Jerusalem -- For the length of her skirt and the cut of her sleeves,
Gilah Pedeh's tires were slashed.
Podeh, a worker at Israel's Ministry of Education on Wednesday
became another casualty of the increasingly vitriolic battle between
ulta-Orthodox Jews and secular Israel's ultramodern, Westernized
society for the soul of Jerusalem.
The struggle was given new energy by the results of Israel's May
29 election, which gave unprecedented power to the country's religious
"They are trying to dominate all the fields of life - how
to eat, how to keep the Sabbath," said Zamira Segev, who
came out to protest Wednesday against attacks on secular women.
"They would like every one of us to dress like them. It's
On Wednesday morning, Podeh - bare-legged and wearing a short-sleeved
dress cut above the knee - parked a block from the Education Ministry
on the edge of the Mea Shearim neighborhood.
When she returned at noon, her car's tires had been slashed and
its roof and doors coated with a sticky film of smashed eggs.
A flier taped to a nearby stone wall read "Parking in immodest
dress is forbidden."
Police have recorded half a dozen such attacks in recent weeks,
including several in which ultra-Orthodox Jews threw stones and
spit at women. Earlier this week, an ultra-Orthodox man was arrested
for throwing a rock at a police decoy wearing a short summer dress.
The huge, stone Education Ministry building, which takes up a
full city block, is a fitting symbol of the cultural clash since
it literally spans the two sides. On one side of the building,
tourists in shorts stroll past a gleaming Mercedes-Benz showroom
on their way to the Western Wall. On the opposite side, religious
seminaries flank narrow stone streets with yellow signs that warn,
"If you're a woman and you're not properly dressed - don't
pass through our neighborhood."
When six secular Israelis marched through Mea Shearim on Wednesday
afternoon to protest the attacks, several women - their heads,
legs and arms covered - came out to berate a female reporter wearing
a sleeveless shirt in the 90-degree heat.
Israel's 4.6 million Jews define themselves as two-thirds secular,
one-third observant. Some half-million, roughly 10 percent of
the Jewish population, belong to the country's ultra-Orthodox
The ultra-Orthodox usually live in separate neighborhoods, obey
their own rabbis and courts, and live by a strict interpretation
of the Jewish Law.
They are easily distinguishable by their dress. Even in Israel's
baking summers, men with long side curls typically wear broad-brimmed
black hats, black suits and even black top coats. Women wear
stockings and long skirts, sleeves below the elbow, and head scarves
if they are married.
Unlike other Jews in Israel, the ultra-Orthodox rarely serve in
the army and do not attend public schools. They believe a true
Jewish state will arrive only when the Messiah appears.
Jerusalem's 128,000 ultra-Orthodox comprise 31 percent of the
city's Jewish population and, with their tradition of large families,
are rapidly increasing in their numbers.
In the May election, Orthodox parties won an unprecedented 23
seats in the Knesset, Israel's 120-seat parliament, and they are
crucial to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling coalition.
Their ascent raises fears among many secular Israelis that they might try
to impose their values on the rest of the country. The ultra-Orthodox believe
for example, that restaurants, movie theaters, and even some city thoroughfares
should be closed on Saturdays.
For some, the ultra-Orthodox militancy suggests unsettling parallels
with Islamic fundamentalism. In some Muslim states, Islamic law
requires women to cover themselves in public with the shapeless,
head-to-toe garments called chadors and commonly forbids them
to drive cars.