Exactly 50 years ago, the streets of Jerusalem were in an uproar because of the opening of the "pool of contention," the first swimming pool in the city at which mixed swimming by men and women was permitted. The reporter of the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamodia reported on "bitterness among all of Haredi Judaism," particularly in the wake of the conviction of some of the participants in the demonstrations, headed by the legendary ultra-Orthodox extremist, Rabbi Amram Blau. Blau and the other accused men, according to the newspaper, claimed in their defense in court that the street demonstrations were, "The only way they had to protest against the building of the pool, since they do not recognize the state and its laws. The judge emphasized that they were not being accused for this non-recognition but for not obeying the law, which obligates them."
No ultra-Orthodox person thought in the late 1950s about the possibility that in Jerusalem they would also sell chametz (leaven) on Pesach. Rabbi Yisrael Gellis, an ultra-Orthodox journalist from Jerusalem, recalled the family's regular holiday hike, from the area of Mea Shearim to the Sha'arei Hesed neighborhood, where his aunt lived. "The way to Sha'arei Hesed passed through Narkiss Street, but there was a rumor that someone on that street, inside his own private home, ate chametz. Because of this rumor, we made sure not to walk on Narkiss Street on Pesach, and we took a half-hour detour. In the shops in Jerusalem, nobody sold chametz, except in the Old City, of course."
Now, the successors of Rabbi Blau, the members of the anti-Zionist Eda Haredit, are going out to demonstrate against the ruling of the Jerusalem Municipal Affairs Court that allowed increased exposure for chametz in the city's places of business. If you ask the members of the Eda, they will draw a direct line between the demonstrations in 1958 over the "pool of contention," the demonstrations in 2006 against an international gay pride parade and the demonstration earlier this week against the sale of chametz in the city. These self-titled "people of Jerusalem" will say that in all of these instances, they refuse to recognize the government of the heretics, but insisted on protesting what is happening in the city out of a sense of local patriotism that obligates them to "shout the protest of Jerusalem."
Haeda, the newspaper of the Eda Haredit, explained before the demonstration at Shabbat Square, "All of Israel must be shocked at the terrible edict passed this year to allow the sale of chametz on Pesach in the holy city of Jerusalem, and every Jew must protest in honor of God and his Torah." It also said that, "When the Sodomite judge, may the name of the wicked rot, decided to allow chametz on Pesach openly and in public, and found the necessary arguments and her brilliant theories, it is clear and simple that this should shock every Jewish heart everywhere, without exception."
Clear and simple? Not quite. When Trade Minister Eli Yishai of Shas or MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism promise to pass a law that will bypass the ruling of Judge Tamar Bar-Asher Zaban, it is almost self-explanatory. But in extremist circles, to whom the Eda caters, there is a longstanding debate regarding the boundaries of protest against what is done outside the borders of the ultra-Orthodox community. Since the anti-Zionist view has it that even under Zionist rule, the Exile continues, what difference does it make to an ultra-Orthodox person what the Zionists do? The members of the Satmar Hasidic sect, for example, claim that a true extremist will ignore what is happening in the secular neighborhoods of the city. On the other hand, the demonstration earlier this week is part of a trend toward stepped-up efforts by the ultra-Orthodox, including those anti-Zionist circles that are not represented in the Knesset, to fight against the symbols of the Jewish state.
From a secular point of view, this ultra-Orthodox battle against the Chametz Law is likely to be infuriating, but from the point of view of the radical ultra-Orthodox, this is another reflection of the trend toward more involvement, and even responsibility, for secular life in Israel. This struggle reached a climax in the demonstrations against the gay pride parade, which were led by the Eda Haredit, and the demonstration earlier this week is a direct continuation of that. It should be mentioned in this connection that what is in the balance is one of the most sacred of ultra-Orthodox values - separatism - which was already under question in light of the most recent statement by the Admor (chief rabbi) of Satmar, who demonstrated exceptional identification with victims of the attack on the Zionist Mercaz Harav Yeshiva.
However, Gellis, the ultra-Orthodox journalist, wants to put things in proportion, and mentions, "The Eda Haredit is not going overboard on the issue of the Chametz Law. Anyone who is familiar with the eruv boundary line of the Eda Haredit understands that the sale of chametz is not being done in 'our Jerusalem,' but rather in an area appended to it. The gay pride march was something far more important, which could not be ignored." In the present case, he says, the Eda is reacting with moderation.
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