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Can ultra-Orthodox culture go overboard in its quest for modesty?

by Robin Garbose, Haaretz

January 23, 2012 | 5:46 pm

Haredi Orthodox men clash with police in the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh, Dec. 26, 2011. (Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

Haredi Orthodox men clash with police in the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh, Dec. 26, 2011. (Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

The other day, during a meeting at a coffee shop, I showed the producer I was meeting with a newspaper article about my latest Haredi film. The movie, intended for viewing by women only, had recently premiered at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival. Suddenly a man at the next table barged into the conversation, launching into a scathing diatribe: “These Haredim don’t serve in the army and they live off government money! And this insanity about not hearing women sing is primitive. They’re crazy!”

My colleague, who is Jewish but not Orthodox, looked bemused. I could barely get a word in edgewise. Did I mention we weren’t on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street but in Beverly Hills?

For those of us steeped in modernity, it is often impossible to see beyond the seductive bubble of popular culture. I wanted to tell this man that the headlines from Israel that had so enraged him, sensationalizing events perpetrated by extremists, were eliciting vicious and unwarranted attacks against all religious Jews, resulting in the proverbial baby thrown out with the dirty bathwater.

Although I didn’t grow up Orthodox, I came to embrace religious values as an adult. Some 20 years ago, while a rising theater and film director, I experienced a profound sense of cognitive dissonance in my world. On the one hand, I yearned for spiritual meaning, inner wholeness and a lasting relationship, yet I was bombarded with advertising images depicting female beauty as utterly flawless and female pop stars performing sexually explicit acts peddled as women’s liberation. The feminist in me wondered: What’s wrong with this picture?

Read more on Haaretz.com.

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