The Haredi Protest that Ynet Missed

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 under police protection.

Today’s poster reminds us that disputes over religious issues in Israel can be worked out peacefully.

Please welcome Naomi Elbinger for today’s guest post.

The Haredi Protest that Ynet Missed

If you follow the mainstream Israeli media, you probably know all about the fanatical haredim. Their destructive protests in reaction to every perceived breach of their iron-clad principles regularly make headlines.
But for some reason, none of the major news outlets picked up the story of a recent protest that occurred in my Jerusalem neighborhood, which is home to a large and growing haredi population.
Last month, some concerned haredi citizens raised on outcry about the fact that the local swimming pool is open on Shabbos. This was discussed on our local community Yahoo Group, where one member wrote:

“…the frum [religious people] are the majority that use the pool. Our opinions at this point would make a big difference and this certainly creates a strong responsibility to demand that they keep it closed.
…  On almost every Shabbos they play music and bring a clown to the pool to encourage people to come. They sell tickets and ices like any other day of the week.  Hashem Yerachem [L-rd have mercy], if we could prevent this, we must certainly act fast!
Please speak to all rabbis and anyone who could make a difference. Send letters to those who run the pool and show your objection so they will know that we will not allow this to continue.
Please consult whoever you can that has an influence.”

Can you guess what happened next?

Were there pashkeveilim (street notices) pasted all over the neighborhood, condemning the pool’s management and calling on all G-d-fearing Jews to join the outcry? Did hordes of black-hatted youths gather outside the pool chanting “Shabbos! Shabbos!,” burning garbage and pelting police with rotten gefilte fish?

No, none of that happened. If it had, you would have read about it on Ynet already.

What really happened will never be reported by the press. But I happen to think it’s pretty noteworthy.

In response to the protest letter, one community member wrote:

“I suggest that before anybody takes any major action on this highly charged and complex issue, the Mora D’Asra [leading neighborhood rabbi] should be consulted.”

Later, a veteran community activist wrote at length:

“While I certainly admire and respect your sense of outrage at the opening of the pool on Shabbos, I would like to ask you to consider some points. First of all, one of the main bones of contention here in this country between the religious and the irreligious has always been Shabbos. In a country with a 6-day workweek, a major cause of hatred towards the religious Jew has been the fact that everything is closed on Shabbos: the movies, the malls, the stores, the restaurants, the beach, public transportation to the beach, etc. We have stopped them from being able to do anything on their only real day off.

They have always felt that we impose our religion on them, and they resent it greatly. I don’t think a single irreligious Jew has been attracted to Judaism by this approach, but much hatred has been engendered instead.

I don’t think it would be a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name) to start a project to close the pool on Shabbos at this time. It would probably turn out to be quite the opposite. My suggestion to you, and to all of our neighborhood: if you would like to increase awareness of Shabbos in our irreligious neighbors, if you would like to create a true Kiddush Hashem, if you would like to really impress people with the beauty of our tradition . . . go up to the local shopping center on Friday morning and distribute candles. And then invite a Russian Jew home for a Shabbos meal.”

These are very nice sentiments, but what did the local haredi rabbis have to say? Surely they weren’t going to identify with this “love thy neighbor” mumbo-jumbo! One million Ynet readers can’t be wrong when they think that all haredi rabbis are rabid fanatics.

As one community member put it: “your response to hillul Shabbos [Sabbath desecration] seems to me, to be far from understanding the seriousness of the responsibility placed on every frum Jew to enforce God’s will on His people.”

That pretty much sums up how many people assume haredim think.

Well, here’s what actually happened:

After some protest letters against the pool’s opening on Shabbos were lodged with the “minhal,” the local community council, they consulted local rabbis for their opinion on the issue. They first approached the leading neighborhood rabbi of the Litvish (non-Chassidic) community, a venerable sage and halachic authority who is one of the heads of the ultra-haredi She’eris Yisroel Rabbinic Court.

This is taken from a report of the meeting:

“The Minhal was asking for a clarification of the position of the Rav and the kehila concerning the position that it is the obligation of the community to enforce Shmiras Shabbos [Sabbath observance] and take steps to force the minhal to close the pool on Shabbos.
The Rav communicated a clear position that he does not believe in doing anything in this fashion, and will not endorse any such action. He is against our community doing anything of this sort.

It was suggested that the most effective way to act letovas hatzibur [for the public benefit], to be mekadesh Shem Shamayim [sanctify G-d’s Name], to increase Shmiras Shabbos, and to decrease Chilul Shabbos would be for someone to organize a group to go to the local community center and invite people for a Shabbos meal in their homes. We would encourage participation in this activity.”

The rabbi who leads the local English-speaking community and the rabbi who leads the local chassidic community, both of them renowned halachic authorities in their own right, were also consulted. They both agreed with the leading neighborhood rabbi’s statements.

As a result of this, all those who called for the closing of the pool on Shabbos backed down. They are entitled to their opinions and are to be respected for their readiness to abide by the ruling of our community rabbis.

This whole dispute over the pool unfolded in an unremarkable fashion and was never reported anywhere, not even in our local neighborhood rag.

Unfortunately we have all heard about incidents that didn’t end so peacefully with an atmosphere of mutual respect and sensitivity on all sides. Why was it different in our neighborhood than in other parts of Israel where there really are pashkevelim and burning garbage and worse?
Probably because around here everyone knows who the true rabbinic leaders are, and the local authorities went straight to them to obtain a public statement on the matter, rather than letting the rabble-rousers and the press draw the battle-lines.

Would this approach work in other communities where the situation is more inflamed? I don’t know. But maybe it’s worth a try.

I am proud of my community, even though I passionately believe that the pool should be closed on Shabbos. However, I understand that this must be put aside for the sake of “ve’Ahavta le’reicha Kamocha” (“Love your neighbor as yourself”). That’s the rabbis’ ruling.

Rabbi Akiva said it long ago.

And this is a true story that occurred in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh in July 2011.
Naomi Elbinger is a web entrepreneur who specializes in Jewish audiences. She is one of the co-founders of MavenMall, a mall and fashion magazine for modest clothing. She also writes a popular blog about running a business as an Orthodox Jewish woman – Raised in Australia, Naomi now lives in a friendly, haredi neighborhood of Jerusalem.


  1. Every now and then I read something I wish I could make people read. This is one of them. Thank you so much for posting this.

    If the Jewish world could act this way more often, Moshiach would come I am sure.

    Yasher Koach!

  2. Wow, what a refreshing post. Thank you for sharing this otherwise unreported story. It’s a powerful lesson in having a Rav and listening to him. Also refreshing to hear:

    “They have always felt that we impose our religion on them, and they resent it greatly. I don’t think a single irreligious Jew has been attracted to Judaism by this approach, but much hatred has been engendered instead.”

    It is so true, and although zeal for mitzvos can be a good thing, it is crucial that this zeal be expressed in a manner which does not turn people away from Torah, chalilah.

  3. tremendous! Thanks for this!

  4. I am honored to add my yasher koach to the others before me. ‘Nuff said.

  5. Thanks for posting this, Naomi. This is beautiful, and I wish I could tweet it to the world (if only it was relevant to our company’s Twitter account… )
    Keep us updated if any community-building, Shabbos meal programs do get started.

  6. What an inspiring story! Thank you Naomi for showing us how such inflammatory disputes can be settled so peacefully and in a way that brings more Kiddush Hashem. Halevai that all our internecine squabbles could be settled so well.

  7. I’m glad to read about a Haredi community taking a thoughtful and reasonable course of action instead of following its problematic knee-jerk reaction to a situation. But this blog post troubled me; I had always thought that the silent majority of Haredim were harmless devout people who live and let live and don’t try to bother anyone else, and that the more disturbing stuff you read about in the news was the work of fringe extremists. Your post suggested that in fact, reasonable behavior is the exception to the norm to such an extent that it is newsworthy. Oy.

    • @Channa – I don’t think that this behavior is the exception to the norm at all. It is simply one clear and documented example of the true nature of the mainstream chareidi attitude, as exemplified by chareidi leaders and experienced everyday by me and my fellow chareidim. It is newsworthy only because you never read a story like this and you often read the opposite perspective. Does that mean that chareidim rarely think and act this way? No. It just means that it is never reported.

  8. Hmmm… I personally (as a traditional but not really observant) Jew find the candle distribution thing to be really annoying. I realize this may come as a shock, but just because someone does not dress frum, it does not necessarily follow that: 1) we do not know about Shabbat candles and/or do not have them 2) we want to be outreached to (please just.leave us alone) or 3) are devoid of knowledge and need the kind charitable Haredim to explain everything to us. Which part of “live and let live” is not registering?

    That being said, my attitudes here are much more extreme than they used to be; that in large part to Haredi extremism and their attempts to ram not simply Judaism but their particular demento version of it down our collective throats. (Backof the bus? ???? ??)

    • @Gila I totally understand you feelings about the bus thing. Even though I personally enjoy separate buses I often feel bad for passengers who clearly aren’t comfortable with it.
      As for handing out candles and other forms of outreach, I don’t think anyone could call that a “chareidi thing.” All streams of observant Judaism do that kind of thing.

      • Huh? I’ve never seen non-charedi women handing out candles on the street and I’ve lived in Israel for 11 years.

        • Yes – handing out candles seems to be specifically a Chabad practice (as commenter Sarah Leah notes below) and it is something they do all over the world, so I don’t think it’s true to say this is a chareidi practice related to Israel.
          But the commenter in this case, Gila, was objecting to all forms of outreach. Obviously all streams of Orthodoxy do outreach! Actually, the average chareidi is less outreach-oriented than most religious Jews because the society is very insular. We are often accused by kiruv organizations of being too complacent about kiruv.
          Chabad is, of course, a big exception to this rule. Yet Chabad and Chareidi are not exactly the same thing.
          But I digress into minor details…

  9. Thanks to everyone for reading and for your kind comments. May this story be a good start to Elul for us all!

  10. This is atypical because the neighborhood “is home to a large and growing haredi population” but does not appear to have a haredi majority. The rabbonim have the sense to realize that they are a minority and can’t force their will on the rest of the community. Would the approach have been the same if they were in the majority?

    • Actually chareidim are the majority around here and they are very strong and established community that is over 30 years old. But I don’t think this is so relevant. Are the chareidim the majority in all parts of Israel where they are supposedly causing inflammatory disputes? By no means.
      The point is: When accused of being violent extremists, chareidim always respond that it’s not the mainstream but fringe elements that cause the problems. This story is just a concrete, documented example that shows that claim might actually be true!
      Does it challenge your thinking to realize that might be true? If so, then the article has served it’s purpose.

  11. I’m so glad that this was posted- and I also belong to that community, and was so impressed on how they behaved. And, the best was that everyone accepted the ruling of our rabbis, and it died down. Thanks Naomi!

  12. What an inspiring post. Thank you for sharing

  13. Wow!! I have been saying this for ages and the answers I get is ” protests ” are the only thing that are understood.. I also say that I wish that there was a way to stand there and hand out little shabbos packages with a mini seuda in them.. and just say good shabbos with a great big smile.. if only the other protests were like that!

  14. BS”D

    Nice to see you writing, Naomi. But I had to smile – the candle mivtza – the Lubab girls/women have been doing that for decades. This is the way our Rebbe always taught us to “touch” other Yidden. Kol Hakavod that someone stated it on the group. Have a gut shabbos.

  15. Well Done. Kol Hakavod!

  16. The way this incident played out is refreshing and gives hope. I believe the reason it ended the way it did is because of the attitude of the Rabbis involved – kol hakavod to them! However, I am quite familiar with the charedi world through family, and listening to charedi radio stations and reading publications, and generally the approach promoted is not so tolerant. Or there is no clear directive from above at all, which allows the bored yeshiva bochers to dictate the ways of the street. So until there are more Rabbis like the ones mentioned above, who are not afraid of a path of tolerance and ahavat yisrael, we will continue to see extremism on the streets.

  17. re: “They first approached the leading neighborhood rabbi of the Litvish (non-Chassidic) community, a venerable sage and halachic authority who is one of the heads of the ultra-haredi She’eris Yisroel Rabbinic Court.”

    The leader of the Litvak community, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv:

    “In a letter to haredi newspaper Yated Ne’eman, Elyashiv said that “the secret and foundation of the Torah world and the community of those who fear God and live a life of Torah and holy purity is through complete isolation from all aspects of the secular world, and from those who have thrown off the yoke of Torah.”

    SeeL and

  18. The quote was a ‘neighborhood leading rabbi’- not the general leading rabbi- but the leading Litvish leader of the community, ie not R’ Elyashiv.