UPDATE: Y-Love has clarified his position in comments here and here, saying, among other things, “First of all it is an axiom that G-d does not condone actions like this. That goes almost without saying and I apologize for leaving out precisely how strongly I feel against these actions.”
In response to a YNet article on a recent scourge of attacks on clothing stores that sell allegedly immodest clothing and women who wear it by yeshiva students armed with bleach in Jerusalem’s Charedi neighborhood of Geulah, Chasidic rapper and Jewschool contributor Y-Love has produced what can only be termed as an apologia for for violence against women and the destruction of the property and livelihood of fellow Jews by certain elements of Charedi society in Israel.
I met Y-Love in Jerusalem and was struck by his intelligence and friendliness, not to mention his formidable skills as an MC, so I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that I’m misinterpreting his intent and he did not truly mean to imply that attacking Jewish women (or any women, for that matter) with bleach is a valid reaction to the infiltration of Israeli Charedi society by secular attitudes and fashions – surely a position without basis in Jewish law. But if not, what exactly does Y-Love mean to say with statements such as these?
And then [the Charedi] gets to Jerusalem, and realizes, even here, only 30% of the population in charedi. So he moves to the charedi â€œblack beltâ€ of Jerusalem and realizes that his main thoroughfares are still functional on Shabbos and connects secular communities, and has bus stops with advertising similar to what he left. So he moves again to B’nei Brak or to Me’ah Shearim. He builds walls, fences, he puts up signs, he puts up posters, he screams in the streets, only wanting to have some type of halachically proscribed religious environment, some square inch he can go to as a safe haven from an increasingly secular world.
And all the while, all he hears is â€œreligious fanaticâ€ and how his point of view must be done away with. How he has no rights, not even after paying double, triple the price of a comparable dwelling just to live in a place where he might have a chance to live without compromising his religious observance. Where he might be able to keep that law he learned about in yeshiva, the ones his rebbe told him were so important. But no.
And so, with his value system stripped of legitimacy by the â€œmodern worldâ€, and now unable to shut it out, he is subjected to stimuli day in and day out. With no choice, and no options. The Shulchan Aruch told him not be around something he now can’t escape [immodestly attired women]. And the only people’s rights who matter are the people who don’t have his views.
Y-Love may make valid points about the status of Charedim in Israeli society and how they perceive themselves in relation to the state and their secular brethren, but Charedi alienation, some of which is certainly self-inflicted, is hardly justification for the potential injury of those who live outside of Charedi strictures – and I’m confident that most Charedim would agree.
But what Y-Love fails to mention at all in throwing out the red herring of perceived unwanted secular presence in Charedi neighborhoods is that the recent events in Geulah are almost certainly violence whose target is not secular Jews, but in fact other religious Jews. The Charedim mentioned in the YNet article whose actions Y-Love seems to defend are not throwing bleach on women who wear halter tops and stores that sell womens’ pants (not that such actions would be any more permissible) – they are attacking women and stores in Geulah itself, an entirely religious neighborhood, where all women dress according to the laws of tzniut and the stores cater exclusively to the neighborhood’s wholly religious populace.
What we have in Geulah now is a case of certain Charedim persecuting Jews whose standards of modesty, while doubtless in total conformity with Jewish laws of tzniut as stipulated in the Talmud and the Shulchan Arukh’s Orach Chaim and Even Ha-Ezer, are not in keeping with the further stringencies applied by certain Charedi sects. General Orthodox consensus, based on these sources and others, indicates that for women, modesty in clothing includes: shirts that extend far enough to cover the elbow (that Talmud states in Tractate Ketubot that revealing the entire zroa, the upper arm, is grounds for divorce without the protection of the ketubah); skirts (or other non-male clothing) that extend to cover the knee in both standing and sitting position; hair covering for married women and also divorcees and widows; and a general principle of not wearing clothes that attract undue attention, often interpreted as not wearing clothes that are too loud in color. Everything beyond these basic guidelines, as can be well attested-to with only a cursory survey of the vastly different styles of dress within Orthodox communities, is subject to interpretation.
At least according to some sources, the minhag ha-makom (local custom) has the status of halakha – therefore, if the local custom is to dress above and beyond the minimum specified in the codes of Jewish law, then a woman dressing according to the minimum would be immodestly attired within that community. However, as Geulah is a heterodox neighborhood, with Jews encompassing the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy (although leaning heavily towards the more Charedi side), it cannot be argued that the minhag ha-makom in Geulah requires the absolute strictest interpretation of the laws of tzniut. Yet that appears to be the interpretation of the Charedi extremists in Geulah who feel they have the right to destroy property and physically endanger Jews whose adherence to tzniut does not go as far beyond the letter of the law.
Seeking then to refute Y-Love’s insinuation that a pernicious secular influence was behind the attacks in Geulah, and to demonstrate that Geulah’s clothing stores cater solely to a religious clientele who keeps the laws of tzniut, I went there this morning armed with my camera. I focused mainly on three of the major avenues of Geulah: Yechezkel, Malkhei Yisrael and Strauss, all major shopping districts, the economic heart of the neighborhood, and all close (geographically if not ideologically) to “secular Israel.” If the alleged secular infiltration of the neighborhood’s mores and fashion sense truly existed, it would be doubtless be found there.
What did I find in more than an hour of wandering? All the signs of a thriving and entirely religious neighborhood. Every single clothing store, if the products of a clothing store can be judged by its window display (seemingly a safe assumption) sold only the most modest of clothes. In my time there during one of the neighborhood’s busiest times, Friday morning, I saw two immodestly-attired women: one was a uniformed security guard at a preschool and the other a woman who got off a bus at Kikkar Shabbat and quickly began to head towards downtown. Every single one of the hundreds of women and girls I passed by, save those two, was modestly attired, and the vast majority far beyond the minimum standard. This is not a neighborhood being invaded by secular people. This is not even a neighborhood where secular people enter other than to pass through, because it contains very little that caters to their desires. Its streets are closed on Shabbat, its bus stops (contrary to Y-Love’s claim) contain no immodest advertising, its restaurants are kosher – it is a veritable bastion of the kind of insular religious environment that Y-Love states the average Charedi is seeking. I took pictures of many of the stores I came across (I did not take pictures of people, even if they may have illustrated my points, because I did not want to interfere with anybody’s sense of modesty by photographing them).
Does this look like a neighborhood under assault by secular values to you?
I want to stress, I’m not trying to attack Charedim or the Charedi way of life. I’ve passed through Geulah countless times without incident, and I am very obviously not Charedi. Nobody even bothered me when I was walking around taking pictures of womens’ clothing stores, certainly a somewhat odd activity when considered objectively. I’m sure the vast majority of Geulah’s Charedim would never even think to potentially injure their fellow Jews for dressing immodestly, or not modestly enough. What is happening now is probably the work of the same relatively small population young Charedi males who, due to their inability to succeed in the traditional Charedi pursuits of study and learning, harass Israeli storeowners who don’t close early enough before Shabbat, or burn trash bins, or stone Shabbat drivers. But it’s still not in any way acceptable, no matter what level of secular influence penetrates their lives.
Let’s save the apologia for situations that truly demand them, shall we? Things that are objectively wrong should be condemned out of hand, because there is no way to defend them while retaining one’s integrity.