'Sicarii' intimidate Jerusalem’s haredim
Important rabbis, ordinary people in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood have been beaten, threatened, and stoned by haredi extremists known as 'Sicarii.' Why are the haredim so afraid?
There is fear in the neighborhoods of Mea She’arim and Geula. Neighborhood residents walk rapidly to their destination, seeking a safe haven from the Sicarii, a group of violent extremists that is terrorizing the haredim (ultra-Orthodox), from important rabbis to ordinary people.
Some two months ago Yisrael Klatzkin, a Mea She’arim printer, went as usual to give a Torah class in Zichron Moshe, the neighborhood synagogue. “I have a regular route I take there, and I always park my motorcycle in a small alleyway nearby,” noted Klatzkin. “Four people ambushed me there in the courtyard, and as soon as I arrived they came at me. Two of them held me and the other two began to beat me with a blunt object.”
Klatzkin was rushed to nearby Bikur Holim hospital. On the previous Friday he was beaten by the same gang in Kikar Shabbat, and the glue he uses for hanging announcements on notice boards was poured out.
Street's fighting (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The Sicarii—named after zealots who attempted to expel the Romans from Judea before Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 CE—are said to be planning to sign a “ceasefire” agreement with Klatzkin in the presence of the rabbinical court of the Eda Haharedit, an ultra-Orthodox coalition.
According to one resident of Mea She’arim, the agreement is going to be a “sort of cold peace, like the agreement between Israel and Egypt, and everyone is hoping that it will last, but there are those who say that it will last from Purim until the fast of Esther (one year), and there are those who believe it will last from the fast of Esther until Purim (one day). What’s clear is that it will inevitably explode.”
The Sicarii are on the rightmost flank of haredi society, and are considered the most militant haredi group ever. Some claim the group's numbers only about six people, others think it is 12, and still others put their numbers at about 30.
“And sometimes, when someone wants to go to war against someone else,” says a Mea She’arim resident, “he makes use of the name ‘Sicarii’ even though he doesn’t really belong to them.” In any case it isn’t an especially large group, even if it is terrorizing the entire haredi population.
Klatzkin’s troubles began about two years ago. His printing business won the Jerusalem city government’s tender for hanging announcements on city notice boards. These announcements, hung on every street in Mea She’arim, the Bukharan Quarter, and Bar Ilan Street, gave the haredi neighborhoods a crowded and disorderly appearance. The tender was meant to create some order on the notice boards.
Klatzkin prints death notices for Hassidic and other important rabbis, new rulings on religious law, and of course pashkevils, the anonymous announcements found everywhere in haredi neighborhoods. Since people in haredi neighborhoods do not own TVs, street announcements are a powerful tool used to disseminate the latest news of the haredi world.
Klatzkin was pleased to win the tender, but though he grew up in the haredi world, even he could not guess the kind of troubles that awaited him. Jerusalem’s city government is part of the Zionist state, and his collaboration with the government was not acceptable to the Eda Haharedit.
From this point on Jerusalem’s zealots refused to use Klatzkin’s printing services, and when the Sicarii set up their own printing business and printed announcements, Klatzkin pulled them off the wall and aroused their ire.
It wasn’t long before the war of the posters began in earnest on Mea She’arim’s notice boards. It was Klatzkin who referred to his opponents as “Sicarii.” According to the Gemara, the Sicarii claimed to be zealous for God’s sake, but they did not act in accordance with Jewish law. Klatzkin notes that he “caused them the greatest possible damage by giving them this name and today everyone calls them that.”
The street poster war very quickly became more violent. “Since I won the tender,” says Klatzkin, “I’ve suffered constant persecution. This includes plugging up locks, flat tires, they knock over the glue my workers use, ambush me, and humiliate me. Once they even threw a cement block at my car and sent a notice to Magen David Adom that a man was beating his wife at the Klatzkin home. Luckily I haven’t been living at the address they gave for three years, and at least the neighbors know that this isn’t true.”
Klatzkin complained to the police about the cement block thrown at his car, but the police decided to close the case.
Klatzkin is not the only target of the Sicarii, who have also attacked some of the most important haredi rabbis and a public figure. They threw stones at the home of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, head of the Lithuanian faction of the haredi community, when he handed down a ruling in Jewish law that they didn’t like about desecration of graves on the Pisgat Ze’ev road.
Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, one of the haredi world’s most respected and important rabbis, was forced to go to the wedding of one of his grandchildren in Bet Shemesh accompanied by a guard when the Sicarii threatened him for giving permission to haredi men to join the haredi Nahal battalion of the IDF.
Recently they have harassed Eda Haredit rabbinical court member Rabbi Meir Brandsdorfer because he dared to shake hands with Rabbi Steinman. After Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski lost his grandson, the Sicarii published a pashkevil declaring that the toddler’s death was caused by a “pulsa dinoura” curse placed on his head.
Jerusalem police officials recently spoke with former Eda Hareidit official Yehuda Meshi-Zahav to discuss ways of dealing with the problem.
“I told the police that it isn’t possible that a group of 20-30 troublemakers could terrorize Jerusalem in general and Mea She’arim in particular, and use violent means, extortion, and threats,” says Meshi-Zahav. He mainly blames the police for “being afraid of them, for failing to act, and for capitulating to them every time.”
Meshi-Zahav’s is critical not only of the police, but also of the haredi public: “On the one hand there is a whole, established leadership, and on the other hand everyone fears a group of informers and doesn’t do a thing. Everyone knows who they are, and the whole public and the police must not ignore this, and must fight them with all their strength.
"When we have a situation where they attack someone in broad daylight and land him in the hospital and everyone is afraid to get involved, it’s reminiscent of the dark days in New York… 20 years ago these guys wouldn't have dared to show their faces. We would have known how to hit back in a language they understand, we’d have kicked their butts.”
A Jerusalem police spokesman says that “the gang is known to the police. Its members have been arrested on numerous occasions for attacking the owner of a printing business as well as several haredim in Mea She’arim. Most of the files have been given to the prosecutor for the purpose of submitting an indictment. The police are continuously monitoring the gang and will use all legal means to prevent them from continuing their activities.”