Haredi residents had hung up a sign at a shopping mall attesting to the character of the place, instructing shoppers to dress modestly. The shopping center has little traffic as it is, having to adhere to strict modesty regulations and holding limited supplies.
The local health clinic and supermarket operate separate hours for men and women. A pizza parlor owner was warned that if boys and girls sat there together in the evenings, they would suffer the consequences.
After the plaque was removed by police and local inspectors, on the grounds that it was placed there illegally, all hell broke lose. Haredi residents started throwing stones at the police, who responded by fighting back. Eight protestors were arrested and one was evacuated, unconscious, to hospital.
The haredim started to spray paint their modesty requirements on walls of buildings, adding a personal message to the Beit Shemesh police chief, Oz Eliasi: "Oz is a Nazi".
Keeping secular people away
"The mayor here thinks that if he removes the modesty plaques, more secular people will come," said Shmuel Haim Popenheim, spokesman of the haredi community, who lives in Beit Shemesh. "But he does not understand that every time the media reports burning trash cans and people being arrested, it keeps the secular people away for another 10 years."
During a protest rally held on Tuesday the original sign was replaced and the haredim have stated that protests will continue until the police release those in custody.
This chaos has brought about a new dictate. Haredi women complained to the community rabbi that it was embarrassing to have to walk past hundreds of protesting men on their way to the mikve, the ritual pool used by women to purify themselves after menstruation.
The rabbi decreed that protests must be paused during sundown, when the women traditionally visit the mikve..
When Ramat Beit Shemesh B was built, most of the residents arrived from the overflowing extreme haredi communities in Jerusalem: Neturei Karta, Toldot Aharon and Satmar. Out of a total 5,000 haredi families in Beit Shemesh, 1,500 families are from these sects.
Soon after these families moved in, a modesty revolution started: Public buses, faced by competition from haredi pirate services, get stoned; falafel and pizza shops are forced to close early in the evening. Major sidewalks are split, with one side for men, the other for women. Police were physically attacked when they tried to take a body of a person who collapsed and died on the street for an autopsy, as autopsies are forbidden by Jewish law.
Rioters who were arrested during the Gay pride parade turmoil of the last few weeks were greeted with cheers and music when they were released from custody.
The national religious population has been driven out of town. "I am planning to leave with my family very soon," said one national religious woman. "Every time I walk down the street, I'm frightened. Hundreds of haredim stare at me and scrutinize the way I'm dressed. It is not pleasant to live here."