And the Lord said “Thou must spitteth on those who defileth the Sabbath with tape recorders”

Via Pharyngula, I came across this story about the appalling behavior of highly religious people.

It turns out that Orthodox Jews in Israel are upset at a local council in Jerusalem’s decision to open a municipal car park on Saturdays and have been protesting in the streets for weeks. Why? Because this would encourage people to drive on the Sabbath, and this is one of the gazillion things that you are forbidden to do if you are an observant Jew.

(I have written before about ‘Certified Sabbath Mode’ ovens and kosher telephones that provide loopholes to such laws for those who like to consider themselves Orthodox but don’t want to be inconvenienced by these weird rules. Presumably no rabbi has as yet come forward with a blueprint for how to make a kosher car but I bet they are working on it.)

Anyway, Australian reporter Anne Barker was sent to cover the car park protests when things suddenly turned ugly. As she writes:

I suddenly found myself in the thick of the protest – in the midst of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in their long coats and sable-fur hats.

They might be supremely religious, but their behaviour – to me – was far from charitable or benevolent.

As the protest became noisier and the crowd began yelling, I took my recorder and microphone out of my bag to record the sound.

Suddenly the crowd turned on me, screaming in my face. Dozens of angry men began spitting on me.

Spit like rain

I found myself herded against a brick wall as they kept on spitting – on my face, my hair, my clothes, my arms.

It was like rain, coming at me from all directions – hitting my recorder, my bag, my shoes, even my glasses.

Big gobs of spit landed on me like heavy raindrops. I could even smell it as it fell on my face.

Somewhere behind me – I didn’t see him – a man on a stairway either kicked me in the head or knocked something heavy against me.

I wasn’t even sure why the mob was angry with me. Was it because I was a journalist? Or a woman? Because I wasn’t Jewish in an Orthodox area? Was I not dressed conservatively enough?

In fact, I was later told, it was because using a tape-recorder is itself a desecration of the Shabbat even though I’m not Jewish and don’t observe the Sabbath.

This disgusting story illustrates the problem with religious people. Ordinary criminals and thugs probably know that their behavior is wrong but simply do not care enough to change. But religious people can act just like criminals or thugs or even murderers and actually feel virtuous about doing so, because they think that god commanded them to act in this way. In their minds it makes perfect sense to even kill people who do not abide by their rules (if they could get away with it) because their holy books say doing so is their duty and they would be pleasing god by punishing the unobservant. As Clarence Darrow once told a group of convicts, “It is not the bad people I fear so much as the good people. When a person is sure that he is good, he is nearly hopeless; he gets cruel – he believes in punishment.”

Most people are blissfully unaware of the awful things the Bible advocates and which lie behind the kind of appalling behavior described above. Take for example, Deuteronomy 22:13-21 about how a father should deal with a daughter who is charged with not being a virgin when she gets married. The passage ends as follows:

If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

Statements like “You must purge the evil from among you” is the justification these religious fanatics use for their vigilante actions like what was done to the reporter.

If such people want to tie themselves up in knots with ridiculous rules because they are credulous enough to obey the instructions in some book written by some unknown person long ago, they are welcome to do so. But they are never satisfied with that. They want everyone else to also follow their rules.

In this regard, there is no difference between fundamentalist Jews or Christians or Muslims, except as to which absurd rules they think are important or which book they consider holy. And it is no use ‘moderate’ religionists saying that these people are aberrations, and that ‘true’ religion is benevolent and benign. The religious fundamentalists take their rules for behavior from the same books as the so-called moderates do. There is no way to put a benevolent spin on the vicious and murderous misogyny of the Deuteronomy passage. The only way to combat such pernicious ideas is to denounce the whole idea that ‘holy’ books have any kind of binding authority or even moral weight.

Will the authorities take strong action against these religious thugs or will they treat them lightly because of the absurd ‘respect for religion’ attitude that says that allegedly ‘religious’ people acting on their convictions are exempt from normal rules of behavior? Of course, such indulgence is usually only granted to those people who belong to the same religion as the authorities.

If unchecked, religious people will oppress us all because they think that is what god wants. It is only the modern secular state that can protect the rest of us from these religious fanatics.

POST SCRIPT: Mr. Deity on stoning non-virgins

God and Jesus explain why the stoning commandment is a good thing.


  1. Weemaryanne says

    “….If such people want to tie themselves up in knots with ridiculous rules because they are credulous enough to obey the instructions in some book written by some unknown person long ago,….”

    I’m reliably informed that this is not the whole reason for tying themselves in knots. The rest of it has to do with how the first Jews set themselves apart from the neighboring tribes. The Chosen People, remember? Observing certain feasts, dressing in certain clothes, eating only permitted foods and making sure that everybody in your household does the same, serves to reinforce the tribal identity by reinforcing the doctrine of how “we’re special in the eyes of god.”

    Especially if the neighbors notice and make fun of you, or worse.

    Heaven forbid any of their children should suggest relaxing the rules: “WHAT?! Your ancestors suffered and died for the sake of these rules, and you want to spit in their dead faces?! Shame on you!”

    Or words to that effect.

  2. says

    to Weemaryanne first you have to agree that this is thier religion and we have no right to prevent somebody practising his religion even if we don’t believe in .. for me too it a bit strange and difficult and i believe that in thier holybook thier was stories about some who brooks this rules .anyhow Israel wants to be a jewish country so there is no wonder that they take thier law from thier religion .. and i have to say that this was a great article i enjoyed it.

  3. says

    Religious people can be criminals people if they push by blind fanaticism.They apply the rules in their holy book with the raw.They do not have tolerance for others and want all people to follow their rules.People like them very difficult to live side by side with people of different faith.Thank you for sharing story.

  4. henry says

    The Amish seem to exist in a religious yet pacifist state of existence and offer up a startling contrast to your “religious people will oppress us all” theory.

  5. says


    It is hard to judge these groups when they are small and powerless, because then it is in their interests to act as if they are harmless and pacifist. Otherwise they will be crushed. One can only judge them when they are in power or have significant influence.

    The Orthodox Jews and the Muslim fundamentalists in liberal western democracies preach the virtues of tolerance and peace. What else can they do? Can you imagine what would happen to them if they violently protested the opening of a car park on the Sabbath in New York?

    It is what Orthodox Jews do in Israel or the Taliban in Afghanistan, where they have real clout, that reveals their true nature.

    So the jury will be out on the Amish philosophy until they become powerful and show us how they behave then. It would not surprise me if they then insist that we all drive buggies and not have electricity.

  6. says


    You are right that many of these religious practices originally arose of the need to separate oneself from others and prevent easy communal exchanges, especially the sharing of food.

    But to have force, they became codified in the early religious books as divine commandments and that is the reason they have power over people now.

  7. Paul Jarc says

    It is what Orthodox Jews do in Israel or the Taliban in Afghanistan, where they have real clout, that reveals their true nature.

    That seems to support an indictment of power rather than of religion. Secular governments can be just as nasty—they just use different rhetoric to justify it.

  8. henry says


    I agree with you. It is the desire for power that corrupts. We’ve seen that desire manifest its ugly head in godless China during Mao’s reign.

    Mano is like a scratched record skipping over and over on the issue of god. If he could just play the next few tracks he would realize that religion isn’t the problem.

  9. Jared says


    Actually, Mano has a good deal on his website about the problems of the corrupt power elite where he acknowledges that religion is only a convenient tool (Isn’t that what he is saying here, anyway?). See the series on the American Oligarchy, for example. I think the Gaza series is also on similar lines.

    As for the Amish, I wonder if you have studied Amish culture much. I don’t wish to over-generalize, but from what I read, it is not all that daring to say that oppression and abuse of power are common in many if not most Amish communities.


  10. says

    Paul and Henry,

    The power issue is not relevant here. People with power are always tempted to abuse it. And of course, people can and do do evil things without a religious motive.

    The point here is that these people did these evil acts purely for religious reasons. Religion gives people the ability to think of themselves as good while doing things that would otherwise be condemned as evil, to compare the way we treat common thugs with the way religious thugs are treated. In fact, religion often encourages people to do very evil things as religious commandments, which is why we would be a lot better off with no religion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *