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Religious Pundits: Stop Secular Extremism

A new Israeli conservatism? Rabbi Haim Navon and Emily Amrousy point out that TV content has become unbearably explicit.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 2/16/2014, 6:20 PM

'Gay pride' celebration.
'Gay pride' celebration.
Flash 90

Two prominent religious pundits who write in the general media have penned articles pointing out that religious extremism as regards modesty is in large part a reaction to secular extremism against modesty.

Rabbi Haim Navon of Modiin's Hashimshoni congregation penned a semi-satirical article in last Friday's Motzash magazine, in which he demonstrated that not only the hareidi stream, but the secular one, too, can be accused of extremism.

Navon illustrated his point with an imaginary but all-too-familiar scene from family life:

"'Change the channel, quickly,' she whispered to her husband.

"They sat in the living room, watching a famous reality program, with the children beside them. The commercial that flickered on the screen was so vulgar, and the children watched it with their eyes wide open.

"'When we were children,' she whispered in his ear, 'no one dared to show such stuff on television. Certainly not at 9:00 p.m.'”

"He zapped through the channels. The next channel also showed commercials. He pressed the remote again, just to be on the safe side. The third channel showed a BBC documentary on pornography... The fourth channel showed another reality show, and one of the participants had just cursed and everyone laughed.”

The fifth channel in Navon's imaginary story carried the news – which, typically, blasted hareidim for treating women improperly, because of the separate-gender seating that is customary on buses that serve the hareidi community.

Navon goes on to describe the woes of a grandmother who wants to buy her granddaughter a doll that is not dressed like a model, and of a couple that is stranded in traffic because of the gay pride parade, and has to watch semi-clothed men kissing each other.

Emily Amrousy, who writes in Yisrael Hayom, strikes a similar chord Friday in her column. First, she points out how much she objects to the so-called “women of the shawls” or "Taliban women," a small hareidi stream in which women dress similarly to Taliban-type Muslims, in numerous layers of clothing, and dress their daughters the same way. But then she goes on to discuss the opposite trend.

"It will be Purim one month from now,” she writes. “Judging by the commercials, the costumes for girls 12 and over are a policewoman, a baby, a cowgirl, a bunny, a superheroine, a bee, a maid, a cat, a waitress, a warrior and a princess.” All of the costumes, she points out, are “vulgar, cheap in the bad sense, very sexual, demeaning to women, and encourage objectification and an atmosphere of exploitation. Stand at the entrance to any high school in Israel a month from now and you will see this sad parade with your own eyes. The secular street in Israel, which features ninth grade bunnies and 'sexy babies' (the terminology used in the commercial pamphlet), should be ashamed of itself.”

"Over-undressing and covering oneself too much stem from the same sick source that sees the woman as a sexual object... Eight kilograms of cloth separate these teen girls from the women of the shawls. Inside, it's the same. There must still be sane secular people and sane religious people, who are frightened by both extremes. Who are willing to fight the Jewish veils as well as the slutty costumes.”

Amrousy states that she feels just as uncomfortable when she sees a 15-year-old walking down the street “with everything exposed” as she does when she sees a woman walking down the street “with everything covered.”

Navon and Amrousi are both orthodox, yet both are in touch with the secular world and their audience includes both religious and secular readers. The venues in which they write are both relatively new, and represent a new stream of of moderate conservatism that appears to be gaining strength in Israel in the last few years.