The search ends in front of a two-story detached house with a loft. In front is a lawn with a young palm tree. The blinds are shut or half shut. There is no hint that this is the site of a small educational institution. But there is someone behind the blinds who scrutinizes visitors. The door is opened almost simultaneously with the knock. Sorry, the bearded man in the entrance says, you will have to wait for authorization from the head of the yeshiva. From behind him the busy sounds of the first day of school can be heard - it's the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul. The yeshiva head will not arrive anytime soon, nor will the authorization to enter. It's quiet in Zanoah, a village that abuts Beit Shemesh and is almost swallowed by the city, but if you listen closely you can hear the sound of the struggle for the image of Haredi society.
The Beit Shemesh Yeshiva, headed by Rabbi Oren Granit, is a project that sprang up from below, from a popular movement that is gaining momentum and wrenching control of the ultra-Orthodox community from the rabbis and their bureaucracies. The majority of the students are from Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph. The institution infuriates the Haredi establishment, because it is subverting the sacrosanct tenet of ultra-Orthodox Jewry in Israel, which forbids any contact with non-sacred subjects - mathematics, English, history and so forth - for boys of 13 or 14 and up.
The idea of establishing a "small yeshiva" for high school age youths that would combine secular and sacred studies outraged the conservative rabbis of Lithuanian Jewry and further heightened the already seething intra-Haredi tension in Beit Shemesh. The rabbis claimed that the founders of the new yeshiva were uprooting religion and reversing the traditional order of things. The initiators of the yeshiva realized that there was no point in waiting for a public building in a city whose mayor is from Shas and whose coalition rests on United Torah Judaism. So, under a cloud of mystery, the institution was opened outside the municipal boundaries but adjacent to them.
"Haredi society in Israeli is an unprecedented historical phenomenon," says Rabbi Avrohom Leventhal, executive director of the Ramat Beit Shemesh-based charitable organization Lema'an Achai. "There has always been Torah with 'the way of the land' [derech eretz, i.e., the modern world]. People have always worked for a living. Whoever did not work died. Nowadays there is a fear that if you allow learning or working, people will escape."
Lema'an Achai works mainly for the benefit of the Anglo community in the Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph neighborhood. However, according to Leventhal, the organization has encountered fund-raising problems, particularly since Beit Shemesh rabbis boycotted it when one of its founders urged that anyone suspected of committing sexual offenses in the Haredi community be turned over to the authorities.
"We represent Jews who follow all the laws of the religion, from the lightest to the most severe. At the same time, they are open and ready to understand that every society has its faults and problems, and instead of sweeping them under the rug, they want them dealt with. They are demanding this in full public view," says Eli Friedman, a member of the Beit Shemesh municipal council on the Tov list, the political expression of the spirit of change. "There is a Haredi group here which is saying, 'We exist.' We do not want to benefit the establishment, but the simple folk. Our very existence as a Haredi underdog is an accomplishment. It's a historic message. How many people have succeeded in telling the functionaries, 'We are not in your arena, we have our own arena and we will look after ourselves by ourselves'?"
Beit Shemesh, situated west of Jerusalem, now has a population of more than 80,000. The Ramat Beit Shemesh commercial center is a convenient vantage point from which to view the rocky hill where bulldozers and cement mixers are transforming the site into Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel (expected to be a Haredi neighborhood ). Every such "rama," or plateau, is a neighborhood the size of a town and generates political strife on a metropolitan scale. Haredim account for about half the population, and in the present school year they account for 63 percent of the city's pupils. Only a third of the children attend state schools, whether secular or religious.
The main road leads the visitor to Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, where the homes are built of Jerusalem stone and the streets are wide. It's tempting to describe the area as the Mea She'arim - the famous Jerusalem Haredi neighborhood - of the Judean Hills, but that might be an insult to Mea She'arim. Young families from the isolationist Eda Haredit sect have moved to this neighborhood in an organized fashion and now constitute the absolute majority in it. Activists of the Eda Haredit led, for example, the struggle against the opening of an underground parking lot next to the Old City of Jerusalem on Shabbat. They also organized the protests against the social-welfare and hospital authorities in connection with a woman from the Toldot Aharon Hasidic sect who admitted to starving her son. Some Haredim from mainstream sects have fled the neighborhood because of the extremists, who every so often demonstrate anew that their zealousness and anti-Zionism are as ardent as ever.
Nor do they flinch from violence. Eda Haredit activists pummeled a woman who got on at the front of a "mehadrin kosher" bus, in which women are relegated to the back; ripped out street benches "for reasons of modesty"; blocked roads with burning barrels and punctured the tires of police cars with nails. Sometimes they resort to a quiet protest, such as holding a daily vigil to express mourning over the establishment of the state of the "Zionist heretics," or putting up posters declaring that "Jews hate Zionists." At the moment they are furious at the Elektra company - as witnessed by signs hanging on their balconies - for being part of a real estate project in Jaffa where human bones have been found.
The houses in the neighborhood thin out along Nahar Hayarden (Jordan River ) Street, and then, atop the hill, below the high-tension wire, looms Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph. This too is largely a Haredi neighborhood and here, too, Jerusalem stone dazzles the eyes in the glare of the August sun. The difference is that there is also a section of two-story homes and other spacious dwellings where the occupants cultivate their yards. There are bins to deposit plastic bottles for recycling.
Beit Shemesh differs from all the other Haredi cities in terms of the vast variety of its groups, ranging from the most extreme of the extremists all the way to those who are stretching the boundaries of the Haredi ethos into new realms. Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph is in fact one of the most complicated places in the Jewish world. Orientation here requires a factional GPS that has an up-to-date command of the lexicon of Haredi sects, such as "classic Lithuanian Haredim," "zealous Lithuanian Haredim," "national-religious," "blue shirts," "national-Haredi," "mithazkim" (growing stronger in religion ), "Chabadniks" and those who insist on remaining nonaligned, perched on the borderlines between groups.
Only about 15 students, all in ninth grade, started school three weeks ago in the Beit Shemesh Yeshiva, aiming for a matriculation certificate. Despite its small size, the liberal Haredi community is very proud of the institution. "I am not willing to be an illiterate Haredi. I am not willing to allow mediocrity, certainly not in my children's education," says a member of the modern-Haredi community in Ramat Beit Shemesh whose children are studying English and mathematics as well as the sacred texts. "They need a challenge, and regrettably, that hardly exists in the Haredi system. There is hardly any aspiration for excellence."
This yeshiva joins a handful of Haredi institutions in which, together with long hours devoted to Gemara, there are also matriculation certificate studies, emulating dozens of national-religious high-school yeshivas in Israel and Haredi yeshivas abroad. But for Haredim in Israel, this is a marginal phenomenon, appealing mainly to the modern elite, where families can afford to pay NIS 3,000 a month per student. The state funds obtained by Shas and United Torah Judaism for their "independent" educational institutions are not earmarked for such yeshivas.
The oldest of the Haredi "small yeshivas" is Hayishuv Hahadash in north Tel Aviv. Over the years it was joined by Maarava Machon Rubin in the West Bank settlement of Matityahu, Naharda in Moshav Nehalim near Petah Tikva, Nehora in Mevo Horon, a West Bank settlement, and Meorot in old Beit Shemesh. It is not by chance that all these yeshivas are located far from the Haredi centers, as is the sixth and newest one; nor is it by chance that two of the six are in Beit Shemesh.
Even before it opened, the new yeshiva, which is considered more American than Meorot, came under heavy pressure. The directors found themselves having to take steps that lent the institution a Haredi lemehadrin - ultra-kosher - image, such as enforcing a strict code of dress: white shirts and black pants only.
Unlike the opening eight years ago of Meorot by modern Israeli Haredim, the establishment of the Beit Shemesh Yeshiva was perceived by the Lithuanian establishment as a political provocation: first, because of the involvement of the Tov group, and second, because in this city everything is political. The school year started after months of heated activity on the part of the Lithuanian functionaries, who mobilized the most senior leadership, including Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, head of the Council of Torah Sages of United Torah Judaism. In April they signed a letter prohibiting studies in the yeshiva. "The boys will be successful only if they devote themselves to Torah and piety, without any intrusion of a foreign element," they wrote.
The politicization of Haredi life is alien to most of the Anglo Haredim who live in the city, Rabbi Leventhal of Lema'an Achai says. "They come with relative openness, but they also do not want to lag behind - they are thinking about making matches for the children. Israel is a country of extremism, and many of the Anglos who come here try to belong. There is confusion."
Leventhal, whose rabbinical ordination is from Lakewood Yeshiva in New Jersey, a prestigious Lithuanian institution, wears Haredi garb but does not forgo sports shoes. "Many Anglos change their style of dress when they come to Israel," he points out. "Some suddenly switch to black and white on a daily basis, others go to work in colored clothes and look like Haredim only on Shabbat. But these are externals. The dilemmas arise in matters of outlook: What is to be done about sexual exploitation of children? What is one's opinion of the Immanuel school affair [a Haredi Ashkenazi school that practiced ethnic discrimination]? It's over issues like these that people get stuck."
Nothing reflects more acutely the confusion of American Haredim than the events surrounding Independence Day and the state ceremonies, Leventhal says. "Israeli Haredim don't celebrate Independence Day, that's clear, it's a great taboo," he explains. "But if you go through the neighborhood you will be surprised by the number of flags. Many Americans see no contradiction between their Haredi way of life and their Zionism, and this can cause complicated situations. One parent whose son attends a Lithuanian school in the neighborhood told me that on the day after Independence Day, the rabbi asked the children if they had attended a barbecue. The boy understood that the rabbi was not interested in a recipe for shishlik, and also that he had to lie to his rabbi."
The hottest question in the Haredi world is "Who is a Haredi?" It reached the boiling point in the case of a girls' school in Immanuel, a Haredi town in the West Bank, where the pupils were divided into two "trends" that represented two social classes, not only ethnic groups. The Haredim are obsessed with cataloging and with clarifying who is a Haredi, who obeys the rabbis, who toes the line.
In this connection, there are rebellions both overt and covert: the mass use of the Internet and "unkosher" telephones, the success of Haredi forums on the Web and the heaving political scene, which in 2007 brought about a dramatic contest in Betar Ilit, a burgeoning Haredi city of some 40,000 in the West Bank, 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem. MK Meir Porush led the small Hasidic courts to a big victory over the Lithuanians, while a representative of Tov, Yisrael Fechter, led the "downtrodden" to a small victory. The Lithuanian rabbis were so busy waging a bitter war against Porush that they didn't notice a dramatic precedent that occurred under their noses: a Haredi party that intrinsically has no rabbis and is cut off from the establishment won a seat on the municipal council.
All this is part of a new democratic phenomenon, which produced Tov, the party that fomented a small, brazen change on the Haredi margins in favor of the rejected members of that society, particularly the newly religious and those who work for a living. In Betar Ilit, Tov is battling the "absorption committees," whose existence is officially denied. These bodies try to ensure that only Haredim from the mainstream can buy or rent homes in the city. Tov established educational institutions in Betar Ilit for those who are not represented by any Hasidic or Lithuanian institution.
At the end of 2008, a year after the municipal elections, Tov also ran in Beit Shemesh. This time, Degel Hatorah (one of the parties that make up United Torah Judaism ) deployed early to prevent the blunt defiance of "the Jewish people's great leaders." Degel Hatorah activists operated systematically against the head of the Tov branch in Beit Shemesh, Eli Friedman. They exerted pressure, put up wall posters and again invoked the most senior figures in the Lithuanian leadership. The day before the elections they held a mass rally to which Rabbi Shteinman was brought from Bnei Brak. The appearance of the aged rabbi - second only to Rabbi Elyashiv in status - was intended to scuttle Tov's chances and ensure that the only Haredim elected would be those from United Torah Judaism. The results of the election surprised Tov: the party won one seat on the 21-seat municipal council, as against nine for Shas and UTJ combined. It was a tremendous victory.
Tov also aspires to represent the Sephardi-Haredi public, and as such is cooperating to a certain degree with Rabbi Yoav Lalum from the Noar Kahalacha organization, who filed the court petition in the Immanuel discrimination case. But in Beit Shemesh, Tov is an Ashkenazi phenomenon. The party declared a revolt against the supposedly spiritual class-based and hierarchical Ashkenazi dominance that tramples not only Sephardim but also "householders" who work for a living. There is a large and economically powerful householder population in Beit Shemesh, which includes, in addition to sabras like Friedman - who grew up in a Hasidic home but was educated in Lithuanian yeshivas, and terms himself a "dos lemehadrin" (a perfectly kosher religious Jew ) - thousands of Anglos. Tov's activists agree that without the Americans, the party would not have won that one seat.
Eli Friedman is the happiest representative of the downtrodden you can imagine. At the age of 37, he is a musician who dreams of a big breakthrough into the Hasidic market. Every evening he and his synthesizer appear at Haredi weddings so he can provide for his wife and their eight children, the youngest a month old. His regular reply when asked how he's doing is "totally sababa" - Israeli-secular slang for "terrific." He's an Israeli-Haredi whose favorite musicians are Shuli Rand, Evyatar Banai and Adi Ran, all three of whom became religiously observant.
"I was very happy to be able to give my children an album like the one by Shuli Rand, which is Israeli in its form but Haredi in its soul. Haredi artists have a lot to learn from these artists about writing texts," he says.
The Haredi public, Friedman says, is leading itself and the country to disaster. "In another 30 years, 70 percent of the education in Israel will be Haredi," he explains. "Today there are functionaries who are interested mainly in whether the public will go or not go to mixed [male-female] concerts. If we do not prepare ourselves to be part of the state leadership in all spheres - Torah, science, medicine, army - it will be a catastrophe. One of my biggest nightmares is that we will not have people with the appropriate abilities to manage the state and at the same time there will be a brain drain. If we do not internalize the fact that we may become the majority, there will be anarchy here."
That doesn't sound like a very welcome scenario, even for non-Haredim.
"So the secular public has two options: either to start multiplying or to internalize the statistics and stop being afraid. They have to understand that Haredim are human beings, too, who follow the precepts very closely, but who are also people you can flow with and live with very nicely. Right now, every secular person thinks of escaping from here on the day the Haredim come to power. I hope that will not happen."
After the elections, the mayor, Moshe Abutbul (Shas ) and his partners in UTJ left Friedman out of the coalition, preferring Labor and the National Religious Party. But the non-Haredim bolted when they discovered that the new neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel will become Haredi, contrary to Abutbul's promise on the eve of the elections. Friedman was called in to save the Haredim and became a valued asset. He joined the coalition, though not before ensuring that home-buying groups of modern Haredim would obtain a hefty portion of the Housing Ministry tenders in the new neighborhood. (The High Court of Justice bolstered the mayor's approach by rejecting a petition filed by the National Religious Party and Labor in Beit Shemesh and ruling that the tenders must not be sector-based. Market forces subsequently determined that Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel, the new satellite neighborhood, will be totally Haredi. ) "They [the political parties, like Degel Hatorah] are deathly afraid of us," says a Tov activist in Beit Shemesh who asked not to be identified by name. "We were threatened and people were fired from their jobs. The tension with the Lithuanian establishment is present in every move we make. They put up wall posters against us and broke off social relations. Tov is like a fatal disease for the Lithuanian leadership - they are afraid that if they lose power here, they will lose everything. This is where the revolution started, and in large part thanks to the people from abroad."
Bezalel Kahan, a Degel Hatorah activist who led part of the struggle against Tov in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, dismisses this viewpoint. "Tov has the feeling that it is getting bigger. The truth is that no one is afraid of them and in the end they need us, the Haredi mainstream, whereas we are not dependent on them in the least."
The true ideological difference between Degel Hatorah and Tov, Kahan rightly notes, is the attitude toward the rabbis. "I too sometimes have my own opinions, but they are erased the moment my personal rabbi or one of the great sages makes a decision. I annul my opinion," he says. "But the Tovniks say, 'The leadership is like this, the leadership is like that,' all kinds of heretical comments that are ruinous, including for the children's education. 'Do not stray from it [the Torah] to the right or to the left,' that is the formative statement of the Haredi public that accepts the leadership in every generation. These people say, 'We do not accept the leadership.' Well, we do not accept that approach. That is the strongest ideological difference between us and them." Friedman says he receives spiritual backing from rabbis, but will not reveal their names because, he says, of his refusal in principle to hide behind them. "The Haredim think that the great sages have to solve every problem they have in every sphere. I say the opposite is true. The great leaders are not our toadies who have to roll up their sleeves for us and stick their hands into the sewage. After all, the great sages are also grieved by dropout youth, by those who abuse their status as yeshiva students, by the housing problems and by a thousand more issues. Rabbi Schach used to shout that a youngster who doesn't study should go to the army."
Rabbi Avrohom Leventhal observes this clash partly from the outside. "In America, religious people will get along with one another," he says. "It is precisely here that the differences between the groups are much stronger. Religious people, and Haredim in particular, live here in constant fear: they look at the other groups like [they would] at goyim. This is also connected to the Immanuel affair. No one will persuade me that there is no discrimination against Sephardim in the Haredi public. I tell the Americans who come to Israel: there is no gray here, the day will come when you will have to decide exactly which drawer you are in. I try not to define myself at all - in Auschwitz we were not asked which sector we belonged to. What's interesting, though, is that some of the biggest fanatics are Anglos. Why? Because they want to show that they are not different." But most of the Anglos prefer to sit on the fence, or simply to belong to the Anglo stream - and there is nothing easier than that in Haredi Beit Shemesh, where half the population speaks English anyway, where English-language pamphlets are distributed in the synagogues and the bulletin boards are studded with notes in English. The Anglos and the liberal Israeli Haredim partake of a shared destiny, which in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph is expressed in the elementary school Magen Avot, which is identified with this stream, and in half a dozen synagogues.
One of the most prominent of these houses of worship is Bais Tefila, which draws hundreds of worshipers, some of them graduates of Yeshiva University in New York, the leading institution of the modern Haredi scholarly approach. This community is headed by Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz, who is one of the editors of the ArtScroll Gemara in English, a major project that has made the ancient texts available to the public at large. The result is that Malinowitz is treated with snobbish condescension by the Lithuanian yeshivas. Rabbi Malinowitz declined to be interviewed for this article, but remarked that what characterizes his community is that its members are "normal Haredim." Another community is Aish Kodesh, led by the Pieznesca Rebbe, who like his grandfather, the "pioneer rebbe," is known as a Zionist.
One noteworthy event that occurred along the borderline between sabra Haredim-lite and Anglo Haredim took place this summer. A few weeks ago, the Yeshiva Boys Choir, a Hasidic group from New York, appeared in the concert hall of Kibbutz Tzora, near Beit Shemesh. The 20 youngsters drove the audience into a distinctly non-Haredi ecstasy, which made even some of the liberals shift uncomfortably in their seats. The choice of the nearby kibbutz was natural, because there is no suitable hall in the city. However, even if there were, it's unlikely that the producers of the event would have chosen it for a concert that made hash of the strict Haredi ban on musical performances as such - and all the more when there is no separation between men and women in the audience. Three mixed concerts were held in Tzora, and all three were sold out. The kibbutz ushers warmly welcomed the unusual crowd, a mixture of national-religious and Haredi-lite. When the choir was about to sing a moving Shabbat song, the conductor asked everyone in the audience to place a hand on his neighbor's shoulder - but only if he was permitted to do so.
The audience included Haredim from Beit Shemesh and some who came from Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. "It's possible my rabbi would not be pleased to find out that I'm here, but that's no problem for me, it's a family outing, completely innocent," one member of the audience said - but nevertheless declined to give his name.
Many in the audience were supporters of Tov, but party leaders say officially that the concert was a negative example of gender mixing, which proves the need to expand the boundaries of the Haredi society. "People do not have a framework, and they feel they don't belong. The result is a mixed concert," is the word from Tov, even though some activists attended the event.
All this brings us back to the question of what makes the liberal Haredim of Ramat Beit Shemesh, the Anglos and the "blue shirts" ultra-Orthodox. Is the black velvet skullcap the last definer of Haredi identity? Has Haredism become a tribal matter, devoid of substance, or is it actually sophisticated and flexible, capable of containing under the same black dome the vast range of differences between the residents of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet and Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph?
These questions are only sharpened by a passionate monologue uttered by a public activist from Ramat Beit Shemesh: "Do I recognize the State of Israel? Absolutely. Am I in favor of learning Torah? I am. But first you have to go into the army and then work. Am I for secular studies for youth? Yes. A boy of 15-16 who spends hours every day studying Gemara is not whole.
"I don't think you have to tell a kid in a yeshiva to rest between one and four in the afternoon, as they do in yeshivas - that becomes a lifelong habit," the activist continues. "Why shouldn't he learn mathematics in that time? Children of his age in the yeshivas of the religious Zionist movement are active until midnight, both in mathematics and physical activity. They are given challenges. If there was a concept such as pushing oneself to the limit, it would be possible to improve the realm of yeshiva students. We could say that each yeshiva student will get a scholarship of NIS 10,000 a month, provided he studies nine hours continuously a day, every day, all year, apart from a two-week holiday, and that's all. How many people would remain in the kolels [yeshivas for married men]? No more than 10-15 percent." People like him leave their children in Haredi education and do not send them to national-Haredi institutions, because this makes it more likely that his children will remain in the Haredi world. Friedman believes the solution lies in a return to the Haredi model of the 1950s and 1960s, "which was far more connected to reality" and "did not live for its functionaries, but for its mission." Not surprisingly, Tov recently forged ties with the Poalei Agudat Yisrael party, which used to be part of Agudat Yisrael and bolted. PAY has not had Knesset representation for many years. One of the party's assets is the Neharda yeshiva, and cooperation with Tov has already produced the new yeshiva in Beit Shemesh, a seminar for girls that is due to open in Jerusalem, - whose students will sit for matriculation exams - educational institutions in Betar and more.
"Give me NIS 30 million and you will see what positive changes there will be in the Haredi public," Friedman says. "A party like ours, in the face of a money-heavy establishment, will certainly have a hard time. But we do not want to fight. We want the establishment to go back to what it was when Degel Hatorah was founded. At that time, 20 years ago, the new party talked about purity of intentions and purity of money. If people are ideological, our situation will already be better."
According to Friedman, "The problem with Israeli society is that everyone likes to meddle in the other's troubles. The secular person likes to write how boorish the Haredim are, and the Haredi likes to write how violent the seculars are and also criminals and smokers of drugs. I am out to focus on the internal problems of the Haredim. Am I happy that you are writing about this? Not necessarily. I don't want to let you know how screwed up everything is with me."
So why don't you give an interview to a Haredi newspaper, like Yated Ne'eman?
"They won't write about this - the functionaries have taken them over." W
The Haredim in Beit Shemesh started as a small minority in a neighborhood that was built for them on the outskirts of the town in the 1980s. A few years earlier, Beit Shemesh had seemed to be slowly shedding the "development town" image of hardscrabble immigrants, thanks mainly to projects of detached homes that were marketed primarily to affluent secular families. Since then, more neighborhoods have been built, notably Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph and Bet, and the attraction of the city for Haredim, some of them indeed affluent, continues to grow. Currently, Beit Shemesh is considered the instant solution for the number one problem of the Haredim in Israel: housing.
The best way to understand the population distribution in the city of 83,500 is by looking at election results. In the 2006 Knesset elections United Torah Judaism passed Likud to become the city's strongest party, with 22.2 percent of the votes, with Shas getting 19.9 percent. In 2009 Likud regained its primacy, obtaining 22.2 percent of the votes, though Shas also gained, garnering 20.9 percent, with UTJ a close third at 20.6 percent. However, these figures refer solely to the adult population, and also do not include the thousands from Eda Haredit who boycott the elections. The latest statistics published by the municipality refer to the young generation and are as clear as day: The Haredi education system this year has 17,459 pupils, compared with 10,240 in the state systems. In other words, Haredim constitute 63 percent of the city's schoolchildren. The secret of Beit Shemesh's attraction for the Haredim lies in its proximity to Jerusalem, but another advantage - for certain communities - is the fact that it is situated inside the Green Line. Some Haredi rebbes and yeshiva heads have barred their followers from settling in the Haredi cities across the Green Line, notably Betar Illit and Mod'in Illit, whether for reasons of caution (in the case of the Gur Hasidim, for example ), or because they do not recognize Israel or its conquests, like the Eda Haredit. According to a municipality forecast, in 2020 Beit Shemesh will have a population of 150,000. Which sector will they be part of? Beit Shemesh mayor Moshe Abutbul (Shas ) recently told Haaretz that the municipality's principal investment lies in the development of old Beit Shemesh. He added that he is lobbying to have the national school of the Israel Police established close to the city. "Beit Shemesh," he says, "is not a Haredi city and will not be one."
Abutbul's acts and declarations of tolerance are aimed in part at trying to slow the negative migration from the city's veteran neighborhoods. He also shrugs off the manifestations of unrest in the city. "We solve everything by dialogue," he says. "Most of my time is devoted to bridging between sides in a dispute, and thank God, everything concludes to everyone's satisfaction."
In most cases, those who enter into open confrontation with Abutbul come not from the secular population or from the modern Haredim, but from the national-religious public. The most flagrant recent example is a battle that was fought over the mikvehs (ritual purification baths ) in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, which ended in a separation of forces between the sectors in the sensitive area of family purification. After being threatened with a lawsuit, Abutbul was forced to rescind his decision to transfer the mikvehs in question to the management of a Lithuanian-Haredi association and leave one mikveh for public use for the benefit of the women of the modern Haredi sector.
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