The crowd includes four ultra-Orthodox women in their 50s. The temperature outside has reached 32 degrees centigrade, but they don't mind. They're here on a mission.That's mighty rich considering the bad example they're setting by harrassing people in a public setting over trivial matters. Some "education" they're giving their own children by acting vaguely similar to Islamic mutawas.
One of them approaches a woman who shops at the market once a week. The woman, wearing a tank top and jeans, has her full attention on the tomato box. The haredi woman touches one of her bare arms. The woman turns around and the haredi woman immediately snaps at her, pointing at her bare arms: "Next time don't come to the market like this. Next time you'll come with sleeves."
The woman in the tank top tries not to appear insulted and looks at the other haredi women. One of them approaches a young woman in shorts and a sleeveless shirt. "Next time cover yourself," she orders her.
The haredim have been targeting Mahane Yehuda Market for quite a while. The patrol unit, which began touring the market alleys in recent weeks, is the result of growing haredi involvement in the area in the past 18 months.
The reason for their growing interest is the fact that the market is gradually becoming a multi-cultural center, a pilgrimage site for youngsters, visitors and tourists and a nightlife hot spot for many in the city.
The ultra-Orthodox battle was launched a year ago, when they declared war on the market area and the street parties held in the city center throughout the summer, claiming that the revival of the city center was creating lawlessness and harming their children's education.
Creating fearful atmosphereThey shouldn't be operating even within haredi neighborhoods. That's nothing more than harrassment and abuse of public locations, turning it all into a turf war. The statement at the end of the article is laughable:
The market merchants were shocked by the presence of the chastity squads, which they referred to as "an escalation" in the haredi conduct. "We won't have it. Such a chastity squad is intolerable and is a red line for us," said Shimon Darwish, head of the Mahane Yehuda Merchants Association.
"They are trying to create a fearful atmosphere and prevent people from coming to the market. We'll do everything in our power to find out who these women are. It won't be a problem to trace them. There are security cameras in the market and I plan to check who they are and make it clear to them that there is no place for them in the market."
Darwish added that he planned to patrol the market in order to prevent the phenomenon and make it clear to the chastity squad women that there is no room for them there.
"It's a private initiative, likely by haredi women," he said. "And yet, we won't ignore it. I plan to hold a comprehensive discussion on the matter, beyond the market's leadership. This must be taken care of."
Yaron Tzidkiyahu, the owner of Tzidkiyahu Delicacies and one of the market's most famous merchant, sees a link between the haredi women and the different chastity squads operating in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.
"The haredim are trying to test our boundaries. That's the way I see it. Naturally, we have no intention of giving in, and we'll show them the way out. The market is multi-cultural and we won't let the haredim interfere in what is happening here and set the tone," he said.
The different chastity squads have been trying in recent years not to get involved in any acts that could be considered criminal. According to Elhanan Buzaglo, a former activist in such a squad, "You must distinguish between women asking other women to dress modestly and violence. Some may be making the request in an obscene manner – and that's their problem," he said.
According to Buzaglo, the women operating in the market "may have been to an encouragement lecture and decided to implement what they heard there."
Buzaglo added that as far as he knew, the chastity squads operated exclusively in haredi neighborhoods. "Their activity among the haredim brings them donations. Operating among the seculars won't bring them a penny, so they don't go there at all."
Buzaglo's view is shared by Yehoshua Ohev Shalom, an activist of the Committee for Purity in the Camp, who claimed to be unfamiliar with such organized activity but praised the women.They're not strengthening women at all, they're only deepening the bad reputation the haredi community is now getting, and that's why it's not a good thing at all. What he's saying reeks of double-talk.
"If they strengthen women it's a good thing, isn't it?"
And the problem isn't over yet, as yesterday came news that another bossy haredi group has been making rounds at the market "urging" shopkeepers to close an hour before Shabbat:
The "Shabbat Alert" group has returned to Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda Market. Eliyahu Schlesinger, rabbi of the Gilo neighborhood, arrives at the market every Friday about one hour before the start of Shabbat in order to urge merchants to shut down their stores.In a public location that doesn't belong to you, rather than at your own home and synagogue? I'm not sure I see the logic here. A grocery store is a not synagogue.
Some of the merchants believe his actions are motivated by the upcoming elections for the Jerusalem Rabbinate.
The "Shabbat Alert" group was founded about 20 years ago by Rabbi Bezalel Goldschmidt. Every Friday, a group of haredi yeshiva students would arrive at the market to ensure that the stands are closed before the start of the Jewish day of rest.
As reported by the Yedioth Jerusalem newspaper, in the past the group got into a verbal confrontation with customers and merchants, which led to physical violence.
The association supporting the "Shabbat Alert" activity was terminated about a month ago, but Rabbi Schlesinger decided to revive the initiative.
According to the rabbi, since Israel installed Standard Time several weeks ago, Shabbat begins earlier and therefore he must ensure that the market is shut down without any desecration of the Shabbat.
"We don't shout at the merchants, but rush them politely," he claimed. "Some say to me, 'Rabbi, give me a blessing,' and I promise to do so if they shut down, and it works.
"But I am very angry at religious and haredi Jews who start shopping at the market just before Shabbat, creating a serious obstacle," he added.
Some of the merchants, however, are unhappy with the "Shabbat Alert" group. According to one of them, the rabbi's activity stems from political considerations.If it's really that important to him, he should stay away from the market altogether, since it's not his property. This is no more legitimate than racketeering, and no different from how an organized syndicate plied its trade during the Great Depression. My advice would be to get a restraining order against the rabbi's group (and the chastity clowns too, if needed), and see to it that they set up their own grocery stores and supermarkets rather than impose their demands on other merchants, who shouldn't be asking for a blessing from someone like him in the first place.
"He is creating public relations for his activity among the haredim by going to the seculars in order to promote himself," argued the merchant.
One store even posted a picture on its wall showing haredim in their Shabbat clothes pushing a business owner onto the wall on the background of the market stands.
Asked about the merchants' claims that his conduct is political, Rabbi Schlesinger said: "We do it out of love for Israel and not for any other reason but to honor the Sabbath."