Israeli secular/sacred dispute grows

Michael Fitzgerald By Michael Fitzgerald

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men scuffle with Israeli policemen. (Credit: Reuters/Oren Nahshon)

Muslim women in France, Canada and elsewhere are under pressure to take off garments that obscure their faces. In Israel, Jewish women are under pressure to cover up.

Ultra-Orthodox groups have always held to stricter rules than other parts of the Jewish community, including requiring women to dress in ways considered modest. But one city in the Jerusalem District, Beit Shemesh, groups of ultra-Orthodox men called haredi have taken to confronting women who do not adhere to their standards, regardless of whether they are part of the community.

Beit Shemesh became a national hot point when a television station broadcast a story from the city featuring a 7-year old American girl living in Israel was spat upon and verbally assaulted while walking to her all-girls school.

The incident, coupled with several others, has led to national and international attention.

Much of the debate within Israel revolves around gender discrimination. Religious men object to riding in the same part of the bus with women, or walking on the same side of the street. Signs in Beit Shemesh call on women to dress modestly.

“We are trying to determine what kind of society we are – is this a democracy where the majority decides, or is there a minority that pushes everyone in one direction?” Rabbi Uri Regev told The Jerusalem Post.

Some argue that Israel may be about to split as a nation.

Straight to the Source