Statue of a Woman Shakes Up West Bank Settlement

Somebody has smashed it, as residents cite religious law against idol worship. Others say the Islamic State has come to town.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Photo by Iliya Melnikov
Photo by Iliya Melnikov
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

A statue in the shape of a woman, somewhat resembling a Christian icon, has caused a storm in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa. Religious people complain that the figure hurts their religious sensibilities, while secular residents accuse them of behaving like the Islamic State.

Either way, on Tuesday the statue was smashed by persons unknown.

The storm erupted Sunday when Ariela Beit On, an artist who has lived in Tekoa for more than seven years, put up a cement statue in the middle of a traffic circle.

“I worked on this for a long time,” she told Haaretz. “In my view, it’s a wise woman. It’s a story from the Bible, from 2 Samuel. She was a woman from Tekoa, and I positioned her facing Jerusalem. She’s modestly dressed, and she has a modest gaze.”

But reactions to the statue were swift and furious. A petition on the website Atzuma details the religious residents’ objections.

“A statue of a human form is a fundamental and sensitive issue in Jewish identity and culture. Everyone knows the second commandment, which says, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” the petition says, referring to Exodus 20:4.

"The Talmud and the Jewish legal tradition forbid making human statues, even for ornamentation. Putting this statue in a place we and our children pass every day is inappropriate and hurts our Jewish sensibilities .... We support the right of every person to put whatever statues he likes on his private property. But why put such a statue in a public space that belongs to us all?”

The statue was especially inappropriate for a community like Tekoa, which was deliberately founded as a mixed religious-secular settlement and thus needed to respect both sides’ sensibilities, the petition added.

One religious woman sent an email to other residents saying she had no problem with people dressing as they saw fit, “but still — and this really but really isn’t a religious issue — I’m not interested in having a provocative statue (male or female) in my town, opposite my house. Yes, provocative — one that emphasizes sexual organs. In my view, this is compulsion. Let me decide when and how I want to give my young children an anatomy lesson.”

Shahar Mizrahi, who is leading the battle against the religious objections, complained that Tekoa had become more religious as secular people gradually stopped moving there.

“And like everywhere, the religious don’t know where to stop," he said. "So the statue broke the camel’s back .... Maybe it hurts their sensibilities, but things also hurt my sensibilities.”

On Tuesday a note was posted near the statue warning that the writer considered it “idol worship, and if you don’t take it down we’ll smash it.” A bit later, someone took a hammer to the statue’s breasts and eyes.

“The Islamic State has come to our town!” one resident said in an email, referring to the group also known as ISIS or ISIL. “Welcome! When will you throw stones at me on Shabbat because I’m not like you? Will the next stage be a Kristallnacht against secular/religious houses?”

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