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  Naomi Ragen

Naomi Ragen
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The Ghost of Hannah Mendes Jephte's Daughter Sotah (A Woman Under Suspicion) The Sacrifice of Tamar

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The Method      (August 27, 1999)

by Naomi Ragen

I was watching the news the other day, and saw the Knesset committee debating when the Electric Company can best move its turbine. One of the Ultra Orthodox M.K’s was holding forth passionately about how much cheaper it would be to move it on a weekday. When a Labor Party MK looked at him in amazement and began to explain the great additional cost of a weekday move, as opposed to moving it along the highways Friday night, the Ultra Orthodox MK did something very curious: he didn’t stop talking for a minute, shouting down all the facts, reasons and opinions of his fellow Knesset Member.

This kind of behavior has become so commonplace that I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it, if I hadn’t myself experienced this method of debate a day before as a guest on Channel One’s Documedia with a self-identified "Ultra Orthodox woman journalist" named Rivka (As a kindness, I won’t identify her further.) I put this in parenthesis because, first, Ms. Rivka certainly didn’t look Ultra Orthodox (sandals, no stockings) and certainly didn’t sound like a journalist (the lack of reporting of sex crimes in the Ultra Orthodox press, she argued, proved that there are fewer sex crimes in the Ultra Orthodox world). But what put her directly into the Ultra Orthodox camp was her style: Listen to nothing that is said, and talk non-stop, whatever nonsense comes into your head. Also, personal attacks, the lower the better, are a good way to avoid the issues.

Our topic was why the Ultra Orthodox press refuses to print articles informing their readership about serial rapists and other sex offenders. After asserting that this is a wonderful method of preventing sex crimes, as proven by how few -- if an -- such crimes exist in the Ultra Orthodox world, Ms. Rivka went on to say that evil people like myself, who write made up fantasies about nonexistent abuses in the Ultra Orthodox world are the true problem.

I tried to explain to her that she was living in a fantasy world. Take, for example, the evidence of hundreds of sex crimes against children in Bnai Brak attested to by her own Ultra Orthodox brethren.

Mr. Daniel Fine, member of a Bnai Brak vigilante group modelled after the Modesty Patrol, defended himself for attacking a yeshiva teacher with an iron bar because the teacher was allegedly meeting a young girl in hotels and molesting her. In court testimony, Mr. Fine said his overwrought behavior was a result of having been witness to hundreds and hundreds of sexually molested children in Bnai Brak. According to Mr. Fine, there are 300 – 400 such cases a year in Bnai Brank. Parents of such children won’t go to the police or the other authorities because of their "religious sensitivity," Mr. Fine said, and so he and his friends have no choice but to attack such offenders themselves.

When I related this information to Ms. Rivka, she began a nonstop harangue of personal insults and silly excuses which left me breathless.

Had I been able to get a word in edgewise, I would have told Ms. Rivka that the Ultra Orthodox method of letting piles of stinking laundry pile up in their streets rather than risking exposure and embarrassment by actually washing them, used to work, but doesn’t anymore. The piles are simply too big and smell too much. One needs a special talent, which Ms. Rivka and those like her obviously possess, to continue ignoring such issues as hundreds of sexually abused children whose parents refuse to act responsibly by going to the police, getting the children psychological help, or publicizing the information among friends and neighbors, thus leaving their communities vulnerable to further attacks. Or the problem of hundreds of abused Ultra Orthodox women, abandoned by rabbis and the community, who know they will be thrown out penniless into the streets the moment they open their mouths to complain. Or the problem of true Torah scholars who are ostracized when they dare to utter a word of protest against the grand scale thievery of governent funds taking place in the yeshiva world. With great talent for not seeing and not hearing, and obviously not smelling, Ms. Rivka and her ilk manage to navigate their way around the misery and corruption all around them, shouting down anyone foolishly optimistic enough to call their attention to the urgent problems crying out for solutions.

Ours is a wonderful world, Ms. Rivka and people like her shout, loud enough so they don’t hear anything else. After all, just read what’s going on in the secular world as reported in the secular press. After all, when you read HaTzofeh, and HaModia and Yeted Neeman you’ll never read about such things happening in our wonderful, perfect world. And we all know, if the Ultra Orthodox press doesn’t report it , it can’t possibly be happening.

I guess in that world, on those terms, Ms. Rivka is a journalist.



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Last modified: August 27, 1999