(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.Ks
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 didnt 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 wouldnt
have thought twice about it, if I hadnt myself experienced this method of debate a
day before as a guest on Channel Ones Documedia with a self-identified "Ultra
Orthodox woman journalist" named Rivka (As a kindness, I wont identify her
further.) I put this in parenthesis because, first, Ms. Rivka certainly didnt look
Ultra Orthodox (sandals, no stockings) and certainly didnt 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
wont 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
doesnt 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 dont hear anything else. After all, just read whats going on in the
secular world as reported in the secular press. After all, when you read HaTzofeh, and
HaModia and Yeted Neeman youll never read about such things happening in our
wonderful, perfect world. And we all know, if the Ultra Orthodox press doesnt report
it , it cant possibly be happening.
I guess in that world, on those terms, Ms. Rivka is a journalist.