Hey, I’ve got a far-out thought you. Could the inquisition make a return engagement in Israel?  In a recent blog, I reported on the current struggle unfolding between  secular women and the ultra-Orthodox in Israel. A woman had been accosted for sitting in the front of a bus and a 2nd grader in Beit Shemesh had been confronted by the boys with long curls. While these tensions have gone on for centuries, this current outburst has rekindled a fierce debate in the Jewish world.

Here’s the latest.

The IDF (Israeli Defense Force) General Staff issued an order commanding all soldiers, religious or otherwise, to be present in all official army ceremonies even if women were singing. Women singing a problem? Yeah.

Listen. These guys should hear me sing. I can guarantee it would take a military order to get anyone to stay. Unfortunately, I’m the wrong sex.

A petition of 100 to 200 signatures rolled in protesting enlistment in the military unless the men were exempted from any occasion where women sang. Some interpretations of Jewish law prohibit men from listening to women sing in person. At the same time, some religious-Zionist rabbis recently ruled that it was permissible as long as no man intended to enjoy the performance. Now, there’s one for you!

A nationally recognized dean of a Yeshiva (Jewish religious school), Rabbi Elizer Melamed entered the fight declaring that religious youth should postpone military enlistment until the IDF exempts them from hearing women sing during official events. Science and Technology minister Daniel Herschkowitz countered, saying that  Melamed’s statement amounted to a takeover attempt by the haredi and was an anti-Zionist approach.”

So much for any  peace talks happening soon.

Leaders of the Women’s International Zionist Organization (Wizo) got into the act obliquely when departing president Helen Glaser called for better social justice by helping more younger children in day care centers to have educational experiences that increase their tolerance of individual differences.

On January 18, more that 200 women danced in a “flashmob” on Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda Street that I have often walked down. A flashmob is a choreographed dance in a public place by citizens who seem to emerge out of the crowd and blend together in a synchronized step. The dancers were Hebrew University women students. Their demonstration was a direct response to the Beit Shemesh and bus experiences. It was a young women’s way of saying, “Enough is enough!”Their message is simple. “We’re against discrimination of women,” said Helen Gottstein, an English and theater teacher from Jerusalem. “They should have equal rights.”

The conflicts are clearly out in the open and escalating. Can the zealous tighten the thumb screws on dissenters who strongly disagree with the “true believers?” Do the religious have a right to impose their ideals at all costs?

If I remember right, the Medieval Inquisition answered that question by killing Jews who didn’t want to be Roman Catholics. The fires are still burning. The Inquisition is still around in the form of censorship, wire-tapping, and political correctness, and yes, the imposition by force of anyone’s religious beliefs on others. Could Israel get caught up in the backwash and have the extreme right-wing turn out to be the inquisitors? What does it sound like to you? Question:

1. Do think the ultra-Orthodox have the right to impose their convictions? Even in their own quarters? Should other elements in Israeli society oppose such actions?

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