A video posted on social media on Tuesday showing a young woman fleeing a crowd of dozens of extremist ultra-Orthodox men in the town of Beit Shemesh has created a storm of protest. The video, taken at night, shows the young woman being chased for reasons that are not entirely clear, although the resident who posted the clip said it was because she was not modestly dressed.
The video included a scene showing police stopping a young male for questioning.
In her post, Miri Shalem, a social activist in Beit Shemesh, a city outside Jerusalem, wrote: “Horrible. The day before yesterday at night, there were mass riots against the ‘immodest’ girl who was going around the Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet [neighborhood]. Until there is loss of life, this won’t stop.”
Ramat Beit Shemesh, a newer part of the city, is almost entirely ultra-Orthodox, but for a section called Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph where many modern Orthodox families live. The Ramat Beit Shemesh Beit neighborhood is also home to ultra-Orthodox extremists who have also held large and noisy protests against mandatory conscription to the Israeli military.
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An ultra-Orthodox source at the Beit Shemesh municipality told Haaretz that the incident is the result of extremists trying to exert their control.
“The police only go in there with reinforcements and making an arrest involves large forces coming in the middle of the night like a military operation. This is a group that is opposed to the state and doesn’t accept government authority. The entire ultra-Orthodox public is opposed to this approach, but we really don’t have the tools to deal with them. They don’t take us or ultra-Orthodox representatives or the ultra-Orthodox rabbis into account.”
A local resident told Haaretz that confrontations carried out by extremist ultra-Orthodox men have intensified in recent months over yet another issue: a newly religious family and their children accused of rowdy behavior.
“These children are sweeping up other children after them,” a neighborhood resident said. “They drink until they’re drunk, and their heads are shaved. They go around with dogs and electric shockers. These, of course, are things that are very much not acceptable in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. For months people from the modesty guard have been standing below the family’s house yelling at them to leave the neighborhood. It’s reached physical confrontation, stone throwing, the use of teargas and other things. And it always begins late at night when the young people congregate on the main street and it drives the ultra-Orthodox crazy.”
The resident said that despite other disagreements in recent years over signs urging women to dress modestly and countless demonstrations in which she sided with opponents of the ultra-Orthodox community, she thought they were right in this instance to be worried.
“This month everything has intensified because of this family,” the resident said. “We don’t sleep at night. We got up one morning and saw that they had wrecked our fences, but everyone else is keeping quiet and covering up for one another. There’s real fear.”
On social media, a number of ultra-Orthodox Jews have expressed strong opposition to the violence of extremists saying that their approach harms their own community.