|Groiser Tzaddik Moshe Montag in Eilat|
The photos of Moshe Montag -a city counselor from the Degel HaTorah party close and a senior member of the administration of Shas Mayor Moshe Abutbul- were posted on Facebook Tuesday night and immediately generated an uproar among opponents of the municipality’s policies regarding controversial modesty signs hung by extremists around the Bet Shemesh.
Mixed gender swimming is considered unseemly by the ultra-orthodox.
“I’m not surprised- we’ve known all along that this has nothing to do with real modesty or Jewish and its all been about corrupt power and control and capitulating to extremist elements in the name of politics,” said activist Nili Philip.
The photos of such a prominent ultra-orthodox figure with women who do not meet his community’s modesty norms was especially galling to Philip given recent events in the city.
Moshe Mantag goes for a dip in an Eilat pool frequented by non-religious men and women. he is the one in the pool with the bald head
In January she and several other women won a lawsuit against the municipality for its failure to remove prominent signs put up in central locations in the city warning women to dress modestly and not to linger in certain places.
According to the court’s ruling “the municipality and the mayor chose not to take any steps to enforce the authority and obligations incumbent upon them to remove the signs... they absolved themselves from this obligation.”
The municipality countered by stating that it had repeatedly taken the signs down but that they were replaced on each occasion, adding that taking the signs down had led to riots.
“Unfortunately the court did not manage to understand the complicated reality in Beit Shemesh which we are dealing with, and did not accept the claim of the municipality that concern for the public safety and the harm to the fabric of the delicate relations between different population groups in Beit Shemesh outweighed the immediate and repeated need to remove the signs,” the municipality stated at the time.
Asked about the photos, Montag’s office manager Benzion Rockov said that he did not understand what the point was of even discussing the topic.
“Are you serious” he queried. “Do you really think that you can use pictures of a private individual to defame a person?…These are pictures that also the media in Bet Shemesh understands that they can’t use. Only you think that you are smarter than everyone. Do what you think, on your responsibility, and don’t say you didn’t know.”
The use of religion in Bet Shemesh politics also played a role in stoking anger over the images, with local residents taking to Facebook to vent their feelings, with one local complaining about what he saw as the “obsessive nature of the modesty regime in the city, backed by Rabbonim [rabbis]” as well as “the sanctimonious election campaign which [Montag] headed with the Mayor.”
During the 2013 mayoral race, the ultra-orthodox community distributed campaign advertisements claiming that “evildoers” seeking to “uproot the Torah” were intent on taking over the city” and stating that voting for the ultra-orthodox incumbents would be a “sanctification of God’s name.”
According to Rabbi Dov Lipman, a former Yesh Atid legislator who has been active in combating religious extremism in Bet Shemesh, the problem is not related in any way to Montag’s choice of swim partners.
“How dare he act as part of the political establishment in Bet Shemesh which has worked to prevent the construction of an outdoor pool in the city, a culture hall in the city, a movie theater in the city, and more, all in the name of ‘representing the will of the gedolei Torah [great Torah scholars].’ My issue is with the hypocrisy, not with his own personal lifestyle and I have seen that hypocrisy throughout the haredi political establishment,” Lipman told the Post.
"I believe that the private activities of a public figure which go against the policies and lifestyle which he forces on the citizens he leads is very relevant and is important for the public to know." Weighing in on the issue, Rabbi Uri Regev of the Hiddush religious equality NGO commented that the “ Sages of Old observed [that] it’s not the truly faithful that pose a threat, but the hypocrites.”
“Montag, who is part of a fundamentalist leadership circle in the anti-women war zones of Bet Shemesh, may have shown his true colors in the permissive environs of Eilat. It's high time that greater openness towards human nature be practiced in Bet Shemesh, rather than women being denied their their rightful, equal positions in the public sphere.”
However, not everyone believed that the issue was worthy of public attention, with city opposition councilman Moshe Sheetrit (Likud) stating that he did not think that “it’s any business of mine what a council member does in his own time.”
The issue received no coverage in the ultra-orthodox media aside from one tweet by journalist Israel Cohen of the Kikar HaShabbat news website. He later deleted the tweet with an apology.