Incident in Ramat Beit Shemesh

I imagine that most of us know Americans who made aliyah and settled in Beit Shemesh. These are in the main people who can be characterized as Leumi Dati, with a bit of charedi instinct thrown in. They are men and women with wonderful values, good midos, sincere religiosity and a love for Israel and the Jewish people. They are certainly among the best that we have.

When the first English speaking olim came to Beit Shemesh or actually Ramat Beit Shemesh, they encountered a fair amount of difficulty. As I recall, there were many burglaries and there was tension between the newcomers and the poorer Israelis, mostly Sephardim. After the initial period of adjustment, relations improved and the newcomers went about their jobs and their important contributions to the Jewish State.

As Ramat Beit Shemesh grew, there were sections that were occupied by charedim, mostly Chassidic families coming from other parts of Israel. There have been a number of incidents involving attempted intimidation by charedim of the Anglos and the situation has worsened considerably in the past year. On Yom Ha-Atzmaut, there was an event for school girls, a number of adult charedim pelted the girls with eggs for the sin of celebrating Yom Ha-Atzmaut. This has had a traumatic effect on the children, some of whom are questioning whether a religious path is for them, and it has been traumatic – in conjunction with other incidents – for the English-speaking residents. I have been told of one meeting in which some of these residents discussed the question of whether they should move away.

I have heard about this from a Beit Shemesh resident who is as sweet a person as one can imagine. He is worried about the impact on his daughter and he is worried about the impact on how he looks at the charedi community. What happened on Yom Ha-Atzmaut has for him “burst the bubble,” and tainted how he looks at the community and other Jews.

The Beit Shemesh story is but one new episode in the larger story of how people are being driven away from Yiddishkeit. I have said repeatedly over the years that we are “merachek krovim.” It is evident that both in Israel and here we are losing people because some of us have taken the beautiful religion that Hakadosh Boruch Hu gave us and perverted it.

When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?

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16 Responses

  1. Joe Schick says:

    Here is Haaretz’s report of the Beit Shemesh incident:

    link at

    A group of teenagers were on their way home from an Independence Day celebration last week in the largely Anglo enclave of Ramat Beit Shemesh when they were pelted with eggs and tomatoes.

    The incident, which was hardly isolated, highlights the growing tensions between the neighborhood’s ultra-Orthodox and more modern religious elements – a balance which until now has been delicately maintained.

    Residents of the community say that the situation has become exacerbated in recent days, specifically in wake of Independence Day celebrations, when cars were attacked for flying Israeli flags outside their windows. Some residents say they didn’t decorate with blue and white this year, for fear of being verbally or physically abused.

    Compounding this growing tension is a debate within the community about dress codes and other restrictions in the neighborhood’s public shopping areas. Ultra-Orthodox residents of Ramat Beit Shemesh held a large-scale demonstration in the main commercial district last week, to protest what they describe as the immodesty of some of their fellow shoppers. Some 150 ultra-Orthodox resident gathered to demand a “more religious” commercial environment, which includes less socializing in the area’s coffee shops and pizza joints after nightfall.

    “This neighborhood has become like [the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of] Mea Shearim,” complained one member of the neighborhood’s modern Orthodox community, whose son was attacked after the Independence Day celebrations and asked to go unnamed. “The ultra-Orthodox here have become so aggressive in their religion and people are scared to take them on. I can hardly recognize the community any more: More haredim are moving in, property value is going down, and people are becoming less tolerant.”

    At issue is a growing debate over the general religious character – both present and future – of this largely Anglo neighborhood. The area is divided into Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, which houses a combination of modern religious, secular and ultra-Orthodox, and Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, which is almost exclusively ultra-Orthodox. Another neighborhood, Gimmel, is under construction and is slated to draw residents from a combination of religious backgrounds.

    But drawing traditional and modern Orthodox people to the neighborhood will be difficult, some more modern religious residents predict. In one of the local supermarket chains, women not dressed “appropriately” are asked to don robes while they shop, and the commercial area has meanwhile been dubbed “Geulah” by local haredim – another reference to an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood where the laws of modesty and the separation between men and women are strictly enforced.

    “Haredim moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh for a haredi environment,” Chevy Weiss, a member of the community explained. “If you come into our shopping center, it’s important to be considerate of our values. It’s the same as if you were going to Mea Shearim and you would dress a certain way.”

    But members of the neighborhood’s more modern community counter that they never intended to live in an ultra-Orthodox enclave.

    “Women who wear trousers and don’t cover their hair don’t need to be told how to dress in the street,” London-born Ruth Wellins insisted. “Suddenly, people are telling us how to dress as if we live in Mea Shearim. But I never moved into Mea Shearim and this neighborhood certainly wasn’t advertised as Mea Shearim.”

    Other residents insist that the fervently ultra-Orthodox presence, however vocal, remains a minority that should, ultimately, be overlooked.

    “You need to look at the numbers,” says city counsel member Shalom Lerner, who owns Lerner Real Estate in Beit Shemesh. “There are some outspoken anti-Zionist people living in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet who are sometimes violent and burn flags, but we’re talking about maybe 100 families.”

    The protest earlier last week, he added, had less than 150 people, “which you need to compare to the thousands who celebrated the Yom Ha’atzmaut festivities.”

    “No neighborhood,” he added, “is perfect.”

  2. Toby Katz says:

    “On Yom Ha-Atzmaut, there was an event for school girls, a number of adult charedim pelted the girls with eggs for the sin of celebrating Yom Ha-Atzmaut. ”

    I’d be very surprised if it was really adults, though I concede that it’s possible. I know that the chareidi community has a problem with restless adolescent boys who are not so cut out for learning 24/7 and who find anti-social ways to entertain themselves — like throwing eggs. Do I even have to bother saying that such behavior is not typical and is not condoned by the vast majority of chareidim in Eretz Yisrael?

  3. "Pravda Ne'eman" says:

    Thank you very much for discussing the failings of the frum community without covering them up. When I saw that Cross Currents had an article with this title, I was expecting the sort of apologetic party line that some other publications are known for, but you proved me wrong! Kol Hakavod.

    The fact is that relations between different communities with different religious standards can be quite tense, and it is incumbent upon both sides to do what they can to ease the tension. Unfortunately, it seems to me that the Israeli Chareidi community has never developed these skills, possibly due to their history of being on the defensive and ensuing seige mentality.

  4. Pravda Ne'eman says:

    Really, Ms. Katz? Are the people who print signs that call for people to come to these demonstrations also restless adolescent boys? Having seen violent chareidi hafganot at Kikar Shabbos on several occasions, I can assure you that sadly, there are plenty of adults participating.

    Also, your statement that this behavior “is not condoned by the vast majority of chareidim in Eretz Yisrael” is interesting. Have you done a poll on this subject? Are you in America or Israel? Living in a chareidi community in Eretz Yisroel, in my experience many or most chareidim of Israeli descent (and some of American descent as well) feel that these sorts of things are neccesary, though possibly distasteful.

  5. Aaron says:

    When are we going to have a zero tolerance policy for such behavior, ala Rudy Giuliani.

  6. joel rich says:

    Do I even have to bother saying that such behavior is not typical and is not condoned by the vast majority of chareidim in Eretz Yisrael?
    No you don’t but remember – “All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke.
    What steps have been taken to stop/disavow this action?
    Joel Rich

  7. Shaul Robinson says:

    The fact is that there seems to be a huge difference between what standards of behaviour are acceptable and normal in Israeli Charedi society and in Chutz l’aretz. There was an article in the last edition of Jewish Observer warning American Charedim making Aliyah that they have to be prepared to live in a community of very different standards – especially with regards to the absence of Secular education in schools, but in other areas such as acceptable leisure pursuits as well. It is well known that people from what are considered Charedi homes in Chutz Lartez can have a hard time with the standards of Israel. It seems that Israeli society tends towards extremes – not just in the Charedi sector, but in most sectors of society. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out in his new book that a feature of what may be termed ‘fundamentalism’ is that many things that most people regard as virtues, such as the ability to compromise and tolerate other views would be regarded as weaknesses in certain societies.

    The fact is, as the JO said, it is unlikely that well meaning ‘soft’ Chutz Laretz Charedim can impact on this fundamental issue. Which is a problem, because from our perspective we can see how awful are the splits in Israeli society are, and how the potential for Chilul Hashem is enormous.

  8. a pashut yid says:

    Keep in mind when quoting Haaretz or some other anti-chareidi newspaper as your source of information, the numbers tend to be cut in half or even more. The demonstration, which was a “kennes his’orrerus” with Rabbonim speaking on the subject, was advertised for about 2 days, one of which was shabbos. The signs went up that morning. And yet, there were still over 400 people there. Better yet, there were 400 men there. The wives didnt come. Most of the kids didnt come.
    Additionally, one has to understand the layout of bet shemesh. The incident on yom atzmaut took place in RBS bet, which is and was supposed to be, a chassidic/yerushalmi community. This is *not* an anglo community. The “demonstration” at the community comercial center was in RBS A which has taken a turn towards being more chareidi over time.

    In terms of the value of the houses going up or down, as far as I know, the more chareidi the area gets, the prices will go up. He need not worry.

  9. Zev says:

    “I know that the chareidi community has a problem with restless adolescent boys who are not so cut out for learning 24/7 and who find anti-social ways to entertain themselves—like throwing eggs.”

    I am a fan of Mrs. Katz and her writings, and I’m as “haredi” as the next guy, but here I must disagree with Mrs. Katz. Let’s not defend the indefensible. Even if this was perpetrated by “restless adolescent boys,” they are *not* acting contrary to the wishes of their society. Rather, they are simply acting on the ugly message they receive at home.

  10. Ramat Resident says:

    I think some history is in order:

    The American community in Bet Shemesh itself has historically been Dati Leumi, without Charedi leanings. Ramat Bet Shemesh is a different story. It was conceived during a Labor administration to be a secular city, especially for military families. All that changed when Likud came in power (the last time around). Overnight, what was supposed to be a secular city became a charedi one. “Shchunat Ben Tzvi” became “Meshkenos Yaakov.”

    The transformation did not go all that smoothly. While most chilon and the majority of Dati Leumi people left Ramat Bet Shemesh, there are still some pockets. Presently, the Dati Leumi community is upset that the Charedi community is trying to cut down on teenage delinquency and the state of tzniut in the shopping center (which is located in the Charedi part of Ramat Bet Shemesh).

    THe Americans in Ramat Bet Shemesh are caught in the middle. On the one hand, they are not happy with the teenagers roaming the streets and would prefer to shop alongside people dressed appropriately. On the other hand, they do not like some of the tactics being used by a number of the Charedi activists.

    Ironically, the Israeli Dati Leumi view the tensions as American/Israeli (the Charedi activists are in fact Israeli).

    In any case, Mr. Schick’s assessment that the Americans in Ramat Bet Shemesh are Dati Leumi is simply wrong. I would estimate that the majority of the Americans in Ramat Bet Shemesh, push comes to shove, would identify themselves as Charedi.

  11. Shira Schmidt says:

    The Israeli novelist Amos Oz explains the passionate nature of events in the Land of Israel by saying, “There are some people who are craving for Israel to become an outpost of America or Europe and who have a fantasy about turning Israel into a north European country that it cannot be. If anything, we are … Mediterranean. We don’t belong in an Ingmar Bergman film. We belong in a Fellini movie.”
    This partly explains why so much commotion-shading-over-to-violence erupts here.

  12. Yoni Doe says:

    My family and I made aliyah to Beit Shemesh this past summer. After having spent a shabbos in both Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef and the Givat Sharret neighborhood of Beit Shemesh we quickly saw where we fit. Even though in the US we were borderline Chareidi we didn’t want to live in a neighborhood where chareidiism was being forced on us.

    In the past few months we’ve seen our decision validated. Between the Rabbi Slifkin affair and the Yom Ha’atzmaut “festivities”, it’s clear that, though the may be in the minority, the extremist are setting the tone for that community. (Rabbi Slifkin lives in RBS Alef and has been harrased by some of his neighbors.) As a chareidi friend of mine told me regarding the recent drive to make the shopping area more “chareidi”, most people in RBS, while not agreeing with the tactics, agree with the goals. So even American born chareidim aren’t being very vocal about stopping the extremists.

    Contrary to what Toby Katz stated, all of the major incidents have involved adults. Besides, even if not, where does one think these kids are learning this behavior from.

    Ironically, all of this has been positive for me hashkafically. I now no longer consider myself a borderline chareidi. I have found my philosophical home among the modern orthodox. This has not changed my observance one iota. I still wear my tzitzit out and a jacket to daven and a hat on Shabbos. Interestingly, I have found that with the exception of Zionism, the “frum” daati leumi people here are much closer religiously to the American chareidim than they are to their American counterparts.

    I truly worry for the future of Judaism if these extremist elements continue to hijack our religion. I fear that if this continues unchecked we will be headed down the same road as Islam. To an extended period of fundamentalism and regression.

    Let’s hope and pray that I’m wrong.

  13. Joe Schick says:

    “Mr. Schick’s assessment that the Americans in Ramat Bet Shemesh are Dati Leumi is simply wrong. I would estimate that the majority of the Americans in Ramat Bet Shemesh, push comes to shove, would identify themselves as Charedi.”

    Most Americans in Ramat Beit Shemesh don’t easily fit into either the “charedi” or the “dati leumi” categories. Certainly, they are more Zionistic and generally less charedi than a typical Israeli charedi, and indeed more than a typical American charedi. Remember, these are people who (i) made aliyah and (2) work for a living. Many also serve in the IDF.

  14. Max says:

    “Remember, these are people who (i) made aliyah and (2) work for a living. Many also serve in the IDF.”

    Is serving in Israeli army, and/or working for a living:
    a) non-Charedi
    b) anti-Charedi
    c) Charedi-lite
    d) Partially-Charedi
    e) Truly Charedi
    f) Charedi, if you throw eggs at Arabs and co-workers

    Do we say what we mean, do we mean what we say?

    And who sets criteria? Is it explained in Jastrow?, Webster’s? Art Scroll?

  15. Ramat Resident says:

    Joe: I used the words “when push comes to shove” for a reason.

    In any case, not serving in the army and not working are not core beliefs of Charedi. The philosophical difference between the two worlds has to do with a general attitude toward the state and secular society on the whole.

  16. Marc says:

    Great blog. Further proof for the need of improving the education system in the capacity of as Mr Scick calls Marchik Kerovim.

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