Thursday, August 20, 2009

What Do Women Want?

What do Women Want? This is title of an article in Ynet - a question that is ostensibly answered by one Shimon Stern who is a spokesman for some sort of Rabbinic Committee for Transportation Affairs in Israel. One wonders exactly who comprises this committee. I doubt it would be anyone who I would see as my rabbinic authority.

Be that as it may, his answer to the question is that women want to sit separately from men on the back of a bus. I wonder how women that I know would respond to that question. I doubt that a single one would respond the way he says they would.

Mr. Stern ‘proves’ his contention citing other countries that have gender segregated buses. This shows it to be a universal and not necessarily religious goal for women. Women who therefore want to eliminate sex segregated buses in Israel are dismissed as obsessive radicals! Here is the way he describes them in an article in Ynet:

(They are) reformers and other radicals (who) are suddenly coming up with ridiculous claims in order to tease and destroy something that only has to do with the ultra-Orthodox community. We are dealing with a handful of people who are obsessed with the haredim.

Right! He read their collective minds and knows their motivations. He goes on to claim that protests against gender segregated buses have been meager compared to thousands who rallied in favor of the segregated buses in Jerusalem…

His answer to those who say that segregated buses have led to violence is that violence occurs in non segregated buses too. And in any case when laws and regulations are established such violence will end. Tell that to Mrs. Miriam Shear who was beaten to a pulp for sitting in the men’s section of a mixed gender bus that was only unofficially used as a segregated bus. The rules and regulations were on her side!

Another assertion he makes is that it is a universal Halacha to segregate the sexes:

Every haredi, man or woman, follows Jewish Law – which according to all rabbis rules that segregation is mandatory.

He also claims that even some secular women in Israel have communicated their preference for sex segregated seating.

What he fails to understand is that sex segregated buses are not a Halachic requirement despite his claim to the contrary. If it were you would never see any Charedi Rabbanim on non segregated buses. Nor would you see Teshuvos by such eminent Poskim as Rav Moshe Feinstein who do not insist that segregation is mandatory.

What he additionally fails to understand is that the democratic concept of ‘the majority rules’ should not deny the rights of the minority. His view that the majority of his community wants this arrangement entitles them to have it - destroys the rights of the minority who do not. It is wrong to force the religious standards of the majority upon minority that does not want it.

Mr. Stern does come up with one intelligent statement:

Each person has the right to decide, for themselves, what constitutes humiliation or respect.

That is absolutely true. But he uses that to springboard to his unsustainable conclusion:

I therefore think that it is clear that a community espousing gender-segregated systems at schools, synagogues, and celebrations is also allowed to decide that sitting separately is not humiliating…

The conclusion should be exactly the opposite. Different people have different attitudes about what constitutes humiliation or respect. And the rights of all should be protected. One segment should not have their way if it sacrifices the rights of others. If there is a woman who feels humiliated by being forced to sit at the back of a bus her rights ought to be protected. Not that he cares.

One might ask what about those who feel humiliated by sitting in a mixed gender bus? They are certainly the majority in those neighborhoods.

There is only one answer to this problem. They should have their own busing system. And in this I sympathize with this community’s past efforts to have one. The powerful government owned bus monopoly thwarted all their past efforts in doing that. The government did not want to lose the business. I can’t imagine why though. They are so heavily subsidized - they would probably save money by allowing them their own buses.

If the Charedim want to have their own bus lines, I think the government ought to let them. Public buses on the other hand should be as they always have been in Israel since the beginning of the State (until about 15 years ago): Mixed gender. In the long run I think that would make everyone happier.