Posted by: Lister | April 27, 2007

Miriam Shear and Mehadrin Buses

The BBC had an article a few days ago regarding the ‘modesty buses‘ which run in Israel.

When the Number 40 bus arrived, the most curious thing happened. Husbands left heavily pregnant wives or spouses struggling with prams and pushchairs to fend for themselves as they and all other male passengers got on at the front of the bus.

Women moved towards the rear door to get on at the back. When on the bus, I tried to buck the system, moving my way towards the driver but was pushed back towards the other women.

These are what orthodox Jews call “modesty buses”. The separation system operates on 30 public bus routes across Israel. The authorities here say the arrangement is voluntary, but in practice, as I found out, there is not much choice involved.

Naomi Ragen is one of a group of women now taking the separation bus system to court. She is an orthodox Jew herself.

[…] Naomi Ragen says the buses are just part of a wider menacing pattern of behaviour towards women in parts of the orthodox Jewish community.

“They’ve already cancelled higher education in the ultra-orthodox world for women. They have packed the religious courts with ultra-orthodox judges.”

[…] She says that there are signs all over some religious neighbourhoods demanding that women dress modestly. “They throw paint and bleach at women who aren’t dressed modestly and if we don’t draw a line in the sand here with this seat on a bus, then I don’t know what this country and this religion is going to look like in 20 years,” Ms Ragen said.

According to Haaretz, Miriam Shear was not on one of the segregated buses when she was attacked.

The bus driver, in response to a media inquiry, denied that violence was used against her, but Shear’s account has been substantiated by an unrelated eyewitness on the bus who confirmed that she sustained an unprovoked “severe beating.”

Shear, an American-Israeli woman who currently lives in Canada, says that on a recent five-week vacation to Israel, she rode the bus daily to the Old City to pray at sunrise. Though not defined by Egged as a sex-segregated “mehadrin” bus, women usually sit in the back, while men sit in the front, as a matter of custom.

[…] According to Yehoshua Meyer, the eyewitness to the incident, Shear’s account is entirely accurate. “I saw everything,” he said. “Someone got on the bus and demanded that she go to the back, but she didn’t agree. She was badly beaten and her whole body sustained hits and kicks. She tried to fight back and no one would help her. I tried to help, but someone was stopping me from getting up. My phone’s battery was dead, so I couldn’t call the police. I yelled for the bus driver to stop. He stopped once, but he didn’t do anything. When we finally got to the Kotel [Western Wall], she was beaten badly and I helped her go to the police.”

Jpost (Dec 2006).

Mehadrin is a term used for strict observance of Jewish legal strictures. In the context of public transportation, mehadrin means that the laws of sexual modesty are observed more stringently. Men and women do not come into physical contact and they try not to even see one another.

[…] Egged drivers do not oversee the gender separation. Nor are mehadrin buses marked as such. (An Egged spokesman said that because a bus was often used for both mehadrin and regular lines it was logistically impossible to mark them.) Rather, regular passengers know which buses are mehadrin and sit accordingly. Passengers like Maya and Dalia who do not know are notified by veteran passengers, who see themselves as responsible for enforcing the segregation.

The separation is part of a larger haredi trend of encouraging more modest behavior in the public sphere. Other examples include a recent rally attended by leading Lithuanian yeshiva heads protesting “immodest” female fashion trends in the haredi world and the initiation of El Al flights that provide “kosher” movies produced and directed by Moshe Levi, a Gerrer Hassid, and same-sex seating. Haredi spiritual leaders believe the immodest influences of secular society cause calamities in the haredi world, including sickness, poverty and godlessness.

Egged has been operating mehadrin lines for five years, the first of which was the No. 402 between Bnei Brak and Jerusalem.

Legal challenge to the Mahadrin Lines (July 2006)

Egged buses in which ultra-Orthodox men and women are separated are illegal, says the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal advocacy arm of the Israeli Reform movement. The center is threatening to petition the High Court of Justice against the Transportation Ministry over the issue.

Two new sex-segregated bus lines, known as Mehadrin lines, were introduced at the beginning of this week – between Ofakim and Bnei Brak, and between Ofakim and Jerusalem, bringing to 30 the number of segregated buses that Egged is operating throughout the country. Most of the buses are on intercity lines. There are private companies which also operate sex-segregated buses.

Line no. 494, one of the two new Egged Mehadrin lines, is the only bus that goes directly from Jerusalem to the Negev town of Ofakim and it runs at a reduced price. A resident of Ofakim who wishes to ride by regular bus to Jerusalem has to take two separate buses and ends up paying twice as much as those on the Mehadrin lines. That is one of the reasons that the center is demanding Egged define clear criteria for the operation of its Mehadrin lines. The center is not opposed to the idea of operating special lines for ultra-Orthodox passengers.



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