Ultra-Orthodox Group to Advertisers: No Girls, Judo or Bed-and-breakfasts

Extremist modesty patrol goes to town in Beit Shemesh; religious freedom group calls on residents to rise up and resist.

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A sign calling for female modesty in Beit Shemesh.
A sign in Beit Shemes calling for females to enter the neighborhood "in modest dress only." Credit: Uria Tadmor / Gini

An extremist ultra-Orthodox modesty monitoring group is demanding that advertisers in local newspapers in Beit Shemesh not publish ads showing photographs or silhouettes of girls, hair or women's shoes.

Newspapers that serve the ultra-Orthodox population already refuse to publish photographs of women, and in some cases women's first names, as in the highly publicized Photoshopped image in Haredi paper Hamevaser, which cropped German Chancellor Angela Merkel out of last month's Paris unity march.

But the new directives go further, with no-nos that include images of beds, women's clothing and mention of the words "pregnancy," "birth," "cantorial and Hasidic music" (even for men-only events) and "bed-and-breakfasts" (the guidelines suggest "rooms for rent" instead of the Hebrew word tzimerim). Other topics on the Committee for the Purity of the Camp blacklist include marital counseling, driver's ed for women and activities such as judo and boxing.

"It's hard not to share in the sorrow of the residents of Beit Shemesh, since every few weeks there's someone who proves anew that they live in the most insane city in Israel and apparently one of the most insane in the whole world," said Rabbi Uri Regev, the president of Hiddush, an Israeli advocacy group for religious freedom.

"We must be clear to the residents of the city," he told Israeli news site Walla. "If they don't rise up and put this modesty patrol in its place, these crazy regulations will be just the first step."

Beit Shemesh, a city near Jerusalem that has seen a great deal of tension in the last few years over the ultra-Orthodox harassment of religious schoolgirls and efforts to impose sex segregation in certain parts of the city, has become a symbol of the country's struggle against religious extremism.

Newspapers that do not comply with the directives face the prospect of copies of the paper being removed from residents' mailboxes and burned, or their distributors being beaten, a store manager in Beit Shemesh told Walla.

Local papers reportedly said they have seen a 30 percent to 40 percent drop in advertising since the latest blacklist was issued.

The owner of a local newspaper told Walla the coercion goes beyond which words or images to use, extending to the kinds of services a store must offer in order for an ad to be accepted.

"A computer store owner who was interested in publishing an ad was obligated to insert a line saying that he will cut off the Internet of anyone who buys or fixes a computer at his store, for free," he was quoted as saying. "It's insane."

The latest modesty scandal comes shortly after a Beit Shemesh court ruled in favor of a lawsuit by four female residents who sued the city for refusing to remove signs demanding that women wear modest clothing.

The city was ordered to pay 15,000 shekels (close to $4,000) in damages to each of the four women, over billboards such as the one reading: "Dire Warning: It is forbidden to walk on our streets in immodest dress, including slutty clothing worn in a religious style."

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