Monthly Archives: February 2012

Shabbat Bus Protests Grow

Demonstrator for Shabbat buses in Jerusalem

The movement for Shabbat public transportation is growing. Today Ramat Gan will be voting on whether or not to join Tel Aviv in seeking public transportation on Shabbat.

MyNet also reports that Jerusalem Deputy Mayor, Pepe Alou, will propose Shabbat bus transportation between areas heavily populated by secular student and entertainment centers. He expects significant opposition, but says he is planning to argue the case as a life saving measure: public transportation would prevent students from driving home intoxicated. Meanwhile Hebrew University students have contracted for private bus service from campus to the city center. The service is scheduled to begin next week.

Last Shabbat (February 25), 400 people demonstrated in favor of public transportation on Shabbat in seven different cities around Israel, among them Tel Aviv, Ranaana, Holon, Rosh Ayin and Jerusalem.  The demonstrations were organized by Israel Hofshit.

Polls show that support for this change goes well beyond the protesters themselves. The numbers in support vary from poll to poll, but they all show a majority in favor public transportation on Shabbat:

The Galgalatz results no doubt reflect the listening audience. Galgalatz plays Israeli and American pop music and presumably has a largely secular audience. However, support crosses religious lines. For instance the 2009 Central Bureau of Statistics study found that support for public tranportation on Shabbat broke down by religious identity as follows: 78% of secular, 58% of somewhat religious, 39% of somewhat more religious, 26% of religious and 4% of Haredim.

The reasons for support from the more traditional often arise from a concern about the ill-will and anti-religious feeling created by religious coercion, especially in mostly secular cities. Talia Farkish, an observant op-ed writer for HaAretz said that restricting people’s enjoyment of their day off in the name of a religion they don’t believe in would only further alienate the non-religious. Another observant Ynet commentator said he was loathe to force someone to abide by his own beliefs:

For people who see public transportation as their only viable option, halting Israel’s bus service on Saturdays is a grave act of religious coercion bordering on fundamental violation of one’s freedom of movement. There is no justification whatsoever for making people who require public transportation and do not keep the Shabbat hate their day off because of the flawed bus service. This does not serve religion or the religious, but rather, only provokes dispute and anger. Just like I expect secular Israelis to refrain from traveling through haredi neighborhoods on Shabbat, even if it means that they must drive a little longer, I also expect the haredim not to prevent Tel Aviv, a fully secular city, from providing its residents with public transportation on Shabbat.

There are also non-religious Jews who are against Shabbat buses. The most common reason is concern that buses will encourage bustle and noise. One commentator also worried that any aggitation for change actually will give more power to the Haredim when they want to push their religious practices into the public sphere.

The Shabbat bus transportation movement is also beginning to lobby for its position in the Knesset. On Tuesday, the Knesset Economic Committee discussed the issue. Micki Gitzin, the head of Israel Hofshit, testified before the committee in support of bus transportation. MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) observed that all would likely benefit. Shabbat buses would significantly reduce private automobile traffic in certain areas and add to the sense of peace on Shabbat.

At present, coalition opposition to Shabbat public transportation is united. On Sunday, the ministerial committee voted on a bill to enable cities to choose Shabbat public transport without Transportation Ministry approval. The Transporation Minister, Israel Katz, says the Transportation Ministry will refuse requests for additional Shabbat bus lines (buses exist in Haifa and Eilat). The bill failed by a unanimous vote.

Previous post on this topic:  Haifa, Eilat have Buses on Shabbat: Is Tel Aviv Next?

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Countdown to Purim, 5772: The Shlomones, “Good Groggin’

In case you are wondering where you heard this song before, Continue reading

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Modesty American Style with Love from Russia

The American Haredi videolog website,, wanted to post a Discover commercial making fun of the long waits of its competitors. Discover had two versions of the commerical: the original and one showing a Russian fiddler playing the violin as call-wait music while his colleague went out to lunch.

Ah, but what to do? The original Discover commercial showed… knees and calves. Naked calves! No problem. Just bring out the handy dandy video editor, and voila….

It would be  easy enough to ridicule such a video, but there is much more to learn by taking a step back and examining why such a video is so strange to non-Haredi eyes.

As we have seen from the debates about men walking out from military ceremonies where women are singing, Haredim are sometimes prone to insisting that Halachah is absolutely black and white. There is no possible alternate interpretation that is “Jewish”. In reality the rules about what parts of the body should be covered and when, are riddled with arguments and disagreements. When it comes to arms and legs there are two major divergent schools of thought:

  • modesty and nakedness is a matter of social convention. Given the range of dress options, one should avoid the risqué ones. Thus if normal fashion says g-strings are risqué even at the beach, but full bikini bottoms are modest, the one could wear bikini bottoms without worry. Put another way: within a given culture, dress appropriatesly for children’s eyes.
  • independent of culture, certain parts of the body are inherently immodest. The Torah and Talmud define what those parts of the body are. Jews have only to obey. There are differences of opinion about what exactly counts as immodest body parts. For example, some argue that the knee and everything above it must be covered. Others insist that the ankle and even the foot itself is immodest and must be covered at all times with either skirts or stockings or both.

Historically, the Jewish community has preferred the social definition of modesty. Even the haredim’s icons followed this definition in the first half of the 20th century. We have pictures of Ovadia Yosef and his wife dressed in every day clothes in the late 1940’s. His wife is without a wig and even shows cleavage. Even Menachem Schneerson went bare headed from time to time in the twenties and thirties.

In the last 50 years of so, the haredim have moved to a more and more objectivist standard of modesty. By contrast, Liberal Judaisms (and here I include even Modern Orthodoxy), have held onto the culturally driven standards, at least in part. Rather than be afraid of halacha based on cultural awareness, they have embraced it. This creates an immense intellectual and cultural divide between the haredim and the rest of Jews. Continue reading

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Contribution, Integration, and the “Learn and Network” Program

This week the Haredi community in Lakewood hosted a first-of-its-kind job fair. Although only 1500 or so people were expected to attend, the fair attracted over 5000 people, Despite strong pressures to learn all day even in the American Haredi community, there clearly is a strong interest in employment.

The job fair was an offshoot of the “Learn and Network” Kollel program started by Duvi Honig, a member of the Haredi community in Lakewood, New Jersey. The “Learn and Network” program provides a framework where Haredim can combine job search skill development, networking, and Torah learning. Begun at the end of 2010, by May 2011 it had branches operating in four communities in the USA: Lakewood, Monsey, Flatbush, and the Five Towns area.  There are now plans to expand to  Israel as well.  Talks are already under way in both Beit Shemesh and Bnei Brak.

In Monsey, participants meet in the morning for Shachrit. This is followed by an hour and half of chevruta study at 9AM. From 10:30AM on, participants attend a variety of lectures on job hunting skills, small business development, networking, and of course Torah topics. Networking is encouraged both during study and lecture times. Other local program have slightly different schedules or run in the evenings, but the basic format is the same: a blend of Torah study, networking, and practical skill development.

From the Haredi point of view, there are two important advantages to this program over job training programs for the general public. The first and most obvious Continue reading

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While Haredi Leaders Rattle Swords, Haredim Enlist in Record Numbers?

According to Arutz Sheva, sources close to the IDF reported that after last week’s announcement of the end of the Tal Law, thousands of young Haredi men visited the IDF recuritment offices and registered for the draft. If this is true, then a single Supreme Court announcemnt encouraged more recuits in one week than had signed up in all of 2010.

This news comes admist cries to fight to the death from Haredi leadership. On Friday, Rabbi Shlomo Auerbach published a letter in the Hebrew edition of Yated saying that Charedim should resist the draft even at the price of death. On Sunday, United Torah Judaism and Shas made a joint announcement that any change to the status quo was unacceptable. Moshe Gafni (UTJ) said “”We have no existence without Torah, we will give our lives for it,” .

But will they? Are we wise to be measuring the situation by looking at Haredi leaders, or is the Haredi community like any authoritarian regime: a society whose real opinion simply can’t be measured by looking at the public face?

Rav Dov Halbertal, a follower of Rav Elyashiv,  believes the Haredi community is fully behind their leadership, even if it means essentially negating the authority of the State  and following their rabbis as a separate theocratic government. On Monday he was interviewed by Kol Israel. When asked about the Haredi communities likely response to the Supreme Court decision he said:

Do you think [High Court Justice Elyakim] Rubinstein or the other two High Court justices are going to teach Rav Elyashiv about Moshe Rabbeinu? I don’t say this cynically. They may be outstanding justices but they are not talmidei chachamim and their opinion does not have a bearing on the actions of the chareidi community…. The gedolei hador guide us and we adhere to their words. The gedolei hador do not sit in the High Court, but in our community and they alone will make decisions for the chareidi tzibur…. no one is serving in the army as a result of the court’s decision and if they do not understand this, they are lying to you and your children. I am sorrowed over this, but Bibi for example is deceiving the public. Nothing is going to change.

Rav Dov Halbertal made the Haredi news last October because he argued that the Haredi community should stop all the religious deal making. Instead they should be fighting for a separation of religion and state, even if that means the state will accept Reform conversion. Even if there is an economic price, the benefits outweigh them. Separation would allow haredim to follow their life style in purity. It would also elminate the hatred caused by forced secular observane. People could again love and see the beauty in Judaism because anger would not be clouding their eyes.

Despite the joint statement on Sunday, United Torah Judaism and Shas may not be as united as it first seems. UTJ, Shlomo Auerbach, Dov Halbertal and Rav Elyashiv all come from the Ashkenazi faction of the Haredi community. The Ashkenazim have a reputation for being ideologically driven.

Shas, on the other hand, tends to be more pragmatic when pushed to the wall. On Saturday night during his usual Motzei Shabbat radio address, Ovadia Yosef told his followers not to go on the attack. They should keep studying and “Hashem will fight the war”. As for the joint declaration, HaAretz reported that some Shas members critized their leadershipfor”kneeling before the Ashkenazi leadership, which has taken a militant line.”

Back in December, Eliashiv told his followers that they shouldn’t go to college. While secular Israel was aghast at such a stance, former Eda Haredit spokesman Shmuel Pappenheim and several others argued that the declaration was in fact a sign of diminishing power. Eliashiv was making stern pronouncements precisely because more and more Haredim were defying the rabbis and seeking out work and trainging so they could have the skills needed to have a good income.

It may well be that all of the fierce statements coming from the Haredi politicians in fact recognizes that they are out of time and options. This is certainly one way to read one angry remark from a Haredi politician. According to Arutz Sheva, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman accused Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch of playing hit and run: “Judges know politics, too,” he explained. “They know how to leave an impression for the years to come.”

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Countdown to Purim, 5772: Hesder Style in Australia

Today’s pre-Purim video is from teachers in Australia’s Torah MiTzion program. The Torah MiTzion program brings graduates from the Israeli army’s Hesder programs to teach in Jewish Day Schools in Australia.

The Hesder program allows Israelis Continue reading

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Mechitzas on El Al’s Flight To Belgium

It looks like in flight mechitzas may not be a joke after all. Last Monday( February 20), the Israeli television station channel 2 and Israeli business newspaper Globes reported that Haredim set up “dividers” on a recent El Al flight to Belgium. Passengers reported that the dividers extended the length of the plane, to block movies, and by some accounts, to also block the view of emergency exits.

El Al issued a statement saying “This is an unusual event, and is not in accordance with company flight service procedure. We would like to emphasize that flight safety was not compromised. The incident will be reviewed by El Al.” However, passengers reported that flight attendants said this happens from time to time. They deal with the situation by moving passengers annoyed by it.

The exact nature of the dividers wasn’t specified. Was this a single partition that extended the length of the cabin or some sort of personal mechitzah used by several passengers? In 2010 the Jerusalem Post reported that Haredim were being advised to carry portable folding white mechitzas on plane rides.

Spoof advertizement

At the time many thought that the idea was so bizarre that it must be some sort of pre-Purim joke. Since Jerusalem Post did not release a picture of the mechitza, one blog, the Muquata, provided a spoofed photo. In contrast to the actual mechitza (pictured left), the spoof photograph showed a green wrap around mechitza with El Al branding.

An actual in-flight mechitza (bluish divider) - note that it rises several inches above the seat back, potentially blocking the view of passengers behind the user.

The actual mechitzas attached to the seat back before each passanger where the tray folds down. They provided blinders that blocked the view of large in-flight movie screens and also of passengers on either side of the traveller. They were white in color, not green. El Al denied any knowledge of the device.

It sometimes takes time for Haredi news to make it to the mainstream press. The folding mechitzah had been in the works well before the 2010 Jerusalem Post article. In 2008 Yated, a Haredi newspaper reported that a delegation from the Rabbinical Committee for Transportation Matters who met with HaRav Chaim Kanievsky to get approval for their personal mechitza proposal and a blessing for their efforts in finding solutions to modesty issues. They showed him a prototype of the mechitza which can be folded up to 10inches. The organization responsible for the mechitzas, the Rabbinical Committee for Transportation Matters, is also involved in promoting segregated bus lines.

At the time, Kanievsky showed little understanding of the potential impact of the dividers on other travellers: Continue reading

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The War of Symbols Continues: More Violence on the Temple Mount and Off

Old City Rioter, masked and with stones, October, 2009 (photo by Synne Tonidas @

On Friday, after Muslim noon prayers, more than a hundred worshippers stanged a demonstration protesting Jewish temple mount extremists’ plans to enter the Temple Mount to pray. What exactly happened next is not clear as newspaprs give conflicting accounts. At some point the protesters began throwing stones. At some point the Israeli police entered the temple mount precinct to disperse the protesters. 11 police officers were lightly injured. Between 15 and 30 protesters were lightly injured. Four protesters were arrested.

AP reports that one of the Muslim officials present at the scene says stones were only thrown after police entered, but this doesn’t explain why the police entered the Temple Mount. However, the Jerusalem Post says that the conflict began when people on the Temple Mount began throwing stones down onto the Western Wall plaza below. When the police entered the Temple Mount to stop the stone throwing, the protesters began throwing stones at the police as well.

Reports of the weapons used on each side also differ. Ynet says molotov cocktails as well as stones were thrown. AP says that the police used tear gas as well as stun grenades. Arutz Sheva says the police used stun grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas. The police deny this saying they used stun grenades and nothing more. The Jerusalem Post mentions unspecified additional crowd control techniques. The police deny the use of any other crowd control techniques other than stun grenades.

Violence Triggers Yet More Violence and a Death

Violence on the Temple Mount triggered yet more violence elsewhere on the West Bank.  Continue reading

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Haredi National Service: Why It Might Not Be Business as Ususal

by Krembo1 (Creative Commns with attribution)

Two days after the Israeli Supreme Court overthrew the Tal Law, reactions and hopes are all over the map. There are those who expect nothing to change, those who are ready for culture war, and those who think both reactions are overblown or in denial. It is difficult to know who will be right, but one thing is clear the Supreme Court decision, the summer protests, and the agitation about the exclusion of women this fall and winter have fundamentally changed the facts on the ground. Continue reading

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Auerbach: Resistance to National Service Draft Is Worth Dying For

Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach

The Haredi community has begun responding in the wake of Tuesday’s overturning of the Tal Law, thus raising the spector of mandatory national service for all Haredim. On Thursday morning, a leading Haredi rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach issued a statement telling Haredim that manadory army and national service would amount to an uprooting of Torah and should be resisted at all costs, even to the point of Kiddush HaShem. (full Hebrew text here)

Fiery words aside, students at Jerusalem’s Hebron Yeshiva said they simply couldn’t believe they would ever serve. They pointed out the challenges of simultaneously imprisoning 60,000-plus citizens. In reality the worse case scenario would be the withdrawal of government funds from yeshivas. The Yeshivas would be forced to look elsewhere for funds and worse come to worse, the students would just eat less.   However, if it were to come to the extreme one of the students said serving in the army is so against Haredi identity that people would indeed die rather than serve.

All this sounds like firm intractable opposition from the Haredi community. However, if one looks a little deeper, all might not be as it seems. Continue reading

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