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The problem with fanatics: 8-year-old Israeli girl jeered at by ultra-Orthodox Jews on her way to school

December 28, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
The New York Times had a story earlier this week about ultra Orthodox Jews in Beit Shemesh, Israel who are making it miserable for an 8-year-old American-Israeli girl to walk to school.

Little Na'ama Margolese comes from a modern Orthodox Jewish family, which means she follows a dress code that is a little less strict than the ultra Orthodox in her city, who insist that women wear long sleeved blouses and long skirts and that women and men be segregated, to the point that women have to ride in the back of the bus, aren't supposed to linger on the street or sit on public benches in plain view. Even very young girls are subject to the separation of the sexes. When Na'ama walks to school, wearing what looks like extremely modest clothing by any western standard, she gets jeered at and called names.

This makes Na'ama and her parents, both Americans who emigrated to Israel, understandably unhappy, but according to the Times, this one battle represents a larger societal battle in Israel between these religious extremists and more secular Israelis.

I think Na'ama has a clear right to wear whatever clothing her parents consider appropriate and they should practice their religion as they see fit. I hope Israeli officials charge the men and boys jeering at this little girl with harassment.

But the larger lesson I take away from this is that society is rarely better off when fanatics –religious or political or of any other ideological persuasion – are allowed to dictate the way everyone else will live and to take away someone else's rights.

That holds as true for some of what has been happening lately in the United States as it does for what is going on in Israel.


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