Monday, October 10, 2011

Rosa Parkenstein

I think what happened Rachel Levin Weinstein best describes the deep divide between. Charedim and Datim in Israel. She called it her ‘Rosa Parkenstein moment’. You can probably guess what happened. But I’ll tell you anyway.

Rachel is an American Oleh. She made Aliya from Chicago because of her religious beliefs – believing that one can best fulfill their destiny as a Jew in Israel. I believe we had met a few times while she lived in Chicago but I do not really know her.

Her orientation is what I would call right wing modern Orthodox with a strong connection to religious Zionism. She is a Tzanua – meaning she dresses modestly in accordance with Halacha and – as a married woman - she covers her hair. In other words she is an idealist who does more than talk the talk. She walks the walk.

She settled in what she calls Beit Shemesh. Her description of it sounds more like Ramat Bet Shemesh whose population consists of both Datim and Charedim. But I digress.

Long story short, she and her husband unknowingly boarded a Mehadrin bus in Bet Shemesh and sat down in the front where there were empty seats. Mehadrin buses are sex segregated - men in the front – women in the back. A Charedi gentleman then approached her husband and told him that she must go to the back of the bus – since this was a Mehadrin bus. She refused. To her surprise a woman from the back of the bus came up to her moments later and started yelling at her – calling her the worst name a Charedi could think of - a Chiloni (a secular Jew)! Mrs. Weinstein stood her ground and stayed seated up front with her husband.

After she exited the bus she started crying from a feeling deep in her soul. She was terribly hurt by the experience.

There are many people who would argue and say that she should have given in out of respect… that this is the style in Israel. Most people are used to it – and she will eventually get used to it too. Some women actually prefer it. Had this been an ad hoc Mehadrin bus, Rachel may have had a point. But this bus was an officially designated Mehadrin bus. What right does a new Oleh have to start messing with the system – one that has already been established and for the most part accepted by every one? Some enthusiastically and some begrudgingly but accepted nonetheless.

OK. I hear the argument. But at the end of the day it is unfair to those who feel uncomfortable with this arrangement to be forced by circumstances into it.

One might argue that it is equally uncomfortable Charedim to ride on mixed buses. And if both communities can be accommodated by having both types of buses serving the public – why not do it? The answer is that both communities cannot be accommodated – unless one is willing to skip a bus they have been waiting for if it the’ wrong one’ - and continue to wait for the ‘right one’.

Most people just throw in the towel and take whichever bus shows up. But that doesn’t make it right. This is once again a case where the tyranny of the majority (if indeed, Charedim are the majority) has won the day. But being in the majority does not make their victory right. Certainly not when it causes so much pain to other religious Jews who do not buy into these Chumros.

The Israeli government has apparently ruled that all Mehadrin buses are illegal – across the board. Why they continue to exist is therefore a big question. The only way a bus can be legally segregated by sex is if the people on it at any given time agree to it.

What about the problems with crowded buses that will inadvertently cause contact with other passengers on the bus? For that we have to look to the Poskim and see not only what they Paskined, but what they did.

Rav Moshe Feinstein Paskined that such contact is not Assur. Did Rav Moshe ever get on a non sex segregated bus? I don’t know. But I do know that another Gadol of similar stature did. His name was Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Was he not worried about the lack of Tznius he might encounter there? Perhaps. But that did not stop him from taking the bus when he needed to. If a Tznius issue came up he dealt with it Halachicly B’Darkei Noam. In ways that are a Kiddush HaShem. I don’t think he ever asked the government to institute Mehadrin bus service in his own Charedi neighborhood.

The Mehadrin buses are a relatively recent innovation. They were created at the urging of extreme Charedim like those found in Meah Shearim. Not to be outdone in the Frumkeit department - other Charedi rabbinic leaders have endorsed them. But if they are going to cause religious Jews of high caliber like Rachel Weinstein grief, they are not worth a nickel! And worse it perpetuates the enmity among even religious groups.