Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The people on the bus go round and round...

Best-selling novelist and occasional haredi-basher Naomi Ragen touched off the latest religious-affairs kerfuffle in Sunday's Jerusalem Post. After innocently boarding an empty public bus in downtown Jerusalem, she was harassed by haredi passengers demanding she move to the back of the bus with the rest of the women. Modern-Orthodox Ragen refused to budge, demanding to know where the Shulchan Aruch requires that women sit in the back of a bus.

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.


Rachel Ann said...

I really don't see the point in a situation like this; the women would have to pass the men getting on to the bus and at least occasionally, getting off the bus. What of women who want to ride with a child of those between ages, when perhaps the women think the child too old to sit with them, but to young to be off by themselves? Do the mother's have to go into the men's area to collect the child? Imagine a child immersed in something and mom gets off,with child still aboard. Or a father with his daughter, or husband/wife (perhaps one needing physical care from the other) or older/younger brother/sister combination.

And this does nothing for the problem of billboards and scantily clad women outside of the bus. And even if the men stay only in one place or go from one Charedi sheltered area to another, the sites will still be there; outside on the street, passing right in front of them on the way to the back of the bus.

So me: Egged wrong to not take the harrassing passenger to task, the harrassing passenger, obviously wrong in my book, and as far as Naomi Regen publishing this? What about you, me and the other people blogging this story? I did hesitate, but did it anyway, because I wanted to bring out a particular view.

A bus is not a moving shul; I really don't see the legitamcy or sense in having separate seating on a bus.

Rivka Reiser said...

I am a religious zionist by all definitions. I am not Charedi. I have been using the Charedi bus for years running the routes Kiriat Ata -Bnai-Brak or Jerusalem. The first time I boarded the route I was about to sit in the front when I was asked politely to move to the back. I didn't have a problem with this as it is a service set up maily for the Charidim and those are their requests. The women certaily walk by the man to and from the entrance of the bus and that is accepted with no qualms. The rules are not as stringent as Charidi bashers would like it to look. Men sit with their wives anywhere and mothers with their children sit together. It should be pointed out that only the first 4 rows are reserved for men. As an observant Jew I find it more modest for women to sit behind the men especially as a lot of the women carry with them babies and sometimes have to nurse them.
I have never been hastled or have seen anyone else hastled.
Note that when charidim travel on regular Egged lines they abide by the accepted rules so there is no reason when someone not Charidi aboards Charide routes they should not abide by the accepted rules.
Yes, the lines used to be run for yearsprivately but Egged was the one that wanted the monopoy . Before Egged took over it is noteworthy that the prices of the routes were a fair bit cheaper.

Alberto said...

I only have to say that regarding Human Rights Israel does seem to be behind countries which are much lower in the scale of things.

Being religious does not allow anyone to denigrate or segregate others. On the contrary, it should mean love and understanding.

This is truly outrageous and a shame to read. Every jew in the world should worry about these abuses and express their indignation. I know not all jews are like this and I hope they all stop their help to the state of Israel until these abuses cease to exist in that country.

Kingronster said...

Lets get a few things clear.
1. There is no god.
2. What these people are doing could be expected in countries like Iran and Afganistan NOT in a democracy like Israel.
3. If I told you that god told me that I had to walk around with a skirt on just below my chin (I guess like the pope does!) and shoot everyone I saw with a water pistol three times in the forehead would it be acceptable to do this? No.

Ok. So if I go on a PUBLIC BUS then I should have the right to sit where the hell I like. These religious people deserve NO respect. I would recommend that they are banned from the buses for looking ridiculous and smelling bad... why is it the men in black also stink... is it in the bible that they cannot where Deodorant? Its time to stop accepting and approving of the religious.

Irrational and deluded people believe in god. I think that we need to get these irrational and deluded people of the streets (and out of our governments). Lock them up and throw away the key.

If you are Secular Jewish be worried be very worried because you can no longer look at the muslim community as any more dangerous and ridiculous than your own religious community.

It makes you want to sit in the front of the bus drawing pictures of mohammed when you read stories like this.