Sisterhood Blog

Shameful in Beit Shemesh

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

  • Print
  • Share Share

(Haaretz) — It was as frightening as any terrorist attack, recounted the young woman assaulted in broad daylight at a bus stop in Beit Shemesh last week.

But in fact, it was probably worse.

After all, one might presume that if an Israeli Jewish woman had been attacked by a Palestinian in the middle of the street, the bystanders around her would have rushed to her assistance, or at the very least, hastened to call the police. But that’s not what happened when this 25-year-old woman sitting at a bus stop with a toddler on her lap was verbally and physically assaulted by an ultra-Orthodox man last week who cursed at her and screamed that she wasn’t dressed modestly enough.

No one, she said, came to her aid or called for help, when he pulled her by her hair and threw her on the ground.

The attack was reported in the print media, but the young woman who was attacked at a bus stop in the haredi neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet went on television this week and related the full harrowing story herself. Her face was blurred on camera, but her story was clear and detailed, and painted a troubling picture of life in Beit Shemesh only a few weeks after its ultra-Orthodox mayor was reelected. The event turned the national spotlight on Beit Shemesh once more, has reinvigorated the struggle of a group of Beit Shemesh women to fight against intimidation in their city through the legal system, and revived discussion of whether coexistence is possible in Beit Shemesh or whether the non-haredi population would be wise to either pack their bags or divide their city in two, that is attempt to formally secede from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

The woman was sitting at a bus stop with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, dressed in a skirt with her head covered, when she was accosted by a haredi man. “He put his face right in front of mine and shouted “Slut! You weaken men!” she said in her Channel 2 news interview. “I was completely frightened by him, and I screamed.”

She called the police for assistance on her cellphone, as he turned away and crossed the street. But when he saw she was calling for help, it infuriated him anew. “As I was talking to the police, he saw what I was doing and he turned around and crossed the street back to me, running towards me at a crazy pace right in the middle of the traffic - he didn’t care about the cars on the street. He pulled my hair, knocked me to the ground, pulled off my head covering, and kept shouting “Get out of here!” with horrific screams. My daughter saw the whole thing and was crying as I yelling “Leave me alone, help me, call the police!”

The television interviewer then asked her if anyone came to her assistance as the man attacked her and berated her. “There was one man who saw it and people across the street and there was a store near there. Nobody came to help me. No one. I yelled for five minutes ‘Help me! Help me! I beg of you! Call the police. help me!’ Nobody came.”

The man attempted to grab her phone out of her hands, and she said that she tried to resist him “till I started to feel in danger for my life, like I was being attacked by a terrorist who would do something terrible to me. So I let go.”

She said that both she and her daughter were treated at the hospital after the incident - she has bruises on her body and both she and her daughter are suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. The worst part, though, was that she was ignored by bystanders and left to fend for herself in the face of a violent attack. “I don’t dare to go near that part of town anymore, I’m horribly afraid to go there. We’re not talking about one person, it’s a group and they support each other.” She stressed that she wasn’t anti-haredi, and that the majority of ultra-Orthodox men simply avert their eyes when they don’t want to look at women. “They don’t yell and hit women, that’s not the way of the Torah.” The extremists, she said “are a small group of people, they are the ones who have to be brought to justice.” Justice is still pending for her attacker - who was held under house arrest for five days outside Beit Shemesh pending charges.

The incident has renewed the determination of a group of women who are suing the city of Beit Shemesh for damages after they suffered violent attacks presumably because they were dressed immodestly - all of them are modern Orthodox women who were threatened by haredim.

The news of the attack “didn’t surprise me at all,” said Nili Philipp, one of the plaintiffs in the case which asserts that the signs around Beit Shemesh ordering women to dress modestly and not to congregate in certain places have created an atmosphere which give men permission to ‘enforce’ the supposed regulations - by intimidation and force. The city refused to remove the signs even when the women filed police complaints over them, although they are technically illegal, so the women hit city authorities in the pocketbook by suing them for damages in the cases of their own assaults. Philipp was hit in the head by a rock while cycling in the city.

There were three court-recommended mediation sessions held over the summer, Philipp says, which failed. The city she said “couldn’t offer us anything that would compensate for the insult and the humiliation we suffered.”

The legal proceedings were put on hold for the duration of the election campaign. The day after they were disappointed by the re-election of the mayor they hold responsible for the atmosphere in the city, they headed to court, where a judge set a June 16 date for their case to be heard.

The magistrate’s court judge, Phillip said, only agreed to hear arguments for monetary compensation for their suffering. The order they are seeking to force the city to take down the signs, they were told, would have to be filed in administrative court.

“We know that even if we had won the election we had a tough battle ahead. It would have been easier, but it wouldn’t have been easy. Since the election, we know it is tougher, but that doesn’t mean we stop fighting for a fair and equitable society .. we have to rely on the legal system to defend our rights.”

Since the election, the secular and national religious sectors in Beit Shemesh have been buzzing with two topics - there is discussion of whether there is a future for non-haredim in the city and who is planning to leave - and a last-ditch attempt at preserving their quality of life by dividing the city into two - formally separating the haredi and non-haredi sections of the city into two separate towns. Such a solution would reduce contact between the populations and quell the resentment of the non-haredim that their tax shekels are going to support a population that is actively working to drive them from their city

Whether or not the city is divided, and whether or not she stays in it, Philipp says she would never abandon her crusade to get rid of the modesty signs. “This has nothing to do with coexistence. It is a city in Israel breaking the law. Even if I did plan on moving, these signs are a violation of my rights and every other woman’s rights, and they have to go.”

And just when women’s rights advocates in Beit Shemesh thought that things couldn’t get any more depressing - the municipality made a big announcement designed to please and placate the secular population.

They proudly announced that they will be bringing a top headlining singer to the city for its Independence Day in May. The guest of honor: Eyal Golan, he of the scandal involving sex with teenage girls. This makes Beit Shemesh the only city in Israel to ignore the performer’s tarnished image and invite him to sing. That the haredi town fathers, supposedly so committed to modesty that they don’t include photographs of women in municipal publications, has seen fit to proudly sponsor a Golan concert, has felt like the icing on the cake of their tone-deafness to female concerns.

As Eve Finkelstein, one of Phillip’s fellow plaintiffs sighed: “Beit Shemesh is fast turning into Israel’s center of women’s disempowerment.”

For more stories, go to or to subscribe to Haaretz, click here and use the following promotional code for Forward readers: FWD13.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: women, israel, modesty, beit shemesh

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.