They Threw Feces at Eight-year-olds for Not Dressing Modestly Enough

Sometimes religious pluralism is complicated. And sometimes it’s not.

Credit: CNN

Haredi men gather outside a bus where another woman, Tanya Rosenblit, has refused to move to the back. (Credit: CNN)

On January 1st, 19-year-old female soldier Doron Matalon was asked to sit in the back of a public bus by a Haredi (sometimes known as ultra-Orthodox) man named Shlomo Fuchs (who was later arrested). When she refused, he called her a slut and a shiksa until the driver called the police. (This type of incident has happened before, by the way).

In September, a new religious national school known as Orot Banot opened on a street which forms the border between a modern Orthodox neighborhood, and a neighborhood dominated by a fundamentalist group known as Sikirikim. On the first day of school, a group of Sikrikim taunted, harassed, and yelled at the elementary girls going to class with their mothers, calling them whores and prostitutes. They also threw feces and vegetables and spit on these girls. Why? Because, they claim, the girls were insufficiently modest. One second grade girl, Na’ama Margolese, has told the story of being spat on, becoming a central focus of the debate broiling over these events. In response to criticisms of the harassment of these girls, on December 27th, some Haredim dressed up in Holocaust costumes evoking concentration camp victims in protest.

Na'ama Margolese. (Oded Balilty - AP)

These incidents have taken place over the last month in Bnei Brak, a majority far-right religious city, and Beit Shemesh, an Israeli city in the Jerusalem district with a large concentration of extremely religious Jews (40,000 out of 90,000). While Bnei Brak is almost completely religious, Beit Shemesh has a large population of secular and more liberal Jews, many of whom are American immigrants and no strangers to these kinds of conflicts. The events have sparked a national debate on the role of religion in Israeli life, and in particular, the relationship between Haredi groups and the broader, more secular society. Because Israel is a secular democracy that maintains its commitment to being a Jewish state, it is facing many of the same issues that arise in American politics, perhaps even more acutely.

It’s almost hard to know how to respond to something so blatantly vile, so fundamentally disgusting. There’s no argument to be made on behalf of eight-year-old girls trying to go to school and being stopped by men whose sole goal is to shame them for their insufficient modesty or inadequate religiosity and to exert power through intimidation. The facts really speak for themselves.

 

Israelis of all levels of observance protest Extremism. Photo Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

 

Thankfully, that has been the overwhelming response. From American writers. Israeli writers. Secular writers. Religious writers. From Israel’s Chief Rabbi. From Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. From Orthodox Jews such as Rabbi Dov Lipman, who has launched a movement to keep Beit Shemesh safe for non-Ultra-Orthodox citizens. They sustain a patrol around the school and keep media attention on the extremists. And, most delightfully, from other Haredi communities, who decided to organize a protest, demonstrating their support of the girls, the school, and their objection to the repulsive actions taken in their name.

This is being framed as a manifestation of an inevitable conflict simmering between Israel’s far-right religious and secular communities, and there’s definitely something to that. The vast majority of Israel’s Jews are largely secular (depending on definition), and yet the Orthodox Rabbinate controls marriage and divorce. Every Jewish Israeli is required to serve in the army, except for Haredi men, who receive a stipend from the government to study in Jewish religious scholarly institutions. Two right-wing religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are in a coalition with the currently ruling Likud party, giving them political power incommensurate with their popularity.

On the other hand, there has been a clear message from almost all sources, including the Israeli government, that the happenings in Beit Shemesh are unacceptable and incompatible with a pluralistic society, so maybe it’s not such a simple conflict. To begin with, the Haredi community is expanding rapidly and now makes up 10% of the Israeli population. This growth brings them into highly increased contact with the secular world. Also, the Haredi community has in recent months expanded the imposition of their interpretation of religious law in their neighborhoods by, for example, putting up signs on sidewalks asking women to step aside for men when they happen to cross. Also, the stipend program for religious learning mentioned earlier has become incredibly expensive, both in direct costs to the government and indirect costs to the Haredi community, whose male population lacks job skills and puts off earning an income for several years. During these years, they are generally married and starting families, and so in order to care from their larger-than-average families, married Haredi women have become the primary breadwinners in many families, often by receiving excellent secular educations and then going into the workplace. That kind of thing leads to modernization, to secularization. Nothing drastic, yet, of course, but it seems to me that what the events on the buses and at the schools show is a community that is out of touch with the society that they depend on. They’re feeling under attack. They’re foreseeing a future that does not necessarily include their current way of life.

There is a burgeoning conflict going on, but it’s not between the religious and the nonreligious, either in Israel or in America. It’s between illiberal groups who impose objectionable standards on those outside their community while simultaneously demanding taxpayer support, and those who recognize the danger of such a position and understand what it means to live in a free and open society, where differences of opinion are solved through open debate and a political process instead of intimidation and insularity. There is room for religion in democratic societies — religion that is respectful, religion that is applied only to its members, religion that wants to play fair. There is no room for bullying, oppressive, wannabe standard-bearers of morality who think they they don’t have to follow the rules. It’s telling, for example that Na’ama’s mother, who by most standards is a very observant Jew, said, “It shouldn’t matter what I look like. Someone should be allowed to walk around in sleeveless shirts and pants and not be harassed.”

Mayor Moshe Abutbol, are you listening?

  • observer

    I’ve seen their clothing, they’re all wearing  sweaters with dresses. Seriously, if an eight-year old girl wearing a sweater and a dress gets you off, I think the problem is more about you then them.

    On a side note, is it odd I can hear wing-nuts like Bryan Fischer or Rick “I-dare-you-to-Google-my-name” Santorum saying something like, “Why do THEY get to have all the fun?”

  • Andrew Reisman

    …Where did they get feces from?

    • http://www.fantasticastoria.blogspot.com/ Chana Messinger

      I think they used babies’ diapers.

    • Jess

      I’m guessing from between their ears. Clearly they have plenty to spare.

  • Rich Wilson

    usually mad about something or other.

     I love that. 

    As for the actual post- I’m still picking pieces of my brain off the floor.  Thankfully, in my case, figuratively.  

  • Blzbob

    Was that guy’s name really Slowmo Fucks? I shouldn’t make fun of others, especially with something as serious as this. Come on though, Slowmo Fucks?

    • Anonymous

      In German it’s pronounced more like fʊks. Same sound as in “good” or “foot”

  • Anonymous

    Normally I am not a fan of the guest posts on Friendly Atheist, but your writing style, logical reasoning, and factual backup (links up the wazoo) are most definitely welcome. Thank you for this article!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mujica.alex Alejandro Mujica

    Thanks for the very insightful article. I think insularity is the major problem with multicultural societies. Where do you preserve customs and where do you assimilate others? The decision to throw feces at little girls, however, should be 100% abhorred by anyone with a working brain.

    It’s also one hell of a shock to see how backwards Haredi practices can be. As if the civil rights movement never happened.

    • Anonymous

      Having traditions and customs is one thing. But nothing they do is necessary for that. They are going way beyond anything that’s tolerable. Even before this, they were just ridiculous – especially when you consider their broader role and status in society (e.g. not working and being paid by the state to study the Torah). Other groups have shown that you can preserve a unique identity and culture without living in the stone age or forcing everyone else to conform to your views.

  • Anonymous

    It’s between illiberal groups who impose objectionable standards on
    those outside their community while simultaneously demanding taxpayer
    support, and those who recognize the danger of such a position and
    understand what it means to live in a free and open society, where
    differences of opinion are solved through open debate and a political
    process instead of intimidation and insularity. There is room for
    religion in democratic societies — religion that is respectful, religion
    that is applied only to its members

    But if this is how they treat outsider 8 year old girls who practise the same religion, how do you think they treat their own daughters? How can there be room for religion that is “applied” to its members? How did these men end up this way? Thinking that it’s acceptable to throw feces on children? Thinking that they deserve to be paid to study nonsense while their peers are forced to uphold their government’s (religiously backed) occupation of Palestine and perhaps die in the effort? They were indoctrinated to think that’s the way their god wants things to be. Yes, it would be nice if the religious could keep their objectionable standards to themselves, but it’s not enough.

    • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky


      But if this is how they treat outsider 8 year old girls who practise the same religion, how do you think they treat their own daughters? 

      As far as the charedim are concerned, the other Orthodox Jews aren’t practicing the same religion. 

      Thinking that they deserve to be paid to study nonsense while their peers are forced to uphold their government’s (religiously backed) occupation of Palestine and perhaps die in the effort

      Two things to note. First, many of the charedim claim that spending their time studying has a metaphysical impact that actively makes the world a better place (less disease, less war, etc.). Second, the Israeli-Palestinian situation is quite complicated (describing it as an occupation is an extreme oversimplification) but it is important to note that the charedim are not generally supporting the building or continuation of settlements. The end of the religion which is pushing for that are the dati leumi (literally “religious nationalists” but “religious zionist” might be a better translation) who are from a religious practice standpoint much more moderate. They don’t dress in all black for example. Many of the Orthodox people on the receiving end of these problems in Beit Shemesh are dati leumi. As far as the charedim are concerned, zionism is essentially heresy. 

      • Jean-Paul Marat

        Yet, they receive benefit from Zionism, the very thing they claim to oppose, by living in a state that has not only tolerated their Dark Age mentality, but have also subsidized it. 

        The Haredim have numerous children and often go on public assistance because they’re too busy studying Torah instead of working. That kind of behavior (let alone throwing human feces at schoolchildren) wouldn’t even be tolerated in most other secular democracies.

        Not even Crown Heights shows this level of backwardness.

        • Jay

          You’re so wrong and incorrect. Haredim are in opposition to the SECULAR ISRAELI CULTURE, and you know it.

          And living in Israel is not ZIONIST in and of itself, it’s the policies towards Palestinians which makes it Zionism. There have been Haredim living in Palestine in the 1800′s and there some Rabbis were opposed to the Zionists when the movement came around.

          Read about the “Old Yishuv.”

          Secondly, there are Palestinians who live in the Israeli State, are you going to say they are Zionists for recieving health subsidies?

          Some of the Haredim live off private charities by the way.

          You’re wrong and politically ignorant.

          It is the secular Israeli Zionists like Moshe Dayan and David Ben Gurion who brought war upon the Palestinian people. They are nationalists, not religious.

          Your association of secular with goodness is foolish, as proven by the above comment and HISTORY.

          Email me if you want to respond.

      • Anonymous

        As far as the charedim are concerned, the other Orthodox Jews aren’t practicing the same religion.

        Yes. That was kinda the basis of my point. They treat these girls this way because they (the girls) aren’t conforming to what they (the men) think their god wants. What does that imply about what kind of behaviour they are enforcing on their own daughters and wives and what kind of treatment they are prepared to inflict on them? In other words, what does a “modest” girl wear? How does she behave? What punishment does god want them to mete out if she’s a “member” of the sect and non-compliant?

        First, many of the charedim claim that spending their time studying has a
        metaphysical impact that actively makes the world a better place

        So? What’s your point? I don’t really give a rat’s ass what they want to claim. There is no evidence that the nonsense they study has any positive effect whatsoever. And yet they think they’re entitled to be subsidised for it.

        the charedim are not generally supporting the building or continuation of settlements

        Again, not relevant to what I was saying. I know that some of these ultra ultra sects think their god is against the ‘secular’ state of Israel, and oppose West Bank settlements because they’re supposed to wait for the Messiah. My point was that these people base their withdrawal from commitments–commitments, ironically, largely informed and financially backed by other religious ideologies–that every other Israeli family has to bear, based on their religion.

        It’s not enough to just say “there is room for religion in democratic societies — religion that is respectful, religion that is applied only to its members” as the OP did. We should be pushing for a secular world. One in which children are taught science and history in secular schools, one in which government does not subsidise religion at all. Those “members” are mostly children and women who have no other choice, and the men have been brainwashed to think they know the mind of gods.

  • Trace

    Wonderful post Chana! (and like Rich Wilson, I like the fact that you’re always mad at something or other)

    One comment from the link to the Jerusalem Post:

    “The degree of hatred the seculars show towards the haredim is outrageous
    and anti-Semitic. As a secular withy a conscience, I cn no longer
    support Israel and its anti-Semitic persecution of haredim.”
     
    Why are seculars always perceived as hateful? Are Israeli seculars’ attitudes towards the haredim anti-Semitic? Really?

    • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

      No. If I had to make a guess, I’d say that that post was made by a charedi fellow masquerading as secular. There are negative attitudes among the secular Israelies to the charedim, but they aren’t extreme. They are more of the form “why do my tax dollars go to you” than any of the violence and the like which the charedim direct to everyone else. Charedi claims of anti-semitism are akin to claims in the US that people are being anti-Christian when they try to enforce the First Amendment and the like. As far as many charedim are concerned, anything that goes against what they want is anti-semitism. And we haven’t even gotten to the fun things charedim have to say about science…

      • Trace

        Thanks. That is a good analogy.

      • Devysciple

        Regarding the view of anti-semitism within Israel, I highly recommend the 2009 documentary Defamation. While it is slightly biased, it still offers a unique and interesting perspective of the instrumentalization of anti-semitism in Israel’s right-wing policies.

  • Edmond

    So, attacking little girls with feces is the example these grown men are setting for modesty??  And people claim that religion is supposed to make people behave BETTER???

  • crowepps

    As I understand the complaint, the eight year olds’ skirts were too short and they were wearing sandals which allowed their toes to show instead of properly wearing stockings, but the real complaint was that the long-planned school was assigned to Orthodox children instead of being diverted to the exploding population of Haredi children instead, as is evidenced by the fact that when the Orthodox BOYS started attending months ago, they also were harassed and had stones thrown at them.

    Ironically, the same extremist splinter group from the Haredi are also vehemently protesting another group of women for being *excessively* modest:
    http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=1966

    • http://www.fantasticastoria.blogspot.com/ Chana Messinger

      You’re absolutely right. Part of the reason this piece doesn’t focus exclusively on a feminist analysis of the situation is because this is really about exerting power more broadly, for example, as you point out, in terms of real estate. Similarly, the criticisms of women wearing the veil show it’s not really about the need for modesty.

      Many religious rules are about power, but some of them have something else combined as well. These seem not to.

  • reg griffin

    I saw the documentary about this & the moment when the little girl is clinging to her mothers arm & crying/begging that they avoid the area was heartbreaking, the local men  genuinely see nothing wrong. At one point during the film we catch a brief glimpse of their women & they appear no different to the women of Afghanistan. There can be NO excuse for treating anyone like this, still less a young girl & Israel should not be sidetracked by spurios claims of intolerance & act now to put an end to this for good!

  • Mr Nobody

    I’m surprised it was noticed overseas just now, I’m living here and the media didn’t let go of the subject for about 2 and half weeks, oh well, better late then never, yeah, the haredi community is pretty much infuriating a large part of the country for a while now, back when there were only the problems in bet shemesh I thought it was only the sikrekim, but now the bastards called the people who all have to serve in the army and pay taxes so they could do nothing theyr whole lives nazis, I’ve never heard of the feces throwing, but spitting on an 8 year old for not dressing modestly, that got the whole country mad. I only heard about shas, not about the other one, and yes, bney brak is theyr turf. Either 100% of it’s population is haredi, or at least 99.99%, halikud is our republicans, though from the Things I’ve heard from Romney, Bachman, And rick perry, you can view them as almost democratic, if you’d want to ask questions me anything about the subject, I’m here.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=649813048 Nicoline Smits

      Since many (most?) haredim actually oppose the state of Israel – don’t ask me what sort of mental contortionism this requires – I think they should put their money where their mouths are and move to Iran or Afghanistan or some such place, known to be particularly welcoming to Jews. The haredim try to have it both ways: getting stipends from a government they despise and refusing to do their part for society, while at the same time breeding like rabbits so they can make up a controlling majority in politics. If I were a woman living in Israel, I would make it a point to walk around in these haredim neighborhoods in hot pants or micro mini, and let them try to spit at me or make me sit in the back of the bus. No effin’ way!

      • Anonymous

        They might end up stoning you. Or raping you. It’s been known to happen with patriarchal fundamentalists.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=649813048 Nicoline Smits

          Well, that’s the problem in a nutshell, isn’t it? Why is it *my* responsibility as a woman to dress in such a way that those idiots aren’t led into temptation? If they find even *8-year-old* girls tempting, I’d say lop off the part of the male anatomy that they apparently find so hard to control and be done with it!  But just in case, I shall make sure to stuff some razor blades up my ****!

      • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

        Although most charedim believe that the state of Israel is unacceptable many charedim  also believe that Jews have an obligation to live within the borders of the original land of Israel. . 

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Thank you Chana, for a very intelligent, informative, and well-written post.

    Let me get this straight, because it’s hard to believe that I’m really reading this correctly: The Haredim curse at, spit on, and throw garbage and shit on little girls who aren’t in exactly the same religious sub-sect, and when they’re criticized for this, THEY dress up as holocaust victims??               

    That has got to be the most archetypal example of a ridiculous playing of the “persecuted martyr/victim card” I have ever seen. That will be used as the “picture in the dictionary” of an oppressor pretending to be the oppressed, of the villain pretending to be the victim.  

    I think you are correct in saying that the Haredim are “a community that is out of touch with the society that they depend on. They’re feeling under attack. They’re foreseeing a future that does not necessarily include their current way of life.”  This articulates well something I’ve begun to see in the U.S. to a much lower level, so far: The radical religious right senses its own impending mortality, and its reaction is to become even more radical, which hastens rather than prevents its demise. The problem is, can we and our democracy survive the last extreme thrashings of the dying dinosaur?

    Your last paragraph sees this conflict as wider than just within religious issues, and I see your point, and I hear your appeal for “religion that is respectful, religion that is applied only to its members, religion that wants to play fair.” However I’m becoming less and less optimistic that we will ever be able to have those sane levels of religiosity without these insane levels inevitably growing out of them.

  • Charles Black

    If they ever laid a finger on my kid, they’ll by lucky to be in hospital when I’m done with them.

    • Charles Black

      *be*

  • Anonymous

    I have been following these stories for a while. It is very disconcerting that these type situations are happening in the 21st century. To me they are but one example of how religious notions are all too often detrimental to society.
    While the treatment of these women and children is of course shocking and disgusting, what disturbed me most was that during a taped interview one of the Haredi men (using the term loosely) when questioned why little girls were being spat upon replies that “they don’t go around dressed modestly… I am a healthy person” implying, at least to me, that he is “tempted” by these young girls, that he has no more self-control and common sense than that.
    He claims that the Torah justifies this behavior of spitting on and calling young girls vile names. I have not been paid by the government to study Torah so I can’t claim to be an expert on it, and I know that many religious people find whatever they so choose within their chosen religious books to justify their behaviors, but I would think this man in particular needs to find some literature that explains to him how to train his “healthy person” to not be aroused by underage children. Perhaps the state of Israel would be better served to pay these men and boys to study 21st century common sense and decency.

    Referenced video footage here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5HKtaaws-g

  • Dan W

    Do these morons ever think about what they do before they do it? How could anyone think that throwing feces on children is going to get you anything but negative publicity? No matter what your reasoning for it, that sort of behavior will get you nothing but condemnation from decent people.

  • Greisha

    Religion or religion identity was a part of what created Israel – it may, unfortunately, undo her as well.  I have very close relatives over there and it scares me a lot.

  • A Portlander

    How exactly does this square with all those admonitions about “cleanliness”? Aren’t all these guys banking lifetimes worth of “atonement” here?

  • Anonymous

    Because Israel is a secular democracy that maintains its commitment to being a Jewish state

    This may be slightly off topic, but I have a hard time seeing how you can be a “secular democracy” while making the core of your identity a religious one.

    I know that Jewish identity is more complex than just religious belief (my atheist Jewish grandmother would kill me if I didn’t), but I don’t see the nebulous racial-cultural-religious definition of Jew as any improvement. At present the mere act of being Jewish gives you an advantage if you wish to become Israeli, which doesn’t exactly strike me as a secular policy. It’s my understanding that the final determination of who is Jewish for the purpose of immigration falls on the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, so religious authorities have control over who does and does not get to be Israeli.

    There is also no civil marriage in Israel. Inside Israel marriages must be conducted under a recognized religious group. If you don’t belong to that group, or if you want to enter into a marriage configuration not approved by those groups (like some mixed marriages) you have to fly overseas, and then have your civil marriage recognized back home. The law officially discriminates against the non-religious or those wanting to enter into mixed marriages.

    Mentioned above is the fact that Haredi men don’t have to do military service, so again we have the law of the land giving favorable treatment to a religious sect.

    That’s not to say that the day-to-day of many Israeli lives is not fully secular. I also know that a sizable part of the Israeli population favors more secular laws and the elimination of special treatment for religious vs. secular citizens. However I just don’t see how Israel can ever become a truly “secular democracy” unless it at some point recognizes the full value and rights of all people, regardless of religious or ethnic origin.

    • Anonymous

      Yep, I noticed that too. Israel it definitely not a secular state. Not in its political makeup. It’s not a theocracy either, but somewhere in between. Closer to a secular country than the other extreme, yes, but some things are definitely highly influenced by religion

      • Denis Robert

        It is a near-democracy (many of its residents are refused citizenship, and hence the right to vote, based on religious criteria) with an established religion. It stands pretty much at a crossroads: in its early years, Israel was certainly secularizing, but recently the extreme-right has had the momentum, and their wish is, ironically, to create a religious state indistinguishable from Iran (except of course in relation to which delusion is preferred).

        • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky


          (many of its residents are refused citizenship, and hence the right to vote, based on religious criteria

          I’m not sure what you are talking about here. Can you expand on this? 

          • Erp

            He might be referring to many of the non-Jewish residents of the land annexed after the 1967 war (East Jerusalem and some surrounding land).  Despite being born there, they for the most part do not have Israeli citizenship and can lose the right to live there.   They can gain citizenship but the conditions are such that most won’t accept. 

            • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

              That had occurred to me, but none of those issues have to do with religion. 

      • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

        I agree that calling Israel a secular state isn’t accurate The entire relationship between religion and government is complicated. In addition to the general Jewish theocratic elements, other religions have recognized aspects. In particular, there’s a short list of recognized religions (various forms of Islam and Christianity fill out most of the list), and those religions get privileges in respect to marriages, divorces and similar issues occurring under their own systems. It has some similarity to the way Indonesia does things or how many Western European countries did things until the 19th century. 

  • T-Rex

    I’ve said it a thousand times but I’ll say it yet again. Fuck religion. All religions. There are no good deeds that can’t be done without religion.

  • Mark O’Leary

    The article erroneously states that Israel is a secular democracy. Since Israel has no constitution, it cannot be meaningfully called either secular or religious. In the absence of  actual legal principles explicitly delineating a secular government, the door to this kind of religious bullying is left standing open. Even in the US, with its expressly secular constitution the so-called godly people manage to pul of an amazing amount of these kinds of shenanigans.

    Short answer: Israel needs a constitution. 

    • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

      Israel has serious problems with theocratic elements. Not having a written constitution is not one of them. This is American-centric thinking. Is Great Britain not a secular democracy in your view? A written Constitution is a safeguard which helps make sure that governments stay true to what they are supposed to. But they aren’t part of the definition of either “secular” or “democracy.” And if there’s anything that’s been made clear in the US in the last ten years, it is that having things written down doesn’t mean the government will pay attention to it. 

      Calling Israel a secular democracy is inaccurate because the situation is more complicated. But the problem has nothing to do with the lack of a constitution. 

  • Anonymous

    yeahh wctube


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