In honor of Jerusalem Day our synagogue hosted Tzuriel Rashi, professor of political science and communications and expert on pashkevilim, political and religious wall posters found on the streets of large haredi neighborhoods.
In the pre-State period, a staff of four men known as kruzim sped through town to put up the pashkevilim. One brushed the walls with glue, the second and third worked together to carry and stick up the posters, and the fourth added a final layer of glue.
Pashkevilim were and continue to be a way of getting out important news that the regular press won’t publish, in the same way we often use blogs.
After the 1929 Hebron massacre, the graves of the victims were dug quickly and shallowly because of the tense situation. When animals began to carry away the victims’ remains the haredi leadership turned to the secular newspapers, but they did not consider the situation newsworthy. The pashkevil asking the public for help in reburying the bodies also criticized the editors of Doar Hayom for “shutting our mouths.”
Sometimes news in the haredi world will not be published even by mainstream haredi newspapers like Yated Neeman and Hamodia: Chabad’s announcement proclaiming the deceased Lubavitcher Rebbe as the Messiah was first announced in a pashkevil.
The British government of Palestine put up a pashkevil as a wanted ad to help solve the first political murder in modern Zionist history. Jacob Israel Dehaan was a Dutchman who immigrated to Palestine and became a spokesman for the Haredim. His contact with Arabs in order to undermine the Zionist leadership led to his assassination in 1924. Considered a martyr by Haredi anti-Zionists, a pashkevil has been posted for the last 84 years on the anniversary of his murder. The authors of the pashkevil consider the Arab nations their “brothers in misery.”
Occasionally the street sign for Bar-Ilan Street is altered to honor de Haan, instead of the Zionist it is officially named for.
Pashkevilim in the pre-state period asked for prayers for the powers of foreign governments. Rashi shared two stories about Franz Joseph I of Austria’s visit to Jerusalem in 1869:
- The Emperor visited the yet to be completed Tiferet Israel synagogue. When he remarked on its lack of a roof, Rabbi Nissan Beck replied that the synagogue “took its hat off in your honor.” Franz Joseph got the hint and donated the dome.
- Franz Joseph also visited the home of Rabbi Shmuel Salant, who invited the emperor to sit in the only chair in his modest home. The Emperor promptly fell through a hole in the chair’s seat. Rabbi Salant saved the occasion by remarking that according to the Midrash, the stones fought over which would serve as the pillow for the patriarch Jacob and then joined together to become one large stone. In the same way, the small holes in Rabbi Salant’s chair combined to have the honor of seating the emperor.
Some pashkevilim are republished on a regular basis with the names of the signatories updated. Before every national election a poster goes up decrying the elections of the kofrim hanatzionim, the “NaZionist apostates,” and announcing that stores will be closed in protest (!).
Some messages are too sensitive for pashkevilim. When the haredim worked to cancel the Gay Pride parade scheduled for Jerusalem, they worried about answering children’s questions. Instead of pashkevilim they decided to discuss the issue only in the mikveh, the ritual bath where children don’t generaly accompany their fathers. Rashi quipped that the mikveh in Washington D.C. is supposedly the way top-secret information about Israel gets leaked to AIPAC from the state department.
Coming up next: The cell-phone controversy and “spoof” pashkevilim in Part III.
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