I found this on a Yahoo group without the source or the name of the translator.
The inner sanctum
Chameleon (Zikit, in Hebrew) could not understand. "Last night, I
offered one kollel student who came to complain that he doesn't have
any food for his children, a job in a Talmud Torah - and he was
So speaks a participant in the Haredi Internet forum, B'Hadrei
Haredim (or "in the Haredi inner sanctum" - a Hebrew pun). Chameleon
"He'd rather roam around the kollel and beg for someone to sign a
guarantee for NIS 2,000 from a gamach [charitable loan society] and
at the same time look down condescendingly at Boaz, who cleans the
synagogue every day. Why do you, Rabbi Moishe, consider yourself more
important than Boaz? Because you play honor games and starve your
children and household, while Boaz the righteous man merely earns a
That is the beginning of one of the most important and pointed
discussions ever to take place in B'Hadrei Hadarim. The discussion
sheds light on the serious repercussions of nurturing the ideal
of "Torato Omanuto" (the study of Torah is one's livelihood) in
Haredi society and unequivocally and strongly advocates against
Needless to say, never has such open criticism of such a sensitive
issue appeared in the Haredi press or any other internal forum.
"The Sages resolutely stated 'Flay a carcass in the street rather
than depend on others for your living.' But the mentality of 'is
passt nischt' - Yiddish for 'it doesn't befit me' - has spread in our
midst," Chameleon writes with typical sarcasm. "Anyone aware of the
miserable situation today knows that the Haredi educational method
has gone bankrupt. People aren't taught to work and prefer to appeal
to the gamachs and live from one handout to the next, the main thing
is not to work and 'be disgraced.' Today it's actually respectable to
be a number on the lists of charitable committees - to become an
official burden on the public coffers."
Later on Chamelon adds: "It is perhaps possible to come to terms with
500 loafers in the kollels, but only the kind that really will be
studying. But not with 50,000 loafers in every neighborhood and two-
and-a-half workers who support everyone."
This is not the first time that dirty laundry is being washed in
public on the forum without fear of hilul Hashem (desecration of
God's name). B'Hadrei Haredim has been operating for around a year-
and-a-half on the Hyde Park forum site, and enjoys some of the
forum's highest ratings and offers a free platform for Haredi
surfers. According to those in the know, thousands of surfers visit
the site. One participant in the forum says that some surfers give
printouts of the forum's discussions to their friends and relatives
who are not connected.
Self-criticism and the absence of self-righteousness are the biggest
novelties in B'Hadrei Haredim. There you can follow pointed
discussions of a series of issues that the Haredi public has thus far
refrained from discussing in public - including among others, going
to work and enlisting in the army, the problem of poverty, sex crimes
(primarily in the mikvehs, i.e., ritual baths), quality of education
(the level of the teachers, beatings, pirate transportation
companies) and Haredi sexuality alongside sharp critiques of the
press and disparagement of politicians and hacks.
The forum's participants - many of whom belong to the Haredi media
clique, such as journalists, public relations people or aides to
Knesset members - enjoy slaughtering sacred cows, the institution of
matchmaking, for example, or the gamachs.
They even dare to criticize the rabbis and point to a drop in their
stature. "Are the great sages of Israel and admors [leaders of
Hasidic courts] of today really so different from the great sages of
Israel and admors of 150 years ago?" Chameleon asks. "Or is it the
public that has changed? I would certainly say that there are today
some fairly average yeshiva heads whose new interpretations are as
significant as those that appear in the writings of earlier scholars,
those nefilei kedem [early giants] - and not one of them would today
attain the degree of admiration the latter had. Maybe it's folklore?
Or perhaps today's public will not allow such absolute control?"
And a surfer who uses the name Tzofeh u'mabit (watches and observes)
responds to Chamelon:
"I believe that our generation really is an orphaned generation with
no true great scholars. All streams of Judaism share this sense of
being orphaned, and it's not because we know the great scholars
better, but because that's what they are. This is a superficial and
Lilliputian generation and the 'great scholars' correspond
The founder of this unique forum uses the name David10. As he refused
to be interviewed for this article, the information about him was
obtained from forum participants. David10 is a Lubavitcher Hasid in
his late 30s, a former journalist in the general press who now does
public relations for Tzirei Chabad (the Lubavitcher youth movement).
He reads Harry Potter books, according to what he has said on the
forum, and is known as the author of books about Chabad Hasidism, one
of which even analyzes its messianic faction, for which he was
persecuted for by members of his community.
One forum participant says that David10 may be trying to keep a low
profile for fear that derogatory flyers against him and against
surfing the site will be circulated.
The exchange of ideas and the criticism of intrinsic issues is only
one aspect of B'Hadrei Haredim. One of its main goals is to establish
a reliable source of information on the Haredi world, including what
goes on in the back rooms.
In response to a report on a synagogue sexton who was accused of
performing indecent acts on youths, David10 tells the surfer who
provided the report, "Mendy, keep on sending the reports. What's to
be done, the rug is no longer big enough to hide everything and the
stories are seeping out." Then an interesting discussion begins on
whether it is essential to report on sex crimes in Haredi society or
if it is just sensationalizing the forum.
Several participants tend to regularly scan the secular and religious
press and post any item or article related to Haredim as soon as it
is published. The reactions, however, are often defensive and
predictable. But more than anything else, this endeavor reflects the
Haredim's almost obsessive interest in how they are portrayed in the
secular media and perhaps also their desire to appear better in the
eyes of the secular.
It is hard to ignore the cliquish nature of B'Hadrei Haredim. The
feeling that arises after reading some clusters (a series of postings
on a given topic) is that the forum is a gossip column in every
respect. So a cluster about an important issue such as rapes in
ritual baths is likely to elicit fewer responses than a rumor about
the impending engagement of Menachem Toker, the Radio Kol Hai anchor
who is considered the star of Haredi radio anchors. Either way,
B'Hadrei Haredim offers secular surfers a rare opportunity: to
observe internal Haredi discussions and private living room
conversations as if with a unique ultrasound device.
It is possible to see what issues are of concern among themselves and
also hear the tone of the conversations, what sparks a storm and what
leaves surfers indifferent. Perhaps more than anything else,
observing the forum enables you to get acquainted with the other,
human side of Haredim - doubts, criticisms and sarcastic aspects are
expressed and clearly formulated. At the same time, there is
gossiping provoked by petty items and clear engrossment in internal
politics; they are open about some issues, but conservative and
fanatic about others.
Rebels at heart
The amazing thing about B'Hadrei Haredim is the play on words in its
name (a variation on "B'Hadrei Hadarim" literally, the innermost,
most secret rooms). In the innermost room, clouded in virtual mystery
(the word, "room" also has a virtual meaning), the usual faithful
citizens dare to speak out on what's on their minds and express their
criticisms of what is rotten in the realm. And the question is: Is
this underground forum nothing more than a place for griping. as some
of its faithful surfers claim, or does it represent a potential for
genuine protest, an organ for people with independent opinions that
could rise to the surface and spread and influence the agenda of
Lazer Plass, a regular surfer on B'Hadrei Haredim who used to be
Haredi and uses as his moniker the Hebrew acronym of "former Haredi"
is convinced, "The forum's participants are rebels at heart. No rabbi
has yet given approval for the Internet and the fact that they are
connected is already a statement."
He says the forum is reminiscent of the enthusiastic surfing of
Iranians. "After all, Haredim live in a kind of totalitarian state,"
says Plass. This is a significant phenomenon, he says, and estimates
that thousands of Haredim visit the site and read the discussions,
even if they are not active participants. "You can see on the forum
itself that there's a huge difference between the number of reactions
and the number of visits to each cluster," he says.
Plass, the media adviser of Prof. Uzi Even who runs the Tapuz
portal's forum for people questioning their religious observance,
does not hide his amazement over the openness of B'Hadrei Haredim's
participants. Once, after surfing on a Shabbat, he was politely asked
to respect the forum's participants. He agreed, but not before the
issue was discussed on the forum. Since then, although he does not
hide his real identity or his leftist views and even though he
ostensibly represents everything that Haredim should despise, he has
never been stoned in the virtual public square.
In contrast to Plass, Haredi media people are usually perplexed by
the portrayal of the forum as an important, representative phenomenon
and tend to belittle its value. At worst, they see it as a place "for
promoting the interests" of its participants and regularly defaming
"The forum is the dark room of the Haredi media," says Man D'hamar
(an Aramaic phrase from the Talmud that means "opinion holder") one
of the two deputy forum managers, a young Haredi journalist who
writes for one of the Haredi dailies. "It's instead of sitting in
Beit Sokolov over coffee and cigarette and finding out everything
that's going on, for griping and venting your belly aches." Man
D'hamar believes that the Haredi masses do not surf on the forum nor
do businessmen because they don't have the time for it.
Unlike him, Dolly the Sheep feels the forum is like a support
group. "For a while, the forum was a social venue for me. I'm sure
that it serves instead of friends for quite a few people," she says.
The sheep is an intelligent, 22-year-old, amazingly sharp-tongued
woman from Jerusalem who is a graduate of a Bais Yaakov seminary and
one of nine children. She describes herself as "a gray Haredit." She
lives with her parents, whom she says she "taught" to accept remarks
and actions that are contrary to their views. In the forum, she
voices her leftist views, which have no outlet at home or in the
Haredi press where she writes.
"Knowing about this forum provides a sense of release. Finally, you
can freely express yourself without constantly thinking about what
others will say," says Dolly the Sheep.
The editor of the newspaper, Bakehilla (in the community), Dudi
Zilberschlag, who is notoriously mentioned often on the forum, on the
other hand, questions its importance, even though he says he has
never surfed on it and has only heard about from the reports of
others. He says it is a closed circle of frustrated people engaging
in gossip and "sinking low" and claims that journalists from a
competing paper, Mishpaha (family) make sure to regularly slander him
on the forum. "This anonymity is a weakness," Zilberschlag
says. "Where there are no restrictions, there is no order. I, for
example, have never used an alias when writing a column." However, he
says, the great enthusiasm over the forum stems from the fact that it
is a closed society that is searching for a place for its protest.
And, yet, Mishpaha also has received quite a bit of criticism. For
example, the new economics section of the paper was put down as a
collection of consumer bulletins and advertisements.
Still, it seems that B'Hadrei Haredim is observing the restrictions
of polite discourse. That is in contrast to other Haredi forums such
as Neta'im on the Tapuz portal, where in the past surfers managed to
irritate and violently eject other surfers and those whose goal was
purely missionary and aimed at bringing people back to religious
Its success also possibly stems from the tough management style of
the forum's founder, David10, who unsentimentally censors every
offensive posting and relentlessly censures, at the risk of being a
nuisance, anyone who deviates from the forum's rules.
A favorite pastime of surfers on the site is a perpetual guessing
game and spreading of rumors about the identity of participants. The
editor of the local paper, Hashavua Beyerushalayim (this week in
Jerusalem), Yaakov Rivlin, is a regular surfer who uses two names,
his real name and an alias (or several aliases according to other
participants) and contrary to Zilberschlag, he says the forum offers
an important alternative to the written media: "Whoever surfs is much
more liberal in his opinions and his lifestyle than he is capable of
writing about in his newspaper column. For the simple reason that
there are some topics which if I write about them, they'll simply
burn the newspaper."
Recently, Bakehilla canceled an interview with Eli Suissa for the
official reason that it was "at the rabbis' request." On the forum,
knowledgeable individuals related that Eli Yishai exerted strong
pressure on Zilberschlag. Other surfers came to his defense. The full
interview eventually appeared on the forum.
Despite the reservations of some surfers, it does seem that the forum
is slowly formulating an agenda, with the help of the forum manager,
which promotes controversial issues. Thus under the heading "Murder
in a Haredi paper?" there was a discussion of the use of the
word "murder" in reports in the Haredi press, which did not follow
the general press in Israel in its coverage of the story of the
murder of Hodaya Kedem. "The moment it became clear that it was a
murder, the papers did a flip-flop backward," Man D'hamar wrote
Murder, like bank robbery or rape, is a topic that is not mentioned
in the Haredi press. The standard excuse for this censorship is self-
righteous: protecting the tender souls of the children who might read
about these things.
Most of those commenting on the discussion did accept the censorship,
but one surfer known as Mehagoren (from the silo), who raised the
issue for discussion, commented in conclusion "Yated Ne'eman [a
Haredi paper] this morning reported the discovery of the body of the
Arab girl. She was murdered for some reason. Is the murder of an Arab
man or women not a negative thing? Maybe it's actually positive!"
Crossing the line
A drama that occurred some two weeks ago (8.12.02) illustrates where
the line that should never be crossed actually lies. One surfer,
Deganit-Hala, dared to touch on a sacred issue: large families and
the problem of poverty.
"What do you think about the high birth rate among our public?" she
asked. "Does it stem, in your opinion, from a genuine desire for a
large family, or from some social convention or a fear of using
contraceptive means. It's a little scary to think about it, that
people bring children into the world because the rabbi said so, isn't
it? I personally feel that you have to want it and something like
this can't happen because of a commandment."
However, the surfer did not leave it just at her own personal
feeling. Her agenda is definitely a social one, and she clearly
sought to prompt a response. "As a whole, in my opinion, it's unfair"
she continues, "that the seminary girls are told that their role is
to support the family, raise the kids and so on and not to dare,
heaven forbid, to use contraceptives. What do you think?"
That was the beginning of a fascinating discussion of one of the most
sensitive subjects in Haredi society - family planning and the link
between encouraging a high birthrate and poverty. No less fascinating
was the dynamic that evolved, as the debate intensified and became a
gender issue, between the men and women, and also fascinating was the
debate among the women themselves. But in the end, after a long
cluster, the forum manager decided to quell the discussion.
"I am very happy that the forum started discussing real and
infrequently discussed problems in our Haredi world," wrote
Hitbaharut (becoming clear). She told of a marriage-counseling course
she was taking under bona-fide Haredi auspices and explained that
such a discussion of emotions and ideas would enable us to be "more
sophisticated in our ability to strive for the good in our observance
of the commandments."
While the vast majority of the men were hesitant about discussing
family planning, the birth rate and poverty because "it is a subject
that is worthy of modesty" as one surfer put it, the women actually
wanted to talk about it. "Every one of us talks about in the
innermost rooms with her friends," one surfer called Atara,
wrote. "And why shouldn't we talk about it in B'Hadrei Haredim? A lot
of sacred cows have been slaughtered here."