Israelis Confront Demands Of Orthodox Jews For Segregation of Buses and Public Spaces

We have previously discussed attacks by orthodox Jews on women and others in Israel. The demand for segregation of the sexes however has triggered a national debate after accounts of women being asked to sit in the back of buses. There is also an outcry over Orthodox Jews ripping down any advertisements showing women in public areas.


Orthodox Jews represent only 10 percent of the Israeli population but, due to the country’s dysfunctional constitutional system, small political parties exercise exaggerated power over the political system which produces coalition governments. Orthodox rabbis also retain considerable power over defining who is Jewish as well as other aspects of Israeli life (as also here and here). We have also had such conflicts in the United States over the degree to which religious Orthodox communities are accommodated by the government (here and and here and here).

The ultra-orthodox block has been increasingly vocal in its demands for segregation, including a recent incident where religious soldiers walked out of a military event because women were allowed to sing — which is contrary to Jewish law. Even Hilary Clinton found herself erased to satisfy Orthodox readers recently.

Tanya Rosenblit, 28, recounted how one Orthodox Jewish man not only demanded that she move to the back of a bus but stood in front of the bus to prevent it from moving. Notably, the police officer called to the scene asked Rosenbilt “to respect” others and move to the back. She refused and the man declined to ride on the bus. Now, Orthodox leaders are telling supporters that they cannot insist on segregation but they are demanding that the government supply segregated buses for Orthodox riders.

This is the problem of a constitutional system that does not require a separation of Temple and State. It is part of the inherent conflict in Israel which has a large civil liberties and secularist population (here). Such a sectarian line of buses should be a non-starter, but the government routinely enforces religious values, as we have discussed earlier. To its credit the government has come down solidly against such forced segregation, though it has not answered the new demand for separate segregated bus lines.

Part of the problem would be rectified if someone standing in front of a bus like this man was arrested instead of accommodated by a police officer who asks the woman to respect Orthodox beliefs.

Source: Haaretz as first seen on Reddit.

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49 thoughts on “Israelis Confront Demands Of Orthodox Jews For Segregation of Buses and Public Spaces

  1. Wow! Israel is becoming the South of the 40’s and 50’s! This is an example of radical religion taking over the secular government. We are heading in this very same direction when the Administration discounts the recommendations of its own scientists and prevents teens from accessing the morning after pill.

  2. Yeah, I’m waiting for the trolls to show up here & tell us this is just how Jews are and we are only fooling ourselves if we think we can coexist with them. You know the trolls, they like to show up when there is a post about Islamic insanity. Where is Tootie when you need her? ;-{D

  3. Stories about ultra-orthodox men finding women who wear pantsuits or short sleeves or have male friends or who share public transportation so threatening always amuse me, even though the extremes they go to, such as throwing acid on women, are not amusing at all.

    But you have to wonder why such self-righteous men can’t control their sexual urges long enough to pass a woman on the street whose arms are visible or to share a bus ride with a woman. Women’s sexuality is extremely threatening to these men, apparently because they are incapable of controlling their sexual urges, even when the situations present no sexual overtones at all.

  4. I think the general question posed is how much diversity can be accommodated in a society? What are the limits and the techniques for expanding those limits, assuming that expansion of diversity is good.
    One problem obviously is where one group wants to prohibit activities that another group wants to engage in. Can “separate but equal” facilities satisfy both groups, and if that not feasible, how about “separate”.

  5. “due to the country’s dysfunctional constitutional system, small political parties exercise exaggerated power over the political system which produces coalition governments. Orthodox rabbis also retain considerable power over defining who is Jewish as well as other aspects of Israeli life”

    JT has this right about how the constitutional system in Israel has caused much dysfunction. It must be further clarified though that the fuss is being cause by the Ultra-Orthodox groups labelled “Haredi”

    “Haredi Judaism is often translated as ultra-orthodox Judaism,
    although Haredi Jews themselves object to this translation. They
    simply refer to themselves as Jews, and they consider more liberal
    forms of Judaism to be unauthentic.

    According to Haredi Jews, authentic Jews believe God wrote the Torah,
    strictly observe Jewish Law (halacha), and refuse to modify Judaism to
    meet contemporary needs. The word Haredi derives from the Hebrew
    word for fear (harada) and can be interpreted as “one who trembles in
    awe of God” (Isaiah 66:2,5).” http://judaism.about.com
    /od/denominationsofjudaism/a/haredi.htm

    This group has a wide influence over eve Orthodox Jewry, because they are considered to be more pious. Jewish Law, “halacha”, is laid out in the 613 commandments listed in the Torah and in 2,000+ years of explanatory Rabbinic decisions. These commandments have been defined for those living Jewish life by books like the “Mishneh” by Moses Maimonides. One is said to take the “yoke” of Judaism upon themselves when they come of age. Since practice of “halacha” is so important to Judaism, those who come close to fully practicing it are considered by many Jews, especially the Orthodox as somehow holier, more pious. Therefore there is hesitance to criticize the Haredi, when they get crazy like this.

    I come from both a matrilineal and patrilineal family that were practicing Orthodox Jews, I know that the Ultra-Orthodox view has permeated Judaism to a much greater degree in the last 60 years and has gone beyond what used to be normative Orthodox practices. Since this version of Judaism eschews modernity and tends to gather within insular communities, they view any Jew not keeping their practices as not really being a Jew despite their heredity.

    This insular attitude has developed into a real problem for Israel and this group wields power far beyond their numbers. When trying to understand where they are coming from a non-Jew should look at the power wielded in American politics by Fundamentalist Christians and do to Israel’s constitutional irregularity, increase it by 25%.

  6. fear not the trolls, for you can’t spend your life worried about them.

    To the topic: Anyone in their own home should be able to practice their religion as they see fit. Tearing down advertisements that society has deemed acceptable should be punishable by law as vandalism, no different than if it were done for other reasons.

    This is however, the area where I hear the most complaints from either real anti-semites or people who are headed that way if they don’t get educated. I’ve lived in many cities in the south that historically don’t have a notable Jewish community. It doesn’t surprise me to find many of the Evangelicals very ignorant of both customs, culture, and history while they claim to be in favor of Israel (purely because they want the land for themselves when Jesus delivers it to them instead of the Jewish people. It surprises me even less when a raving anti-semite in faux progressive clothing only highlights the “segregationist nature of being Jewish” as one said. This is typical of the “spotlight fallacy” where the extreme becomes the whole because nobody bothers to get to know the whole or at least some parts greater than the spotlighted extreme.

    I remember the first time I went to NYC. I got of the C train and was standing at the platform waiting for another train when a young Hasidic man came and started berating a young woman for her appearance. He called her a slut and said she should be ashamed and honed in on her in a way that made my Scottish blood boil. You don’t talk that way to a woman in my presence, I thought. But I stopped to observe because she reacted with a familiarity. She understood the standard he was laying down in a community she also identified with and though she was clearly asserting her own voice through clothing, she felt a tie to this traditional view or she would have reacted much more like the sisters I have who would have told him to shove it. I observed a community checking itself, for right or wrong. It’s been 30 years since then and I still remember both of their faces very well.

    Truth is that the South has the same ideals in shaming women for being expressive in clothing and manner, its couched as Christian goodness and all. It has a similar patriarchal stench to it but is also coming from an attempt to share modesty for all involved, I hope. As a very secular person, I do appreciate the wisdom of moderation and observant modesty. I abhor needless shame.

    The good news for all involved is that the diaspora is far greater than its extremes. Though these fools who wish to mold society to fit their personal views will be used to represent a whole, I know better and am glad to know not only very progressive Israelis but that the society at large isn’t caught up in these Patriarchal anachronisms. In time, the undue influence will give way to reason. I am sure faith in a higher being will remain intact.

    As someone above pointed out, I can look to American Christianity and its influence over all sorts of laws and how time is eroding its undue influence. Still can’t buy liquor on Sunday in many states. Still have laws on the books that are based solely in biblical principles first and secular law after. Time ferrets out these miscreants. From alcohol to sex toys, some states have some amazing restrictions based solely on the most “orthodox” believers in the community.

    Just like the extremists in Islam, Christianity and those radical Buddhists, there comes a time where one has to ask, “are these folks for real?”

  7. The reaction here seems to be mostly that this is an easy though reprehensible problem since “they are wrong and we are right.”
    If this happy certainty were to be removed, then how should one proceed?
    I think, from the above comments, that one of the dangers to be avoided is violence, but what triggers violence, what are the warning signs, and how can violence be contained?
    On the other hand, when should the community “admit defeat” and break up?

  8. Jon, you say “This is the problem of a constitutional system that does not require a separation of Temple and State” and you also say “due to the country’s dysfunctional constitutional system”. I was going to ask you to describe how their system was dysfunctional, but the first quote must be your answer to that question.

    I believe that this conception is incorrect. The US Constitution does not require a separation of Temple and State, or Church and State for that matter. Our Constitution, in this case our Bill of RIghts, regulates the State and the State alone.
    The founders removed from the government that source of trouble they found in the English government; they removed the Cross from the Crown, and let the parsons be.

  9. “On the other hand, when should the community “admit defeat” and break up?”

    The GOP will very soon be asking themselves this exact question.

  10. “they removed the Cross from the Crown, and let the parsons be.”

    Too bad the parsons cannot be content with that, and not leverage their tax-free status with demonstrably non-religious speech, using it to strangle at least one of America’s major political parties.

    Time are changing. The parsons, as constructed, are not being replaced. Those who come after are born into larger universes, have more options, and can debunk Pastor in 3.5 seconds from the palm of the hand from anywhere on the Good and Flat Earth.

    p.s. to j.t.: Thanks for Representing on MSNBC today.

  11. “The US Constitution does not require a separation of Temple and State, or Church and State for that matter.”

    Completely, factually and legally wrong, martin.

    The Establishment Clause was designed to prohibit the federal government from declaring and financially supporting a national religion, or as both Madison and Jefferson argued for and as Jefferson put it, created “a wall of separation between church and state.”

  12. No, martin. As long as they aren’t breaking any other laws, what a pastor does or says on his or her own time and dime is their business. What I said in respect to government was clear.

  13. @ Michael Spindell and JT

    This is a big hot button issue in Israel right now. The secular Israelis, who I know well, are pissed as hell at the Hard right Israeli religious faction. It should be noted that only a minority of the Orthodox in Israel are Haredi. Haredi is not synonymous with Orthodox Judaism. If it was, we would have protests in for instance Potomac, MD with a view on segregating men and women. There are many Orthodox jews in Potomac. They are not crazy wacko Haredis. The Haredi element consists mostly of ignorant Hassidic sects that for instance will pour paint on a woman if they think she is dressed immodestly. These are not the acts of sane people. I have been on many buses in Israel where the Orthodox and even the minority Haredi Jews

    Also Michael, although I do agree with you (as a formerly Orthodox Jewish person) that mainstream Orthodox Judaism is moving too far to the right, you have Haredi and Orthodox Judaism mixed up. Also, Maimonides wrote Mishneh Torah, a fascinating mix of medical, religious, political and social commentary. Among Maimonides beliefs is that modern day courts should not impose the Death Penalty even in a case of clear murder because he was afraid that judges would use precedent to declare the death penalty in less clear cases. The “Mishna” is a 2000 year old code of jewish law that precedes the Talmud and is a very condensed version of non-legally binding jewish religious law. The Talmud expounds on the Mishna at great length. I have studied the Talmud for over 10 years and I continue to do so, despite my lack of religious action. The Talmud is Jewish Legal Theory. It is, as the Mishna that precedes it, not legally binding. The Shulchan Aruch is legally binding and is a huge work that continues to be modified to this day.

    I feel Michael that you are ambivalent towards your faith and that influences heavily your comments here and those regarding Israel. You describe Orthodox Judaism as “insular” when in fact the vast majority of Orthodox Jews that I know are very open and hospitable people. The only people I have found they really don’t like are ex-religious types like me. :) Also, your assertion that they don’t believe that heredity determines Judaism is false. I have yet to encounter anyone who believes that. In fact religious Judaism believes that once you are Jewish you are stuck and you are Jewish forever even if you wear a cross and speak in tongues.

  14. Commoner you are correct in your statements regarding the “Shulchan Orech, Talmud and Mishnah”. I was in an aged brain muse and literally not able to call the words to mind at the time which is either ominous, or typical given my age.

    Where you misunderstood my comment was in thinking I confuse the Haredi with the Orthodox. The Orthodox are neither cultlike, nor insular in general. There is much about their lifestyle that is quite admirable. I obviously don’t feel the same way about many of the Haredi, who are quite insular. My point though is because of the wider fences put around the commandments by the Haredi, they have become intolerant of fellow Je ws. The Orthodox who respect adherence to Jewish law are hesitant to call the Haredi out when they become overbearing, which I think is a mistake.

    Martin I am not at all ambivalent to Judaism. I love being a Jew and I’m proud to say that there has not been one moment of my life where thist has not been so. However, I am a deist Jew because to me Deism melds faith in a creative power guiding the Universe, but admits humans are impossibly unable to understand that Power’s motivations or intent.

  15. Martin,
    My oldest daughter and my son-in-law are Conservadox. Having stayed with them on numerous occasions I deeply respect their lifestyle and also their commitment to tikkun olam. They are raising a wonderful family. How could I be disapproving of their chosen beliefs?

  16. Gene, isn’t Jon’s point that the “country’s dysfunctional constitutional system” is because there isn’t “a wall of separation” in Israel. The Temple has influence in government there, as here. My point, or really question, is what is the nature of that influence? Does the Temple, in Israel, have constitutional powers that other organizations in Israel don’t have? The Temple has social influence no doubt, but is their influence rooted in a dysfunction in their Constitution? I can’t say it more clearly.

    The Temple (ie AIPAC) has influence in the USA, and Obama famously said to them “Everything” in June 2008. Is the Temple more entrenched, and here I mean Constitutionally, in Israel?

  17. martin,

    No, you were addressing the U.S. Constitution when you erroneously said, “The US Constitution does not require a separation of Temple and State, or Church and State for that matter.” That is what I was addressing so there is no need for you to act as if you’re re-parsing something.

    “Does the Temple, in Israel, have constitutional powers that other organizations in Israel don’t have?”

    No idea. I’ve never read the Israeli founding documents other than the U.N. charter creating it. It is my understanding that they don’t have a unified constitution but rather a collection of documents based on local polities and laws created by the Knesset that their Supreme Court interprets in place of a formal constitution. As a matter of theory, I think such a system would invite greater influence by various religious bodies by 1) not being formalized and thus manipulable from multiple levels of government and 2) lacking a specific legal equivalent of the Establishment Clause to fall back on. Given the apparent influence of orthodoxy, I’m going to assume that second criteria is not found anywhere in Israeli law or it would be operating as a brake on said influence, but would gladly accept clarification from an Israeli attorney.

    In re AIPAC in the U.S., that’s a different issue than the separation of church and state. Equally as damaging as bypassing the separation of church and state, ultimately their influence isn’t rooted in religion, but in political money. A reflection that our campaign finance laws are little more than formalized graft. AIPAC is an evil upon our system – they’ve twice harbored spies used against us and yet are still allowed to operate – but they are no more an evil influence on our system than Exxon or any other group encouraging and participating in the corrupting practice of influence peddling.

  18. Well Jon’s words were “This is the problem of a constitutional system that does not require a separation of Temple and State”, and you echoed the idea of separation.

    The word “separation” is an over-statement of what the Constitution requires. The image of separating two fighters, say, comes to mind – putting a distance between them. That is not what the Constitution calls for. The first amendment is all one sided. The government has to keep away from religion. Religion does not have to keep away from government, or from trying to influence government.

    It seemed to me that Jon felt that the influence of the extreme religious groups was a sign of a constitutional dysfunction in Israel. And he feels, I am reading into it, that that is a problem that we don’t have here in the USA, because of the “separation of church and state”.

    I feel that that is more a wish than an accurate thought. My guess is that in both the US and in Israel, religious groups have the same tools available to advocate for their views, that any difference is not a Constitutional one, and that if there is a Constitutional difference, that that difference is not the cause for the dysfunction that he notices.

    My opinion at the moment.

  19. I see that Jon has another assertion in there: “small political parties exercise exaggerated power over the political system which produces coalition governments”.

    I am not sure to what extent Jon feels that the existence of multiple parties which require a coalition government is part of the the constitutional dysfunction, but our “two party” system is not looking that great at the moment, as others have noted.

  20. It’s even simpler.
    Separation of state from church means that the government will not be involved in theological matters. The state still is going to be involved in sorting out, or in trying to sort out, situations where one group of people cannot get along with another group of people, for whatever reason.

  21. “I am not sure to what extent Jon feels that the existence of multiple parties which require a coalition government is part of the the constitutional dysfunction”

    Martin,

    I think you are being obtuse and I don’t think of you as an obtuse person. Peculiar to Israel is the existence of Ultra-Religious parties, which benefit from the fact that their adherents vote as a completely unified block. From a mathematical standpoint regimented block voting can accomplish wonders in an electoral context. These parties can then round out a coalition government, by making demands upon those wishing to form one.
    In Israel these demands are often in the form of cabinet seats. This is a potential weakness of all parliamentary systems. However, I agree the two party system hasn’t worked out particularly well here either.

  22. The haredi want their own segregated buses? Fine, they can go buy themselves some buses and pay the drivers themselves, and then they get to decide who rides them and where. The haredi spend enough time leeching off the government (and therefore those in Israel who actually work and pay taxes rather than attending state-funded yeshivot for half their lives), they don’t need to cost the state even more money.
    That said, I’d be more than happy to have haredi men off the buses, I don’t like being told to get to the back of the bus and I don’t like having to sit anywhere near people who think it’s a good idea to wear fur hats and heavy wool coats in the summer, and who seem to be convinced that deodorants are satan.

  23. Mike Spindell – The point is that Israel REFUSES to institute a working Constitution.
    One orthodox minister is on record stating that “..even if the Constitution will include only the Ten Commandments-we still will oppose it.”

    Since than he spent few years in Israel’s VIP prison for kickbacks and briberies and other niceties which the Orthodox Law condone, but the secular State, the enemy, does not.

  24. Diogenes,
    One of the common mistakes people make at their peril is to trust religious leaders, simply by their position. The assumption follows that their religiosity makes them ethical and moral. Many, many times this is a misapprehension.

  25. Gene H – Your posts seem to insist on mainly one thing – that the phrase “wall of separation” is a suitable figure of speech for the relationship that exists between the church and the state in the USA. Do you think the phrase goes beyond “suitable” and arrives at “perfection”? If not, describe the aspects of that figure that fall short, in your view. I am trying to see if our positions differ, and where.

    Isn’t “wall of separation” redundant? How does it differ from”wall”?

  26. Diogenes – Why is a “constitution” essential; why does Israel need one?

    I am surprised that an Orthodox minister would hold that the ten commandments need to be approved by the Knesset to be law, and if they are already the law, what’s the harm in passing them?

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