December 29: Religious extremism, demonstrators

Those who do not pay taxes and do not serve in the IDF have the audacity to impose their archaic behavior on others.

Sir, – Extremism has reared its ugly head in Beit Shemesh (“Hundreds protest against ultra-Orthodox extremism,” December 28). Those who milk our country the most, who do not pay taxes because work is not part of their vernacular and who do not serve in the armed forces, have the audacity to impose their archaic behavior on others.
I am reminded of the time my wife and I were traveling around Israel in search of a house. Upon arrival in Beit Shemesh, a big sign on one of the porches confronted us with the following: “Non-religious Jews not wanted here.”
I turned to my wife and said “ this is not part of Eretz Yisrael.”
Even though we are not secular, we immediately turned a sour taste for the area. These are fellow Jews, but their god is not ours!
Sir, – You report that Shmulik, a hassidic resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, said at yesterday’s demonstration: “There are crazy people in all sectors of the population, thugs who beat people up and spit and scream. Why are these demonstrations only when such incidents comes from a small minority of crazy people in the haredi community?”
He is quite right – the controversy is being inflated by those who are capitalizing on anti-haredi prejudice for political reasons in much the same way as the Czarist regime used dislike of Jews to divert social discontent away from itself 100 years ago.
Sir, – I am an Orthodox Jew and I want all your readers to know that the fanatics in Beit Shemesh aren’t Orthodox, they aren’t haredi, they are meshugah. They do not have backing from any rabbis, they are all young and without any real wisdom, and they are acting alone. The entire world of Torah Judaism condemns what they are doing, and we hope and pray that your readers do not lump all Jews who wear black hats in the same category. I feel the same horror as you do when I hear the stories from Beit Shemesh, and I pray for a time when all Jews will be united again, – “K’ish echad b’lev echad,” – like one man with one heart.
LEIBY BURNHAM Oak Park, Michigan
Sir, – Nobody in their right mind could disagree with President Shimon Peres (Peres condemns extremist violence in Beit Shemesh,” December 28). The violence perpetrated against women and an eightyear- old girl recently in Beit Shemesh was absolutely disgusting. How can any decent person possibly justify spitting at little children? The so-called haredi man who claimed otherwise is not merely wrong, he is trying to justify a perversion of Judaism.
I have only one problem with the way the president’s comment “We are not the masters of this country; we are the citizens of this country” was reported as referring solely to religious extremists who would impose their will on others. The same is true of some members of the secular sector of society. A case that springs to mind was the way an IDF commander insisted that religious male cadets should have to attend a function where women sang.
The real problem is that the term “religious extremists” is understood by most people to mean haredim in general though most of them are appalled by the disgusting behavior of these mindless fanatics. This was the divisive message conveyed by the demonstrators in Beit Shemesh last night when they chanted slogans like “The nation demands a Zionist Beit Shemesh” and “Beit Shemesh is under a Haredi occupation.”
Both groups were displaying the narrow-minded intolerance that led to the destruction of the Second Temple. The lesson we should all learn from that is that only by trying to accommodate those with whom one disagrees will Israel be able to survive.
Whitefield, UK
Sir, – In the letters dealing with the “haredi Taliban” (December 28) I noticed the phrase “God-fearing” was used. I wish people would stop using this phrase as it does not bode well in describing how people follow God’s commandments. If anything, we should should not fear God. To the contrary, we should be be God-loving!
Massapequa, New York
Sir, – The “live and let live” mentality [regarding haredi extremism] of some writers to the letters column is unacceptable.
Should this apply to the polygamist and pedophile extreme members of the Mormon faith in their enclaves in Utah? After all they just live as they choose isolated from mainstream society. White Southerners also had a culture of enslaving and segregating blacks. Should that be acceptable? The American Civil War was fought in part to stop an unacceptable culture of slavery and the civil rights movement to stop a culture of first and second class citizens. And asking women who have been isolated all their lives if they want to sit separately is absurd. What do you expect those women to say? Sure they want to sit separately with all the kids while the husband sits by himself reading. There should be no “mehadrin” bus lines funded with even one shekel of public money.
The harassment and attacks on women are not manifestations of a different “culture” or “faith.” They are crimes! It is time for the police to enforce the law and stop making excuses for not doing so. Society has to look at the ultra- Orthodox thugs for what they are: criminals no different from violent drug gangs. Time to call a spade a spade and stop waffling!
Sir, – Regarding “Womenonly movie sparks debate, cultural understanding” (Comment & Features, December 26), the claim in the sub-headline, that religious and secular Jews have the ability to talk, is misleading.
It is simply inaccurate to lump all religious people into one category. Israelis from the religious- Zionist sector and secular Israelis have always had a dialogue, as both sectors have participated together to build this country. It is haredi society that cannot have a dialogue, that cannot accept anyone who is different. This isolation manifests itself not only in gender segregation, but also in the fact that they won’t serve in the army with us, won’t work with us, won’t learn the subjects necessary to support themselves and pay taxes, and they won’t instill patriotic Zionist and democratic values into their children. It is haredi society that has distorted traditional Judaism to something that is no longer familiar to religious Jews outside of the haredi sector.
While I cannot condemn every single haredi person, the fact is that the religious distortions, the isolationism and the forcing of their norms on others are accepted by haredi society in general and by its leaders in particular, either explicitly or tacitly. There is no loud or serious voice coming from this community, neither from its leaders nor its followers, that is fighting against these phenomena.
This disturbing trend has been going on since the beginning of the state. Due to the community’s growth, they have a greater effect on the rest of us.
Mistakes were made with the haredim when this country was founded. We only have a short time left to correct them, before the opportunity is forever lost. This country must start demanding from the haredi community the same things that it demands from the rest of us.