I often talk about the extreme portions of Orthodox Jewry. Sometimes about the left and sometimes about the right. Unfortunately the left has gone too far in some areas making their legitimacy as an Orthodox movement questionable. And while the right has not gone too far to make their Orthodoxy questionable, I often feel more of a kinship with the left than I do with the right.
Orthodoxy as I have always said is primarily defined by 2 things: Adherence to Halacha and the belief in the Torah narrative that the events at Sinai actually happened. While the left accepts the former, it allows questioning of the latter. The right on the other hand accepts both Halacha and the Torah narrative with respect to Sinai actually happened. And yet some of what they say and do makes me - and many other Orthodox Jews - run as far away from them as we can.
This might seem counter-intuitive. But if one factors interactions with fellow Jews that are not part of their ‘club’ (Bein Adam L’Chavero); interactions with non Jews (being an Or LaGoyim – a light unto the nations); the extremes of Tznius (modesty) causing them to force their views on others - one might understand why many of us feel that way.
The increased enforcement of Tznius standards by right wing extremists in religiously multi cultural cities like Bet Shemesh is a case in point. Let us not forget the incident of a few years ago where certain citizens of Bet Shemesh taunted a 7 year old girl from a Religious Zionist family calling her a whore because she did not measure up to their modesty standards. Or the harassment of a book store owner in Meah Shearim for refusing to carry modesty signs in his window. Or the torching a few years ago of a clothing store in the nearby Geula because they sold women’s clothing that did not meet their modesty standards.
These may have been criminal vigilantes that had no sanction from their rabbinic leadership to do what they did. But there is not a question in my mind that their actions were based on the modesty values of their extremist community.
Recently they had come out with a bunch of rules about what is and isn’t permitted to be advertised. Images of even a Shaitel (wig) or women’s shoes are now considered immodest. A women’s health clinic in Bet Shemesh had the word the word Isha (women) spray painted. A recent ad for Purim costumes for children featured pictures of boys in costumes and girls costumes sans girls. Some of the bolder business people did put girls in their ads for Purim, but blurred out their faces.
This is nothing new. Extremists on the right have been eliminating pictures of women altogether no matter how modestly they are dressed. One might recall the now infamous redaction of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from a photo of Obama administration officials viewing the assassination of Bin Laden. This kind of thing keeps happening. And mainstream Charedi publications have decided to honor those standards – no in order doubt to increase their circulation among that demographic.
How this affects a young girl growing up in that world cannot be positive. They are taught that men see them only as sex objects. That is the sum and substance of their existence. As such they may never be seen in any form. They are to avoid being in public as much as possible. And if they must. They are to play down their sexuality to the point of being shapeless and skinless. So fully well have they taught this modesty lesson that it should be no surprise that Burkas are now being worn by some women.
This is not a group that I would in any way want to be a part of. On the other hand they seem to feel that their ways are the only Torah true ways.
I am happy to report that a group of non extremists have taken it upon themselves to counter this trend. They have come up with a poster that shows a young girl asking her Charedi mother the following question: ‘Mommy, why did they erase the little girl’s face?’
There is no blurred out face in this poster. And I assume it is being put up all over Bet Shemesh.
But I am worried. It is not beneath any of the extremists to deface or tear down those ads. And because they are ‘true believers’ who think that what they are doing – they do for God, they will not compromise. For them it is a war they are fighting for God. You don’t comprise when you are fighting for God.
I’m sorry. This is not the Judaism of our forefathers. This is not the way religious Jewry behaved even a century ago. It is the way extremists who are isolated from the rest of the world behave. The values they are taught do not have any counter- balance. All they see is their own world. A world that to me – despite their observance of Halacha and belief in the Torah, I want nothing to do with. I only wish that the moderate Charedi world would stop catering to them!