Israelis, Resentful Of Orthodox Grip On Society, Fight Back JERUSALEM (RNS) With its department-store-sized windows, the Kolben Dance Company's studio faces a busy downtown plaza, but few passers-by have ever glimpsed one of the troupe's rehearsals inside. The studio's shades were drawn three years ago, after extremists from the city's large haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish community threatened employees and defaced their ads. The fundamentalists called the dancers' revealing clothes and mixed-gender moves "provocative," a violation of Jewish modestly laws. The management acceded to the pressure, but inspired by grass-roots protests against religious coercion that have taken place around Israel in recent weeks, reopened its windows to the outside world in late November. "In the past few years, women have been segregated and eliminated from the public sphere by religious extremists," said Rachel Azaria, a modern-Orthodox Jew and a member of the City Council, as she watched the dancers, dressed in tight costumes, rehearse a contemporary piece. "Now," she said, "the public is finally out here campaigning." Israel's highly insular Haredi minority -- roughly 8 percent of the total population, and about a third of residents in Jerusalem -- values piety above all else. What worries outsiders is when Haredi Jews use their size and influence to impose that piety on everyone else. Haredi Jews have strict dress codes and enforce gender separation in their schools, synagogues and weddings. Men who study Torah full-time are exempt from mandatory military service, and large families barely scrape by on the wife's wages, study stipends and public assistance. As their ranks have swelled in recent years, so, too, has their influence in both the public and governmental spheres, and not only in Israel. Israel's increasingly haredi Chief Rabbinate, which has sole authority over Jewish matters within the country, has raised the bar for Orthodox conversions performed at home and abroad. Haredi leaders have convinced some merchants and government agencies to host men and women separately. They have tried to ban women from singing at public and military events and insist on gender segregation on certain bus lines. Until recently, it was difficult to find advertisements in Jerusalem featuring women or girls; that's started to change after a public outcry. Kimmy Caplan, an expert in Haredi society at Bar-Ilan University, said the desire to impose rigid Haredi standards on the wider world stems largely from fear. "There is a battle by certain people in the community, who see women working and what men are being exposed to," in secular society, "and are trying to put up barriers to defend the community. That's what's happening in the public sphere." Seth Farber, a modern-Orthodox rabbi and director of Itim, an organization that helps Israelis deal with the religious establishment, places much of the blame on politicians. "To a large extent, nonreligious politicians have handed over religious issues to fundamentalists to acquire 'yes' votes on other issues," he said. "As a result, a small minority are controlling Jewish life in this country." http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/07/israelis-fight-haredi-control_n_1135185.html?ref=religion -------------------------------------------------------------------- just like the republicans in america. "To a large extent, nonreligious politicians have handed over religious issues to fundamentalists to acquire 'yes' votes on other issues," he said. "As a result, a small minority are controlling Jewish life in this country."