Sisterhood Blog

Women: Sit at Home or Risk Being Spat Upon

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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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.

Len Fri. Sep 11, 2009

Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

Mr Mel Sat. Sep 12, 2009

These Haredi have much in common with the Wahibi Muslems. They are both narrow minded, evil sects.

Ruth Berman Sat. Sep 12, 2009

Religion..fanaticsm of any "sect' learns to do evil in the name of god and their interpratation o the "laws'. and besides misogyny is rampant in judaism under the guise of treating women "special'. the incident was orrendous. i hope the reporter has healed from the trauma.

Richard Hode Sun. Sep 13, 2009

That's incredibly gross. My stomach is roiling ...

Beth Parness Sun. Sep 13, 2009

Comments such as "like a tramp" "we have no choice"...are terrifying, fanatical and murderous words... Move over Islamo-Fascists...The Haredi are in town...

Ari Kahn Sun. Sep 13, 2009

Absolutely horrendous. Beautiful writing, Ms. Nussbaum Cohen. When non-Jews around the world think of Jews, this is what they think of, and we have these ignorant terrible people to thank for that.

y Hoffman Sun. Sep 13, 2009

Dear Ms. Cohen,

I conducted this interview. Every member of the Eida Chareidis' official body condemned this and denied that he had anything to do with them. He is an outside agitator. I reported this in the original article. I think it is wrong to blame the Eida Chareidis or Chareidim in general. This interview was done to condemn this type of behavior, to show its evil, and root it out. Broadly painting an entire community with this type of behavior is wrong.

Marsha Sun. Sep 13, 2009

Unfortunately, these people are pathological misogynists. These Jewish fanatics hide behind their feigned spirituality to behave like sadists.It's rather terrifying that their self-esteem (the men who engaged in this behavior,so as not to generalize!) is so shattered and their anger,arrogance and sense of entitlement so huge. Well, maybe it's all because something else isn't. Overcompensation.They would be better off riding huge Harleys! And I'm not a Freudian.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen Mon. Sep 14, 2009

Dear Rabbi Hoffman - Thank you for your comment. Your first point is well taken, and I will amend the blog entry to reflect the official condemnation. Unfortunately, however, this was not an instance where one man was at fault. If that was the case, there would be no story. Rather, he had a lot of company. This poor reporter was assaulted by a mob -- it takes many people to shower someone with spit. I never suggested it was the haredi community in general, but rather those who abide by the Eida Charedis in this part of Jerusalem and were willing to riot on Shabbat over an open parking lot, and their understanding of "a woman's role." It's no accident that they attacked a female reporter -- surely there were male reporters and cameramen etc....using electronics as they covered the imbroglio. In any case, you conducted a fascinating interview with Mr. Krauss, and I appreciate your article. I wish you and yours a sweet New Year.

Jill Hamburg Coplan Mon. Sep 14, 2009

I'd like to see Debra Nussbaum-Cohen report in more depth on this issue. To what extent are these spit-showerers outliers? To what an extreme edge--or has radicalization become increasingly mainstream? Or do such radicals continue to be controversial (or even shunned?) in more mainstream precincts of the haredi communities (in Israel & outside)? I'd love your reporter's notebook held up to community leaders to see where they stand on it. And if there has been a radicalizing tendency, is it possible to pinpoint when, where, how, to get inside the trend (if there is one)? We hear a lot about this divide in Israel and we know now the parking lot is today's flashpoint. I guess it just seems like a teachable moment, or an opportunity--to look inside, see what's going on, and how widespread it is. I'd love to know more. Debra, you're always an invaluable, illuminating guide --keep up the great work. More, more, more.

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