to do so, throwing everything from plastic bottles to expletives and insults at law enforcement.

What are "Kosher" phones?

Kosher phones used by the haredi public are designed to prevent their users from accessing the Internet in any capacity, and, originally, phone services with sexual content.

Approved devices are all “dumb-phones,” meaning they have no Internet access, can only make and receive calls, have no camera, and cannot even receive SMS messages.

The phone numbers themselves are also distinct, and have specific digits after the company’s prefix, so that if someone calls from a service not approved by the rabbinic committee, it will be immediately apparent that the caller does not have a supervised phone number and device.

The rabbinic committee, which controls the kosher phone users' ability to switch services, only approves certain companies and blocks phone numbers from its customers, meaning members of the haredi community were not able to keep their numbers assigned to the kosher phones even after buying a smartphone.

Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel introduced a bill in 2022 to reform what has been described as the monopoly of a rabbinic committee over the haredi kosher cellphone market. He also called the rabbinic committee's monopoly an "injustice that has affected half a million customers in the haredi community."

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.