Pig-headed resistance

Beit Shemesh's haredi population is set to fight the pork battle, again.

pork 88.298 (photo credit: )
pork 88.298
(photo credit: )
The recent destruction of nine homes at the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona and ensuing violence highlighted a rift in Israeli society over polarized political views. But another riot last month - which lasted for four days in the city of Beit Shemesh and resulted in seven arrests - drew considerably less media attention. At issue was religious freedom. And now the melting pot in this rapidly growing city of 52,000 may be about to boil over again - this time over the construction of a pork processing plant. Last month, a self-defined haredi family that has lived in Ramat Beit Shemesh Beit for the past six years - and has requested anonymity - was targeted by local ultra-Orthodox extremists who deemed that members of the family were not sufficiently religious. The family's two eldest sons, aged 22 and 20, were the particular target of the demonstrators' wrath because the young men have stopped wearing haredi garb and now dress in modern Orthodox style, the mother of the family says. On January 13, extremists attacked her two sons on their way home from Friday night services. The attack was followed by four nights of demonstrations outside their home, calling on the family to leave. "These people are not normal," she complains. "It's like we are living in the Wild West." After police arrested two protesters who took part in the second night of demonstrations, hundreds of haredim rioted January 16 on Rehov Nahar Hayarden, the main road leading into the neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. According to Jerusalem District police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby, the rioters set fire to trash cans and pelted police with stones. Five protesters were arrested. The mother insists she has "no idea" why her family was suddenly being targeted, adding that the whole story was "very strange and troublesome," but that another family had been similarly targeted in the past. She adds that local rabbis intervened January 16 in an attempt to stop the harassment. And now phase two of Beit Shemesh's haredi riots may be set to explode. Behind the image of an olim-friendly city - populated by some 1,500 families from the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and South Africa, as well as more veteran Middle Eastern Jews, Romanians, Russians and Ethiopians, and a religious spectrum from secular to haredi - Beit Shemesh is a working-class town rife with crime, poverty and racial tensions. In short, not everything is kosher here. A nonkosher slaughterhouse and meat-processing plant, including pork products, is about to be built in the Hartuv Industrial Area near Beit Shemesh. Local haredim are gearing up for a fight. Battles over sales of pork and pork products made the news two years ago. Ma'adanei Aviv Ltd., founded in 1928 and today one of the largest pork processors in Israel, recently signed an agreement to relocate its plant from Rishon Lezion to the Hartuv Industrial Zone. The large number of local stores selling "white meat," a delicacy popular among secular Russian immigrants is galling enough for the haredim. But a factory would be unacceptable, they warn. It's a battle Ma'adanei Aviv has fought before. Four years ago the company went to the High Court of Justice after the Chief Rabbinate threatened to cancel the kashrut certification of poultry suppliers that sold the company chickens that were not kosher according to Jewish law but were otherwise healthy and could be processed into non-kosher products. The court decided against the Rabbinate, ruling that permits for the sale of nonkosher food are a municipal matter to be determined on the basis of potential consumer demand rather than pork barrel politics. "Beit Shemesh is one of the most explosive places. It's a major riot and a huge commotion to establish a factory like this precisely in an area in which the haredi community is large," says a source in the industrial zone involved in the matter. Shas city councilor Moshe Abutbol says members of his faction will be seeking advice shortly from their Torah authorities on the issue. "It's unacceptable," Abutbol declares, "that at the same time that we're trying to resolve the problem [of stores selling nonkosher meat] within the city, they stick a thing like this around us." Ma'adanei Aviv's CEO Zvika Hirshko responds, "We heard Beit Shemesh is becoming more haredi, but the industrial area belongs to the regional moshavim and not to the city. "The most recent legislation in the pork law allows each municipality to decide whether to permit nonkosher meat sales in accordance with the local consumer demand. And in Beit Shemesh there are customers and stores. So far the law has been on our side. We're not concerned."