Monday, January 9, 2012

Women Dancing Towards Change

So here's what's happening in Israel. We are in the midst of a religious war between some sectors of the ultra-orthodox (known as Haredi) communities and women - including women from religious but non-Haredi communities.

It started as a gradual and largely unnoticed eradication and exclusion of women from public display - no women on poster adverts in Jerusalem, segregated buses in orthodox areas where the women have to sit at the back, separate performances of concerts and shows for men and women. Not everywhere and not all the time. But in certain very religious neighbourhoods and with more and more frequency. And recently it's been creeping over the invisible religious borders into middle Israel. Several Religious State Schools (supposedly non-Haredi) had Hanukkah concerts for children and Mothers only as it's not modest for men to hear the girls singing.

How can this happen in a democracy where the Haredi sector makes up no more than 10%? The government has given so much power to religious leaders in return for their votes that it would fall if they broke ties. How many religious leaders are there that their votes carry so much weight? I'll explain with a story...

A few years ago I was working in an office of a company who were very pro employing orthodox women whose husbands studied Torah all day in Yeshiva. These women bring up the (usually many) children, run the home, work full time and, as I said, their husbands study. One day close to a general election we were all discussing who we supported and who we were planning to vote for. A few of these women said they didn't know yet. Fair enough - there's a lot to consider right? However, this comment was followed by: My husband's rabbi hasn't told us yet. He's telling us tonight. I was shocked, but this is how it is.

Bet Shemesh is a small town about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Driven out of the ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods of Jerusalem because of high property prices (and rents) and lack of space, Bet Shemesh has seen a big increase in its Haredi community over the past decade. And some of them are becoming more and more religiously extreme.

The latest incidents have seen religious women being spat on and verbally abused because thay dare to walk the streets with elbows or ankles showing, or in open-toed sandals. We're not talking skinny jeans and vest tops here - just not Taliban enough for the extremist zealots. And it's escalating because the religious leadership are not speaking out against such behaviour which 1. conveys that they secretly agree with it and 2. makes the extremists more bold and demanding.

Working, tax-paying and rate-paying, army serving, Israelis are angry, we've had enough. To try to impose their laws on non-Haredi Israelis and to become violent when they don't comply is the last straw. It is literally biting the hand that feeds them. Last Friday the women of sane Bet Shemesh made a stand against the eradication of women from public life. I keep going back to watch it and it has me grinning every time.


  1. I'll have to ask the local Rabbi if I can post a comment on your blog!

  2. How appalling. I've read nothing of this in the press. I suppose the Arab-Israeli conflict swallows all the headlines.

  3. caroline - very funny. He'll say no of course.

    M-a-M - I heard that there was some TV coverage in the UK - of the unrest not the dancing. I've got our news on now as I just got a text that it's going to be on.

  4. Bah. Censorship of my comment. So much for open, democratic discussion.

  5. Anonymous - If your comment has been censored it comes from Google or Blogger not from me. I would welcome any comment that isn't offensive. Thanks for trying anyway.

  6. This is shocking....and relatively unreported over here. Good for you writing about it and the flashmob? What can i say...being a dnace and all...I LOVE IT!!

    Those 2 young guys look shell-shocked watching it!

    I'm off to share this now...

    xx Jazzy

  7. The protest dance is great isn't it Jazzy? I knew you'd be interested. Thankd for nyour comment and I'm thrilled that you're sharing it.