Sukkot strife in Meah Shearim over modesty
Violence erupts between Hasidic, extremist sects in ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood over holiday festivities. ‘Hatred existing between sides is awful. Instead of dancing, rejoicing, they are fighting. If this is what’s going on in here, I guess Messiah must really be coming soon,’ says saddened resident
However, the past celebration in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Meah Shearim this Sukkot may leave some room for interpretation.
The water-drawing festival is a time-honored tradition held in the Hasidic courts of the capital for decades. The celebrations are a known crowd draw, with some 15,000 people visiting the events every night, in the past few years.
This year, an all out war ensued between the Toldot Aharon Hassidic sect and the extremists whose stronghold is the Ohel Sarah Synagogue; blows were given and received on both sides.
Each Sukkot, thousands of people pile into the neighborhood to participate in the festivities at the synagogues and batei midrash (religious study halls) spread throughout Meah Shearim and its surrounding neighborhoods.
In the last few, the streets have been divided and the men have been asked to pass on one side and the women on the other.
This holiday eve, the arrangement did not satisfy extreme groups including the Sicarii who began threatening that they will physically prevent the entrance of the masses of visitors, especially women, since this situation is likely to impinge chastity levels which exist in the city throughout the remainder of the year.
The extremists' protest
In addition, about 2,000 signatures were collected from neighborhood residents calling to completely cancel the festivities.
Finally, Badatz (the Court of Justice in the Orthodox community), decided that the celebrations will only continue until 12:30 am instead of 2:30 am as they did every year.
Moreover, it was decided to close the women’s section to outside visitors and only the wives and daughters of the area’s Yeshiva students were permitted to enter with a special authorization issued to them.
Separation by gender
During the holiday, visitors were separated according to gender on Meah Shearim Street in order to maintain chasteness.
The women-intended side was covered in cloth sheets but people in the neighborhood were angered by the fact that the men’s section was on the side of the Toldot Ahahron Beit Midrash and their goal is to attract a crowd to the area, especially donators and to their dismay, “instead of spending time on Jaffa Street they come to Meah Shearim” said Yisrael Meir Hirsh who lives in the neighborhood.
According to him, the separation apparatus created by Toldot Aharon was constructed in a way in which it is impossible to pass by on the street or enter the Toldot Avraham Yitzhak Beit Midrash and “they (Toldot Aharon members) caused all the looseness and disorder in the neighborhood during the holiday.”
Blood boilingThus, last Thursday a number of Yeshiva students from Ohel Sarah decided to block all passage to women in protest against what they believe were defective separation arrangements.
The outcomes of the extremists’ deeds had already boiled the blood of Toldot Aharon members and punches were thrown on both sides. One of the boys even found himself unconscious at the Bikur Cholim Hospital.
The following day, three accusatory and curse-filled notices were printed.
In one of the announcements, the extremists blamed the, “group of hooligans from Toldot Aharon.”
They also included messages like, “Tens of thousands and amongst them whores, arrived from around the country and flooded the narrow alleyways of the neighborhood…”
‘Keep a low profile’
The opening shot fired on Thursday night continued to reverberate in the neighborhood throughout Shabbat in which property was damaged.
Hirsh, for instance, had stones thrown on his sukkah and one of them cracked a house window under which his baby daughter was lying. “It was a miracle nothing happened,” he said.
Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss, the Chief Rabbi or Govad of the haredi Rabbinical Court, was compelled to intervene and asked both sides to, “keep a low profile.”
After the rabbi’s intervention, the extremists really did not go out into the streets to block the women’s passageway but they decided to hold a prayer and psalm-reading gathering as a result of the looseness that spread throughout their neighborhood.
However, some of the signs carried by those who assembled after Shabbat at the Meah Shearim square once again boiled the blood of Toldot Aharon.
The signs denounced the phenomenon of looseness and one of them read, “Murderers in stripes.” This was in protest to the severe beating they received two days earlier by the Hassidic group identified by their striped clothing.
A short while afterwards, a group of Yeshiva students from Toldot Aharon arrived. According to reports from the scene, they poured tear gas and beat some of the extremists, threw tables and broke benches.
Following the violent acts, additional announcements were printed and placed on neighborhood walls. This time, the title was “Blood-cravers.’
‘Pogrom’ will not be left unansweredThe notices hung by Toldot Aharon claimed that their rivals will not stop beating Yeshiva students at the appearance of blood, but that in the heat of their passion for murder they threw a rock inside one of the sukkot to purposely kill a woman in confinement there.
Toldot Aharon was also accused of threatening to entirely burn a synagogue with the Torah scroll in it.
Hirsh, and the rest of the Ohel Sarah Synagogue worshippers are unwilling to allow this “pogrom” they endured to be left unanswered. “We will raise hell against their cruelty,” he promised.
Another Meah Shearim inhabitant who tried to remain neutral actually cried to Ynet about the war between the sides and the fact that it occurred during the Sukkot holiday in which it is a mitzvah (good deed) to be joyful.
“The hatred that exists between the sides is awful. Instead of dancing and rejoicing, they are fighting. If this is what’s going on in Meah Shearim, I guess the Messiah must really be coming soon,” he said hopefully.