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Beit Shemesh "flash mob" antagonistic and irrelevant

+972’s Ami Kaufman writes that he found “particularly heart-warming” the flashmob in Beit Shemesh, noting that it shows the ultra-Orthodox “who wears the pants in this town.”  I’m guessing it’s obvious who wears the pants: the woman in the middle front row.   I cannot identify her, but I think it is safe to guess that is the choreographer herself, since everyone is looking at her.  And somewhere in there is Miri Shalem, the organizer.  It is also worth noting that she has organized women-only “disco nights” (as reported in Hebrew by Ma’ariv/NRG in 2004) in neighboring Ramat Beit Shemesh (RBS),  not to be confused with its more religiously-observant namesake town, Beit Shemesh.

And yes, while it’s cute to see these women cutting-lose … err, so to speak … I find the dance to be both antagonistic and counter-productive.

The Jerusalem Post, which covered the event, appeals to young, Jewish Orthodox-lite Anglos, many of whom immigrated in recent years to Israel and wanted to live in observant communities, as well as many non-observant politically center-of-right English-speakers.  Its bread-and-butter is its English publication, unlike the widely popular and editorially left-of-center Haaretz newspaper, which has an English-language version available online and published in-print in conjunction with the International Herald Tribune but makes its biggest traction in Hebrew.  The JPost (it’s shortened moniker) is the choice of publication for most people who support, endorse and promote the very policies that many +972 readers disavow.  That’s a pretty blanket statement, I realize, but a near accurate one.  And for those who don’t read it frequently, it is worth noting that it does nearly as much “Jewish” news as it does Israel-related news.  That Jewish news is written with the audience in mind, and thus appeals to this Orthodox-light view of Judaism, Israel and the world.  Its editorials, for example, have promoted strikes on Iran, alongside accusations of U.S. President Barack Obama’s disconnect from (and distrust by) American Jews.  Many of the JPost’s writers wear knitted scull-caps/yarmulkes, themselves Orthodox-lite.   One of the writers of this particular JPost article, Niv Elis, is himself an American Jew (though non-religious), who recently emigrated to Israel.  So naturally this is the audience that they are targeting, and the message is clear: Israel – it’s still the place for you American Orthodox-light (or modern-Orthodox, as many call themselves) Jews to come.

But I want to make a distinction that was lost both in the JPost article and in Ami’s post on it.  It is important to note that there is nothing religiously verboten (forbidden) about women dancing with other women.  That’s why at Jewish weddings, one sees a mehitza (divide) separating the men and women during the dancing. That’s also why Shalem created the disco nights in RBS without much controversy.  And that’s also why all across the country one can find special women-only sessions for Rikudey-am (Israeli folk dancing).  They appeal to these very women.  But why has no one spoken up about this reverse-segregation?  Because these women — the same sort who are dancing in this flashmob video — support that.  They segregate themselves, they promote separation when it suits them.

What really would have made a statement in Beit Shemesh would have been mixed-gender dancing in the square.  That would have been genuinely provocative, though perhaps catastrophically confrontational and counter-productive (and thus, not a move I would have supported).  But that would have really been a statement of defiance.  But here is the irony: these women, who are happy to antagonize the ultra-Orthodox black-hat extremists (yes, extremists!) of Beit Shemesh, would themselves feel less comfortable (and perhaps equally unwelcoming) to a group of progressive and/or secular Jews coming and having a mixed-gender “flash mob” in the middle of their public square.

So yes, it’s easy to make someone else uneasy (especially when it is done in such a “heart-warming” way).  But it’s harder to accept that unease for yourself.   These women (and their husbands) should embrace Oliver Wendell Holmes’ view on freedom, namely that “the right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”  They should should become advocates against the segregation of women in a secular, progressive dialogue, rather than when it is convenient – and permitted – for them to do so.

Thus, I predict this video will do less good — i.e. bring about change — than it will bad, namely revealing these women’s hypocrisy.


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    1. Carl

      Ease up Roee. I think you’re taking this a bit seriously.
      No, it’s not going to bring down patriarchy and its Israel audience is likely small too. But this sort of thing gets wide coverage outside of Israel – as did the whole ‘sexually provocative eight year old thing – and I can’t see any problem with winding up some bigots in their own town. And don’t expect it not to do so because there aren’t specific rules against it in the Torah. I don’t see many Christians baulking at eating the ‘things that creepeth an crawleth in the sea’, nor Muslims knocking back beers whist pointing out that it’s only wine that’s expressly forbidden, just because the book said so. Rest assured the misogyny will trump any book, even if it was inspired by it in the first place. And even if one of the instigators of this did run men-only discos (like every b****** gig I ever went to in the nineties) that makes one person a hypocrite and says nothing about the event itself.
      Now then, who’s up for a Zumba flash mob on the top of the Western Wall? Name the time and I’ll be there. (Party at the Dome of the rock afterwards for those who can’t make the flash mob).

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      I think Ruttenberg may be missing the point here. While it’s true that women’s dancing is part of Jewish tradition, the extremists now are trying to exclude it wherever it might be seen by men, who would presumably be in danger of arousal from the sight. By dancing IN PUBLIC, these women are proclaiming their traditional right.

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    3. Carl

      Hang on Aristeides, for the nutcase Orthodox out there, shouldn’t you have dropped the ‘L’ from ‘PUBLIC’? Or is that just when they sing… .. .

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    4. Yitzhak

      Maybe they all should’ve stripped and gone streaking!! That would’ve been even more provocative!!

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    5. You are missing a main point.

      As a woman, I don’t want a bunch of men going and protesting on my behalf. I especially don’t want a bunch of men rushing off to protest in Beit Shemesh, like they did to “protect little Na’ama”.

      That kind of protest is a kind of blindfold to deny the segregation women face in Israel’s secular society, the violence towards women and indeed little girls in the secular society, etc. It is patronizing and false. It places Haredim as the “evil other” and that demonization helps all the enlightened left-wing men from Tel Aviv sleep better at night.

      Here, religious women stood up for themselves, and with all due respect, they did NOT do it behind a mehitza. This was not an example of segregation it was solidarity.

      I’d really like to see that mob of men rushing to denounce gender violence next time a woman is sexually harassed in Tel Aviv (oops, just happened) (oops, just happened again!) (oops!…), and in the meantime respect the right of the women of Beit Shemesh to stand up for themselves, THEIR WAY, and not in the way you, dear man, want to dictate to them.

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    6. Carl

      No Tsipi, solidarity would be when you get everyone who detests this shit to come out and demonstrate. Segregation would be when you get everyone who detests this shit to come out and then send the ones with the wrong chromosomes home. I’m left wing, male, though not from Tel Aviv, and it didn’t make me sleep easier. But it did make me smile I confess. I detest segregation in all its dismal forms, and with a handful of transitory instances, I see it as an utterly reactionary force. Though quite a funny reactionary force in this instance. Now who’s for this Zumba flash mob?

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    7. Erica

      Not all homosocial activity is oppressive. It depends on the context and the understanding of the reasons for it. Barnard College, the women’s college of Columbia University is a bastion of feminism and women’s and queer rights. Not all reasons for segregation are equal. If women want a separate space to feel unintimidated that is hardly the same as being sent to the back of the bus. And not liking the politics of the JPost, while probably a good thing, does not in any logical way mean that all the topics they cover must be regressive. Dancing in a separate closed section of a wedding is not the same as dancing in public and posting it on youtube, especially when it is the publicness that is the issue.

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    8. What do you mean by the label “Orthodox-lite”?

      It sounds like you’re buying into the Haredi neo-narrative that Haredim are more ‘Orthodox’ than the rest of the Orthodox world.

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    9. AYLA

      geez you guys. Women and girls in Beit Shemesh have been feeling really uncomfortable to be themselves and even afraid (like when the girl was afraid to walk to school). so they decided to do something fun, to feel light and free, which in the world of the Beit Shemesh conflict is subversive. Good for them. They’re taking back the night, as we say. Plus, some of these women are religious by normal standards; they probably like Mehitzas. I know a lot of relatively modern people who like them. There’s a whole world of modern orthodoxy out there–men and women living in equality–that doesn’t strive to get rid of Mehitzas (though perhaps strives to put them down the middle, or etc.), and that does not bother me. why should it?

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    10. All over the world, gyms and swimming pools sometimes have separate men’s and women’s sessions because some women don’t feel comfortable exercising in front of men.

      In the UK, there is big demand for single-sex hospital wards, and this demand is coming from women generally, not from religious women of any faith.

      When people need to be patted down by security, it will be done by someone of the same sex.

      You seem to be suggesting that all of this is basically the same as the bus situation

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    11. Carl

      Ayla: “and that does not bother me. why should it?” I’d reckon it should for the same reason that separate provisions for black and white would do. Don’t worry, they’d be scrupulously equal, just separate. Oh, I was going to copywright that phrase but I’ve a feeling someone got to it first. Sixty odd years ago.

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    12. Carl:

      Do you think that women should be searched by male security guards, and should have no right to object?

      Do you think that women should have no right to ask for a female doctor if they feel uncomfortable with a man?

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    13. AYLA

      oh, please, Carl. You’re not religious, so that’s how you imagine it feels to them, but they aren’t you. Whatever floats everyone’s boat. As long as it truly does. Half the time, in modern othodox shuls, the mihitza is just a piece of fabric down the middle of a room, with children running back and forth between their mother and their father. A husband passes the torah to his wife who then passes it among the women. Lama lo? (why not?). it’s not separate drinking fountains, for God’s sake.

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    14. AYLA

      p.s. It’s Freddy Effing Mercury. In what is by most people’s standards a religious community. How awesome is that?
      plus, some things are actually very simple. They’re telling women to be unseen and unheard, particularly musically, so the women took to the public square with music and had some fun, in solidarity. don’t go all Ivory Tower on it.

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    15. Carl

      Arieh Kovler: no I’m not arguing for the complete destruction of gender divisions now and today. If someone’s been sexually assaulted I’m not gong to fight a gender war at that point. If they were attacked by a seven foot man I’d quite happily give them a 2ft woman doctor if that helped them cope with the forensics better and was what they wanted. But in the quotidian stupidity and offence we (especially women) come up against, I will always say that my fight is the same fight as that of women who are suffering this treatment. For me politics is about fighting oppression, and solidarity is about all those who oppose it kicking back against it together.
      I think the height of the segregationist idiocy for me came when my (then) University safety bus refused to allow men on as, ‘they may intimidate the women passengers’. Despite ‘stranger’ rapes being insanely rare, whilst indoor rapes from ‘friends’ remained appallingly high, we were left to walk home and our heads kicked in: a gunpoint robbery being my highpoint. \the segregation just left men saying how they were the persecuted ones, the real minority, etc. and all that drivel. But they – and many, may men – really do believe that worldview.
      That said, I can see some transitory times, such as all women short lists, to level the playing field in some way. But that’s a transitory process, and a means to an end only. I’d love to go for a Beit Shemesh flashdance with a fair slice of society there, But a women only one – saving practical considerations of safety – leaves me thinking I’ve got two groups in stead of one to oppose.

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    16. Carl

      Sorry Ayla I’m not trying to have pop at this action. I said on the first post, I think Roee should lighten up a bit about it. Irrespective of whatever God or whoever has written in some books, those certain orthodox types will find their juices rising and will be held up to look a little the wrong side of stupid – I mean as you pointed out – as a hoard of women dance to Queen!
      I was just making a wider point about the fact that it’s one gender opposing another gender, which I think isn’t a paragon of solidarity. But for a one off demonstration of some considerable humour value, it’s main use is for making people stop, laugh and think, As a step off point for discussing gender politics and solidarity, it’s illustrative and useful, but not earth shattering or nothing.
      Oh, for people who missed the Zumba flash mob, I’m organising a conga in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre later on, Well that’s presuming the priests aren’t still battering each other with brooms.

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    17. AYLA

      @Carl–okay; okay. 🙂

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    18. Carl, again you are missing the point about existing power structures and hierarchies. Women only spaces, requested by women, or black colleges, or Jewish high schools, are okay. White, Christian, male only spaces – are not, because they reinforce the current structure in which males have more power than females, whites more than blacks, and Christians (in the US, that is) more than non-Christians.

      It is a shameful thing to supposedly stand for equality, and to do it by silencing the very groups that are fighting for that equality, in a system where they simply do not have it.

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    19. Carl

      Arieh Kovler, just as a minor point, the drive for single sex provision in UK NHS hospitals comes mainly from the government, with a handful of religious types thrown in. Entire wards are rarely separate, instead they’re separated into male and female bays (if possible) or male and female ward ends if not.
      This is mainly to reduce the risk of general pervs and sexual predators being presented with a real life Carry On film in which they fancy themselves as the lead. Some wards – ICU, HDU, pre and post-operative, etc. – are entirely mixed. That said, even if there was utter gender segregation, that would just be another battle to be fought, not an argument in favour of segregation.

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    20. All: this conversation is very interesting to see. I’m always surprised by some of the things that our readers have to contribute. And for the record, I am taking it easy. I just wanted to get this sort of conversation started, and it did.

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    21. AYLA

      @Tsipi–I’m sorry, but I have to object to you calling humans ‘males’ and ‘females’–not for any political reason; it’s just a personal pet peeve :).
      Roee–okay; okay. 😉

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    22. Carl

      Ayla, cheers. That’s what I like about this site. Despite us all being crippled by thousands of miles distance and a keyboard, we muddle through and keep it civil. Keep at it and I’ll keep reading your stuff and keep learning some stuff.
      Tsipi this might be the curse of the keyboard again. I absolutely agree with you about the power structures, and I’d put gender at the top. The Christian dynamic (yeah sorry about that export to your benighted land) doesn’t really come into it here: and race is much lower down due to demographics. Class of course cuts through, likely more so than gender. From experience, I don’t think it’s ‘shameful’ to remove yourself from segregationist movements, though I’d say it’s damn offensive to be told to remove yourself, usually due to a presumption of what your gender might do (potential rapist, domestic abuser, etc.) or sometimes simply because of the chromosome thing. I’d like to shatter the hierarchies and power structures, not usurp them. Segregation as a strategy is just a means to replacing one hierarchy with another.
      That said, whilst ethically I dislike it, and practically it can make things worse, short term segregation can work towards equality. The Labour Party ( though how they have the gall to keep the word ‘Labour’ in their name) did this with a temporary all-women shortlist. Whilst it’s unfair to the men wanting to run against them, I think that’s overruled by the outcome: women in power and a fracturing of the male order they move into.

      Anyhow, I’ve got to go and practise my Bogle skills, for an Old-Skool danchall flash mob at that bit of slightly excavated earth which is supposed to be Golgotha, as with a massive stretch of imagination is looks like a skull. It does, ask a tourist with s big cross on their back (you know, the ones with wheels on the bottom). It’s starting in 1hr sharp! No, straight up. It is. Down the front then everyone.

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    23. Ayelet Granek

      I was there dancing and I have a few things to tell you. First, It was a lot of fun. Second, had you been there, you would have seen some men who joined us later, while we started dancing spontaneously a few minutes after the song finished. Third, the idea was not to be antagonistic or controversial, but rather to show the other population of Bet Shemesh, the silent, peaceful sectors who will not hit, spit or hurt anyone else because of their beliefs. Anyway, we definitely weren’t segregating men: husbands, boufriends, fathers and colleagues were invited to watch. Therefore there was NO mechitza there (how come you yourself didn’t notice the logical problem of your own argument?).

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    24. Carl

      Ayelet Granek, kudos to you and yours. My only recommendation is to drop the ‘silent’ from ‘silent, peaceful sectors who will not hit, spit or hurt anybody else because of their beliefs.’ Get rowdy, make your point and keep it up. You make many of us feel much better about being a human being when we wake up in the morning.

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    25. AYLA

      @ayelet–that’s so funny; I was so busy defending the Mechitza, I didn’t even make the most logical argument. ha! anyway, kol ha kavod and so happy it was fun. looks like it. maybe it wasn’t meant to be antagonistic or controversial, but is it fair to call it a protest? I hope so. i like the protest style, and would like to see more of it around these here parts…

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    26. Rob

      Amazing that you complain that a group of women fight for their rights. would you complain if a group of Jews did not invite Christians to protest the holocaust in Germany? How ridiculous that would be. So is this. In addition where are you men who complain you aren’t invited to a dance when these women are spit on and beaten? You want to dance, but you won’t step in and stop your fellow men from spitting on stoning and throwing human fecal matter at women. Shame on you!

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    27. Mitchell Cohen

      What are you saying Roee? Someone needs to decide to either be an extremist, looney like the thugs in Beit Shemesh or the other side of the coin extremist, looney. There can’t be any in between? I, personally, know Israeli Jews (mostly Sephardic) who kiddush on Friday night, go to shul (Orthodox) Saturday morning, and then go to the beach or a soccer game afterwards. Are they hypocritical?

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    28. I think it was a charming performance in the public square. Do you consider that the perpetrators of attacks on women in Beit Shemesh belong to a fringe group that considers these women’s presence in public tantamount to whoredom? Seems like a great way to reclaim the public space and intimidate the opponent without the dancers having to compromise their own moral values. You suggested that what was needed was a statement of “defiance” by the women of Beit Shemesh. Do you believe that the haredim are the controlling faction, and need to be “defied?” In actuality, Beit Shemesh was built by M.O. Traditional Religious. The authority is not the backwards haredi men as you suggest. Women don’t need to “defy” them, they need to assert their freedom in their “own” community. That your own suggestion is that the only true protest would have been mixed dancing – but that in and of itself is wrong to you shows that you have your own issues with womens rights and might not be the most impartial writer on this issue. I think the best reply to these actions would be blasting Ofra Haza music out of speakers for one hour every day in the public space. They should feel free to use my idea 🙂 She’s a great singer and that would be indeed confrontational and should force those shameful haredi men inside their homes and be a true response to the treatment they’ve given these women.

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    29. Mitchell Cohen

      @Nehedar, funny you should mention Ofra Haza. The school bell at my daughter’s (dati mamlachti) school uses one of her tunes and I love it!!!! This is a breath of fresh air, as too many other schools use “London Bridge is falling down”, “Row row row your boat”, or some other tune for their school bells (as opposed to Hebrew music) which is a pity IMO.

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    30. Rachel

      Roee, I participated in the flashmob, and it’s just amazing how well you know me. Although we’ve never met, you’ve clearly nailed exactly what kind of person I am. But wait — first let’s check some facts:
      1. Some of the participants consider themselves religious AND they dance regularly in a mixed-gender setting (I am one).
      2. Many of us “pro-segregation” women plan to participate in next week’s MIXED-gender flashmob in Jerusalem (not the Kotel, but City Center is good enough). That event is also advocating social justice, albeit from a different angle.
      3. Hate the JPost. I read HaAretz. Go figure.
      I won’t bother telling you how I voted in the last election, since it might clash with your narrow-minded, pre-formed assumptions regarding my belief system, my motivations, and my choice of reading material — all on the basis of my participation in the flashmob.
      The stated point of the event: To encourage dialogue. You may argue that it’s a case of preaching to the converted, fine. But please put a halt to the stereotyping. It’s antagonistic. AND irrelevant.

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    31. AYLA

      Rachel–thank you, and Kol ha Kavod. Your official Flash Mob video has been viewed by over 75,000 people so far on YouTube, and Israelis I know who are upset by what’s happening in this country are so moved by you all. Sometimes you don’t even realize you’re grieving until you find yourself crying over a flash mob. To add to your profile of yourself, here’s another Bet Shemesh Profile: my good friend who lives in Bet Shemesh is fiercely left-wing, and one of the world’s first women to scribe a torah.

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