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Despite High Court ruling, gender segregation in Israel only expanding

The police will not prevent segregation in Jerusalem this year – instead, the Chief of Police will even join in

The High Court of Justice (HCJ), no doubt with a stern visage, ruled today (Hebrew) that gender segregation in the streets of the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighbourhood of Mea Shearim is no longer to be tolerated – starting next year. But despite a rather similar decision of the Court last year, which the police does not enforce, the segregation continues unabated. The commander of the Jerusalem Police District, Major General Nisso Shaham, said that images of segregation are “shocking sights”, but his promise – that next year “we’ll see far less harsh images” – is not quite reassuring. One should note that the judges did not order the police to end the segregation, which reaches extraordinary levels during the Sukkot Holiday – right now.

Gender segregation is a relatively new phenomenon in Jewish life: It’s been with us for about a decade, possibly a few years more. Strict ultra-Orthodox, particularly Hassidic Jews, claim the very presence of women (or girls, often very young girls) is disturbing to them, as it fills them with impure thoughts. Segregation takes basically two forms: Public transportation segregation, when the women are obliged to sit at the end of the bus, which was endorsed by the courts (who turned a blind eye to the coercion necessary for it to take place); and the much more recent phenomenon of street segregation, where women are obliged to walk on one part of the street only. This abomination, which the courts declared illegal, has been around for some three years, and is still limited in scope.

I can understand the police, sort of. It is not actually interested in protecting the civil rights of women, or civil rights in general; it is interested in quiet, and emphasizes order much more than law. The last thing it needs is the headache involved in opening a fight with the most combative and least sane faction of the ultra-Orthodox. The police, it should be remembered, opposed a demonstration in Mea Shearim last year – a demonstration protesting precisely this segregation policy.

The prosecution, which said it wants “dialogue,” is less understandable – until you are reminded this is Yaakov Ne’eman’s prosecution. Ne’eman, Liberman’s henchman in the Justice Ministry, was caught saying on record that he wants to enforce the Talmud’s laws in Israel (Hebrew), his prosecutors have already adopted the ultra-Orthodox position on conversion (Hebrew) and he told the HCJ the ultra-Orthodox ought to be protected “from modernity and the threats of enlightenment” (Hebrew).

The judges rejected the nonsense spouted by the prosecution, and noted the deterioration on this front. They actually sounded distressed. Not distressed enough, naturally, to actually order the police to remove the roadblocks by nighttime, arrest the ringleaders and charge them. They said segregation ought not to happen again next year. Next time, Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch won’t be there for the annual gnashing of teeth.

The surrender to the ultra-Orthodox – the segregation, often by force, of bus lines; the violent segregation in Beit Shemesh – is not limited to Jerusalem and its environs. It made it to my hometown, Petah Tikva. MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) sent me the following placard, which was published before a feast of the Hassidic Rabbi of Mishkoltz in Petah Tikva. At the bottom of the placard (emphasis added by me), it calls for segregation of women and men in what is still public territory in Petah Tikva. Men are urged to approach the place from the corner of Salant and Herzl streets; women are asked to arrive from the corner of Ehad Ha’am and Hafetz Haim streets.

Placard announcing the presence of Chief Inspector Danino in a segregated event (Picture: MK Zahava Gal'on, used with permission)

Placard announcing the presence of Chief Inspector Danino in a segregated event (Picture: MK Zahava Gal'on, used with permission)

Of particular notes are the guests of honor. The first, somewhat reasonably, is the mayor, Yitzhak Ohayon. The second is… Chief Inspector Yohanan Danino, commander of the Israel Police. As Gal-On noted, “The decision of the HCJ forbidding gender segregation in the public sphere is just a recommendation.”

And an apparently not an important one at that, if the Chief Inspector allows himself to simply ignore it. You know – these are just women. An unimportant minority of 51%.

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    1. Piotr Berman

      I think that what Yossi is describing is the illustration how Israel exists as a “very Jewish state”. Jewish citizens are “very Jewish” (ultras, settlers), “normal”, “barely Jewish” (leftists, liberals, seculars). When there are issues in contention, the most Jewish position should prevail.

      State courts are mostly in “barely Jewish” to “normal” part of the spectrum, so they are quite timid, in tacit recognition of their inferior status, but issue their opinions. Note that without enforcement, a court “decree” is just an opinion. “Very Jewish” authority issue their opinion, e.g. women should refrain from sitting and walking in the sight of pius men. And now the State can show its character: whose opinion prevails?

      Other than that, the issue is very weird to me. In USA one can see Haredi in public places frequented by huge numbers of normally clad women and not revealing any signs of distress. Moreover, I have no idea what Biblical verses justify the hiding of women. Quran has a specific verse (although quite non-specific in content, women are not supposed to show their “jewels”, and the conclusions from that verse vary). But even most stringent Salafis (a) allow women to walk where they want, if properly veiled and in a company (b) dress their pre-pubescent girls like Westerners and allow to walk them anywhere. Apparently, most “orthodox” rabbi have an ideal of women simply staying at homes and not showing up anywhere, but why?

      Perhaps Haredi gogles should be developed. With picture recognition software these goggles would identify human females in the field of vision and replace them with convex pink patches (color could be selected by the user). Think about night vision goggles that show infrared as “false color”. This would allow pius men to walk anywhere, read illustrated newspaper (without female images cut out) without being disturbed, and without disturbing females. I would assume that in cases when women can fail to be recognized by the software they should look sufficiently un-exciting. With a “cautious” setting, all human figures with bare elbows and bare heads could be covered. With “most cautious” setting, the only visible humans would be properly dressed Haredi males.

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    2. Amir.BK

      PIOTR: Jewish modesty rules are mostly Talmudic in nature. Halachatic law is basically the product of 2,000 years of pragmatic cherry picking from the bible and the talmud (which is in itself a product of creative pragmatic interpretation of the bible). ergo, the halachatic laws of judaism can be as flexible or as strict as their adherents see fit.

      It is obvious why orthodox jews in new-york don’t practice public gender segregation to such degrees, they do not have sufficient authority to enforce such policies. Even if they wanted to.

      Anyway, It seems that since the advent of secularism and the enlightenment judaism took a new twist. as it were, previously when someone ceased being a practicing jew, they stopped being a jew. Of course not all jews were practicing Tzadikim, but they all took part in jewish communal religious life, they all observed the sabbath (at least publicly) and those who distanced themselves from the communal tradition were either outcasts or simply ‘no longer jews’. This changed significantly with the european enlightenment and liberal ideology, for the first time european jews were allowed to distance themselves from jewish practice without being forced to abandon self identification as jews. which gave birth to secular judaism, which is, quite literally an oxymoron. A self identity born of internal contradiction.
      .
      It seems that secular jews feel obligated to largely tolerate orthodox judaism as it validates an important part of their identity, without jewish religion and its heritage jews barely even qualify as an ethnicity anymore.

      on the other hand, orthodox judaism has been self-radicalizing for the past two centuries in reaction to jewish secularization, for orthodox jews the secular identity itself co-opts their culture and is of course blasphemous within their traditional framework, after all, aren’t the vast majority of secular jews apostates? this yields for an even more aggressive interpretation of the halachatic laws, valuing piety above all facets of life and cultural integration. Tziniot (modesty laws) is but an aspect of this radicalization.

      it’s also important to point out that it seems likely that the course of judaism has been dramatically altered by both Zionism (most importantly the foundation of Israel) and the Holocaust, and that were it not for these two events secular jewish identity would eventually have disappeared or stuck around only as ‘ethnic background’ similar to how it’s become for many secular jews in the united states. that is, people who no longer find it significant to self-identify as jews. similarly the US orthodox community is less radicalized than the Israeli orthodox community.

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    3. Amir.BK

      haha, oops that should have clearly been Tzniot and not Tziniot.

      Reply to Comment
    4. RichardNYC

      @YOSSI
      I’m glad to see a sane and reasonable discussion about what’s wrong with Haredi influence in Israeli society instead of accusations of Nazism genocidal intent. 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    5. I see no reason why an Hassidic event on public land cannot urge those attending to engage in (somehow very important) sex seggregation. They cannot (or should not be able to), however, physically enfore it. Just as an event for couples, urging them to come hand in hand, should not be able to physically bar Hassids or others who insist in coming by sex from different directions. What the law will not allow is enforced seggregation in shops or transport.
      —————————
      The US Supreme Court’s deseggregation order took well over a decade, maybe two, for mostly uniform enforcement. The Court knew what lay ahead and put enforcement on future cases to be heard in lower courts–which bought time. Israel has yet to decide if there is a law of the land beyond the Knesset. The Justices are somewhat afraid they will lose the battle, I guess. But, I have no fear: for the Knesset, if it continues its present trajectory, will force the High Court to declare constitutionalism via your, yes he’s saying it again, Declaration of Independence. The Court’s fear shall make your other branches drunk–and that will cause a Court shift.

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