Israel, Justice, Religion, Sex & Gender

Tell Minister Katz: "Women don't belong at the back of the bus!"

Cartoon courtesy of unattributed dot comWomen arrested at the Kotel is not the only battle over basic women’s rights and religious freedoms in Israel this season:
By December 27, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz of Likud must endorse or turn down his committee’s recommendation to end the “mehadrin” gender-segregated public buses. In support of the many Israeli orthodox women’s and civil rights groups supported by Diaspora Jewry, the New Israel Fund emailed supporters today to urge Katz to desegregate.
The transporation committee found that while the segregation on select bus lines is supposed to be voluntary (women at the back, men at the front), the haredi population “treats them as lines ‘belonging’ to the haredi population.” Haredi groups expect a publicly-funded separate arrangement that contravenes the Basic Laws of freedom of movement and religion, it reported. “This, in turn, led to attempts on their part to force these arrangements on passengers who did not agree to them.” The reports of assaulted women are not pretty.
Women’s rights activists within the haredi and orthodox communities are campaigning Katz to accept the committee’s conclusions. Israeli author Naomi Ragen told JPost that Katz should accept it “so that we know that we are living in a democratic state and not in Iran and Afghanistan.” In a NIF portrait of orthodox women’s activists, Kolech-Religious Women’s Forum activist Zahava Fisher said, “Whether it is Blacks like Rosa Parks being asked to sit at the back of the bus in the US, or women being asked to sit at the back of the bus in Israel, we cannot accept segregation.”  
Apparently there is nothing in halakha mandating segregation of men and women in public places. A ruling by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein even permits mixed seating on public transportation and says that any man who experienced erotic contact in such contexts has problems. (Two points to the first reader who can find it online.)
I’m more than a little uncomfortable with the Iran-Afghanistan-Israel parallel, and I have no problem supporting my like-minded bretheren from out here in the Diaspora. So do our sisters in Israel a favor and let Katz know that the mehadrin buses should end. That kind of religion is below Israel’s dignity.
Katz’s email, office phone and fax below the fold.  
Contact Transport Minister Katz and ask him to reject public buses with segregated seating:

  • Call from outside Israel: (011) 972-2-6408174
  • Call from Israel: 02-6408174
  • Fax from outside Israel: (011) 972-2-6496525  (sample fax)
  • Fax from Israel: 02-6496525
  • Email [email protected] (Sample email text below)
  • Let NIF know that you contacted Minister Katz here.
  • Send an email to friends and family, encoraging them to get involved.
  • Post this page to Facebook.
  • Tweet this link:
    Tell Transporation Minister Katz that women don’t belong at the back of the bus! http://ow.ly/Hfeu

Sample Email Text
Dear Minister Katz,
Forcing women to sit in the back of public buses contradicts democratic principles, Jewish tradition and universal values of religious and personal freedom.  
In the past, Israel has taken many commendable steps to further gender equality, and we call upon you to make the right decision in promoting and defending women’s rights. At the very least, please uphold the recommendations of the Special Committee and insist that no woman ever be coerced into entering or sitting in the back of the bus. Even better, require those who insist on such segregation to provide their own, privately-funded, transportation.
We in the U.S. cannot stand idly by while Israel grants a small minority the power to dictate what Judaism is or to make halacha into an instrument of discrimination and segregation. We hope we can count on you to prove your commitment to equality and Israel’s pluralistic democracy.
Sincerely,
Name
City, State
Country

36 thoughts on “Tell Minister Katz: "Women don't belong at the back of the bus!"

  1. Agreed, and the sooner the authorities stop kowtowing to the extreme portion of the heredi the better. Meanwhile, as a stop gap measure, let’s have them put the women in front and the men at the back if they feel there should be no contact between the sexes – maybe positioned in an inferior location, the men will have a revised opinion of what constitutes improper contact.

  2. This post isn’t about Ortho Judaism inside baseball, it’s about public transportation and civil rights in Israel. If the people behind the International Rabbinic Fellowship ran the State of Israel, their actions would be more newsworthy.

  3. where hirhurim is more relevant than Jewschool…
    I’m assuming that hirhurim refers here to a website, as opposed to…the other thing. Right?

    1. …opening the door for another group to have the next “first Orthodox woman ____”!
      Is this the first rabbinic organization (since the days of Ben Zoma and Ben Azzai) to have members (of any gender) who don’t have the title rabbi?

  4. That opinion of Rabbi Feinstein does not support KFJ’s proposition. Rabbi Feinstein does not state what subway seating policies ought to be, but what a person is permitted to do when they have no choice but to make physical contact with members of the opposite sex.
    The opinion/letter responded to someone asking about using the crowded, non-Jewish New York City transit system. In New York City, it is inevitable that you will rub up against other people on the train. It is impossible to segregate trains in New York City and impractical to avoid contact. The letter says that when one has no other choice and must use public transportation to get to work, they need not be concerned about touching because the touching is not erotic. The caption reads: “on whether going in subways and buses at times when it is impossible to avoid contact with and rubbing women as a result of pushing.” It speaks about bidi’avad circumstances.
    The letter does not speak to the l’chatchila. It does not say that you can purposely rub up against women in a non-erotic way. It does not say that you should not endeavor to avoid contact wherever possible. It does not say that it is preferable or even permissible to set up a bus system with mixed seating, if given the choice. It does not say that the New York City rules should apply in Israel where enough of the consumer population can demand separate seating on popular bus routes.
    The author’s suggestion are beyond the scope of the opinion/letter. The context actually indicates the opposite – that if possible, one should avoid physical contact altogether (granted it does not make a preference for separate seating).

  5. Also, it’s nice that they vote whether or not she gets in. Sort of like the country club board voting on whether or not to accept Jews or Blacks.

  6. Jacob, the opinion fully supports their position. Public transportation does not need to be segregated. It does not say that men and women MUST be separated on public transportation either. It is not halakha that mehadrin buses exist — it is a power play.

  7. Egged is a nationalized bus system, despite many false proclamations by haredim that the mehadrin bus lines are “capitalism” at work.
    The U.S. gives a lot of money to Israel. A lot.
    If the Israeli government feels they need to consistently cave to the haredim because of their formidable numbers, this is their choice. But there will be a cost in terms of loss of good will even from those of us who are not usually interested in telling Israel what to do.
    If segregation is determined by which ultra-Orthodox rabbi paskens which way, which in the end invariably means the stricter opinion, we are going to have a fight.
    And Jacob, what do you think is going to be the reaction to haredim occasionally beating up American Modern Orthodox women who resist the back of the us and then protecting the culprits? We are going to have the “spiritual war” that the haredim continuously reference.
    Just keep it up. The haredi lifestyle needs to be starved out, not enabled by Uncle Sam and Jewish organizations. That may be the only way. U.S. money to Israel needs to be conditional on an abolishment of the welfare/kolel system.

  8. I agree with everything you say, DK, but
    The U.S. gives a lot of money to Israel. A lot. is another problem, in and of itself.
    It’s bad for America. It’s bad for Israel. It has to stop.

  9. It’s not bad for America or bad for Israel. It’s good for America and good for Israel, otherwise it wouldn’t be the 40 year policy of successive US and Israeli governments.
    Interestingly, Netanyahu has been the biggest proponent of ending the subsidies, and helped lay the financial deregulatory groundwork in Israel which allowed the Israeli economy to flourish, and thus to rely less and less on US aid.
    Of course, that was before America decided to sell the Arabs $20Bil of its most advanced weapon systems to counter Iran, and then offered Israel $30Bil in credits over ten years to maintain its military edge against the Arabs. I’m not usually one to rail against the military-industrial complex, but this is absurd.
    Are there drawbacks? Of course, for both sides. The US likes to leverage and bargain the Israeli operational potential with the Arabs, but doesn’t want to use it. In my own view, the fact that the US has not allowed Israel to finish a single war in 40 years may have something to do with Israel becoming a drag on US foreign policy. It is when Israel acted boldly and defiantly, without American consent – the attack on Osirak, destruction of Arab armies in ’67 – that American policy was actually advanced.

  10. Jonathan1 ,
    Even if that is true (and I am not sure that I agree) if we are giving money — and it looks like we shall be for awhile — there is nothing wrong with demanding certain basics in return.
    The haredim are a threat to any semblance of a Liberal Democracy even in Israel proper. This threat must be contained. Their fanaticism must be checked and challenged with every push, and a great way to do that would be to deny them the public assistance which enables their blood-sucking, parasitic, dysfunctional lifestyle bent on radical Halachic theocracy.
    If the haredim are forced to work, many will move from a RWUO (right-wing ultra-Orthodox) lifestyle and “hashkafa” to a LWUO (left-wing ultra-Orthodox) one.
    It is a world of a difference.
    “Work makes freedom.”

  11. DK, the aid the US gives to Israel is not charity. It is given out of strategic necessity, and the US gets exactly what it paid for – a pliant Israel that does not interfere in American plans for the region by destroying various Arab armies and bringing down Islamist governments.
    Without American support, Israel would have far less incentive to be as civil in the region as it has been. The Assad regime in Syria, for example, would not be standing today without American support for Israel.

  12. Even if that is true (and I am not sure that I agree) if we are giving money — and it looks like we shall be for awhile — there is nothing wrong with demanding certain basics in return
    That’s the point. The American government doesn’t have to demand certain basics in return for its aid; it can demand much more than certain basics, and there’s nothing Israel can do about that.
    American taxpayer money should go to American citizens. Israeli domestic policy should be determined by Israelis, not the American government. And, the Israeli government shouldn’t be in the “begging” business to begin with.

  13. Jonathan1, you may be an idealist, and that can be quite impractical. But the fact is, Israel cannot afford to exist on her own. She is a client state, she has always been a client state, and she may very well always be a client state if Israel is to survive.
    The amount of cash that Israel spends on her military is much more than most countries her size. I don’t see how Israel can do it alone. Your suggestion is most speculative.

  14. Avigdor wrote,
    the aid the US gives to Israel is not charity. It is given out of strategic necessity,
    If that were completely true, then we would not need the lobbies that the Jewish community has.
    That is your perspective, and is–surprise, surprise– most popular with: Jews and right-wing evangelical Christians.

  15. @DK: If we simply accept the status quo, without at least discussing better ways forward, how will things change?

  16. KFJ, this opinion does not say what the Halacha is about segregating bus services. I am only pointing out that it is specious to use this opinion to support a position that mixed seating is acceptable. The argument lacks nuance and critical reasoning. You are not the first person to use this source wrongly.
    You can argue that segregated seating is a power ploy by the Haredim and not demanded by basic halacha, but meanwhile there is some Haredi rabbis out there who, aware of this opinion, found that it is unacceptable halachikly to have mixed seating. You can also argue, as DK did, that this isn’t capitalism at work, but meanwhile the buslines are agreeing to segregation on the various haredi routes.

  17. You are not the first person to use this source wrongly.
    I take my cue from Zahava Fisher in the NIF profile who says:

    “I am not aware of a single eminent rabbi who has ever ruled that there must be gender segregation in public places. Even the separation of men and women in Orthodox synagogues is a matter of custom rather than halacha.”

    Debate that as you may, but without further information, your interpretation is no more solid than hers is.
    Furthermore, “the law of the land is the law” and Israeli law has the Basic Laws which include the freedom of movement and religion. The relationship of halakha to civil rights law is the same as living under the United States’ Bill of Rights. (Odd to think that Israeli civil law is cannonized in a distant fashion.)
    But putting halakha and civil law aside entirely, the secular government of Israel shouldn’t subsidize gender segregation. If there are enough haredim to demand segregated buses, then surely there are enough haredim to fund it themselves.

  18. A move like this can have some halachik validity while also being an unnecessary power play. Leveraging American Jewish community pressure to force Egged to change policies that work to keep most people satisfied most of the time is also a power play. I think it’s useful to monitor what people decide to be zealots about.
    At the same time, and I’ve said this before, framing every social situation in Israel as a battle of secular vs. haredi (or variations on this theme) is unnecessary and damaging to everyone. I say the same thing to haredis I know in Israel. We need to stop radicalizing each other with power plays and create dialogue. The fact is, most people in American diaspora know very little about haredi life in Israel, and many haredis have very simplistic notions of American Jews.

  19. 1. I’m sorry, but I don’t give Zahava any more credence in explaining Rabbi Feinstein than I give you. I would suggest further that you and Zahava and Naomi Ragen and whomever else brandishes this opinion have the burden of proving that it allows mixed seating l’chatchila. If you’re going to chastise people for not following a directive, you better make damn sure you know what that directive is.
    As far as I can tell from critically reading this piece, it isn’t ambiguous enough to be read as a suggestion that mixed-seating buses are appropriate. Firstly, the caption makes explicit that it’s talking about bidi’avad scenarios. Secondly, it never endorses mixed seating where it is possible to have segregated seating.
    What is even more telling than the substance of the opinion is its contexts. On the very same page as the opinion, there is another opinion which says that:
    1) mixed dancing is prohibited because it could lead to sexual desire (he doesn’t mention whether this mixed dancing involves physical contact);
    2) it is prohibited to be in a place where women walk around exposed (he mentions where their thighs are exposed — nothing to private) because it is prohibited to glare at a woman’s flesh (“even the small finger”), even without intent to get aroused.
    The way you’re reading the opinion, on the same page that Rabbi Feinstein says that you must avoid mixers and that you cannot put yourself in a situation where you’re going to unintentionally look at exposed flesh, he says that it is ok to set up a dominantly Haredi bus service with mixed seating?
    If that’s not enough to tell you that my interpretation is more solid than hers, here’s Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu requesting that busses be segregated: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/Flash.aspx/138396
    2. As far as your civil rights contention, before I deal with, do you have any basis in Israeli law (a statute, case, etc.) to say that freedom of religion and freedom of movement amount to being able to sit wherever you are on the bus?
    3. What happened to democracy? If the Haredim are citizens and taxpayers, they have a right to choose for the government to fund segregated bus lines.
    Who is really hurt by sitting separately? Women having to sit with other women? Or people who consider this an offense to their religion?

  20. Avigdor wrote,
    At the same time, and I’ve said this before, framing every social situation in Israel as a battle of secular vs. haredi (or variations on this theme) is unnecessary and damaging to everyone
    Excuse me Avigdor, but I was in that community in Israel as a younger person, and that way of thinking was taught to me by the haredim. They taught me there is a “spiritual war” with the friyah. I didn’t learn that from the Liberal and secular Jews.
    We need to stop radicalizing each other with power plays and create dialogue.
    Dialogue? The haredim don’t need no stinking dialogue. They want concession after concession.
    And making nationally owned buses like the south in the 50s is a power play, Avigdor. So is ripping up the the bike paths in Brooklyn.
    Jacob wrote,
    Who is really hurt by sitting separately? Women having to sit with other women? Or people who consider this an offense to their religion?
    Where do you think you are? Who do you think you are speaking to? Are you oblivious to what bus segregation represents to Americans?
    Hey Avigdor, is this the “dialogue” you want to see more of? We should spend time trying to understand each other, right? Tell me Avigdor, does the dialogue work best before the haredim riot, bleach and beat women (and protect the culprits, of course), or does it happen afterwards?

  21. Where do you think you are? Who do you think you are speaking to? Are you oblivious to what bus segregation represents to Americans?
    Israel is not America.
    Religious sensibilities are not the same as racism.

  22. They taught me there is a “spiritual war” with the friyah.
    And they would have no reason to say such a thing, right? Ever read Haaretz? Your solution for dealing with a million Israeli Jews is what, then? Affirm their worst suspicions and by attacking them and what then… kill them? What is your big plan here to calm people down and let sanity prevail?
    I didn’t learn that from the Liberal and secular Jews
    Well, I DID learn that from liberal and secular Jews. Here’s what one of them said to me a short while back…
    See, you don’t understand what it means for a Jew to be a ‘Jew’, because you don’t understand what it is that makes Jews special. To the extent Jews are culturally special, it’s because we uphold cultural traits — outspokenness, iconoclasm, internationalism, cosmopolitanism, a confrontational devotion to truth, a defiance of social mores we deem ill-founded, a desire to better the world — that are ultimately beneficial to society and to ourselves. The culture of ‘true’ Judaism produces better people, and a better world.
    Orthodox Judaism, and a belief in god more generally, is absolutely bankrupt in the above respect. Theism has been conclusively discredited, and the particular cultural mores of the orthodox are regressive and counterproductive both to those who practice it and to the larger world.
    Look at Israel if you don’t believe me — you have the Orthodox breeding like cockroaches (the term fits well), contributing nothing to Israel, and doing their best to destroy it from within. They are parasites, plain and simple, holding back both Israel and Judaism from their proper greatness.
    My Judaism is superior to your form of Judaism.
    My godlessness is superior to your god.
    My values are superior to your values.
    The numbers and assets of my side are superior to yours.
    God does not exist, and if he did, a true and just god would conclude that we were the superior heirs of the Jewish tradition.
    We will fight you, in the larger battle for the soul of Judaism and if necessary in the streets. And we will win.
    Be a Jew.
    Give up your pathetic belief in god.

    That, my friend, I DID learn from a liberal Reform Jew.
    when Haredi Jews are beaten in the streets of Jerusalem by the cops for protesting peacefully, no one gives a shit. When they are hosed with water like animals for peacefully marching, Haaretz doesn’t report is an atrocity and B’tselem doesn’t rush to take pictures. The Haredim don’t run Israel. Secular socialist liberals run Israel, and they have been more than happy to take an iron fist to the Haredim on occasion.
    Dialogue? The haredim don’t need no stinking dialogue. They want concession after concession.
    That’s funny. They say the same thing about the seculars.
    And making nationally owned buses like the south in the 50s is a power play, Avigdor. So is ripping up the the bike paths in Brooklyn.
    I don’t understand the bike path reference. Comparing separate seating arrangements between observant Jewish men and women, provided as a courtesy by a private firm, to Jim Crow laws is absurd. Forcing Egged to eliminate the tiny minority of busses which have separate seating is no less a power play than asking for them, as I said before.
    Tell me Avigdor, does the dialogue work best before the haredim riot, bleach and beat women (and protect the culprits, of course), or does it happen afterwards?
    You can set up whatever straw men arguments you want. No one in the haredi leadership has defended such actions. These are problems that I talk to haredim about. These are problems that I encourage you to talk to haredim about. While you’re at it, maybe you’ll learn something about the discrimination they suffer in everything from employment to army service.
    You can get whatever you want off your chest. That’s fine, get it out. It won’t change that we have to deal with reality, which is that a large, growing and disenfranchised portion of Israeli society can no longer be stuffed into ghettos away from the beach and the tourists. These are human beings, with needs, desires and aspirations. They don’t see things the way that you do, but they are not beyond engagement and reconciliation.
    Many of you on Jewschool would eagerly agree to the previous paragraph if it were written of Arabs, but your fellow Jews… it’s beyond the pale. That’s something the Haredim see also – how the liberals are bending over backwards to make concessions to the Arabs, meanwhile hosing down and beating haredim like animals.
    Think.

  23. Luckily slavery, racism, and sexism, aren’t at issue here then. You yourself belief that this is just a power struggle.

  24. 1. Whatever you think about separate seating being “mehadrin” I doubt any respectable human being thinks it is “mehadrin” to beat women when they sit in front of the bus, to force pregnant woman to sit in the nausea inducing back of the bus, or to make elderly women stand in the back when there are no seats in the front. I oppose segregation and unequal treatment, but perhaps worse is the vigilante violence employed to enforce this false piety.
    2. Yes, it is the capitalist system responding. But not in the way listed above. Haredim have long been free to run their own busses, but refuse to pay the licensing tariffs required by the ministry of transportation for any transit service. By insisting that it is now an ultimate transgression to sit on a normal bus, they help create the demand for their own businesses. And the fact that they can charge cheaper rates because they don’t pay the tariffs doesnt hurt business either.

  25. Jacob,
    For clarity’s sake: in October, the special Ministry of Transport committee recommended a year-long trial in which men and women could choose to enter the buses by separate doors and sit separately, but stressed that all seating on public buses must be voluntarily and no coercion must be used. The committee further stressed that there is no separate, publicly-run bus system for haredi communities, and every member of the public has the right to use buses in accordance with basic human rights and the principle of equality.
    This would seem to be a contest between halakha and civil law. But since there is no halakha mandating segregated seating in public places, it is a contest between religious preference and civil rights law. Which is no contest. In addition to numerous laws against gender discrimination, the Basic Laws include the right to human dignity and liberty.
    Halakha also says you can sell your daughter into slavery. Which by all rights, is illegal in Israel, whether or not a Jewish authority said it’s possible.
    The bus lines should end. I’m still amazed we’re even arguing this.

  26. I don’t follow this issue regularly, so I only intended to chime in on the misreading of R’ Feinstein. Nonetheless, this has taken a twist and there is much to say about your analysis of the situation. You will forgive me if I’m not familiar with the latest Ministry of Transportation policies or the day to day goings on in Bet Shemesh and Jerusalem.
    From what I can tell, there is nothing legal about a trial plan for bus arrangements. It does not have the force of law. Even assuming for arguments sake that Halacha mandated compliance with every law of the country, this isn’t a law. In other words, this policy doesn’t set out rights and doesn’t establish what the High Court would decide in the situation.
    You, therefore, cannot say what is legal and what is illegal. You also cannot define what rights like freedom of religion (didn’t see anything in Basic Law about it, but whatever) and freedom of movement mean in the context of the bus segregation dispute. You’re simply reading into the law all sorts of things which aren’t there. You are taking all sorts of vague rights and giving them meaning that you can’t prove they have. An all of this for what? So that you can discriminate against Haredim legitimately asserting their democratic rights.
    Don’t you find your reading of dina d’malchuta dina unreasonable? Are you saying that a group cannot assert its democratic right to protest against laws and to seek to change laws? I’ll bet these rights have been construed to exist under the Basic Law. Should you lose your rights to change the law the same way every citizen can because you abide by the Torah? Do you have a Torah source to prove this subjugation requirement?
    Next, the Basic Law emphatically states as its premise that Israel is a Jewish state and upholds Jewish values. True, it doesn’t express a preference for Halacha. It does, however, prove that there is no separation of church and state in Israel. This means that there is nothing wrong with the government funding something which expresses someone’s halachik preference.
    I am no scholar in the Basic Law, but I can tell you that in the hierarchy of American constitutional law (you were the one that brought the Bill of Rights into this), religion gets greater protection than gender. In other words, if America didn’t have a separation of church and state, religious needs would trump gender needs. If the law in Israel is somewhat analogous, religious needs on public buses – where they can easily be accommodated – would trump any notion of gender discrimination.
    Which raises a fundamental question: who is being discriminated against by not being accommodated? If there is a compelling halachik preference for separate seating (will address this later), and the state tells you that even though your group makes up the majority of riders, we refuse to accommodate your needs – that is religious discrimination. The state has no compelling interest not to let you have your way and it is not overly burdensome on the state.
    How about a young, healthy, non-pregnant woman*? Is she being discriminated against by having to sit among other women in the back of the bus? She does not lose anything but the fifteen feet it took to walk there. Furthermore, she is not forced to practice Haredi Judaism by sitting amongst other women because that is not something that she would otherwise find offensive. This isn’t gender discrimination any more than having separate bathrooms.
    When balancing religious needs and a woman’s seating preference, religious needs must win.
    Unless you can show otherwise, these vague Basic Law rights that you keep citing have no meaning. Even where they establish some sort of firm right – like a right to sit in the front row of the bus – they will likely not overcome a religious discrimination challenge.
    Halakha also says you can sell your daughter into slavery. Which by all rights, is illegal in Israel, whether or not a Jewish authority said it’s possible.
    This is laughable. Halacha allowing you to do or not to do something (reshut) is not the same thing as Halacha prohibiting something (issur).
    You still have not addressed my argument about the scope of Rabbi Feinstein’s opinion. If the general attitude of halacha is to prohibit intermingling, you have the burden of proving – before deigning to tell rabbis what halacha is – to show an exception to the rule and to show its applicability in the particular circumstances. Flashing this opinion does no more than show that their may be some situations where it is permitted. You haven’t proved it to be applicable given the questions I raised.
    * I admit that some sort of concession has to be made for women who are old, ill, pregnant, or otherwise infirm.

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