August Offers Much Strictly Kosher Fun for Haredim

Vacationing Haredim enjoy hotels without TVs and gender-separated kayaking on the Jordan River; some rabbis, however, are unhappy that yeshiva students are getting a summer break.

Two groups of ultra-Orthodox Jews came to the Sultan's Pool in Jerusalem on Tuesday for the Avraham Fried concert. Among those who came to see the Brooklynite Hasidic star was a sea of whole families, wives, children and all, spread out over the many rows of plastic chairs.

Outside the actual venue a swarm of young married couples and single yeshiva students gathered around a wall blocking the concert area, hoping to see their idol for free via slits in the wall.

Some of the young men climbed the steep path to Mount Zion and watched the show at a safe distance from the stage.

Haredi boys playing at a beach in Ashdod
Gil Cohen Magen

What distinguished the two groups was their willingness, or lack thereof, to pay an average of NIS 180 for tickets, but what brought them together was their love of Fried, despite a campaign being conducted against him by some rabbis.

Everyone had heard about the rabbinical ban on joint performances by Fried and Yaakov Shwekey, who filled the enormous Caesarea amphitheater on Sunday and Monday. They had heard about the threats by Rabbi Mordechai Blau of the ultra-Orthodox group Guardians of Sanctity and Education to send its agents to the concert armed with cameras, and see to it that attendees within the ultra-Orthodox world would be punished severely.

Everyone knew, and they came anyway. The daring bought tickets, and the cautious hid in the bushes.

One of them was a young Hasidic yeshiva student, who found himself a slit in the eastern wall of the Sultan's Pool venue on Tuesday. "Today," he said, while keeping one eye on the stage, "there are two types of ultra-Orthodox: the conservatives wouldn't even consider coming here or were frightened off by Blau's threats. Just as with the rabbinical ban on the Internet, there is an atmosphere of rebellion against the bans by Blau and his crowd. But there are also those who are not afraid of the rabbis. They are here, but prefer to watch the show for free, and save their money for other things for the [summer break]."

Called the "between times" in Hebrew, the period between yeshiva trimesters, in this case between Tisha B'Av and the start of the Jewish month of Elul (when the pre-High Holiday repentance season begins ) represents the hottest tourist season for the religious public in Israel.

Glatt to be out of yeshiva

Each year the purchasing power of the ultra-Orthodox summer vacationer increases. Rabbi Blau, who maintains a sort of Bnei-Brak based morality police, boasts that dozens of businesses are under his supervision this year, including hotels and inns whose owners are willing to remove televisions from their rooms; nearly 20 water and amusement parks; and this year, for the first time, rafting on the Jordan, which will apportion separate hours for women, men and families.

According to Blau, "Today the ultra-Orthodox are stricter about where they go on vacation. The publicity of modesty organizations is having an impact."

But the "between times" has always also been a period filled with disturbances, from traffic accidents to spiritual slackness on the part of yeshiva students.

Threatened, some of the yeshivas have adopted the American custom of camps - supervised, centralized vacations, and in recent years some have simply canceled the breaks altogether.

Senior rabbis and heads of ultra-Orthodox yeshivas met three weeks ago for a summit devoted mostly to the vacation period. From a survey of the meeting in the Yated Na'aman paper, it seems that they are preparing themselves this summer for the worst case scenario, especially in light of a letter from Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv to yeshiva principals, in which he praised them for erecting barriers against "the dangers lurking at home and outside."

The rabbis insist on, among other things, "the duty to study Torah during the between times, the proper dress of a Torah-observant Jew, and caution against remaining idle," as well as "the great danger, spiritually and concretely, of hitchhiking."

Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, an important rabbi, warned "walking down the street with a kippa and a jacket on your arm is not the way of the Torah observant."

Another rabbi protested that yeshiva camps conduct symposia with guests from the outside: "Inviting secular and semi-secular people to symposia brings asses to speak against the Torah observant, a terrible shame," he said.

Blau, leading the charge, has been relatively successful thus far in the current vacation period. As to the Fried and Shweky concert, he said: "We have the photos in our possession. Here and there are Haredim in lovely pictures, with a woman to their right and one on their left. And then they will come and ask why their children are not accepted into particular schools."

According to Blau, "We must place stop signs in front of the public in a big way. We aren't here to jail anyone. We aren't putting policemen on every corner. The public understands the educational issue, and if they don't they'll get into trouble."