Gender Segregation

Stories and commentary about the exclusion of women in the name of Jewish unity.

Haredim Trying to Increase Control Over Area Around Jerusalem’s Central Shuk

Editor’s note: the HaAretz article mentioned below says the woman in question lived in Machane Israel, not Mahane Yehuda. We are currently inquiring from HaAretz if they indeed meant Machane Israel. Machane Israel is not even remotely a Haredi neighborhood. It contains two non-orthodox yeshivas: Hebrew Union College (Progressive/Reform) and the Conservative Yeshiva and two large centers housing visiting groups for the Progressive and Masorti movements. It also contains the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), four hotels and one under development catering to business travellers and mainstream tourists. Women regularly walk through the area in pants and many HUC students rent apartments in the area.

Note posted on apartment door asking a religious (Masorti) woman to leave because she isn't modest according to the Torah.

According to a report in HaAretz, Masorti (Conservative) Jewish woman living near Mahane Yehuda, the main stall based shopping market in Jerusalem, was sent a threatening letter last week demanding she leave the neighborhood. The letter was signed “The Modesty Police” It complained that she had transgressed the Torah’s rules of modesty.

The woman says she moved into the neighborhood because she needed a place to stay after she returned from America. She did not know that the neighborhood was predominantly Haredi. She also says that she gets along well with her neighbors, and was not aware of problems. She says she wears pants but does not wear short ones.

Police have said they will step up surveillance in the area, but the woman is still afraid. A friend of hers who ignored the warning had her apartment burned down.

The area around Mahane Yehuda is culturally diverse and includes haredim, hippies, and middle class professionals attracted to an area with a lot of character and ripe for renovation projects. There are many different styles of Jewish religious life, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi, progressive and traditional.

Haredim in the area have been trying to extend their control over the area. For several years the Kolben Dance Troupe had covered their rehearsal room with shades because of Haredi complaints about the women dancers. The Dance Troupe is on a main road leading out of the main Jerusalem commercial area and is in no way Haredi. It is part of a complex that includes a public library and one of Jerusalem’s major performing arts venues. However, there is a residential cluster of Haredim one to two blocks away off of the main road.

Haredim have also complained about entertainment in the Mahane Yehuda shuk. The city government has been hosting street festivals in the area for the last few years. Haredim dislike that women are included in the performances, seeing it as a violation of their understanding of Jewish modesty. They have threatened to set up their own strictly gender seggregated shuk.

Most Jews, including religious Jews, do not consider the Haredi understanding of gender segregation to be required by the Torah,  nor even later Jewish law nor identity.

Hat tip: Failed Messiah

Categories: Exclusion of Jews, Extremism, Gender Segregation | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Ynet Joins JPost for Jerusalem Bus Ad Fight Blooper Award

Ynet wins this month’s award for completely inappropriate pictures of women. Today, Ynet posted an update on the campaign to show the faces of modestly dressed Jerusalem women on Jerusalem bus ads. The picture accompanying the article shows the bottom half of a woman’s body (no face) and is focused on her crotch.

This is not a fight about advertisers wanting to put sexy women on buses, but rather a fight over whether serious public service advertisements including women can be displayed. The matter goes back to 2008 when Egged refused campaign advertisements that featured the face of Rachel Azaria, running for city council as head of the newly formed Yerusalmim party. They told her ‘No pictures of girls on buses in Jerusalem. Not a 3-year-old and not an 80-year-old.”

The battle heated up again last fall when Egged refused to display women on posters for a public service campaign to increase organ donors. Once again the pictures showed only faces. There were no exposed shoulders or any other form of provocative dress. None the less, Egged’s advertising agency asked the National Transplant Center (ADI), to replace the advertisements with ones showing only men. The advertising agency explained that a 2007 campaign which showed an organ donor and her son had been vandalized and the bus set on fire.

In November, Yerushalmim tried to place posters of the faces of women living in Jerusalem on buses. The campaign was titled “Women of Jerusalem, Nice to Meet You”. The women were fully dressed in “regular, completely modest, unrevealing and unoffending clothes.” None the less, they were told that they would have to deposit 50,000 NIS for any damages to the buses caused by the posters.

In December, Yerushalmim and several Jerusalem residents took the matter to the Supreme Court. This most recent article describes the Supreme Court’s request to the government to clarify two questions:

  • “why it [the government ] does not stipulate that licenses for operating public transportation will only be issued to companies that avoid activities that may include gender-based discrimination. “
  • “why it [the government] does not impose real sanctions on Egged when it goes against basic constitutional principles”

This is not the first time an update to this story has been posted with an inappropriate picture. At the beginning of March, the Jerusalem Post selected a picture of a woman licking a plate to accompany the article.

Jacob’s Bones asked Ynet how it chose the picture.  Ynet explained:

In this case, I assume we can both agree the photo used is that of a woman, and it very much looks like an ad. As such, it seems at least partly relevant to the story, and certainly to the story’s headline. I think that’s good enough.

Were there really no pictures that looked like a woman, looked like an ad, and showed her face? What about a breast cancer awareness ad?  Or the ADI organ donation ad featuring a woman that was rejected from Jerusalem buses?  Or one of the rejected pictures from the Yerushalmim campaign that triggered the supreme court case?

As unimaginable and as crazy as it sounds, the Haredim here aren’t complaining about sexy Jeans advertisements.  That might be understandable.

They are complaining and sometimes vandalizing buses with fully clothed women doing public service announcements.  What has women in Jerusalem upset is that even modest practical pictures of women can’t get on buses.

Haredim claim that women should not be displayed on buses because a picture of a woman is inherently sexual. Picture selections like these only serve to reinforce social attitudes that women in the media equals sex in the media.

Categories: Building a Just Israel, Gender Segregation | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Exclude Women from the Circus Ring? Modiin Says No

South African Modiin residents picnic in Modiin Park (Shabbat haGadol)

According to HaAretz (Hebrew version) during Chol haMoed a female volunteer was asked to leave the stage in Modiin when a Haredi women from the audience complained and asked that the circus use a male volunteer. The woman had gone backstage and told Rafi Vitis, the host of that a woman volunteer violated the sensibilities of “most” of the audience. In fact “The Shambuki Show” was being performed in Anabe Park in Modiin.

Modiin is a mixed secular and religious town, but the religious in Modiin primarily come from Progressive (Reform), Masorti (Conservative), and National Religious camps rather than Haredim. Non-haredi orthodox believe separation of men and women belong only in the synagogue and have varying opinions about hearing women sing. Non-orthodox relgious give men and women equal access in all areas of adult religious and secular life. One Modi’in religious resident told haAretz,

Instead of enjoyable time out with the family we received an alarming example of how normal it has become to take women off stage and marginalize them in the public sphere, even in a city like Modi’in where the population is not predominantly Haredi, and where Haredi politics don’t prevail,…It was striking to see such a flagrant case of exclusion of women from the public sphere. Here in Modi’in, it is unacceptable.

A Modiin official and the city council took swift action to prevent future attempts by self-styled police to segregate women. The Modiin city council told HaAretz

As soon as the incident was brought to the attention of the director of cultural activities he rushed to the scene and gave a specific order that it was unacceptable and that the show would go on as usual. Afterward we circulated specific instructions that all changes to shows at Anava Park cannot be approved by anyone other than the city council.

Avi Elbaz, city council member, told haAretz:

The incident with the acrobatic show didn’t take place in Modi’in Illit, Ramat Beit Shemesh or another Haredi city. If it doesn’t suit you to see women on stage, don’t come. It’s unbelievably rude to go to a show in a secular city and make these demands. This place is not owned by the Haredim

Avi Elbaz is also chairman of Free Modiim , a group that defends the rights of secular Israelis . Modi’in Illit is a nearby town that is predominantly Haredi. Members of the nearby Haredi town sometimes come to the park and have caused problems in the past when they’ve insisted that park events and other park visitors act according to their values.

Different spins in different languages

The Hebrew and English haAretz versions of this story have different slants. The Hebrew version, like this article, stressed the action of the city government and local officials. The English version stressed the conflict between Haredim and Modiin residents. In Hebrew the article summary in bold at the start of the article says “Modiin city hall: we gave instructions that an incident like this shouldn’t happen now or in the future”. The English version says “Modi’in residents angered by ‘unacceptable’ act. “.

This difference in coverage may have been motivated by the assumption that English readers are predominately out of country and will not care about municipal details. However, downplaying the governments quick response also leaves the mistaken impression that non-Haredi Jews are a beleagered and defensive minority in Israel. In reality, the majority of the population supports women’s presence in the public sphere and accomodation to secular lifestyles. Most of the difficulties regarding women come from non-enforcement of laws rather than the lack of laws.

Respect for whom?

The haredi woman who approached the acrobat show’s host and the hosts decision also illustrates some common theme in stories about the exclusion of women.

Often the decision to remove women is made by non-Haerdim with the intent of being respectful to Haredim. Rafi Vitis told HaAretz “I was trying to do my best to show consideration for their sensibilities and didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings.” The decision of Beersheva to segregate playground at their local zoo one day during Chol haMoed Pesach had a similar goal which they described as “harmony”. However, exclusion decisions are never neutral. If there is a single event, there is no way to both include and exclude at the same time. Being sensitive to a person who believes in excluding women is going to offend women who want to be included as well as bystanders who believes women should not be excluded.

The MC’s lack of awareness that he was going to offend someone no matter what he did may be related to the way Israelis typically view religion. There is a tendency in Israeli culture to view religion as a continuum with secular antagonism at one end and Haredi extremism at the other. There is only one way to be religious and it involves becoming more and more like the Haredim. Objection to Haredi lifestyle can only reflect either a lack of religious passion or even anti-religious intolerance.

This contrasts with the more pluralistic view found in the Diaspora and in academic study of Judaism. These later perspectives see religious Judaism as something more like a tree with many interpretations branching out of a core trunk of common texts and history.

The notion of a continuum leaves little room for disagreement since relgion is viewed as additive rather than diversifying. If Haredim see exclusion of women as a positive religious goal then inclusion must represent the absense of commitment to that goal rather than a religiously motivated opposition based on a different understanding of Judaism and human dignity. The person opposing segregation must either be (a) indifferent and happy to comply (b) anti-religious (c) assimilated to a world of non-Jewish values (d) selfishly trying to go beyond her God appointed role. Most people want to think of themselves as nice people. Compliance is the only option that doesn’t have some sort of negative connotation.

A second common theme is the belief that “most” people agree with the Haredim. This was the argument given by the Haredi woman who approached the acrobat show’s host. She believed her objections to the female volunteer were shared by “most” of the audience.

The HaAretz article doesn’t give any attendence numbers, but there have been many incidents where Haredi sources have grossly overestimated their numbers or general agreement with their valeus. In 2009, Hiddush did a study of Israeli attitudes towards segregated buses. They found that 50% of the general public did not want to ride a segregated bus. Haredi men and women had put the estimate at less than 30%. In February, when the Tel Aviv city council decided to work towards making buses available on Shabbat, local rabbis told the press that 80% of Tel Aviv was against it. Tel Aviv is a predominantly secular city. Furthermore several national studies show that 60% or more of the country is in fact in favor of making public buses available on Shabbat.

This tendency to overestimate may be related to the psychological process of salience . We tend to overweight something that attracts our attention. There is little doubt that the distinctive dress of Haredim can dominate one’s perception of a space even when there are not many present. Additionally, many Haredim live in a self contained world so they may simply be unaware of the diversity of viewpoints outside of their communities.

Categories: Extremism, Gender Segregation | Tags: | Leave a comment

Beersheva Zoo Segregates Visitors by Gender, Requires “Modest” Dress

Turtle at Negev Zoo

Ynet reports that when Avigail Kanterovich and her family showed up at the Negev Zoo in Bersheva, they couldn’t get in. Even national religious visitors couldn’t get in.

The ticket sellers told them that the zoo was closed to non-Haredi visitors. The zoo management says that this was a special event arranged for the Haredi public, however no prior announcements had been made to the general public and there were no signs in place at the zoo when the family arrived Later in the day the zoo affixed a sign at the entrance announcing the special visiting requirements.

After the family confronted the zoo management, the zoo agreed to let them and other non-Haredi visitors in. However, even children’s activities at the zoo were segregated by gender. All visitors were required to dress to a Haredi standard of modesty as well or they could not be admitted.

The Beersheva municiplity said that this event was an example of seculars and religious living in harmony.

According to Wikipedia the Negev Zoo receives funding from the city of Beersheva, the Israeli Ministry of Education, the Housing and Construction Minister of Israel and private contributors.

Attempts to segregate public spaces by gender have failed when challenged in the Israeli Supreme court. In September, 2010, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the right to segregate city streets by gender. In June, 2011 the Israeli Supreme Court rejected public enforcement of gender segregated buses.

Nonetheless municipal governments from time to time cooperate with Haredim in sponsoring publicly funded gender segregated events in public spaces. Last Hanukkah, Petach Tikva enforced gender segregated seating at municipal Hanukkah shows.

Categories: Exclusion of Jews, Gender Segregation | Tags: , | 4 Comments

A Step Backwards: Kol BaRama allowed to limit women to 4 hr/wk

This morning HaAretz reported that the Sephardi Haredi radio station Kol BaRama will be broadcassting women’s voices for only four hours a week with the blessing of the the Second Authority for Television and Radio. The Second Authority is responsible for issuing radio station franchises and ensuring that radio station practices conform to Israeli law.

Orignally the Israeli Broadcasting Association was demanding that they have at least one hour a day of women’s programming (6 hr/wk). Civil rights groups believed that even this amount was too little and filed a suit in the Israeli Supreme Court alleging that the government was not doing enough to fight discrimination against women at Kol baRama.

Israeli law does not allow discrimination except in certain religious situations. However, last May former Sephardi Chief Rabbi and Shas spritual leader Ovadia Yosef ruled that there were no problems with listen to women’s speaking voices on the radio.

Kol baRama’s ownership has close ties with several coalition MKs. In Israel there is a very thin line between the legislative and executive branches of government. Members of the Knesset, the legislative branch, also run the ministries that form the executive branch. They therefore control the ability of the government to execute its laws. This often means that a law that is passed in the Knesset can be effectively nullified as a political favor by the MKs that run specific ministries.

Kol baRama insists that increasing the number of hours of women’s broadcasting would lead to an economic loss. The Second Authority run its own independent study and found that 20% of listeners would stop listening if there were more hours of women’s programming. Kol BaRama claims the potential loss is closer to 1/3 of their listeners.

If this statistic is indeed representative of the Sephardi Haredi population as a whole, it suggests that there is deep rooted prejudice in that community. Given Ovadia Yosef’s ruling one can’t simply claim that the exclusion of women is due to religiously mandated separate roles or some sort of special holiness that sets women apart.

However, it is quite possible that this statistic is not representative. It only reports on current listeners. Given an on-going policy of excluding women, it may be that Kol BaRama is creating a self-confirming illusion. By making women all but invisible it alienates people who want to hear women’s voices. The current listeners are those who already don’t mind exclusion rather than the general public. In that case all the statistic tells us is that 20% of people who don’t care about women’s voices actually dislike them enough to stop listening.

The Israeli Broadcasting Authority defends its decision saying that the differences are not that great and no one should be making a big deal of going down from six to four hours.

Kol BaRama broadcasts 24/6. Four hours a week of women’s voices represents 3% of airtime.

Previous articles on Jacob’s Bones:

Categories: Building a Better Judaism, Gender Segregation | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

A Sign of Change? Police Fight Kotel Bus Segregation Attempt

On Monday after the bi-annual mass priestly blessing, two teens, 16 and 17 stood at a bus stop outside the Old City at the Dung Gate demanding women board at the back of the bus. They said they were hired by two Haredi men who offered to pay them 25 NIS/hr ($7/hr) . Police arrested the two teens for questioning and then later arrested the two men who hired them.  (Sources: Jerusalem PostTimes of Israel )

To accommodate women who wish to sit separately from men, some Israeli public buses, known as Mehadrin buses, allow female passengers to board in the back of the bus. They either punch their ticket on their own with a puncher by the back door or pass their tickets up to the front. Individuals are allowed to voluntarily sit with their own gender of their own accord if they wish.

However, enforced bus segregation is illegal in Israel. Verbal threats and harassment, physical intimidation, or even acts that make it appear that bus segregation is an official policy are all illegal.

Despite this, harassment on mehadrin buses is an on-going problem. A January study by the ministry of transportation found that 1 in 20 bus inspectors who tried to sit where they wished on Mehadrin buses were threatened or harassed in some way. About 1 in 3 of harrassment incidents included physical intimidation.

Stories behind the Statistics

Although public reports of this behavior surface from time to time in the mainstream media, they do not indicate the scale of the problem. Most reports never make it beyond a personal circle of friends. Those that make it on line, like this one, quickly get lost in the blogosphere.

They do however serve to illustrate the passions involved and why even verbal threats and bullhorns can imply coercion and not just a simple request. In 2004, author Naomi Regan was verbally intimidated and threatened while the bus driver refused to interfere. In 2005, a woman named Ronit needed to sit in the front of the bus where she could look out the front window because of motion sickness. The bus driver did not force her to the back of the bus, but neither did he tell the men to stop harassing her.

In 2010, Oriyah Ferdheim boarded the 497 bus from Beit Shemesh to Yahud for her first day of National Service. When five zeolots found her in the wrong seat they kicked, spit on, and pelted with various objects. A police officer stopped the bus in a Haredi neighborhood in Ramat Beit Shemesh and told the crowd to leave her alone, but as soon as he left a mob of people boarded the bus and began attacking her. An off-duty soldier defended her with his own body. The police officer was unable to stop the attack without several squad cars for reinforcements. A year later Oriyah was still suffering nightmares from the incident.

Meida access plays a role in our awareness of the issue. At the end of 2011, three more attacks made it into the mainstream media. One victim, Tanya Rosenblit, worked for a TV news organization. Understandably it received heavy coverage, even gaining mention on a New York Times blog. Even politicians got involved. Both Netanyah and then opposition leader Tzipi Livni spoke out in support of Rosenblit.

A second story involved a Haredi woman from the Gur community, Yocheved Horowitz. HaAretz devoted two articles to the story (2011-12-23 and 2011-12-30). But without media allies or police drama to keep the story alive, the story soon dropped off the pages of HaAretz. No other paper picked it up.

But if they want segregation, who are we to Interfere?

Until recently, Israelis have had mixed feelings about bus harassment stories. While most agree that the harassment itself is wrong, the victims are often blamed for having created the situation. If a person doesn’t want to play by the social rules they shouldn’t ride the buses, so the argument goes. If they do, they should respect the fact that most riders are haredi and have different cultural expectations.

The most obvious difficulty with this argument is that many of the women who have been harassed are themselves religious women. Yocheved Horowitz is a member of the Gur community. Oriya Ferdheim is part of the Dati Leumi community. Nor are these isolated examples. According to a Hiddush study in the spring of 2010, nearly a third of Haredim (29% of men, 31% of women) either oppose segregated buses or want to see the number of segregated lines reduced.

Another argument in defense of Haredi buses is the claim that riding in mixed buses violates their religious beliefs. The bus system is subsidized by the state. This includes the Mehadrin bus lines. Since the state must serve all citizens, it must provide suitable services to all of its citizens, including its Haredi citizens.

However, this argument cuts both ways. Those supporting the right to segregated buses are usually very selective in which Jewish rights they believe the state should support. Recognition of marriage, access to the Kotel for prayer, and burial are also services provided by the state, yet the state does not recognize marriages performed by Ethiopian priests or Reform and Conservative rabbis. Egalitarian prayer practices are banned from the kotel and even Rashi’s daughters who wore tallit and tefillin could not show up at the Kotel and pray according to their custom.

If one says that freedom of Judaism is limited to orthodox interpretations of Halachah, the religious freedom argument still falls.   Moshe Feinstein, considered one of the greatest orthodox halachic deciders of the 20th century, ruled that men and women could ride together even on a croweded bus where they were pressing up against each other. If both Feinstein and the Haredi position are legitimate, then there is no grounds for Haredim to say that mixed gender buses discriminate against them. If pro-segregationists say that they don’t go by Feinstein, then the claim that we can have state accommodation to religion without state recognition of sectarian interpretations falls.

A second problem with the religious freedom argument is that accommodation to pro-segregationists excludes anti-segregationists. Many of the Mehadrin bus routes cannot support dual direct bus lines, one segregated and one not.  The alternative non-segregated routes involve multiple transfers, round-about travel routes, more time, and more money. According to Hiddush’s 2011 religion and state survey , 47% of women (50% non ultra orthodox) say they are not willing to ride segregated buses.

Haredim may not be fully aware of how aversive these buses are to the general public.    According to the same Hiddush study Haredi men estimated that only 29% of non-Haredi women would refuse to ride segregated buses, rather than the actual number of 50%. If they were fully aware of how adverse these buses are, some at least might not be so in favor of segregation.

Police reaction to Harassment

Although harassment and physical threats are illegal, historically police response has been hands off in these bus confrontations. Even though Ferdheim had already been physically assaulted when the police officer first entered the bus, none of the assailants were arrested or removed from the bus. Nor was this because the police officer felt they posed no further danger. Rather, he suggested to Ferdheim that she move to the back for her own safety. The same thing happened to Tanya Rosenblit. When the bus driver called the police, the police initially tried to convince Rosenblit to be ‘respectful’ and move to the back of the bus.

This trend has begun to change, but it is hard to know whether the chance applies to some well publicized cases or is an ongoing pattern with the Israeli police. At the end of 2011, Doron Matalon, an Israeli soldier on her way back to her IDF base was called a “slut” by a Haredi man who was angered by her refusal to go to the back of the bus. Doron had been harrassed by various passengers on many other ocassions and had even been shoved. This time, with her father’s encouragement, she called the police. The man was arrested and banned from using the bus .

The arrests of the two teens and their Haredi employers represents another step forward in the protection of women’s right to chose their seat on a bus. Rather than wait for an attack to take place, the police intervened when public pressure was being exerted on women riders.

However, law enforcement is a multi-stage process that involves much more than police intervention and arrests. So far people have only been arrested for questioning. It remains to be seen if charges will be filed and if those charges will lead to any sort of meaninful conviction. Without legal consequences it is unlikely that self-appointed police in the Haredi community will stop their harassment.

Categories: Gender Segregation, Signs of Progress | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Fathers Excluded from Ramat Gan Bat Mitzvah

Group Bat Mitzvah: 20 Girls in Ashkelon

When the sixth graders at Noam-Haro’e religious school in Ramat Gan celebrate their Bat Mitzvah, the fathers won’t be there. The school is excluding the fathers because the Bat Mitzvah celebration will include girls singing and dancing. Since these 12 year old girls will now be adults in the Halachic sense the school says that fathers can’t watch them.

Father Ram Gal and other fathers wanted to see and celebrate with their daughters, so Ram Gal’s wife approached the school with a compromise that would allow fathers to be present during the parts of the ceremony that did not involve singing and dancing. The school would not budge, so this Sunday morning, Ram Gal’s daughter had her Bat Mitzvah without her father present.

Ram Gal, who himself grew up going to religious schools, says he does not remember schools being so segregated when he was a child. He admits that the neighborhood around the school has changed in the last several years, but he feels the segreation policy is the result of a few vocal parents. His feeling is that the school’s policy does not reflect the desires of the “silent sane majority” of parents.

Ram Gal’s feeling that the religious schools are changing is not his imagination. Today 65% of elementary religious schools have some form of segregation, some starting as early as first grade and some starting in third or fourth grade. Just ten years ago, in the early ’00s, only 25% were segregated

This change not only annoys some parents, it also costs money and sometimes violates Education Ministry policy. Education Ministry policy is that classes should not be split up until there are more than 40 students per school. Schools with gender segregated classrooms split up students regardless of whether or not they have reached the 40 students even though this goes against policy. Segregated elementary school classrooms cost the school system an additional 11m NIS according to HaAretz sources.

However proponents of the segregated school insist that they are want parents want. The principle of one school told HaAretz:

The vast majority today accepts the separation because being a part of the Torah education system is a label. This population is truly leading today … The national-religious education system is a mirror of religious Zionism as a whole.”

With all sides claiming the majority, it is impossible to know who is correct. However, that may be beside the point. Rabbi Avi Gisser, head of State Religious Education Council, says the Ramat Gan school was mistaken and acted against the State Religous Education Council policy. The council believes Bat Mitzva events are meant for the whole family and is opposed to excluding fathers as was done by the school.

Mistake or not,Ram Gal was not able to see his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.

Sources:

Related articles in Jacob’s Bones:

Categories: Extremism, Gender Segregation | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Israeli Hotel Refuses Torah to Egalitarian Minyan

A boy and two girls relaxing at Kibbutz Shefayim's Water Park

This year seniors from the Solomon Schechter School in Westchester county New York had first hand experience of how the Israeli religious establishment treats women when they were unable to have a Torah service at Shabbat morning Shachrit.

The students were in Israel as part of their two month senior trip to Poland and Israel. When the school made reservations at the hotel on Kibbutz Shefayim near Hertzliya, the leaders had requested a room for their prayer services and the hotel offered use of the hotel synagogue after the hotel sponsored Orthodox minyan had completed their prayers. The hotel did not inform them that Torah scrolls were only available for services with mechitzas where only men read. They arrived at the hotel and found out on Shabbat morning that they could not use the hotel’s Torah. The group was forced to pray Shabbat Schachrit without a Torah service.

The Solomon Schechter schools are run by the US Conservative (Masorti) movement. Conservative Jews, count women in their minyans and allow women to be called up to the Torah. The school staff and rabbi considered the inclusion of women a matter of obligation and could not accept use of the Torah under the hotel’s conditions that women not read from the Torah.

When the Jerusalem Post contacted the hotel, they insisted that their policy is that groups provide their own Torah if they want to conduct their own services apart from the hotel’s standard morning minyan. The hotel refused to comment on the specific incident except to say that no formal complaint had been made.

The school group leaders contradict this explaination. They say they asked for the hotel Torah prior to their morning service. The hotel’s religious supervisor said that he would be willing for them to use the hotel Torah but only if they agreed to a mechitza and only if males alone read from the Torah.

It should be noted that the kibbutz hotel advertises itself as “especially suited to celebrate different occasions also for the religious sector: Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and Groom Saturdays are a true experience, will make available everything required.”

If the hotel follows orthodox standards then the Bat Mitzvah must take place in a private woman only minyan. This would imply that they do indeed allow private services using the hotel Torah. Surely they don’t expect families to arrive with their own Torah for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs?

It should also be pointed out that the kibbutz runs a water park that does not in any way adhere to Orthodox standards of modesty. Thus it cannot be said that the kibbutz is merely enforcing its own adherence to an Orthodox interpretation of Judaism. Orthodox Judaism believes Torah should affect all of life and cannot be limited to the synagogue only.

The Talmud specifically allows women to be called to the Torah and to read it and specifies that the only impediment is the “honor of the congregation”:

The Rabbis taught (teno) that anyone can be numbered among the seven [called to the Torah on Shabbat], even a minor, even a woman. But the Sages said that we do not call a woman to the Torah because of Kevod HaTzibur (the dignity of the congregation). (Megillah 23a).

Non-orthodox Jews believe that the context of the phrase and also interpreters such as Rashi require us to read “kevod haTzibur” as an insult or annoyance to the congregation, rather than a violation of the fundamental nature of the congregation. Thus many non-orthodox Jews believe that saying women insult the dignity of the congregation is an insult to the dignity of women and has no place in modern Judaism.

Orthodox partnership minyanim also agree that today one can no longer say that women reading from the Torah imperils the dignity of the congregation. Today women study Torah on level of equal sophistication to men. Orthodox minyanim that disallow women reading from the Torah argue that “k’vod ha tzibbur” reflects a timeless category that has nothing to do society’s view of women or women’s scholarship.

The school chose to use the incident as a teaching moment about conflicts in Israeli society. The group’s leader told the Jeruslaem Post:

We wanted to stick to our values of having an egalitarian service…we also saw it as an educational moment and explained to the group participants that this is one of the biggest conflicts within Israeli society – the meaning of what a Jewish state should be. The goal of Zionism today should be to try and perfect the country we have, not to get frustrated and work against it, even when the government or the mainstream religious establishment rejects us.

Rabbi Andrew Sacks, head of the Rabbinical Assembly of Masorti Rabbis in Israel stressed the importance of respecting Diaspora religious traditions:

In light of all of the difficulties we face at the moment, it is particularly problematic that we would make it more difficult for the Diaspora community to practice their Judaism when visiting the Jewish state.

Non-orthodox Judaism is not strictly a Diaspora phenomenon. Collectively non-orthodox religious Jews make up about the same percentage of Israeli society as do Haredim (Ultra-orthodox). According to the Avi Chai/IDI study 8% of Israeli adults identify as either Reform/Progressive or Conservative/Masorti. Haredi Judaism also represents 8% of Israeli adult society.

Despite this Haredim control official religious life in Israel. Reform and Conservative rabbis cannot hold government jobs as rabbis no matter how well they know Jewish tradition. Nor can they serve as judges in religious courts. Women are also excluded from all these roles.

The state will not recognize marriages performed by non-orthodox rabbis. Religious non-Orthodox couples must leave the country and have a second marriage in a foreign country in order for their marriage to be recognized in Israel.

Even though Reform and Conservative conversions are recognized as Jews for citizenship under the law of resturn, they do not have the right to be married or buried as Jews in Israel. Nor are the children of women converts recognized as Jewish. They are not allowed to marry Jews or be buried as Jews.

Women in Israel are also constrained in their ability to worship as they wish. Women, for instance, may not pray at the Western Wall with a Tallit, nor may they have a Torah service if they pray as a group at the Western wall even if the minyan is composed exclusively of women.

Categories: Extremism, Gender Segregation | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Protests Begin at Restaurant Banning Thursday Night Waitresses

Protesters in front of the Heimishe Essen restaurant. Click image for additional photos.

Yesterday men and women gathered on a cold Thursday Jerusalem night for the first time in front of the Heimishe Esin ( ‘היימישע עסין’ ) which removed women from busy Thursday night shifts after Badatz of Agudat Israel demanded it as part of its Kashrut certification process.

About 30 male and female demonstrators gathered for over an hour to sing a selection of popular Israeli songs that includes both songs about the love of Israel and Jewish religious values. The singing ended with HaTikva and the waving of the Israeli flag. They included secular and religious Jews from a variety of streams and even earned some applause from on-lookers, as well as Jerusalem Council member Laura Wharton.

The demonstration was organized by the Jerusalem branch of Israel Hofshit (ישראל חופשית)  . Protesters plan on meeting again at the restaurant next week on Thursday night unless Badatz withdraws its demands and women continue to be employed as waitresses on Thursday nights.

The owner told photo journalist Nir Alon that the protests are unnecessary because he convinced Badatz Agudat Israel that women will only serve tables with women and men will only serve tables with men. However, when asked directly by News1 if women will wait on tables on Thursday nights or serve only in the kitchen he did not give a direct answer.

The Heimishe Esin restaurant is located in the heart of pre-state Jerusalem. There is a secular high school across the street from the restaurant and the majority of the area is secular/non-Haredi dati. It’s in the heart of the very secular original post-independence Jerusalem. The Jewish Agency building where statehood was proclaimed by Ben Gurion is virtually around the corner. Teddy Kolech’s old aparment was a few blocks away. So is Golda Meir’s home.

Expanding Media Coverage

Since our coverage of this story at the beginning of the week the story has been picked up by two major Israeli papers, HaAretz and the Jerusalem Post, and syndicated to US Jewish world papers such as the Los Angelos’s Jewish Journal on the West Coast of the USA and the Forward and Vos Iz Neias on the East Coast . It has also been picked up in the Israel Haredi press via LaDaat. The story is also beginning to make the rounds of the blogosphere: Failed Messiah, Frum Satire, and Life in Israel have all featured pieces and reader comments.

Based on mynet’s poll of its readers and the tenor of blog comments, opinion is strongly against this demand of Badatz Agudat Israel. A mynet reader poll resulted in 91.5% disapproval rate.

Discrimination or Just Good Business?

The owner sees this as a customer preference. He told HaAretz, “My right as the restaurant’s owner is to do anything I want.” . He does not see his actions as discrimination because no one is being fired. They are only being asked to switch to less busy shifts. He told the Jerusalem Post, Continue reading

Categories: Building a Just Israel, Extremism, Gender Segregation | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Coalition Members Celebrate Radio Kol BaRama’s Third Year Without Women

Israel Hofshit members in front of the hall where the anniversary celebration took place.

On Tuesday night Radio Kol BaRama celebrated its third year. While the leadership of Shas celebrated with the radio station inside, Israel Hofshit volunteers stood outside protesting and handing out consciousness raising material against the radio stations policies.

The Kol BaRama radio station limits the sound of female voices, even speaking voices, to one hour a week. Outside of that one hour show there are no female broadcasters, no women interviewed, no women calling in. They insist that their listeners don’t want to hear women, and that they will be economically damaged if there is more than one hour of programming.

Opponents argue that the refusal to employ or broadcast women is against Israeli law and the policy of the Israeli broadcasting association that hands out private radio station contracts. A formal complaint was lodged with the Second Authority for Television and Radio over a year ago. Knesset members have held hearings on the matter. NGOs have filed legal a complaint in the Israel Supreme Court. Former Sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef has issued a formal decision that women’s speaking voices on the radio are permitted. However, government bodies either won’t or can’t pressure them into adding more radio stations. Despite the station’s continued resistance, Shas leaders showed up to celebrate with the radio station. Shas is one of the political parties in the ruling coalition. Continue reading

Categories: Gender Segregation | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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