Israel seems to be at war with itself. For two weeks the Hebrew media have been dominated by street clashes between Jews arguing viciously over such matters as sleeve length and bus seating, which in the Israel of the moment are markers for the kind of country people want: Religious, or secular, or what balance of the two? It’s a conflict that goes back at least to the founding of Israel six decades ago, and grows more and more potent with the dramatic population growth of the most piously observant.
The latest flashpoint speaks volumes about the state of the nation: An eight-year-old girl stopped going to school after neighborhood men spat on her and called her a prostitute because even in long sleeves and a skirt her dress was deemed “immodest.” The men were extremist members of the ultra-Orthodox, the fastest-growing segment of Israel’s Jewish population. Known in Hebrew as Haredim, which roughly translates as God-fearing, ultra-Orthodox men are easily recognized by their signature black clothes and headgear (either wide-brimmed black felt or brimless beaver skin) their side locks and their agitation at being seated near women. [...]