Now I'm A Charedi Fanatic!
This is too bizarre!
I've been condemned for a lot of things over the years. Due to my insistence that there was an Age of Dinosaurs, but there wasn't an Age of Mud-Mice and Mermaids, I've been branded a heretic, an apikores, and the Third Manifestation of Satan. Then I started writing about Orthodox society, and insisted that Chazal were correct in saying that a man should work to support his family, and that Torah study does not provide an exemption from military service, for which I was further condemned as being a hater of Torah. I also wrote extensively on local issues about Beit Shemesh, criticizing the the charedi political leadership and campaign, and advocating strongly for the non-charedi parties, for which I was further condemned as being a fanatical charedi-hater.
After all this, I was most surprised to discover today that a journalist is preparing an expose on me, charging that I am a fanatical charedi!
Here's the background. On Sunday, at a staff meeting at The Biblical Museum of Natural History, I suggested that we should start offering chugim (children's workshops), to be run by my colleague Shlomo Horowitz. I personally did not want to run the chugim, and Shlomo was only available for this on Sunday evenings, so we picked Sunday evening, which limited us to a small number of chugim. Then we had to decide who to offer them for. In the past, I had run two such chugim. One was for younger boys, and one was for older boys; I had tried offering a chug for girls, but for some reason there was never much interest. The boys who had attended my chugim were interested in continuing, and we had received further inquiries from other boys. So we decided to offer the chugim for three age groups of boys, since we already had a nucleus with which to begin, and to advertise for more to join.
And that's when the fireworks started.
Our Facebook post announcing the chugim met with heated comments. Is there a Biblical reason why girls cannot learn Biblical natural history? Why the intolerance against girls? Is a government-funded institution allowed to practice discrimination based upon gender?
Flabbergasted, my administrator and I started responding. No, we have nothing against girls; we just have not seen any interest from girls for these chugim. Yes, we are perfectly happy to offer chugim for girls is there is demand for it. No, we are not government-funded, but we are pretty sure that there are plenty of government-funded educational institutions and matnasim that run gender-separate programs for children.
But why can't the boys' chugim simply be presented as open to bother genders, people demanded. Well, the reason is very simple: the boys who are attending these chugim are from charedi families, and their families would not send them to the chugim if they were mixed.
But we want our children to attend mixed chugim, some people said. Well, we are perfectly ready to offer mixed chugim if there is sufficient demand, we responded.
Now, I can understand that our initial advertisement might have given the wrong impression, to people who didn't realize the background. Still, one would presume that after explaining the situation, there is nothing to complain about. But some people were still dissatisfied. They said that we should not allow separate-gender chugim to take place, and that a museum should be discouraging archaic attitudes. One person said that anyone who does not want to send their child to a mixed chug should in any case not be welcome at the museum!
All this raises interesting questions about who is truly intolerant - a person who wants their child to attend gender-separate chugim, or a person who wants such a person not to be tolerated.
Anyway, today our administrator received a call from someone inquiring about the chugim, and soon smelled a rat. She challenged the person to reveal the purpose of their inquiries, and the person stated that they are a journalist for The Marker - a subsidiary of Ha-Aretz - preparing a story about this. So we provided all the answers - we have nothing to hide here. Let's see what happens!
It's just too bizarre that I, of all people, am being accused of attempting to charedify Beit Shemesh!