Years back, when the Lubavitcher rebbe was alive and I was covering various events connected with that movement, I was always pleasantly surprised when my job seemed to cancel out my gender.
For instance, at a gathering of thousands of Chabad emissaries, then held at a hall on Eastern Parkway across from the movement’s headquarters, instead of being kicked upstairs with the wives, I was led through a packed, black-jacketed male-only crowd to be introduced to bigwigs at the front. It was definitely not in keeping with that community’s practice of maintaining physical distance between women and men if they’re not immediate family members, but it didn’t seem to matter, because I was a journalist.
A female reporter for ABC News-Europe covering haredi rioting in Jerusalem over a parking lot opened on Shabbat was not so lucky.
Anne Barker knew enough to dress conservatively to cover the haredi community, as she describes it in this account. But she wasn’t prepared for what happened once she started reporting.
She was attacked, showered with mucus as haredi men cornered her and rained spit on her. She wrote:
Orthodox Jews throwing rocks at police, or setting rubbish bins alight, even throwing dirty nappies or rotting rubbish at anyone they perceive to be desecrating the Shabbat. But I never expected their anger would be directed at me.
I was mindful I would need to dress conservatively and keep out of harm’s way. But I made my mistake when I parked the car and started walking towards the protest, not fully sure which street was which…
I suddenly found myself in the thick of the protest - in the midst of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in their long coats and sable-fur hats.
They might be supremely religious, but their behaviour - to me - was far from charitable or benevolent. As the protest became noisier and the crowd began yelling, I took my recorder and microphone out of my bag to record the sound.
Suddenly the crowd turned on me, screaming in my face. Dozens of angry men began spitting on me. I found myself herded against a brick wall as they kept on spitting - on my face, my hair, my clothes, my arms.
It was like rain, coming at me from all directions - hitting my recorder, my bag, my shoes, even my glasses.
Big gobs of spit landed on me like heavy raindrops. I could even smell it as it fell on my face. Somewhere behind me - I didn’t see him - a man on a stairway either kicked me in the head or knocked something heavy against me.
I wasn’t even sure why the mob was angry with me. Was it because I was a journalist? Or a woman? Because I wasn’t Jewish in an Orthodox area? Was I not dressed conservatively enough?
Later she was told she was attacked because she turned on a tape recorder on Shabbat. Never mind that she may not be Jewish and therefore not bound by prohibition against using electrical devices on the Sabbath.
In a new interview, a hasid named Yoilish Krauss, who is identified by The New York Times as “the operations chief for the Eda Haredit, the militantly Orthodox organization behind the protest,” makes it clear that she was attacked because she was not dressed in accordance with the haredi community’s stringent norms for women, and because she was a woman where only men belonged.
The interview was conducted by Rabbi Yair Hoffman of the haredi webzine “Vos Iz Neias” (Yiddish for “What is News?”). The original video of their conversation in Hebrew is on the site, as is an English translation. The Eda Haredit has categorically denied that Krauss works for them, and denounced violence, according to his article:
RABBI HOFFMAN: A female journalist was spat upon. Do you want your children to see such spitting? The ways of the Torah are gentle ways…
YOILISH: But why is “Darchei Noam” [ways of peace] only one way? Why does it not bother you that female officers come hold and strike an avreich [a young married man]? She goes to another one and beats him! Now, we asked the police not to bring female police officers. This is much worse. Now, how come you don’t see this side? This is horrible. Even according to their laws this is illegal! But here no one talks. Spitting on a person - everyone talks.
RABBI HOFFMAN: Just because they do something wrong does not give us an excuse to do something wrong! YOILISH: I am obligated to do this. RABBI HOFFMAN: You are obligated??
YOILISH: If she touches avrechim, if she touches men, of course we have to. RABBI HOFFMAN: Wait, this was a journalist. And they spat in her face! It was a torrential rain! YOILISH: Where was this on Bar Ilan [Street]? RABBI HOFFMAN: Yes.
YOILISH: They have already asked me this question, this story. How was she dressed? RABBI HOFFMAN: Even so! YOILISH: No, let me explain. What do you mean, “Even so?” She - RABBI HOFFMAN: Wait, was she not created in the image of G-d? When there is a dead body why is it forbidden to let the body remain unburied? True? Why is it forbidden? YOILISH: That is true.
RABBI HOFFMAN: Why is it so? Because it is the image of G-d. It makes no difference whether they are religious or irreligious. Why? Because he or she has the image of G-d. Now we are going and we are spitting on her face?? She is the living image of G-d. This is the image of G-d? We are obligated to do this??
YOILISH: If she is the daughter of a king, she must conduct herself in the manner of daughters of kings. To sit at home. To walk with modesty. But if she goes out immodestly like a tramp, what are we to do? We have no choice.
This to me is reminiscent of the old “defense” offered by men accused of rape: that their victims were asking for it because of the way they dressed.
So women, be warned: your job is to sit at home. And if you dare enter the realm of the Edah Haredit without dressing exactly like their women do, be prepared for rain.