What’s with all the spitting?

I do not know of any culture anywhere is which spitting on someone is not seen as a great insult. There is something about the act that is absolutely disgusting and so repulses people that it can arouse the most violent responses. So it comes as a bit of a surprise when very religious people adopt spitting on others as not merely an expression of disapproval but do so in an organized way, as if their religion prescribes it as a recommended course of action.

I am referring to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community where it is not unheard of for large groups of believers to protest actions of others by surrounding them and spitting on them. I have written about such incidents before. And the stories keep coming of such appalling behavior, with the spitting seemingly always done by men, and women and young girls usually being at the receiving end, even if they too are Orthodox (see here, here, here, and here).

The reasoning of these spitters seems to be that the mere sight of bare female skin even on the arms is enough to provoke mad desire in these supposedly very religious men who would then be tempted away from thoughts of their god. Hence they have to punish those who tempt them with impure thoughts. Why women and girls should be the ones who are punished when it is the men who get the lustful thoughts and should be the ones who need to be taught to control them is never explained.

But since this seems to be a form of action that is approved by the religious authorities, the question arises as to where in their holy books they find justification for this widespread and disgusting practice of spitting as a means of showing disapproval.


  1. NitricAcid says

    I hope some of the people being spat upon share my own religious tradition of pepper-spraying people who spit on me.

  2. left0ver1under says

    Many cultures have traditions that label things as “dirty” that other cultures don’t.

    In Thailand, touching (or even pointing to) things with the feet makes them dirty. (So why are they so crazy about soccer?) Koreans eat soup from a communal bowl, all people putting their spoons into the same liquid. The Romany think that something touched by a lower body (e.g. skirts, pants, underwear) are dirty. (So how do they wash their clothes?) And in muslim countries where people eat with the fingers (e.g. Egypt) they would flip out if a lefty like me ate with them. They consider the right hand to be “clean” and the left hand dirty, for use in the toilet.

  3. trucreep says

    It makes me think of the shoe throwing thing in the Muslim world. I’m sure you can trace the origins of that, so perhaps there’s some sort of expert in Orthodox Judaism that would be able to trace the origins of the spitting.

    To me it seems like a way to express disgust and contempt by ways of minimal force. I could see it being argued that it’s not violent or nearly as violent as physical blows. Of course, that’s the trick with something like this — you can claim it’s non-violent because no one is getting physically injured, when in fact surrounding a person and spitting on her is a very violent form of expression.

  4. wtfwhateverd00d says

    2,000 years ago it was the progressive ultra orthodox Jews that suggested spitting in lieu of the throwing of stones.

  5. says

    Why women and girls should be the ones who are punished when it is the men who get the lustful thoughts and should be the ones who need to be taught to control them is never explained.

    A thing I’m absolutely sure has no connection whatsoever to “every major religion is written down and run by and for and in favour of men.” Yes.

    “Ahem. Going to the next room, we see the use of the elephant as metaphor for unavoidable sight…”

  6. rcs says

    I grew up Jewish and I remember people saying I spit on you and your (whatever) as a term of contempt but I don’t know of any instances where anyone physically spit on another person. I think this is an example of the fundamentalist Jews who have grown increasingly arrogant, loud, intolerant, and violent in the last 20 or so years.

  7. AsqJames says

    Depends how you define “culture” – will a musical sub-culture do?

    It’s possible more was made of it than was really the case, but in the 70s punk fans were known to collectively spit at the stage and band members. There’s some dispute over how it started, and the why may have varied wildly amongst the participants. Probably many were doing it because others were doing it, and so they thought that’s what your did at a punk concert.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    Apparently the fixation on expectoration goes before Exodus.

    Numbers 12:14 And the LORD said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.

  9. smrnda says

    I wanted to say the same. Then again, I think it might have been an inversion of social norms which would fit in with the punk scene.

  10. Mano Singham says

    That is interesting (and gross!) but not quite what I meant by culture. I was using it in a more anthropological sense where there are long-standing social taboos and spitting on others is one of them.

  11. thewhollynone says

    No doubt about it– the Israelis have some serious cultural problems, and not just with the Arabs. Could be the Romans were right!

  12. pet_henry says

    Does anyone besides me have a problem with the latest comment by thewhollynone:

    “No doubt about it– the Israelis have some serious cultural problems, and not just with the Arabs. Could be the Romans were right!”

    Or I am just being over-sensitive?

    To be specific:
    – Why does the comment refer to “Israelis” in general, rather than the Jewish fundamentalists in question?
    – Why does the comment refer to Arabs, rather than the target of the reprehensible behavior, Jewish orthodox women and girls?
    – I’d like an explanation of the phrase “Could be the Romans were right” because it could be taken to mean that they were right to crucify Jesus, or they were right to put down any Jewish rebellions in the Levant, or they were right about polytheism, or maybe something else.

    Whenever you make a comment about a group of people, rather than specific acts of individuals, you risk stereotyping and being accused of bigoted commentary.

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