Beit Shemesh ad telling girls to play out of men’s view draws pedophilia accusations

Unsigned PSA aimed at ultra-Orthodox community runs in circular that once reportedly refused to publish safety advice because charities buying ad space ‘cooperated with Zionists’

Orthodox schoolgirls looking at posters in Beit Shemesh in June 2014. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)
Orthodox schoolgirls looking at posters in Beit Shemesh in June 2014. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

An advertising circular in Beit Shemesh is facing criticism and accusations of supporting pedophilia after running an advertisement demanding that young girls not play where men walking to synagogue can see them.

The unsigned advertisement was run in Afarsimon, a weekly circular widely distributed among the city’s growing ultra-Orthodox population. Reports indicated the ad was distributed specifically in Ramat Beit Shemesh D.

“Girls, on Shabbat leave the streets clear of games so we can get to synagogue,” the ad reads in Hebrew and Yiddish. “Play in the corner, in parking lots or yards.”

The advertisement also promises to enter kids in “expensive raffles” without elaborating.

The PSA was roundly criticized, as was the circular for agreeing to run it.

“An ad for normalizing pedophilia in the Haredi community,” tweeted Yossi Rainer, a spokesman for Beit Shemesh.

MK Yulia Malinovksy of the secularist Yisrael Beytenu party demanded that police open a probe into the ad, saying it supported pedophilia, discrimination and misogyny.

“Only twisted minds could think such things,” she said. “Who is surprised that these people who need urgent treatment would dare to say such things publicly.”

A figure who answered a phone number listed on the circular said they would not speak to journalists when contacted, the Walla news site reported.

“It’s been taken out of context and the advertiser did not intend it how you are taking it,” the figure was quoted saying. “It’s not us and we have no connection to it.”

The circular has been around for at least a decade, one of dozens of local magazines — usually as a vehicle for ads, with little to no editorial content — distributed in towns across the country.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women are seen behind a curtain during the ‘Pidyon Haben’ ceremony for Yossef Tabersky, a 30-day-old great grandchild of the chief rabbi of the Lelov Hasidic dynasty, in Beit Shemesh, Israel, September 16, 2021. (AP/Oded Balilty)

In 2015, Afarsimon refused to publish a public service announcement on keeping kids safe during the Purim holiday because two of the charitable organizations placing the ad, Ezrat Achim and United Hatzalah, had “cooperated with Zionists,” the Shemeshnet website reported at the time.

The past two decades have seen Beit Shemesh’s ultra-Orthodox population explode, leading to periodic bouts of friction between Haredi factions, many of them religious extremists, and more moderate religious or secular citizens.

In 2011, complaints that an 8-year-old girl in the city was regularly spit at and heckled by grown religious men as she walked to her school drew national and international outrage. Six years later, the Supreme Court forced the city to take down signs demanding women dress modestly, but the women who had initiated the case were doxed and harassed by ultra-Orthodox men.

Police stand guard as Beit Shemesh municipal workers take down signs instructing men and women of an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood to walk on different sides of the street, December 11, 2017. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

Most Haredi publications in Israel and the US do not print pictures of women, including young girls.

Rabbinical figures have justified forcing women to cover up or move to the backs of buses by claiming that their appearance could lead men to impure thoughts of a sexual nature, though the reasoning has raised even more questions when extended to underage girls.

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