Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beit Shemesh Complaining and Building

As has been globally reported, Beit Shemesh is a city which, despite its significant assets and advantages, suffers from some serious problems. There is the verbal and physical violence by extremist charedim against non-charedim, and the lack of interest in combating this among mainstream charedim. There is the disenfranchisement of the non-charedi population, such as with the various public statements made by mainstream (and even Anglo) charedi rabbonim in RBS, as well as various statements and policies issued by city council. There are frustrations about the way that the city is developing, with the new areas of land going primarily to charedi communities and public sectors of land being given only to charedi yeshivos, even from outside Beit Shemesh. Beit Shemesh is probably the world's worst situation of friction between different streams of Jews.

There's a lot to complain about, and a lot of people complaining, myself included. However, complaining alone is not enough. People have to be proactive in engaging in constructive ways to improve things. You can't solve the problems overnight, but there are all kinds of ways of improving the city.

One of our guides teaching the laws of kashrus to a chassidic group,
straight from the horse's mouth - literally!
The Biblical Museum of Natural History is the only place in Beit Shemesh (and indeed all Israel, and even the entire world) where all streams of Jews come to learn Torah in a positive environment. We have secular visitors, we have chareidi visitors, we have national-religious visitors. We are visited by school groups from the most extreme sectors of the charedi population - schools where the children only understand Yiddish, schools which never visit the Jerusalem zoo because it is open on Shabbos, schools from communities which house the thugs that make the headlines. They come to us and they learn Torah from our guides, which is probably the first time in their lives that they are ever learning Torah (or indeed anything) from people outside of their communities. And they love it, and they also learn to love and respect the world around them.

A happy encounter - and note the background observer,
a chassidic guide-in-training
Beyond the tours, the museum also offers other benefits to the city. We have a Sherut Leumi program. We are now joining the Sherut Ezrachi program, which is a program for charedim who will not go to the army, which enables them to work for society in non-profit institutions and then integrate into the workforce. We have many volunteers, including teenagers who have not found their place in their school/social environment but who thrive in the museum. We house leadership workshops, smachot/events, and weekly chugim (children's workshops).

A memorable hug!
The museum is also a leading tourist attraction in the Beit Shemesh region. It's pretty much the only thing that brings people from outside Beit Shemesh into the city. In Israel, that includes groups from Ashdod, Petach Tikvah, Modiin, Bnei Brak, Herzliyya, Raanana, and Jerusalem. We also receive many international visitors and groups from around the world. For many people outside our city, Beit Shemesh is known only as the city of Jewish religious violence and tensions; but for the many thousands of people who have visited us, it is known as the city with the terrific museum about animals in the Torah.

So, to my fellow residents, and to all those who criticize Beit Shemesh, I say as follows. You can complain and complain. But, if you really care to make a difference, you have to do something. And one of the things that you can do is support The Biblical Museum of Natural History. Help us take the museum to the next level, such that we can accommodate more exhibits and more visitors and implement our programming vision. Help us advance towards being a national treasure, by moving out of the cramped premises and crummy street that we are on, into a larger and much more beautiful building, in a much better (but still local!) location. You can be part of transforming Beit Shemesh! Please donate to our campaign for a new home, and share it with others. Thank you!


https://my.fundme.org.il/en/campaign/NewMuseumHome




14 comments:

  1. Why not build it in a different city in Israel that would better appreciate it?

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    1. Adam from ManchesterJune 14, 2017 at 1:01 PM

      I think that's the point Natan is trying to make. one - all sectors DO appreciate it and also that it is a rare place when all can meet.

      p.s. managed to donate this time - via Paypal.

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  2. Beit Shemesh is probably the world's worst situation of friction between different streams of Jews.

    Not true. Whenever I have to spend Shabbat in Israel, I rent an appt in Bet Shemesh Alef, and I've never seen such a quiet and peaceful place. Besides Alef, Bet Shemesh Gimel now is like little Flatbush with fair amount of Yeshiva University-style modern orthodox. The problem is mainly when non-orthodox are disrespecting Charedi norms just to make a point.

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    1. The problem is mainly when non-orthodox are disrespecting Charedi norms just to make a point.

      The problem is mainly little boys sending grandmothers to the hospital because they were raised to hate. But going on living in your little bubble.

      Delete
  3. Whoa. For sure the museum is something to be proud of, but this post is filled with wild exaggeration. One of the *only places in the world* where all streams of Jews come to learn Torah?? Given your loose definition of Torah (since you include the museum in it, a point I don't disagree with) there are numerous other places in Israel, New York, and other cities, where all streams of Jews come together to learn Torah. Your museum undoubtedly has certain unique aspects, but then, so does every place.

    And you claim the museum is the only thing that brings visitors to Beit Shemesh. This reminds me of your frequent claims that prior to Natan Slifkin no one ever taught the concept of what you call rationalist Judaism. By your claim, up to 2016 no one ever visited Beit Shemesh, but its all changed now. Is either point true? The reality, of course, is that people have been coming to Beit Shemesh for years, for many reasons, including family, and the cities proximity to many Biblical sites, cemeteries, and fun places like the nearby Stalactite cave. The museum is a worthy addition; it doesn't need any false exaggeration for validation.

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    1. Actually I wrote it carefully and it is accurate. There is no other place I know of (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that I am) where you get all types from secular through to the extremist anti-Zionist sects coming to learn Torah.

      I didn't say that it's the "only thing" that brings people, I said that it's "pretty much the only thing."
      It's obviously true that people visit Beit Shemesh for family, but that's not what I was discussing; I was speaking about people with no connection coming to Beit Shemesh for *something." There are the stalactite caves and places of archeological interest nearby but they are not actually in Beit Shemesh.

      And I never claimed that nobody taught the concept of rationalist Judaism before me. Back up that claim with evidence or retract it.

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    2. Last things first: I've been reading your blog for many years, almost since its inception. I've participated in the comments forum during that entire span. [I have also bought books, paid for downloading monographs, and have emailed you sources which you acknowledged at the time, but by now have likely forgotten.] So I've a pretty good idea of your writing. Lets not play lawyer's tricks by mincing words. The whole tenor of your blog makes clear your belief that your experience is somehow unique, as though no had books banned before you, as though no one was hounded by the extreme religious before you. Obviously you are aware that the concept is as old as the Torah itself, but its equally obvious you think you've created a revolution, when in fact, the revolution, as it were, has been around forever. [Perhaps the rise of the internet, which coinciding with your personal experience, caused you to attribute certain things to the latter, when they are really just a function of the former.] To me, that has always been an unfortunate element in your otherwise excellent body of written work over the years.

      Now, as to other locations: You might start with the location I visited a few hours ago, the Mennonite Model Tabernacle in Lancaster, PA, which the guides I spoke with confirms draws crowds of chassidim during yomtov as well as more mainstream Jews like me and friends. On that note, the Machon Hamikdash accomplishes the same thing - all types of Jews visit there. In fact, any of the Biblical archeological sites are visited by all streams of Jews, most definitely including black-hatted charedim who have sat next to me on the bus, and the tours of all of them teach Torah. And if a museum can be said to teach Torah - and it can - then places like the Israel or BibleLands Museum also teach Torah to all streams of Jews. Likewise places like the Chabad Children's museum in Crown Heights, Eretz Bereishit, Neot Kedumim, the Torah Animal museum in Brooklyn, etc.

      Bottom line: The Museum appears to be an excellent institution. It is definitively on our to do list, God willing, next time in Israel.

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    3. "And I never claimed that nobody taught the concept of rationalist Judaism before me. Back up that claim with evidence or retract it."

      The following quote, which you proudly display on your blog, comes pretty close:



      "Slifkin’s new blog would soon become enormously popular within the rabbinic blogosphere... By many accounts, he has almost single-handedly brought an entire new worldview to the fore." - Tablet Magazine"

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    4. "The whole tenor of your blog makes clear your belief that your experience is somehow unique, as though no had books banned before you, as though no one was hounded by the extreme religious before you. Obviously you are aware that the concept is as old as the Torah itself, but its equally obvious you think you've created a revolution, when in fact, the revolution, as it were, has been around forever."

      I think that the controversy over my books was an episode of great significance which had massive societal ramifications. I don't take any credit for that at all - it's the kannoim and Gedolim that you need to thank.

      Regarding your second point - there are charedim and there are charedim. I don't think that the extremist Beit Shemesh types are even visiting Neot Kedumim and Machon haMikdash, and if they are, I doubt that they are listening to presentations by guides there.

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    5. Shai,

      Do you not know the difference between a quote and a statement by the citer of the quote?

      Delete
    6. Given your loose definition of Torah (since you include the museum in it, a point I don't disagree with)

      Having been there, this is not taking advantage of a loose definition. There are words in the Torah that you simply didn't understand until explained in talks at the Museum, pesukim that you just ignored or didn't understand, statements by Chazal about animals, etc. There's lot of other stuff there that is "loosely Torah", but a lot is just plain Torah learning in the way it would be defined in any Yeshivah. I have no opinion on the uniqueness claim.

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    7. David Ohsie - yes, I agree with you. In saying that the things one learns in a museum (etc.)are "loosely" defined as Torah, I only meant it as opposed to the more common understanding of learning out of books or listening to a shiur. But Torah can be gleaned from anywhere, certainly a museum like the BMNH. [In the Mennonite Tabernacle I mentioned above, I heard a good vort from the lecturer, and also got a new understanding of the Rimonim at the bottom of the Meil.]

      Delete
  4. If chareidim knew what you write about them in this blog, would so many of them still come?

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    1. That depends on how wise they are. I know one important person who is as charedi as they come and despises everything I write here. But he values the museum tremendously, and is able to recognize the difference between what I do there, and what I write here.

      Delete

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