Thursday October 23, 2014
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23.10.2014
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Key witness in Modiin Illit rape case: 'I made it up'
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Yehuda Shlezinger

From gossip to concealment

The Modiin Illit affair, which did or did not happen, stands at the intersection of two common phenomena among the haredi public. The first is the phenomenon of "mikveh nayes," or "news from the ritual bath." This is a term for cheap gossip, the spread of fact and rumor from ear to ear till it gets blown out of all proportion.

These are shards of information that in the best case have some foundation in fact and in the worst case are distortions and nonsense.

This most recent affair started with mikveh nayes in its contemporary form, a bunch of text messages that reached the WhatsApp application, where a single message blew up into a huge affair that became the talk of the town and even headlined a news broadcast.

A second, more disturbing phenomenon is the attitude in the haredi community toward sensitive topics like pedophilia, rape and sexual harassment. In recent years, the haredi public has experienced a transformation around these issues. Hotlines and organizations have been set up to deal with such cases, there is greater willingness to involve the police, and one well-known haredi web site has made it its highly visible special mission to uproot this terrible affliction.

But there are still marginal and extreme groups that prefer to deal with such issues behind closed doors. These groups have practiced concealment for many years, and they are the ones who create the impression in the general public that it is common for haredim to cover up such matters.

Kobi Rosenstein, a well-known figure in the haredi world and in Modiin Illit, has been wandering around for a week feeling restless and shaken. "This is the worst blood libel against haredim in decades. Our name is being dragged through the mud for no reason," he shouts at anyone who will stop to listen. "We are being smeared, and it is our own fault."

Rosenstein is right. The haredi public has suffered immeasurable damage in the last week. While the media, police and other groups have to do some soul searching as to how a fabrication could turn into such an overblown affair, the haredi public also has to think about these two negative phenomena turned into what they are calling a "blood libel circa 2013."

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