Monday, February 12, 2007

The Back of the Bus

As difficult as the religion question is in the US, it seems to be many times more difficult in Israel. The wall that separates church and state here is damaged, but it's still there; we have no state religion and we don't have a Secretary of Faith Outreach as described in Mick LaSalle's serial novel The Event. In Israel, an accommodation for religion was made when the country was founded by allowing religious authority, which was given to the Orthodox community.

I heard on NPR this morning a story (here is another version, less objective about the ultra-Orthodox but a little more detailed) about an Israeli High Court case regarding sex segregation on "Haredi bus lines" in Jerusalem. These lines serve what we would call ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and, it turns out, have unwritten rules regarding where women can sit on the bus (and also what they can wear). Women who haven't gone to the back of the bus have been verbally abused and harassed by religious men, and one woman was assaulted.

Can any American hear the phrase "the back of the bus" and not think of Rosa Parks?!

It turns out that while the bus system is a private entity, not only is it a monopoly but it also receives subsidies from the Israeli government. The government doesn't want to get involved, saying that Egged Bus Cooperative is a private company, and the company ducks responsibility by saying that there are actually no "rules" (because they are unwritten) and are enforced by the people in the communities they serve (though Egged does require its drivers to enforce these unwritten rules by supporting the men who complain).

An educator at the Haredi College for Women, who I can't help but think of as an apologist, is reported as saying that the Haredi bus restrictions help men focus on their families and their wives and "not on the barely-dressed women entering the bus." It's precisely that kind of thinking that blames the victim of a rape. Men can't control themselves so they must control women.

Along the same lines, last month a committee of Haredi rabbis ruled that Haredi women should not receive an education past high school. I guess they don't care that most Haredi families are mainly supported by the women while the men study Torah, and that a high school education doesn't earn someone very much in a nation as technologically advanced as Israel, just as it doesn't in the US.

No comments: