Pushback from Israeli museums who don’t like my stand on censoring evolution exhibits

As I noted the other day, I had strong objections to a practice at Jerusalem’s Natural History Museum described in the Times of Israel (click on screenshot below). When the Haredi schoolchildren (ultra-Orthodox Jews) visit, the Museum, which is funded by Israeli taxpayers, covers up its evolution exhibit, as evolution is contrary to their religious beliefs and would offend (and maybe enlighten!) them. Further, other people are in the Museum at that time, and they, too, don’t get to see the evolution exhibit.

This disturbs me on the grounds that Israel is a secular country (though not as secular as the U.S.); that no religious group can dictate, on the grounds of its beliefs, what is shown in a science museum; and that blocking the exhibit for non-Haredis is an unwarranted incursion on their rights.

I wrote to the head of the Museum (the letter is at the top link), and although I didn’t hear back from him, several Israeli newspapers and websites covered this fracas, mentioning my letter. And I did hear from the head of another museum, the non-publicly-funded and religious Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh. 

At any rate, the ultra-left Israeli newspaper Haaretz covered the kerfuffle after the fact:

They mention my letter to the Museum director:

Biology Professor Jerry Coyne from the University of Chicago, who specializes in evolution, read about the affair and sent the museum a letter in which he criticized their decision to cover the exhibit. “As an evolutionary biologist of Jewish ancestry, I am deeply offended at your practice of covering up the human evolution exhibit lest it offend the Haredi Jews who go to your museum. Why would a museum hide the truth, even if it’s offensive to some religious believers? Is this proper in a largely secular state like Israel?”

He also published the letter on his blog “Evolution is True.” Coyne called on his readers to send their own letters to the museum. “I hope you realize that by literally hiding the evidence for human evolution, you are misleading people: in effect, lying by omission. The truth is the truth, regardless of whether some people are offended because it goes against their upbringing; and by catering to the false beliefs of creationists, you are, in effect, censoring whatever science that some people find unpleasant. This kind of behavior makes me ashamed of my Jewish background.”

but also gives the Museum’s defense of its practice (my emphasis):

. . . Since the beginning of the school year, 12 groups from Haredi schools have visited the Natural History Museum as part of the city’s “Jerusalem Advantage” educational program. This is the first year such visits to the museum have been subsidized by the city.

The museum’s educational director, Dr. Evgeny Roznitsky, says schools made their visits conditional on the exhibit being covered up, and he decided to agree to their request. “The agreement is that when such a group arrives we close the curtain and the guide does not explain about those parts. When they leave we open the curtain,” he told Haaretz.

“It has happened 12 times and we would be happy for more – before this year there were no Haredi groups at all, only in a few private frameworks. This year groups come from [Haredi] schools in an organized manner, so I still think this is an achievement,” said Roznitsky.

. . . It is preferable to expose the students to the rest of the worlds the museum has to offer than to refuse their request and have them cancel completely, he says. “My dilemma was either not to close [the curtain] and not agree to the request, and then not to receive this public and not to expose them to the beauty of the other exhibits, or to temporarily close something that is 0.3 percent of all the museum’s space and expose them to the rest: The environment, nature, environmental quality. We have animals in the garden zoo, a beautiful garden. These are children who have never seen an animal in their lives. So I expose them to an entire world. So on behalf of pluralism and education I close this curtain,” said Roznitsky. He completely denies that a visitor who criticized the curtain was told she could leave. [JAC: note that the exhibit is closed to all visitors when the Haredi visit; they don’t have exclusive access to the whole museum.]

. . .The Jerusalem municipality said: “The city’s Educational Administration initiated the ‘Jerusalem Advantage’ program in which all the city’s students from all communities are entitled to visit a wide variety of museums in the city within the framework of their studies. Within this program, thousands of students visited the Natural History Museum in the city and enjoyed the exhibitions and exhibits there. As opposed to what has been claimed, the aforementioned exhibit is open regularly to all groups visiting the museum.”

The city said that out of a desire to attract groups from the Haredi community, too, it was decided to agree to the request from Haredi schools and cover a specific exhibit during the visits. “So far, 12 groups from Haredi schools have visited the museum. The Educational Administration will continue to make cultural institutions and enrichment activities accessible to all the city’s students from a viewpoint of tolerance and equal opportunity for everyone.”

The same defense—that it’s better to give the Haredi kids some exposure to the outside world even if it means censoring evolution—was offered by Rabbi Nathan Slifkin, head of the Biblical Museum of Natural History on his website, in a post called “The skeleton in my closet.” Slifkin also wrote me personally along the same lines and posted a comment on my own site (here), to which you are welcome to respond (be civil!).

Finally, the Times of Israel published a second piece also mentioning my letter (click on screenshot):

This article reaffirms that the exhibit is covered when Haredis visit, even if other people are there at the same time, and the evolution exhibit was also covered twice by mistake when no Haredis are visiting, ostensibly due to “lack of manpower” (seriously; how hard is it to take down a curtain?). So everyone gets denied the science when Haredis are visiting; religious rights trump the right of non-Haredis to learn about human evolution.

The article also says that the Museum is sticking by its guns:

The Natural History Museum in Jerusalem has vowed to continue its policy of hiding an evolution exhibit from view, along with other displays on dinosaurs and the human body, during visits by ultra-Orthodox groups in order to avoid offending their religious beliefs. The announcement came despite an outrage caused in Israel and abroad by its decision to self-censor displays on evolution, dinosaurs and the human body.

“Of course,” the museum’s educational director, Dr. Evgeny Reznitsky, told The Times of Israel on Tuesday when asked whether he will carry on with the practice, citing the institution’s dire financial situation and saying it was better to have ultra-Orthodox schoolkids visit on their terms than have them not come at all.

As people protested outside the building with a megaphone and demanded that the museum reject the demands set by Haredi schools, Reznitsky said he would only reconsider his position if ordered to stop by municipal authorities.

Yes, there were protests!

Meanwhile, outside the museum, several protesters gathered Tuesday morning for a demonstration, carrying signs and shouting slogans such as “The curtain won’t hide the truth on the wall,” “Evolution is for all,” and “Don’t leave the skeletons in the closet.”

They argued heatedly with a museum employee who vehemently defended the practice as respecting the museum’s visitors and as a needed step in light of its financial woes.

“We don’t accept this,” said protester Yaki Hertz. “Science is not custom made. Whoever wants to learn science will do so using all the findings we have today.”

These pieces, plus a new one in Newsweek, also mention that the need for money keep the Natural History Museum catering to the Haredis:

Jerry Coyne, who is an evolution professor at the University of Chicago complained in an open letter that the museum was guilty of “lying by omission.”

“Your blatant censorship offends me…but of course you’d prefer to offend scientists and truth-seekers than those who harbor religious superstitions,” he wrote on his website.

But museum employee Uzi Danon told the Times of Israel that the lack of funds meant that it needed the revenue from Haredim visitors.

“We want the public to be here. Had the museum received funds we would immediately tell the Haredi groups ‘Bye-bye, go home, we don’t need you.’”

“We want to continue operating, they want to close the place down,” he added.

Finally, I received two private emails from Israelis, approving of the Museum’s practice and saying that I simply don’t understand the Haredi culture in Israel. But I think I know enough to weigh in. I know that this group doesn’t accept evolution and that they largely insulate themselves and their kids from secular society.  And I know that this issue isn’t a no-brainer. On one side we have the hope that some exposure to science will enlighten the Haredi kids, and perhaps even get them to think for themselves and maybe, just maybe, accept evolution, even if it’s censored at the Museum. They might even abandon their smothering faith, instilled in them via indoctrination.

Against that we have to weigh the fact that Israeli taxpayers are funding an exhibit that gets covered up when it offends a particular religious group; that it may not help Haredi kids much to see a lion or plant if they don’t also learn how they got here; that Israel is a nominally secular state that still favors particular religions on occasions like this, and that the evolution exhibit gets censored when other people who are not Haredi, and who could learn from the evolution exhibit, can’t see it during Haredi visits. To my mind, this outweighs the small number of Haredi children who have been exposed to the non-evolution parts of the exhibit (12 groups in total). It would be lovely if readers would weigh in below with their own take on whether the evolution exhibit should be censored during Haredi visits, and why. 

Museum of Natural History, take down that curtain!

_______

A contribution from reader Pliny the in Between:

 

102 Comments

  1. Craw
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I don’t like the censorship. It’s easy to imagine inflammatory comparisons to make the point. Imagine a selective history of WW2 omitting the holocaust for sensitive Germans.

    I wonder too if a partial exposure to a bowdlerization really prompts more doubts than learning that your teachers hide stuff from you.

  2. alexandra Moffat
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    There is not much difference between hiding the truth and telling a lie, as you say, by omission.
    Maybe an exhibition showing the March of Science through centuries and the absence therein of religion!
    These Haredi enjoy, presumably many of the benefits of science. Cherry picking science betrays abysmal ignorance…. and is infuriating!

  3. Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I still don’t understand why the Ultra-Orthodox tours couldn’t simply avoid the exhibits that offend them so. Are they so afraid of the truth that they think a glimpse might destroy their faith?

    • W.T. Effingham
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      +1

    • darrelle
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      I think demands like this by religious folk are often simply about power. I find it interesting that they typically claim to be especially righteous and yet they typically use tactics such as disingenuously playing the persecution card and, that favorite of terrorists, the old “look what you’ll make me do if you don’t give me what I want” gambit.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      It may be b/c of the layout of the museum. They cannot go from exhibit A to exhibit F without passing through exhibit E. And we know what the E stands for.

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      + 2. Maybe the Haredi teachers / indoctrinators fear that some naughty children will feel unresistible temptation to peep into the forbidden room, like Bluebeard’s wife.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      I agree. They can’t have much faith in their faith if merely glimpsing a few skulls as they hurry past threatens it.

      And we’re talking about kids. Forbidding something is sure to make them want to see it more. How many will find a way to return on their own to get a look? I bet plenty. A lot more than if they wandered past, casually commenting that it was crazy stuff goyim believe.

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      Because common sense approaches like that would involve giving up the exercising of power over others.

  4. Dave137
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Religion poisons everything.

  5. Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    They called this website a bl*g!

  6. Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    What if non-Haredi visitors just took it upon themselves to open the curtains? I mean, they’re only curtains.

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Yes, I don’t understand. Just put a curtain up with a sign saying what is behind it and anybody who will not be offended or who is happy to to be offended can go and take a look.

  7. TJR
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Do they cover up that section when groups of moslem schoolkids visit the museum?

    (Genuine question, in case it isn’t clear).

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      That was to be my question: would they have done this for any other religious group. And in Israel the question about Muslims is no doubt the correct one.

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I thought that tomorrow some Israeli Muslims should decide that they want to bring their schoolkids to an art exhibit, and demand all nudes to be hidden behind a curtain. They could also say that in their culture, barehead women are honorary nudes.

  8. Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    You had better take a few deep breaths before opening this link…
    (In case you hadnt heard there is a move to open a Creationist museum on the Galapagos Islands)
    https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2018-04-26/galapagos-creationist-center-to-become-reality/

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Ruddy Nora…

    • TJR
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      I’ve got this great idea for a “The moon landings were faked” museum. On the moon.

    • mikeyc
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Speechless

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      That is a terrible idea. I remember when there were Creationist books in the gift shop at the Grand Canyon. But this is worse.

      • Doris Walker
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        As of last summer, there still were (and there are guided rafting trips showing you how the Grand Canyon proclaims the truth of creationism!).

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      It will be located on Charles Darwin Avenue, Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galápagos. That’s the same street as the Charles Darwin Foundation & its Research Station for tortoises & such – it’s where world famous Lonesome George the Pinta Island tortoise spent his last days. Puerto Ayora is on the south coast & it’s the main habitation on the island.
      INFO HERE

      According to the Sensuous Curmudgeon the site for the ‘creationist museum’ is only 741 sq metres in total & it is also to include administrative rooms for the Loma Linda Adventist College & a new HQ for the Central Adventist Church. Even if this building is on two floors the ‘museum’ is going to be nothing more than one room of classroom size. [my guess]

      It will die a dusty, cobwebbed death & not be remembered like our Lonesome George is!

  9. Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    It seems that the museum officials do not think evolution happened. Otherwise why censor? If that is the case, be honest like the loony christians & their creationist ‘museums’ rather than pussy-footing around. Otherwise have the guts to display what we know to be the case, or show the theory of creation in your displays.

  10. Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Laser safety curtains are often accompanied by a ‘Danger’ sign.

    The museum could put sign on all the curtains saying:

    Danger: this is a Burka Curtain keeping willfully insecure visitors from knowledge.

  11. Roo
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I think you should go while wearing a tee shirt about evolution, to see if they throw a sheet over your head when people walk by you. “Ack! Why evolution is tr…” (Sheet) “That’s better.”

    Honestly, the dynamics of this puzzle me. Israelis seem more congenial on the topic than divides you witness in the US. Fundamentalist Christians simply wouldn’t go to a museum featuring evolution (and if they did, and suddenly there was a big controversy over the evolution aspect, they sure as heck wouldn’t go after that,) just as secular types wouldn’t go the Ark Encounter. Smaller groups like the Amish do the same. So I have few real world intuitions about “Well, some limited exposure is usually a good thing” or “People will get used to it and keep attending even if it’s changed.”

    I am confused by the polite geniality of in-group Israeli political battles. Maybe an industrious American can just go there and build an ark exhibit? (I’m kidding, I’m kidding.)

  12. Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I completely agree with you and I’m happy I could share it with fellow Israeli atheists after seeing your post here.
    Just a few comments:
    1. Israel is NOT secular nation. It’s not explicitly religious, but in some areas, we definitely are. On matter on marriage and divorce religious law is the sate law and the courts operating it are religious courts (this is an inheritance from the British mandate). In other areas, while not directly imposing religious law, religious values are enforced by law (you cannot operate public transportation service on Saturdays).
    2. The political power of Ultra-Orthodox in Israel is disproportional to their size, because coalitions depend on them on the munincipal and national level.
    3. While some freedoms are constitutionally guaranteed in Israel, there is no separation of church (or synagogue 🙂 ) and state in Israel in anything that resemble the American separation.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Thanks for that information. I thought that secular bit was wrong. My understanding is that you must be Jewish to be a citizen.

      • Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        No. Arab citizens are not Jewish and there are others.
        Jewish immigrants (and some of their relatives) can become citizens very easily, but others can become citizens too.

    • BJ
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Are there any other countries that have an explicit separation of church and state like the US does? I don’t think that absence is a reason to say a nation isn’t secular.

      Regarding the others: I agree that there are a few instances where religion seems to dictate things, but that seems to have much more to do with the political power of Ultra-Orthodox groups, rather than the government itself being religious. When abortion wasn’t legal in the US, one could say it was because of the power held by evangelical Christians, but that wouldn’t make the US not-secular nation.

      It’s an interesting question, and perhaps it’s not as clear as a “yes” or “no,” as is the case with most nations that have a religious majority and, within that majority, a very vocal and powerful minority.

      • Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        France, China, Russia … (though Russia is somewhat hypocritical now).

        I used to have a “quiz” I circulated on this.

        Secularism comes in degrees – in the case of Israel from what I understand it is borderline, like Canada which is explicitly a theocracy, though of an unspecified character and adds other freedoms back in (and denies others).

        • BJ
          Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          I thought Russia’s decree on separation of church and state, which was enacted upon the success of the Bolshevik revolution, was immediately rescinded upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. Is there another law laying it out? Regardless, it’s as you said: there really is no separation of church and state in Russia at all.

        • BJ
          Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          But really, I think the point we’re both making is that “separation of church and state” is a matter of philosophy and degree. In the US, there really is a separation of church and state: though religious groups can lobby and vote to exert influence, the law really does effectively prohibit the government from being explicitly religious and favoring religions through law.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

            Tell it to the IRS.

      • Posted May 2, 2018 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Some of my atheists wouldn’t agree, but largely I don’t experience Israel as a religious nation.
        However, the state register the religion of every citizen (or “none”), the only marriage in Israel is religious (though civil marriage made in other countries is recognized). Divorce in most cases can only be done in religious courts which get their power from the state. This leads to other issues (no gay marriage, gender inequality, no interfaith or “none” marriage etc.). The rest, in my opinion, has little to do with separation of church and state, but definitely has significant religious influence.
        If you don’t live in a religious neighborhood, like me, you hardly meet religion in your daily life, but sometimes, you do (like if you need a bus on Saturday…).
        I don’t feel threatened, but many Israeli atheists do.

  13. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    In the U.S., many (but not all) of our cloistered creationists get a fair amount of exposure to evolution while in school or when visiting museums. I am sure that some get ‘turned’ to where they accept the theory, to varying degrees, but I don’t think the majority do. Especially if the teachers and parents lie to them a bit more often.

  14. prinzler
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Stating a general principle on which a decision rests, and then applying that principle to other examples, can shed light on the original case.

    So, in this case, the general principle is, “when a group takes a stand with which we disagree, we will sacrifice what we would otherwise do in order to make inroads against that stance.” So, with the Haredis, they have taken an anti-scientific stance, and the museum decided to make inroads against that anti-scientific stance by sacrificing the visibility of the display to other people in the museum.

    Therefore, should a museum on conspiracies from an anti-conspiratorial standpoint (if such a thing existed) cover up a display about the problems with denying the Holocaust if a Holocaust-denier group wanted to visit the museum on the idea that exposing the group to anti-conspiratorial thinking in general is a good thing, and might even make inroads against denying the Holocaust?

    There might be a better analogy, but you get the drift.

  15. Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    The irony is that there is a sense in which almost everything in the museum is an evolution exhibit. They should reorganise the rooms to start with single celled life, then multi-celled, moving to flora, fish, amphibians, dinosaurs, birds, small mammals, then modern day animals including homo sapiens. Let the kids figure it out themselves.

  16. mikeyc
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    IMO, the Museum has a point – in the hopes of reaching more people they wish to be accommodating. It is possible that after exposure to even bowdlerized science some Haredi will question their faith’s rejection of it.

    But an institution’s integrity, like an individual’s, can take a long time to establish and it can be destroyed in moment. A natural history museum hiding a central part of our understanding of the natural world does not deserve respect. Or visitors. That’s the risk they take. By betraying the role of the institution they may be able to keep scheduling visits by a few religious fundamentalists, but they risk the very reason for their existence and thus the attendance of many others.

    It seems to me there is just no need for the cover up. The Haredi need never go near or be guided to the exhibits that they find problematical. The museum could simply give them a map with the bad areas marked so the guides or chaperones can steer them clear.

    That obvious solution is so obvious that I suspect this issue is far more complicated. There are likely local political, social or religious pressures that I do not understand.

    • Craw
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      One thing that bothers me is that this gives the sense that the museum has something shameful that needs covering, rather than that the teachers are blinkering the students. Feels wrong. Blame shifting.
      Feels a bit like “modesty ponchos” actually.

    • Jon Gallant
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      The solution is indeed obvious, which in turn means that the mealy-mouthed Haredi claim of “offense” is a disguise for a power-play. The Haredim, like their Christian and Muslim counterparts, attempt to impose their views on EVERYBODY ELSE whenever and wherever they can get away with it. Their inner purpose, I submit, is to get the evolution display hidden from EVERYBODY ELSE, for as long as they can, on any claim they can invent.

      Here is a notorious example of the same behaviour. Some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem are barricaded on Saturdays to prevent EVERYBODY ELSE from driving in or through them on shabbat. At one time, shabbat drivers in such districts risked having rocks thrown at them. I believe the rock-throwing has been reduced in recent years, but maybe Israeli posters will know more about the current situation.

      • Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        As long as that restriction applies to ambulances and police cars, I say let natural selection take its course.

  17. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    It is sad whenever religion takes precedence over science and accepted findings. Just another example of the incompatibility of science and religion. This should not be surprising, however in some places it is illegal.

  18. loren russell
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    How many paragraphs down before we see “a needed step in light of the museum’s financial woes”? Is this kowtowing just about admission fees from the Haredi groups, or does it reflect undermining of government support of scientific education in ministries that are given over to religiously conservative parties?

  19. loren russell
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Perhaps they need to add another evolutionary display behind their curtains — the loss of a backbone.

    • Historian
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Sometimes it is necessary to retreat before you can advance.

  20. Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Meanwhile, according to the Jerusalem Post, the Knesset is ready to pass a bill to abolish the requirement that haredi schools teach a core of English, Math and Science in order to receive public funds. Clearly the power of the haredi is strong, young Luke.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Perhaps they are more like the religious schools in the Muslim world where the primary focus is the study of religious texts. Day in and day out.

      • Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        No “perhaps” about it. From the JP report:

        Moses explained that the law only affects around 1.8 percent of the education system and 10% of the ultra-Orthodox education system. “What does it bother you that a few tens of thousands sit in a tent and study Torah?” he challenged.

  21. Historian
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    It is a tough call for me to decide whether the curtain should go up when the haredi visit the museum. My opinion, which I suspect is a minority one regarding those of the commenters at this site, is that the museum made the right decision. Some science is better than none. We must remember that haredi education is almost entirely religious. They know almost nothing about the secular world. Any exposure of haredi children to a secular environment is a positive thing, particularly if it is science oriented. With the curtain down, they wouldn’t visit the museum. Perhaps some of the haredi visitors would become enthralled with science and thus ultimately leave the haredi culture when they would then learn about evolution. Another consideration is that in Israel the haredi population is exploding vis-à-vis secular Israelis. They might take over the country within a decade or two with disastrous consequences, including closing the museum if it openly displayed evolution exhibits. Even now, as reader Golan has pointed out, Israel is not now a secular state as Americans understand the term.

    So, I contend that the museum’s decision is the best of poor choices. Encouraging the haredi to visit the museum may ultimately weaken it. Taking the curtain down would strengthen it. Secular people interested in evolution can learn about it from many other sources.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      It is kind of putting lipstick on a pig, so to speak. If a group of white nationalists wanted to visit a history museum but the museum has a piece on the Holocaust, should the piece be covered at their request?

      • mikeyc
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        There is no reason why all requests should be honored. They need not be consistent or fair.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

          That is correct. Once you have lowered your standards, why have any.

      • Historian
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        If the white nationalists had the same political power in America that the ultra-orthodox have in Israel then there would be no Holocaust exhibit to cover up. Of course, if you were a director of such a museum, you could put up a Holocaust exhibit and then be remembered by history as a noble martyr.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

          So morality or honesty has nothing to do with it. It’s all about power. Martyr? Is that a joke?

    • Wonderer
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      I’m inclined to agree that the potential benefit for some of the Haredi children may be justification enough.

      As a preacher’s kid who got free of the indoctrination when none of my three siblings did, I am grateful for the exposure to a broader world that I did get while growing up.

    • Malgorzata
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      I agree with you but it seems we are a minority of two. After reading stories about(or by) some former Haredis I realised how tiny exposer to a normal world is sometimes enough to awake doubt and curiosity in the minds of young people. Cooped between Talmud and Torah these children are simply cut off from the world and a visit to such museum can open a few eyes. Of course, hiding of evolution exhibits must be restricted as much as possible so all other visitors have a free access. But if this is a condition for taking Haredi children there – I’m on the side of the Museum’s Director. Even if only a tiny minority sees the light. “If you save one mind…”

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Do you think, Historian, that it’s okay to censor the exhibit when other people are in the Museum to placate the Haredi? For that is what is being done. If you think that’s okay, could you explain why?

      • Historian
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        I am trying to think long term. My goal is to weaken the haredi as a political and cultural force in Israel. Exposing haredi children to secular influences may slow down and perhaps someday reverse their growing numbers as is demographically undeniable and the commensurate political power. The museum is one secular influence. If it takes the covering of the evolution exhibit to assuage the fears of the haredi elders, so be it. I believe that the covering of the exhibit is worth the price if it results in the haredi children being exposed to science, even if what they see does not include one important element of it. In most struggles, ultimate victory is not achieved without setbacks and compromises. Such, I believe, is the case here.

        • Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

          Take your own field, history, I take it.

          Suppose some group asked to have some bit of secular history removed because it was religiously sensitive. One example is actually the founding of Israel itself. There are a minority of very religious Jews who think that Israel should not have been refounded except by the Messiah. Should an exhibit in a history museum that explains the founding of Israel shutter itself because this group asks them to hide it from their kids?

          • Historian
            Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

            When different groups or even different people have conflicting goals, each attempts to make decisions and take actions that will best help it achieve its end. Of course, the decisions they make might turn out to have been mistaken, but at the time they did what they thought best. The particulars of a situation should determine what they do. Regarding the haredi, secular forces may determine that the cost of covering the evolution exhibit is worth it while distorting history is not. Purists almost always lose in the end. For example, during World War II the Chinese Communists joined with the Nationalists, their arch enemies, to fight the Japanese. Some would say that the Communists betrayed their principles. Still, their actions helped them gain popular support, which swept them to power in 1949. The principle of “one step backwards, two steps forward” applies. Another World War II example illustrates this. Stalin, after some initial blundering, realized that retreating against Hitler’s armies was necessary before he could turn the tables. Short term, feel good actions may result in long term death.

            • Posted May 3, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

              “Il faut reculer pour mieux sauter” I agree can be useful, but I am not sure it applies here. I guess I would wonder how to make that decision – and like with the free speech situations decide to be pretty close to maximalist, because deciding on the line is hard.

        • Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

          They are a tiny fraction of the population. Their muscle derives from the pecularities of the Israeli political system.

          Frankly, I doubt that the stuffed bird and plant life exhibits they are allowed to see will awaken any yearning for scientific knowledge in the kids.

          • Historian
            Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

            Per the Jerusalem Post:

            ——————
            The number of Haredim in the country reached one million in 2017, representing 12 percent of the population and rising.

            The Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector is projected to comprise 16% of the total population by 2030, and Haredim will constitute a third of all citizens and 40% of the Jewish population in 2065.

            https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Haredi-population-tops-one-million-521515

            ————————–

            The Haredi are not an insignificant part of the Israel population and their percentage is growing! The fact that the nature of the Israeli political system gives them influence greater than their numbers does not diminish that influence.

            It is conjecture whether looking at plants will arouse scientific interest in kids.

            • Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

              I am wrong then. And Israel is in bigger trouble than I imagined.

            • Posted May 2, 2018 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

              40%? Wow. Is it their thing to have large families? Is the apostasy rate low? Man, if the Haredi are as completely separated from the rest of society that they are mostly wards of the state, having 40% of a population on the dole presents bigger problems than just political games.

      • BJ
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        Is it really that significant if it’s only for a few hours on rare days when Haredi groups visit? It’s not as if the museum is censoring them for good, or even most of the time, or even often. Do I think it’s wrong? Yes. Do I understand the reasoning behind it (expose Haredi children to other things outside their insular world, which is important and can possibly help change things for even a few of them) and agree that it’s a legitimate position, despite my disagreement? Also yes.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Do you think this type of accommodationism should be permissible under the First Amendment at a taxpayer-supported museum in the US?

      • Historian
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        I am afraid it is beyond my expertise to opine on the relation of the First Amendment to public institutions caving into the demands of religious groups. But, we are talking about Israel, not the United States. I do not know if the Supreme Court has tackled this issue.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

          It’s apparently also beyond SCOTUS’s expertise, since its Free-Exercise jurisprudence is a mess. Santeria practitioners, for example, are exempt from the laws proscribing animal sacrifice, but native Americans who make sacramental use of peyote are not similarly exempt from controlled-substance statutes.

          Like to see somebody ‘splain that.

  22. Stephen
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I’m infuriated that they get away with this. But you know what? I’m offended by statues of women that show their naked breasts so next time I visit you HAVE to cover them. I’m also a vegetarian and don’t want to see paintings or anything showing people eating meat. And so on…

  23. Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I don’t agree Israel is a secular country.
    There is no civil marriage.

  24. phar84
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    The Museum should ask the Haredis themselves if they feel offended. After all, if they didn’t believe in evolution, how can they be offended?

  25. KD33
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Just would like to comment that I appreciate the civil discourse. And while I disagree with the museum’s decision, appreciate that they did respond and attempt to explain their position without dissembling any ulterior motives.

  26. Curtis
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I think Israel’s favoritism to Haredi Jews is the big issue. The majority of Haredi men receive welfare instead of working – half live below the poverty line. They do not have to serve in the military. Their education is so religious as to be worthless for a secular world. Their slothfulness and deliberate ignorance is subsidized by the rest of the Israels.

    Whether or not their children see an evolution exhibit is minor compared to brainwashing they receive in the their publicly paid for schools and family life. Perhaps it is reasonable to make a fuss about this but only if causes people to address the real problems associated with the Haredim.

  27. BJ
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I think it’s ridiculous to censor these exhibits when this particular group visits, but I guess I do understand why. I understand the logic that it’s better to have them come to the museum and learn about everything else than to say no to their demand. My personal opinion is to say no, but I think it’s a disagreement rather than a matter of absolute right or wrong. It’s not as if the museum is permanently censoring the exhibit because a group deems it unholy.

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Remember the report about the young mother who complained about the curtain when no Haredi were in the museum, and the employees just order her out. I bet that the museum will censor the exhibit permanently the minute when it feels it can get away with it.

  28. Monika
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I think this is but a sympton of a much bigger problem. I’ve no idea how the school system in Israel works, but apparently it’s possible for whole groups of children to be deprived of a proper education. It broke my heart when I read Dr. Slifkin’s account of a boy who had never seen a lion. What other wondrous things has he never seen and will never see and never learn about? It makes me sad and angry!

    In the current climate of catering to the Haredi this might be the only way of getting at least some real knowledge into these poor children. In the long run, the only way is to stop this catering, the Haredi get away with way too much.

    Censorship is a bad thing, so yes, I think they should remove those curtains and rather help to stop Haredi priveledge.

    There’s one other thing I wonder about, the museum says they don’t get funding from the state, the state says they are funding the museum. Who’s not telling the truth?

  29. Dale Pickard
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Rather puts the lie to the idea that Israel is a secular democracy. These views on evolutionary biology are bad enough but their views on anthropology are even worse.

  30. Mark Shields
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    It can’t be much of a natural history museum if only 0.3% of its space is devoted to evolution!

  31. Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    There’s one point I haven’t seen anyone else mention, related to the claim “It is preferable to expose the students to the rest of the worlds the museum has to offer than to refuse their request and have them cancel completely, he says.” That point being: is it? Maybe it isn’t. Make the Haredi schoolteachers tell the parents and the children, “We can’t go to the science museum because they teach things that we don’t believe in. You can’t go see the animals, and all the other fun things, because you might be exposed to Bad Ideas.” Maybe, if they were confronted with that necessity, they would either (a) back down and go to the museum after all, with no curtains, or (b) it would provide an epiphany for people – at least the children, who are perhaps not yet entirely blinkered – about the anti-reality indoctrination that is inherent in their religious culture. Maybe at least one child would think to themselves, “Wait, what’s really going on here? Why can’t I go to the science museum? What does this really mean?” And from that thought, maybe a rebellion would begin to grow. It might, in the end, do more good than the bowdlerizing alternative the museum has chosen.

    • Malgorzata
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      The only problem with this idea is that if teachers do not tell children about the possibility to go to a science museum, children will not know. They do not have access to television nor to “normal” children and they most probably do not know that such a thing like “science museum” exists.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        Sounds like a better reason to require that every child receives the basic requirements of a secular education, rather than to require the accommodation religious extremists.

        • Malgorzata
          Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

          Oh, I absolutely agree, much better solution. The only tiny problem is that it seems impossible to implement. Many Israeli governments (left and right) tried and failed.

  32. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Haaretz is ultra-left? Left, sure, or maybe even center-left (or, hell, by my lights anyway, plain old centrist 🙂 ).

    • Posted May 3, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Only in mainstream US elite opinion. Chomsky has said for years that Israeli papers have more of a diversity of views on Israel politics etc. than in the US at least when it comes to “big names”. (I am not sure that’s true, but it may well be from what I can tell.)

  33. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Couldn’t the curtain be placed so that it is possible for non-Haradi to step behind it when it’s up??

    The British Museum has an adults-only display of Japanese shunga art with relatively overt depictions of various sexual activities.

    Doing something similar here could invest the evolution exhibit with a kind of “lure of the forbidden” provoking curiosity.

    • Posted May 3, 2018 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      “The British Museum has an adults-only display of Japanese shunga art…”

      Oh! Whereabouts? … 

      /@

  34. Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    The real problem is that this museum is on the brink of bankruptcy. It actually gets little public money support and relies on admissions and donations.

    Religion spoils everything, and close behind is money.

  35. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    At the end of the day, this is a country where doing this kind of thing is allowed – so it is done. In the U.S. this issue was addressed and covered in our constitutional beginnings and is not allowed. Refer the questions here to FFRF. It is why they exist. Either you believe in it or you don’t. Apparently many here do not even if you are from the U.S. Very disappointing. The history lessons did not take. Maybe why many also do not know or understand free speech or a free press.

  36. Posted May 2, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    http://www.pewforum.org/2015/08/26/a-portrait-of-american-orthodox-jews/

    We have Haredi in the U.S. According to the Pew Report about 10% of Jews in the U.S. are orthodox. Of “…U.S. Orthodox Jews (62%) are Haredi (sometimes called Ultra-Orthodox) Jews, who tend to view their strict adherence to the Torah’s commandments as largely incompatible with secular society.3”

    So, despite educational mandates, Haredi males do not receive an education outside their religion. And, they tend to be on welfare or supported by their wives because they have no employment skills.

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Yes, there was recently a case of 7 children from such a family in the USA dying in a fire because a heating plate was left on from Friday night until Sunday morning, to avoid switching on and off on Saturday. It was discussed on this site, but I do not wish to look at it again.

      • Posted May 3, 2018 at 4:07 am | Permalink

        I’m truly sorry about the deaths of these children. I either had forgotten (how could I?) or didn’t read it.

        Since 2017, I’ve been reading about the orthodox communities in the northeast, particularly Lakewood, NJ. The articles have dealt with the impact of the orthodox on the overall well being of the entire community. Especially in regards to welfare.

        The following Wikipedia list is of U.S.
        communities with orthodox enclaves. There are a great many more than I imagined.:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Orthodox_Jewish_communities_in_the_United_States

  37. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I propose a compromise guaranteed to be acceptable to everyone: The coverings stay in place while Haredi students (Haretics?) are present, but the coverings have a big sign saying “Stuff your religious teachers don’t want you to see!” to encourage the more adventurous students to peek behind the curtain. 🙂

  38. Posted May 2, 2018 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    Special glasses. Just give special re-usable sunglasses to the small groups that wish to remain blind at that part of the exhibit. Or blinders like those on a horse.

  39. eric
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    It would be lovely if readers would weigh in below with their own take on whether the evolution exhibit should be censored during Haredi visits, and why.

    No, it shouldn’t. I personally think they should expand the exhibit to an entire room. This will provide more comprehensive coverage to mainstream visitors, while the Haredi can simply not go in the room.

    If they don’t have the space, though, I still don’t think it should be censored. I get that they don’t believe in evolution. But surely it doesn’t endanger their faith to simply be aware that other people do, does it? Walk by it. Have the Haredi chaperone say “that’s for the people who believe in human evolution” if you need to.

    I take my kid to art and history museums all the time. There’s lots of stuff we merely walk by – due sometimes to time constraints, or more rarely because I think the material is too adult for him. It would be ridiculous for me to demand an art museum cover up everything not appropriate for a 7-year-old merely because I want to visit. Instead, the proper solution is for me to just walk by and not make a big deal out of it.

    So…walk by, and don’t make a big deal out of it.


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