Apparently tacit understandings between bus company Egged and the capital's haredi community allow the passengers on perdominantly-haredi routes to designate the rear of the bus as the unofficial women's section. The driver ignored her constant harassment, doing nothing to intervene; neither did other passengers.
Today, the haredi position is defended by Shira Leibowitz Schmidt. While not condoning the passengers' rudeness, she argues that declining societal moral standards require greater stringency in separating the sexes. Were Egged not to cooperate with the haredi sector's voluntary separation, it would lose a substantial market segment to private haredi-run bus lines.
Readers, in letters to the editor, mostly back Ragen and share her outrage.
This episode raises several distinct issues:
- Does Halacha indeed require separation of the sexes on public transportation, to the extend of a separate women's section? If so, why has it only recently become an issue for the haredi community?
- Is Egged justified in accommodating this demand of the haredi community, at least on bus lines on which they are the main passengers (over 95% according to Egged)? Does it matter that Egged's franchise to run Jerusalem's city buses is awarded by the state? If the haredim demand separate seating on buses, should they be required to operate them privately? Must they choose between public transportation and their beliefs?
- If Egged is tacitly running separated bus routes, should they at least inform the public explicitly?
- Were the offended haredi passengers right to ask Ragen to move to the "women's section", had they done so politely? Was she right to refuse?
- What does it say about the haredi community that no one protested the rude passenger's continued harassment of Ragen? What does it say about Egged that the driver failed to intervene? What does it say about Ragen that she took this incident to the newspaper?
Honestly, I'm not sure who's in the right here (though the harassing passenger is clearly in the wrong).
Update (August 9): More letters, including Egged's response and Ragen's response.