Beit Shemesh School Battle

School conflicts and strikes are a normal part of Israeli life at this time of year. Today we take you to Beit Shemesh (again).

Several years ago the education ministry and the municipality of Beit Shemesh built a new building for  the girls of Orot, a state-religious elementary school. The new school adjoins the boys’ branch of the school and borders a haredi neighborhood.  (Rafi has a map with explanations.) When protesters from the haredi buildings began vandalizing the building, the Orot parents from the school camped there overnight. A participant told me that she was called a Nazi and a prutza (whore). People threw garbage and feces.

The mayor has refused to grant a license to occupy the building on September 1, the first day of school, because he cannot guarantee the safety of the girls.

The idea that little girls could be at risk of violence from their Jewish neighbors, over the character of a school, is sickening.

People want to distance this group from mainstream haredim, by pointing out that the protesters are emotionally disturbed, extremists, don’t abide by Jewish law, and so on. That may be so.

The question is whether the haredim in the neighborhood provide silent support, and are happy to let the extremists do their dirty work. I am sure that many object, and perhaps they are scared to speak out. But the leaders who remain silent ultimately condone violent tactics by those who identify themselves as members of their community.

The claim that they object to the students being girls makes little sense. After all, there is no shortage of girls and girls’ schools in haredi neighborhoods, and they don’t all dress like this. The boys’ building has been there since before the haredi neighborhood was occupied. The national-religious parents, including the immodestly dressed mothers who inhabited the building must have been visible in the neighborhood from when the school first opened.

Translation of a pashkevil (wall poster) that went up in Beit Shemesh. [via Rafi (S) and lightly edited–the introduction is only a summary]

“But now as the time has come these same Datiim Leumiim [MiI: the abbreviation used spells out dalim, meaning weak or poor] and good-for-nothings (lit. “Rekim”) are entering the building. This is after they were offered a bigger building in another location but they refused and insist on setting up camp davka in the midst of Haredim in order to ‘break the Haredim’ using their own words.
In advance of the start of the school year, and knowing that their entry would cause an earthquake, they came as thieves in the night yesterday and entered the building with deceit in order to establish facts on the ground. Immediately when this became known, avreichim [yeshiva students] from the neighboring areas came to protest and in response the DLs called up about thirty of their thugs together accompanied by dogs (on four legs) to deter the avreichim who did not fear them.
This morning they brought to the place hundreds of boys and girls, youths as well as virgins [sic], men and women, in unseemly clothing [lit. “levush pritzut”] as is their custom and in an abominable mix of men and women, and stood on the other side as they danced together to the sound of amplified women’s song (may the merciful one save us) swearing and insulting and even lifted their hands and chairs against the dear avreichim who stood guard.
In their unruly immoral and unseemly behavior they showed the inhabitants of the adjacent neighborhood how it will indeed be if they succeed in inhabiting the building, when the immodest [lit. “Prutzot”] girls will come every day to the neighborhood and in the way they look will destroy the foundation the holiness and purity of the neighborhood to its foundation and the blood/money [lit. “damim tartei mashma”] that we have invested in this quiet and holy corner in order to educate and bring up our offspring in the way of Torah and modesty and holiness will at once be to nothing.
This is not a time to be quiet!
We cannot see our holy neighborhood be destroyed by those whose whole aim is to harass us and steal our homes! We are determined to fight with dedication [lit. “mesirut nefesh”] against this lowly and vicious plot! We will not rest as long as the serious danger threatens the continuation of our existence as Jews fearful of God and his Torah!
We turn at this last moment to those responsible and the thieves: know that we are determined because this is as bad as an edict of eviction!
And to you the citizens of Beit Shemesh who are fearful of Gods word we cry: Come please to help us, stand by us to save our inheritance that it may not be trampled and looted by foreigners and thieves!
Prepare for the battle for our homes!
Inhabitants of Kiryat Hasidim

The haredi neighborhood borders on a national religious one, and the haredim in question are adamant about not giving an inch to a non-haredi element. This story has been repeated over and over in Beit Shemesh, in different forms. I’m afraid we will not see the end any time soon.

Further links on this story:

Ynet: Haredim Invade Girls’ School

Haaretz: Parents clash with ultra-Orthodox who shut down Beit Shemesh girls’ school

Jerusalem Post: School Battle Looms in Beit Shemesh

The Yeshiva World News (YWN): More Macholkes (controversy) Ahead of Elul

Rafi at Life in Israel posted a number of guest posts and updates:

Girls’ Schools in Charedi Neighborhoods

Ministry of Ed Supports Orot Version of Conflict

Statement by Beit Shemesh Municipality

Orot Banot with No Place to Learn?

Mayor Lets Thugs Rule the City


  1. My friend lives in BS a 5 minute walk from the school and sends her sons to the boy’s school. According to her, the school is not in a Haredi neighborhood – it is in a dati leumi neighborhood. In the past few years a few haredim moved into the street with a few haredi families in the building next to the school.

  2. I think the link to the veiled girl is misleading. That is not the dress that Haredim expect little girls to assume. That is the dress of extremist cults, as very much distinct from Haredim.

    The map also seems misleading. The question is whether or not Haredim can SEE the girls at the school and not the proximity of the school to their neighborhood.

    I do not agree with these protests or the criminal manifestations of distaste. On the other hand, it’s just not possible for other Haredim to protest these activities. Are they complicit by their silence? I would have to say that they are, indeed.

    This is why I can no longer live among Haredim, though my nusach is Haredi. I can’t continue to be complicit in these activities or keep silent. But it means that my kids are not going to be continuing my nusach. They won’t be able to go to Haredi schools or marry Haredim.

    I dislike many aspects of Dati Leumi-ism as much as I dislike many aspects of Haredism. I am disappointed to see my kids raised on ideas with which I do not agree. I don’t like the way some women dress in my neighborhood and consider this totally inappropriate. I hate for my boys to see those women dressed like that.

    But I also hate for my girls who were raised in the Beit Yaakov system to be told they have to wear a one-armed backpack even though I know it’s an unequal distribution of weight that will cause them permanent back damage.

    There doesn’t seem to be any suitable compromise for people who straddle a camp, neither fitting in, nor offering silent obeisance to the more nonsensical concepts that would go with such an alliance: not wear denim, never wear white shoes, don’t read secular books, don’t text…

    Are little girls a stimulating sight? Of course not. But little Haredi children may be tempted toward a different lifestyle. As I was. And I think that may be the entire issue. When both sides can meet in the middle, tolerance will have space to exist and room to breathe and expand.

    • Thanks Varda, for your thoughtful reply. I’ll consider taking out the link to the veiled girls.

      I don’t agree that whether the haredim can see the girls or not is the real issue. Does there need to be a no-man’s land or a fence surrounding every haredi building in the country? Maybe only some pure neighborhoods? The streets are public, anyone can walk where they want and the city can allocate land as it wishes. When they moved in the residents knew they were bordering a national religious neighborhood.
      I do feel sorry for people in the middle, including many Americans, who are forced to choose one way or another and not educate their children according to their convictions.
      I can’t figure out the one-armed backpack.

      • To clarify: I agree that whether or not they can see the girls is not the real issue. But THEY believe it’s the real issue. To THEM it doesn’t matter that it’s not in their neighborhood. To THEM, it matters only that they can see the girls.

        Therefore, showing us the map only offers us your view of what Haredim SHOULD consider a contentious issue, rather than showing us what they ACTUALLY consider contentious. I think that if you want this issue solved, you’ll need to consider the sensibilities of both sides. Even though their actions are disgusting, reprehensible, and insupportable, their sensibilities should be seen as valid in a democracy. Infringing on the liberties of others is not, of course.

        • I had to chime in because the girls are a non-issue. I believe the violence they endorse because of these manufactured sensitivities don’t have any place in a lawful society. Why do I know they are manufactured? Just look into the past? They started fires in the street because ILLEGAL Tzedaka boxes were affixed to the Egged and Superbus bus stop shelters by the charedim and Egged had the gall to remove them. When the boys school was going to be inhabited 4 years ago these lunatics tried the same tricks and NO buildings of charedim were there at the time. They are currently trying to stop the building of a new Beit Knesset “on the border”. This is a turf war. They want something for nothing and believe violence and intimidation will drive us from our dream communities, very much like the tactics of other haters of Jews, the PA and Hamas.

    • Varda – But I also hate for my girls who were raised in the Beit Yaakov system to be told they have to wear a one-armed backpack even though I know it’s an unequal distribution of weight that will cause them permanent back damage.

      Why would they “have to” wear a one-armed backpack if it is bad for the health of their back??? My kids wear their backpacks two-armed if it’s heavy, and on days that it is not heavy might wear it over one arm if they choose to.

      • Once the girls get to high school, they must wear the one-armed backpack or use a purse-style book bag. The regular backpack would mark them as fitting in with secular and national religious. They want to be distinctive, separate. That is one badge they wear that helps you identify them and helps them to identify each other. It helps remind them they are not like others in society so that they won’t conform to the rest of society and remain true to Haredi ideals, instead.

        • Varda, I can understand that they want to be distinctive (because that increases insularity). But I don’t understand this specific method of being distinctive. I mean how is it possible that being distinctive in this particular manner is more important than the d’oraisa of Venishmartem (to protect ones health as best as possible)? It makes no sense at all.

          Oh, and by the way, carrying a backpack on one arm is very popular among Chiloni teenagers nowadays!

          • I’m sure the one armed back pack is so the girls’ shirts aren’t stretched over their busts. A strap on the shoulder doesn’t pull a shirt the same way. I’m sure they are warned not to put the strap diagonally across the chest as well.

            Varda, you seem to be in a tough situation. Although I’m not sure why you need to “hate” that your sons know that women dress in different ways. This is the world (the WHOLE world) that Hashem created. It includes multitudes of variety. I’m not sure what purposes is served by hating this variety and how it precludes you from educating your children as you see fit. There are no money-back gurantees that your children will stay charedi no matter what you do. Thousands of chassidish and charedi children leave the fold even after the most insular educations.

          • Mark, I used to complain about the socks my girls were supposed to wear. I thought that they were bad for circulation (they stop just over the knee and have tight elastic. I complained to their principal who said he would daven that their health would improve. He didn’t grok my concern at all–wasn’t conversant with modern health knowledge.

            I don’t say that all or even most Haredim are living in the dark ages, but they probably feel that the benefits outweigh the demerits in terms of the one-armed backpack or the socks that cut off circulation. Look at how most Israeli kids have to lug heavy, heavy backpacks to school and our education ministry just doesn’t solve the problem. They see it as a right of passage or something. Lockers are a rarity, here. You see these tiny kids all bent over, on their way to school. That’s every bit as nutso and bad for the health. And NOT Haredi.

            Abbi, you won’t agree with me, but I see men as visual beings. I dislike the idea that women will bare their skin in public to such a degree as to cause arousal in men. I think that this objectifies women by their own design and it sickens me. Here is an editorial I wrote on the subject:

            I received overwhelmingly negative talkbacks–which I pretty much expected. The only guy who supported my views condemned me for using the term “Ultra-Orthodox” which was NOT MY TERM, but the editor’s replacement term for my use of the word “Haredi.”

          • Bummer, the link didn’t show up. I’ll try it again:

          • Varda, I disagree for two reasons:

            1. Young sons turn in to men someday. And if that is the first time they ever see women outside a community where they are fully covered, they will very likely have much more of a “reaction” than if they grow up and periodically see such women as they go through their daily lives.

            2. I believe that a higher level of spirituality is attained when conquering ones taivas than by cloistering oneself in an environment that presents no chance of taiva presenting itself. Why? Because internal taivas are MUCH more powerful than external ones. When you don’t exercise your “external taiva” restraint, your internal taiva can run wild (because you have no practice restraining taiva). And that is much more damaging spiritually.

          • Men may or may not be visual beings (some men may be more to some degrees than others. I have no idea because I’m not a man). I do know that my frum father, husband, brother, uncles, grandfathers are all able to function normally and competently in the world and interact with women in all states of dress without ever giving into any arousal they may or may not feel. We practice Judaism, not Christianity- actions count, not feelings.

            I feel sad for my cloistered charedi nephews who have trouble understanding that not all boys at age 3 have an upsherin and will find the larger world outside of Har Nof even more confusing when they eventually have to leave to make a living.

          • It’s fine for people to disagree or pity others for their beliefs. But I think it’s important to understand their sensibilities. I think that both sides should try not to cause offense to the other.

            I was at a wedding the other night. It was a Dati Leumi wedding. The people at our table were from the groom’s side, we were from the bride’s side. They were Beit Shemesh people. They went into a rant of hatred against Haredim and I was horrified. They cracked anti-Haredi jokes and so forth. I didn’t want to respond and be rude at a simcha. So I sat there and just took the abuse. They had no idea I’m Haredi. It’s a wedding. Some women wear wigs…

            This happens a lot to me since I am living in a Dati Leumi community. People are always knocking the Haredim right next to me.

            I have never heard talk against the Dati Leumi community in the table talk at any Haredi simcha or in light banter on the street. I think this proves a lack of caring for the Haredi sensibilities. This does not bode well to finding a solution. I imagine those who threw feces and etc. are a small segment of the Haredi population, as Hannah seems to feel, too. The rest mind their own business. If you knew them, you might even like them. They don’t trash talk the other side.

          • Varda, I think in the Beit Shemesh situation, this is beyond “understanding each other’s sensibilities” and drawing any kind of moral equivalence between venting frustrations and the physical threats and actual assaults that are perpetrated against the DL community is simply wrong. We are talking about serious physical violence on the part of the charedi community. While lashon hara is bad, I’m not such a tzadeket that I can say I’d feel or speak any differently then the wedding guests you encountered. This speech isn’t constructive, however the major difference you seem to be ignoring is that these attitudes are not causing physical harm to charedi girls or women when they walk through DL communities. The same cannot be said going the other direction. There have been far too many assault incidents against DL community members by charedi men and I think it’s inappropriate to draw a line around the perpetrators and pretend their actions don’t descend directly from charedi attitudes. Insularity breeds feelings of superiority. Many charedim justify their suffering from various chumrot by telling themselves and their families that they are better Jews because because of it (speaking from personal experience.) When you value the externals like sleeve lengths and bookbags more than basic common courtesy, yes, you end up with physical violence. Again, you may be fortunate to have never heard these attitudes spoken out loud. But please don’t pretend they don’t exist.

            Instead of pointing fingers at bad DL attitudes, I think the Beit Shemesh tragedy (and that’s exactly what it is) should be awakening some deep cheshbon hanefesh on the part of the entire charedi community. Judging from past incidents, I won’t be holding my breath.

          • Abbi, in one sense, I agree with you. These criminal acts should not be ignored or hold up the opening of a school. That’s how we handle the Arabs and that’s sure not working for us :-p

            On the other hand, I condemn the practice of cursing Haredim across the board for the criminal actions of a few. I also think it is important not mischaracterize the reasons for those criminal actions and then slander a much broader group on that basis.

            My fantasy: the cops should come out in full force and there should be a showdown. Like Little Rock. And during that showdown, the dati leumi side will be polite and upright and not do anything that would arouse the tempers of the criminal few. And I think the criminals should do hard time to discourage similar activities by others in the future. I think the Haredi rabbis should publicly condemn what was done.

            I can tell you that my Haredi daughter who lives in RBS deplores these criminal activities. She is sickened by this behavior. She chose to live in a mixed dati leumi/Haredi neighborhood for that reason. I know that my daughter and I are not the only ones who deplore such criminal behavior. But please don’t slander my nusach or beliefs because of those criminals. I think respecting the sensibilities of others is of prime importance for achdut.

            I really think the trash talk needs to end. Don’t crucify a whole people for the actions of a few. Be tolerant of other nusachim if you expect tolerance to be extended toward yourself.

            I believe that I can only act for myself. I can condemn what those criminals did and be a polite, upright person, and not slander people who have beliefs other than my own. I can care more about people’s feelings than externals. And in that manner, I do my best to make the world a better place. We can all do that. Judgment begins with one’s self. It’s Elul.

    • the purpose of the map was only to counter the claim that the school building is inside a haredi neighborhood and therefore belongs to the haredim. The map clearly shows that the school is not in any haredi neighborhood, and is only adjacent to the edge of a haredi neighborhood (even if you want to call a strip of 6 buildings a neighborhood).

      Thats it. it wasnt to define an agenda. Just to counter the claim of where the building is located. The press is reporting the story as the building being in a haredi neighborhood, because that is what someone told them and they didnt bother checking. The map shows otherwise.

    • Varda,

      The argument about these people or their children “seeing” girls dressed differently is specious. The folks who live in the apartments in question moved in ACROSS THE STREET from an existing DL community. If they truly cared about what their kids were “exposed to” they would have moved more into the middle of RBS B and not on this border. From day 1 after moving in the extremists in these buildings started causing trouble; they put up Tznious signs, harassed passerby, even threatened people across the street because they could see their TVs!!!!

      The opening of Orot Banot is 100% irrelevant to the claims being made. If you know the logistics of the area. You would know that few if any girls will be walking by these apartments to get to school. Also, the school is built in such a way that there are virtually no windows facing the adjacent Chareidi building. (The few that are, are frosted).

      Also, everyone seems to forget that when Orot Banim opened 4 years ago. We had the exact same confrontation: vandalism, violence, graffiti. What was the “excuse” then?

      This scenario is playing out all over the country and at the national level as well. If good people, of all stripes, do not stand up this extremism that we are all finished.

  3. This situation makes me furious. First of all, the kowtowing to inappropriate Haredi demands is immoral and undemocratic. You don’t want girls near you? Too bad, it’s a free country; even if there’s no school there, women must be free to walk in and around your neighborhood in any state of dress they like. You are welcome to close your eyes, move to a cave in the desert, or emigrate to Iran. And of course giving in to threats of violence is horrible.
    I’m also really concerned for the future of the dati leumi community in beit shemesh. They have taken so many beatings (mostly just figuratively but sometimes literally) from the lunatic fringe in their town that I am worried that their community just won’t survive. And that would be a real tragedy for religious zionism. In my generation when most seriously frum young people looking for a strong frum community are cloistering themselves in ghettolike yishuvim which only accept people just like them, the residents of Beit Shemesh have chosen to live in a city, amid religious, racial and socioeconomic diversity, and create an extremely vibrant frum community there. If that experiment fails, it’s really depressing for all of us.

    • You got 4 likes, Channa, and your comment lit up! At least I think that’s what happened.

    • I want to say to Chana that we will fight because the amount of Chesed to all sectors of the Bet Shemesh population from this group of Dati Leumi families far outweighs the evil these extremist pedophiles have grabbed. We have created the most impressive communities with great Torah scholars and shiurim. No not all of us have the same religious expression or convictions because we are tolerant of others. As Rav Neria told me in 1988 when I was leading Bnei Akiva of NY & NJ and under attack for having mixed snifim, we have far less divorce, spouse and wife abuse then the chiloni and Haredi communities. He attributed it to our way of life, being able to see the other sex as a person first and Bnei Akiva provided a supervised way of experiencing interaction in a dignified Torah atmosphere with madrichim who were older and great role models of that interaction. Given the kids in our neighborhood I think we are succeeding and therefore, we are going no where and will continue to provide amazing examples to the next generation of volunteerism, personal example, and serving Hashem. Am Yisrael, Be’eretz Yisrael Al Pi Torat Yisrael

  4. Very depressing, but thanks for the information.

    • What????so much craziness!!! This is religious Judaism? Does no one in these crazy groups have any sense?and this is funded by ignorant Americans who push to give billions to Israel?

  5. Given what is happening in RBS, and in particular given that no one from the Haredi camp (including the alleged “moderate majority”) has showed up to show support for the school, I am even more skeptical in respect to the article you published regarding the swimming pool. Not that it did not happen, but rather that the people in question would not have gone into attack mode had the rabbis consulted given the green light. They did not refrain because they respect other people; they refrained only because their rabbis said so. I suppose the same “moderate” rabbis in Beit Shemesh are telling them to keep silent now.


  1. […] Haredi Protest that Ynet Missed August 31, 2011 By mother in israel 21 Comments It looks like the school crisis in Beit Shemesh has been resolved for the time being, with the teachers invited to prepare for the school year […]