The Beit Shemesh Spit That Wasn't?

(Video Credit: Bruce Dov Krulwich)

Beit Shemesh rose to international notoriety during Chanuka 2011, with a TV documentary hosted by then TV journalist Yair Lapid. During the documentary, we are introduced to a very scared 7 year old girl, Naama Margolise, who refused to go to Orot girls school in Beit Shemesh, due her being harassed by extremist ultra-orthodox protesters ("Kanoim").

In addition, we see a national religious woman being spat at by an extremist ultra-orthodox man.

The central issue in dispute during that period was the attempted land-grab at Orot School, a national religious designated girls school located on the seam between the national religious and ultra-orthodox communities, by a group of extremist Kanoim.

The image of Naama Margales became a symbol, overnight, of the struggle for peaceful neighborly relations in Beit Shemesh, respect for the law, and against the alleged 'free-hand' policy of the city towards hundreds of out-of-control Kanoim extremists.

Almost exactly two years later, this week MK Moshe Gafni has called upon Yair Lapid, now Finance Minister, to apologise for the "anti-chareidi tirade" which, he claims, was based on a slanderous lie. According to Gafni, there never was a spitting incident.

Gafni said that the police had closed the file, and that Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich had stated this was because such a spitting incident never took place:

“Everyone knows that an Israeli political party was founded based on that spitting incident. One man made a television report of the incident on a Friday night, involving mass chilul Shabbos, and told all his viewers that a chareidi man spit at a girl in Beit Shemesh. We chareidi political representatives told whoever would listen that we do not believe the reports and that we never heard of such an awful thing happening.
“The incitement [against the entire chareidi community] that followed was terrible. Now it turns out that Yesh Atid [the political party of Treasury Minister Lapid] was founded based on a spitting incident that never existed. A chareidi did not spit. The Minister testified here in the Knesset plenum that no complaint was ever filed in the matter.
“I now expect that the one who prepared that report on Friday night, and is now the Treasury Minister, Yair Lapid, will come to the Knesset plenum and apologize. He should apologize to the chareidi community whom he turned into a society that spits at little girls. Let us see if Yair Lapid has the courage to ask for forgiveness.”
(Report by Eliezer Rauchberger in Yated Neeman)
The police reportedly closed the "spitting file" - and this has promoted the sudden flurry of activity from the ultra-orthodox political leadership,who are now claiming that their public has been finally vindicated.

It is important to clarify there were actually two incidents in the Lapid documentary (see full Channel Two documentary below) involving spitting/harassment in Beit Shemesh:

Case One: Na'ama Margales - the iconic 7 year old, filmed being scared and refusing to go to school.
Case Two: Alisa Coleman - the modern orthodox woman seen being spat at by an ultra-orthodox man

Case 1 did not go to the police. Perhaps this was because the TV item was filmed several months after the traumatic events, or because it was unclear what those events were, or who the culprit was. When Interior Minister Aharonovich reported that there was no complaint received by the police, he is referring to this case.

Indeed, Minister Aharonovich stated in response to MK Moshe Gafni: "I did not say that such an incident did not occur. Only that the police never got a complaint in the matter."

Case 2 was reported immediately to the police by Mrs Coleman, and criminal charges were brought in court against an ultra-orthodox resident of Beit Shemesh. Although there is video of the incident, and numerous witnesses, the case has now been closed by the police. According to reports, this was due to the two sides deciding not to pursue the case further.

Mrs Coleman said today that she has not been contacted by the court, nor was she a party to any agreement to not pursue the case further. She is now seeking an explanation from the state prosecution department "why they decided to drop such a cast iron case, which was so politically charged?".  

When asked to comment on this case, MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, whose political journey which brought him to the Knesset started with the Orot Girls School protests, stated:

"We have a clear video of a man spitting on a woman. The police didn't say the spitting didn't happen. They simply could not prove that the guy who they arrested for it did it. That is the entire story.

"This does not relate to the four months of assaults on little girls that we experienced and that were also caught on video."

The protests and campaign during Chanuuka 2011 in Beit Shemesh was about the land-grab at the Orot school by extremist "Kanoim", and the intolerable behaviour by Kanoim to other members of the Beit Shemesh community.

In conclusion, with the closing of the Case Two, the alleged spitting at a national religious woman by an ultra-orthodox man, the police have not "vindicated the ultra-orthodox public" who Moshe Gafni stated in the Knesset that he represents.

The police have closed a file on one individual, in unclear circumstances, which did not constitute vindication for this particular man, and certainly not for his colleagues, arguably a few hundred extremist "Kanoim". 

As for the "entire ultra-orthodox public", to whom Yair Lapid apparently now owes an apology, the closing by the police of the Coleman spitting case is neither here nor there.

As far as I know, no one ever alleged that the "entire ultra-orthodox public" was guilty of spitting at Mrs Coleman!


  1. I know the accused. Not a chance, maybe another guy.

  2. Sorry for Mrs. Coleman. But everybody knows that this whole incident never would have received the media attention, that Lapid and Lipman wouldn't have made it to the knesset, etc. etc. if hadn't been for the gut wrentching story of hearing about a little girl who had been spit on. How disgusting. Those terrible Chareidim. And we demand ever rabbi to condemn that act or else he is condoning them (ridiculous logic but that is what happened).

    But now it is coming out very clearly that it is not clear at all that that episode ever took place. Maybe it did and maybe it didn't.

    And maybe beit shemesh wouldn't have been such a split community as it is today had this incident that may or may not have happened not been the center of a frontal assault on the chareidi community.

    this is what MK Gafni is talking about and his is 100% right.

    Lashon Hara, even when permitted, and doesn't ever allow embellishing or fabricating points just to make a true point stronger.

    1. There is no doubt that the "Kanoim" tried to grab Orot's school.
      There is no doubt that the Kanoim resorted to spitting, throwing disgusting objects and cursing women and girls.
      Yes, many chareidi rabbonim stood by silently, at best, or denied/minimized the events, or slurred anyone who expressed outrage ("chareidi bashers!" etc) instead of clearly condemning the events.
      Rather like their response now, come to think of it, about the election fraud in BS.
      Why are Chareidi rabbonim so morally paralyzed by their self-imposed dual-loyalties?

    2. Chaim you missed the point. The main issue the main event the main spit... might never have happened.
      where is the condemnation from the dati leumi rabbis demanding truth and honesty? Where is the condemnation against Lipman for making the chilul Hashem so much worse by running to the secular press and the NY Times against halacha. The silence is defeaning.

    3. Jack the kanoyim were there for months, with no condemnation from Chareidi Rabbonim who are normally very willing to create an outcry over chilul Hashem or any other public descecration. Only after months of the problem not stopping, and in fact getting worse, was a decision made to go to the press. The press resulted in the problem stopping. Had the problem been stopped in some way beforehand, there would have been little press.

      Yes, Naama was a press figurehead, but there were dozens of kids being terrorized daily. Adults were spit on and shoved. Things were thrown. And in a community where a girl wearing lycra brings an outpouring of condemnation, ten or so men causing a chilul Hashem brought no such ourcry. It's a true shame that it took press to stop ten or so men from creating all the chilul Hashem.

    4. Bruce,
      So you are saying the ends justify the means, two wrongs make a right, if you want something to change, break halacha?

      Can you please show me some Torah sources allowing such a thing?

      And btw why from the beginning was this an issue for the chareidi rabbonim to stop. These people dont' listen to the chareidi rabbanom?

    5. Jack - you don't get it, do you.

      The reason the DL were so upset with the chareidi-lite rabbonim, was NOT that we thought the kanoim would respect these rabbonim.

      It's because WE respected these rabbonim. WE needed to hear from these rabbonim "we're with you on this one".

      Therefore their bumbling or zero response was a stab in the back for US.

      The message was clear - the loyalty of the anglo-chareidi rabbonim to the konoim (as "fellow Chareidim") was stronger than their loyalty to any espoused shared values with US.

    6. Thanks for clearing things up.

      I see now... the rabbi's who you neither follow for halacha or hashkafa, those who the DL threw out of the mikvah in RBSA, those who people absurdly claim are child molester because they don't follow your way, those are the ones you show so much respect for and demanded their condemnation and when they didn't see things your way, you fantasize that they support those lunatics.
      Are you serious?

    7. Your question is, as I understand it - why care about the opinions of rabbonim who one doesn't 'hold by'?

      (I'll ignore your frankly delusional examples.)

      Remember the response of the chareidi leadership to Gush Katif? This felt like a betrayal, even though the DL don't go by Chareidi hashkafa etc.

      Or ask yourself - why are the chareidim so angry at Naftali Bennett - perhaps more than they are at Lapid? Even though the chareidim who are upset, don't hold by DL rabbonim?

      Somehow the DL and Chareidim cling to a belief that they share a common religion - and that this should express itself, day to day, in a coalition for good things, and against bad ones.

      We're all therefore disappointed when we can't even work together for clearly right/wrong issues.

  3. This post smacks of the same insensitivity you accuse others of. You say so defiantly that MK Lapid has no one to apologize to, well why the heck did you want me (insert name of random Hareidi Rabbi ) to apologize on behalf of my community in public. I am a Hareidi and I dress like one. Since this whole incident rarely does a day go by without me getting dirty looks from people. People that I love and respect, yet they think I hate them because of people like you or MK's Lipman and Lapid.I do deserve a apology whether the story happened or not. I deserve it because I'm a beautiful Jew and you chose to make a great amount of people believe otherwise. I deserve it because although your punch was aimed at a guy that spits at girls, you hit me, a innocent bystander, with that same vigor, hatred, and might. I deserve it because while you were trying to destroy a wicked action, you destroyed a little bit of me.

    1. Shalom - this is very touching. I understand your pain at the bad-name this whole fracas caused you.
      However, your pain and anger is misdirected.
      Rather than your bowing to your instinctive response of blaming the victims, whistle-blowers and messengers, as you do in your comment, can I suggest you direct your passion to the perpetrators?
      I refer you to an excellent article by Rabbi Wein, showing how this can be done in a way which creates a kiddush H, rather than Chilul H.

    2. Shalom - I am so very sorry that you have paid a personal and painful price for the events of 2011 in Beit Shemesh.
      This was surely not the intention of myself nor others involved in the Orot Banot struggle.
      I personally apologise for the unintended "collateral damage" you describe, in our response to those distressing events.
      Take care


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