Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Sivan 5765 - June 8, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Beit Shemesh Legal Advisor Tries to Undermine Modesty Campaign

by Betzalel Kahn

The legal advisor to the City of Beit Shemesh dispatched municipal inspectors to remove signs hung on the balconies of apartments owned by chareidi residents. The signs called on pedestrians arriving at the commercial center in Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef to honor nearby residents' sensitivities by dressing modestly. However an examination of city ordinances reveals that signs can only be removed after the mayor issues a warning.

Following the large demonstration at the commercial center four weeks ago, many merchants have shown heightened awareness of the issue. Rabbonim sent representatives to meet with store owners to arrange the needed improvements in matters of tznius and chinuch and to prevent fringe youth from transforming the commercial center into a spiritual-educational hazard.

As part of their efforts, signs were hung on the homes of chareidi families living nearby calling on shoppers to honor residents' sensibilities by coming clad in modest attire. Yet the city's legal advisor, Attorney Mickey Gastwirth, a national-religious Jew living near the commercial center, found the signs perturbing and dispatched inspectors.

Arriving at the homes, the inspectors ordered the residents to remove the signs within two hours or face heavy fines. Most of the alarmed residents complied. The city ordinance, however, states that only the mayor has the authority to order apartment owners to take down signs and only three days after receiving the warning can action be taken and a fine of NIS 200 issued.

Residents say Gastwirth's move was politically motivated. When asked whether they had received orders to remove signs denouncing the disengagement plan the inspectors said the legal advisor had ordered them only to take down signs in the chareidi neighborhood. Residents believe the legal advisor ordered the signs removed as part of a campaign by fringe elements in the national-religious camp to put a halt to the growth of the city's chareidi sector.

Some neighborhood residents say the legal advisor's surprising move was motivated by fears of the growing chareidi population. "The hundreds of signs on the balconies of homes of national-religious residents seeking to rent or sell their apartments shows this sector is abandoning the city," said one observer.

City of Beit Shemesh Spokesman Yehuda Gur-Aryeh said, "There is no connection between the legal advisor's worldview or his political affiliation and the activation of his authority in full accordance with the municipal law. He claims the municipality has always been careful to preserve the city's appearance in general and the commercial centers in particular. Hanging signs without oversight, and especially in the commercial centers, constitutes aesthetic damage, regardless of the contents and message of the signs. According to the ordinance, any sign must receive a permit from the city and a payment fee and those who do not act in accordance with the ordinance can be fined by law."

Following a warning by the mayor to remove the signs after the designated period has elapsed, city inspectors are authorized to physically remove the signs, he added. "In the incident in question, city inspectors were content at this stage to issue an oral warning to residents who placed signs without permits and without paying the sign fee that they can expect fines if they do not remove the signs placed in violation of the law—regardless of the contents and messages in the signs."

When asked whether the municipality would order the removal of anti-disengagement signs hanging on the balconies of right- wing Beit Shemesh residents, the spokesman declined to comment.

Attorney Mordechai Green, director of Betzedek — The American Israeli Center for the Promotion of Justice in Israel, sent a letter to Gastwirth demanding he rescind his instructions to the city inspectors to remove the signs. In the letter Attorney Green notes his office received numerous complaints from chareidi residents in Beit Shemesh over the warnings by city inspectors to take down the signs within two hours or face fines. The inspectors also demanded the removal of "For Sale" and "For Rent" signs in the same area. "According to these residents . . . a similar warning was not issued to many residents who [displayed] orange-colored banners and stickers related to opposition to the disengagement," the letter states.

Attorney Green cited a similar episode in Be'er Sheva a decade ago in which the court sided with residents who were forced to take down signs from their homes, calling the city's action "tyrannical and unjustified."


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