Pashkevilim hold up the buidings of Jerusalem.
Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, Former Satmar Rebbe
Today marks Jerusalem Day, commemorating the unification of Jerusalem and the restoration of its Old City to Israel’s control. As part of the celebration our synagogue hosted a talk called “Al Homotayich Yerushalayim” (“On Your Walls, Jerusalem,” Isaiah 62).
Dr. Tzuriel Rashi, head of the Communications Department at Lipshitz College in Jerusalem and a professor in the Political Science Department of Bar-Ilan, introduced us to the textured world of pashkevilim, the religious wall posters found in large haredi neighborhoods throughout the world.
The word Pashkevil comes from the Italian pasquinades. Dissident and satiric posters and newspapers were common in ancient Rome and spread throughout Europe.
Whether in ancient Rome or in modern times, pashkevilim are a way for the “little person” to have a voice. Usually the authors oppose the ruling government and have little political power.
Most pashkevilim in Jerusalem are written by the residents of “Batei Ungarin,” (lit. homes of the Hungarians) within the neighborhood of Mea Shearim. The residents of Batei Ungarim are among the least connected to the State of Israel. They refuse receive any benefits from the government, including basic health care, and are not hooked up to the Israel Electrical Corporation. They probably consist of about 700 families, but there is no way to know for sure.
Collections of pashkevilim can be found at Harvard University and in private collections. Yoel Kroize has catalogued 20,000 of them in the basement of his tiny house in Batei Ungarim. Kroiz replaced Yehuda Meshi-Zahav as the de facto leader of the community when Meshi-Zahav went over to the Zionists by participating in in the central Independence Day celebration a few years ago.
Rashi emphasized that just like any other Jewish groups, the anti-Zionist chassidic enclave of Batei Ungarin is not monolithic. For instance, after the Gaza withdrawal contradictory pashkevilim went up about whether and how to celebrate. The wife of Moshe Aryeh Friedman, who met with and kissed Ahmedinejab, was granted a divorce by the religious court without hesitation. Friedman later publicly apologized for the kiss.
Rashi asked for a volunteer from the audience to read one of the pashkevilim out loud. The volunteer had trouble with several acronyms, although our rabbi didn’t. The speaker pointed out that this is deliberate, as outsiders aren’t meant to understand every word.
Other topics that came up in Rashi’s fascinating talk:
- The alternate name of the major street in a haredi neighborhood named for a Zionist. Bar-Ilan Street is the site of numerous secular-religious clashes about driving on the Sabbath.
- Pashkevilim hoaxes, including at least one that the secular press took seriously.
- The first political assassination in modern Israel, and the pashkevil that has been published annually in his memory for the last 82 years.
- How the haredim united to win their battle against the cell-phone companies, although it may have been a Phyrric victory.
- News about haredim that the haredi press won’t publish