Silencing Perversion: A Voice From Beit Shemesh

I hate to be a hater. I wouldn’t want to badmouth others, especially not fellow Jews. I’m a firm believer in the advantage of remaining at peace with my brethren. I should probably just sit silently surrounded by the pandemonium in Beit Shemesh; for fear of transgressing the commandment against gossiping.

On second thought, perhaps I should weigh the pros and cons of keeping quiet and consider the grave circumstances of hiding the truth and dismissing my rage. Silence is consent. The Talmud rebukes Job, in the name of Rav Simai, for remaining silent in response to Pharaoh’s evil decree to cast all baby boys into the river.

There is a growing awareness of the importance of voicing incidents of sexual abuse. What about speaking up against the injustice and “religiously inspired” harassment by Ultra Orthodox Jews? Is it any less of a crime?

Earlier this week I stood at the Western Wall proudly peering over the barrier in the women’s section. I was observing my brother who, upon turning thirteen, was leading the evening prayer service for his very first time. My proud grandmother stood on a chair to get the best view (and photography angle).

Suddenly we were rudely interrupted by a crazy woman who approached us nearly in tears. She was pleading that Savta get off the chair she stood on, to spare men from seeing her beautiful face. Savta, baffled by the cause of her controversy, stood there being shamed.

I stopped abruptly reciting the chapters following the Shema, a portion in prayer in which interruption is prohibited, and advanced towards the woman.

“Vacate the premises immediately!” I demanded, enraged. I spoke to her in the way that I’d speak to a child bully. “Leave now!” I repeated pointing towards the exit. I was shocked by the disrespect targeted at my (extremely attractive) grandmother.

“This is a desecration of the holiest of sites,” the woman whimpered as she reluctantly left the scene. I rejoined the prayer service, this time standing on a chair with one arm dangling over into the men’s section.

I felt guilty for fighting with a Jew at the place where the HolyTemple once stood, knowing that its destruction was caused by baseless hatred. Have I really done something wrong? I restored my grandmother’s dignity. Was there a more “civil” way to handle the situation? I think not.

I feel sorry for the people trapped in a secluded, highly judgmental religious sect. I mourn their ignorance and pity their inability to question authority. Intense perversion of Torah law and basic humanity hides behind the mask of their external “pious” appearance.

Sinking to a level where a religious institution can permit lying, cheating, and law breaking, is a sad sad perversion of the dogma of our religion. Since when does the end justify the means?

How could we be silent when the city of Beit Shemesh is being mobbed with corruption, sin, immaturity, and immorality? How do we answer to the children who see the injustice and watch their parents remain silent, for fear of causing more “hatred?”

We must voice our rage in the pure intention of restoring justice, stomping hypocrisy, and correctly serving Hashem. Every member of Beit Shemesh (and beyond) must make noise, put up a fight, bring the issues to court, and demand a restoration of our dignity as a city and as a People.

About the Author
Shira Lichtman is Israeli, contrary to common misconception; She grew up in Beit Shemesh with her parents and seven younger siblings; She works for the secret services and therefore cannot disclose any further information regarding her current occupation and mysterious future plans, which are so secret that even she doesn't know them ;-)
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