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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Divided Sexes on Buses in Israel Not Jewish Law

Nadene Goldfoot
Israel's greatest problem right now is one with Iran's threat of extinction.  To live under such a black cloud as knowing that your neighbors are constantly planning your demise is harrowing. Israelis have already lived under chemical threats when everyone was issued gas masks and told how to seal a room for protection.   Southern Israel has been living with bombardment of mortars, rockets and missiles for years.  It's taking its toll on some of the northern community, especially the ultra orthodox, in my opinion.

They do not speak for the whole of Israel, but are mostly found in parts of Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria.  They have started such things as overdoing expectations of behavior in order to be perfect, in my estimation.  The idea that they must be perfect in order to attain the assistance of Ha Shem (G-d), I think is the cause of some of their latest actions.  If only all of Israel would follow the Torah, they would be under G-d's protection.  They are setting the example, but are doing more than Jewish Law expects. 

I am speaking about such things as sitting in buses with separated genders.  Men sitting in front, women in back and using the back door.  Both Judaism and Islam pay particular attention to the sexual attraction issue and do their best to prevent it, in this case over zealously.  Both religious groups have the women cover their hair with a scarf, and Jewish women might wear a wig, the style determined by the religious group.  This is because men are attracted to a woman's hair, as I understand it, and thus a married woman covers her hair.  It used to be that Jewish women living in a foreign country was the victim of rape by the landowner, who loved to take a girl just before her marriage.  To make this advance unwanted, it became a custom for a woman to shave her head just before she married so that she would be ugly in the eyes of this landowner.  Then the scarf was a necessity. 

In 2010 this became an issue when it was found that the Haredi (ultra orthodox) population centers were using Mehadrin ( ultra kosher) bus lines where their laws could be enforced.  These are buses, usually cheaper to use than the regular ones, who adhere to the expectations of this religious community where women dress modestly, do not carry radios with secular music, and have ads censored in the buses.  There were 56 such buses in 28 cities.  By 2011, when the government found out about it, the whole thing was abolished.  Update from Wall Street Journal: 1/20/12  Evidently the secularism has been practiced for the past 14 years, getting more stringent.  The government has given the buses a one year probation on a voluntary basis.   . 
 Public Announcement  from Egged Bus :

14.12.11 According to the High Court of Justice order (HCJ 746/07) that discussed the cancellation of gender-separation arrangement, every passenger may sit wherever he/she chooses (except seats designated for disabled persons). Harassing a passenger on this matter may constitute a criminal offense.  This applies to all routes aside from those where seats are reserved in advance. 

The Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar spoke about this after Hillary Clinton made the international newspapers admonishing Israel for such practices as men and women being segregated on a bus.  He explained that this is not in Jewish law and is not a part of Israel's Jewish law.  It was being done by certain groups on their own. 

It's unfortunate to me that Hillary came along at the crux of this issue and it became international derogatory news for Israel.  She compared this situation to the Jim Crow South of forcing Blacks to sit apart from whites.  This is so different.  It is the people themselves that wanted to sit this way.  They weren't being forced.  Any woman who rebelled at this could have left the Haradi group she was living with.  If the bus stopped and I, a non Haradi woman, chose to board it, I would understand what I was getting into and would simply sit with the women.  After all, I was not forced to board and did it out of expediency or the cheap fare, whichever came first.   Then later I could contact my Rabbi and ask about it, being this is a situation not practiced  from 1980 to end of 1985 when I lived in Israel. 

I don't feel that anyone living in the states has to get all uptight about this.  We're sitting in our homes in very safe conditions and have no idea of the stress that Israelis are living under.  Israelis are most intelligent and have already taken care of this problem so that Hillary Clinton and others do not have to act on it or to give any lessons to anyone involved.  Rabbi Shlomo already interceded, and that's as it should be.  All of Israel's problems should be this easy to solve. 


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