Friday, December 08, 2006

The Woman Who Would Be Rosa

There has been a letter floating around the internet about an incident that happened to a Frum woman on a bus that goes to the Kotel. It is kind of a turn on the Rosa Parks story.

The number two bus in Jerusalem whose route takes it from Har Nof to the Kotel is frequented mostly by Charedim. As such it has an unofficial status as a “Mehadrin” bus. Mehadrin busses are specially designated busses by Egged to serve the Charedi community with respect tp its religious sensibilities. Specifically separating the sexes, men in the front and women in the back. Why the back for women? Because, based on a Gemarah, a man is not supposed to look at the back of a woman. So women sit in the back, men in the front… problem solved. Except for the fact that women end up being second class citizens. Well, you might say it can’t be helped. It’s Halacha… you see. Besides, I’ve sat in the back of a bus. Not really so terrible. Not much worse than the front.

But is it Halacha? I don’t think so. If it were, no one would ever be permitted to take any bus anywhere that wasn’t segregated by sex. And we know that isn’t the case. So what the Mehadrin bus is doing is simply being sensitive to a Chumra. But… be that as it may. That is the custom that has evolved in Israel. There are official Mehadrin busses that segregate the sexes. And there are unofficial busses that operate this way.

There is an American Oleh, a Frum woman who would have none of that. She was going to pull a “Rosa Parks”. She decided that she wanted to go to the Kotel and Daven K’Vasiken. Every day. She took the number two bus, but instead of going to the rear she decided to sit in the “Men’s section”. Halacha was after all on her side. Why should she be relegated to second class citizenry? Besides, the number two buss is not a Mehadrin bus. It was a regular bus where people could sit where they wished. But, no one thinks of it that way. The vast majority of people using it are Charedi and treat it as a Mehadrin bus. That’s the way it’s been for years.

Well, after a few weeks of traveling this way and getting stares and comments from the Charedi passengers, men and women alike… all hell broke loose. A Charedi man decided he wasn’t going to take it anymore. He went over to her and asked for her seat and told her to move to the rear. Here is her account of what followed:

“I smiled and said, "I'm sorry, I'm not moving but there are 2 seats in front of me, 1 across the aisle - you can sit there". He refused and demanded MY seat. I was somewhat amused at this childish and arrogant behavior but told him again, politely and quietly, that I am not moving and that if he really, really wants to sit here, he could even sit in the empty seat next to me. But - I'm not moving. This man stared at me for about 10 straight seconds and then spat in my face. Without missing a beat, I jumped up, called him a son-of-a-(deleted), and spat back at him. This brought screams from the women calling me a crazy woman. He responded to my response with a push in the face and a punch to the breasts that sent me flying on to the floor. I jumped up and punched him back. At this point, no fewer than 4 other men jumped up - not to defend ME - but to ATTACK me by punching, hitting, slapping, and kicking me to the floor. I was fighting back the whole time but was no match for 4 men in such cramped quarters. I finally got enough aim to kick one man in the privates and he went limping back to his seat in unmistakable agony. (Yes, I DO smile every time I think about it in the aftermath). But, in the meantime, the "holy" man sat in my seat and had discarded my bag onto the middle of the aisle. I went after him again, demanding my seat back. He spat at me which evoked the same response from me. My snood had come off my head during this scuffle so I knelt down to the floor to find it and the "holy" man kicked me in the face. The kick was so strong that the dirty outline of his shoe could be seen on my right cheek. Within a short amount of time my cheek began to swell and it took no less that 4 Ibuprofens over Shabbos to keep the swelling and the pain down. At the time of the kick, however, I felt no pain - only rage, equally distributed between the Chillul Hashem and the perversion of what some of these Chareidim call "kedusha".”

The letter continues with more of the same.

What are we to make of all this? Well, I cannot tell you how embarrassed and disgusted I am by this massive affront to both man and God. Chilul HaShem does not even come close to describing it. How in heaven’s name can anyone decide that his rights have been so violated that it warranted Nazi-like behavior toward another human being, let alone a woman, let alone a Jew, let alone a Frum Jew?! I can’t even imagine such a thing happening in my worst nightmare. Not only one man, but several beating this poor woman to a pulp! The outrage should be universal, no matter how one feels about Charedim. These Charedim were criminals. Nothing less. But are they really crimnals in the eyes of all?

I’m not so sure. The evidence shows that no one on that bus was happy with what this woman did. She took it upon herslef to violate a the sensibilties of an entire community. And these peole felt it. They tried to stop her verablly from doing it… to no avial. And when this Charedi fellow decided to “do something about it” were the other passengers secretly cheering? Why did no one come forward to help her? It almost seems like this beating was cathartic for the other passengers. Their Kedusha was finally restored. The woman had finally been put in her place.

Can this really be the thinking? I’m not so sure it wasn’t.

To be sure, no one wanted this woman to be beat up the way she was, but based on the “rightous indignation” expressed by many passengers to her in the past, and the lack of anyone coming to her aid. I’m not so sure they weren’t all getting some perverse pleasure from this woman getting her “just deserts”. Of course I don’t really know what they were actually thinking. But circumstances do not seem favorable to conclude that the passengers were in any way sympathetic to her plight.

Now it must be said, that this woman did want to be a bit of a martyr here. She chose her battle. She had to know that she was upsetting people. Yet she continued sitting in that spot every day and upsetting everyone else’s sensibilties. This was no Rosa Parks type act. There was nothing racist going on here. Just a hyper-sensitivty to the mixing of the sexes. And the vast majority of women using that bus actually prefered this aragngement. So she was not really fighting for any real cause but her own.

And it finally came to a head. Was she right in insisting on this seat since it was legally her right… in spite of the community standards that opposed women sitting next to or in front of men? I don’t know. There is certainly room to question her wisdom on this issue. But there can be no doubt about the sheer evil that followed. And the people who participeted in beating her up were no better than Nazis. And the by-standers?