Israel's Lady Problem

It seems as though those rabble-rousing Israelis have another problem on their hands: women. Can't live with them, can't live without them, am I right, Jews? But seriously, ultra-Orthodox Jews have temporarily stepped away from their Illumnati/Media-controlling listservs in order to be more assertive about their stupid rules regarding women. For instance, a female professor recently had a difficult time accepting an award for a book she wrote:

The professor, Channa Maayan, knew that the acting health minister, who is ultra-Orthodox, and other religious people would be in attendance. So she wore a long-sleeve top and a long skirt. But that was hardly enough.

Not only did Dr. Maayan and her husband have to sit separately, as men and women were segregated at the event, but she was instructed that a male colleague would have to accept the award for her because women were not permitted on stage.

That's terrible, but not so surprising if you're at all familiar with ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are, as my grandmother would say, meshugana. Worse, though, is this:

The list of controversies grows weekly: Organizers of a conference last week on women's health and Jewish law barred women from speaking from the podium, leading at least eight speakers to cancel; ultra-Orthodox men spit on an 8-year-old girl whom they deemed immodestly dressed; the chief rabbi of the air force resigned his post because the army declined to excuse ultra-Orthodox soldiers from attending events where female singers perform; protesters depicted the Jerusalem police commander as Hitler on posters because he instructed public bus lines with mixed-sex seating to drive through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods; vandals blacked out women's faces on Jerusalem billboards.

Nothing says faith in a higher power like spitting on an 8-year-old girl. I will admit that drawing Hitler mustaches on people's pictures is always sort of fun, but it is a bit childish for a bunch of supposedly very, very serious religious men.

What's more is these ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim ("those who tremble before God") are like an amalgam of the worst true parts of Republicans (not so sure about the government or basic women's rights, extremely religious, poorly dressed, rely on extensive government subsidies, etc.) and the worst stereotypes of the American poor on welfare (don't work, lazy, having kids at a faster rate than the rest of the population, rely on extensive government subsidies, etc.). Look:

In other words, while rejecting the state, the ultra-Orthodox have survived by making deals with it. And while dismissing the group, successive governments - whether run by the left or the right - have survived by trading subsidies for its votes. Now each has to live with the other, and the resulting friction is hard to contain.

But while the community has gained increased economic might - there is a growing market catering to its needs - what is lacking is economic productivity. The community places Torah study above all other values and has worked assiduously to make it possible for its men to do that rather than work. While the women often work, there is a 60 percent unemployment rate among the men, who also generally do not serve in the army.

It is this combination - accepting government subsidies, refusing military service and declining to work, all while having six to eight children per family - that is unsettling for many Israelis, especially when citizens feel economically insecure and mistreated by the government.

But, to those in the know, is this cultural divide between the mildly religious, mostly progressive Israeli mainstream and the ultra-Orthodox deserving of a hyperbolical and awesome sounding metaphor? Yes, of course it is:

"The Haredi issue is a force flowing underground, like lava, and it could explode," Shelly Yacimovich, a member of the Israeli Parliament, and leader of the Labor Party, said in an interview.

It's like a fucking volcano over there because some crazy Jews won't let women do things like ride a bus with men or accept an award on an actual stage. There is, however, some hope. A few ultra-Orthodox were appalled that an 8-year-old was spit on, and generally feel misrepresented by the public perception of their kind. Like this guy, who seems like a completely normal person:

Rabbi Dror Moshe Cassouto, a 33-year-old Hasid, lives with his wife and four sons in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, one of the centers of Haredi life in Israel. He never looks directly at a woman, other than his wife, and he believes that men and women have roles in nature that in modern society have been reversed, "because we live in darkness."

His goal is to spread the light. "God watches over the Jewish nation as long as it studies Torah," he said.

Totally normal, right? With reasonable leaders like Rabbi Cassouto, what could go wrong?

[Image via Getty]