Israel, women, haredim and the halacha of apartheid

As I have covered before, the Arab world has recently been going through a cultural gender-identity crisis as the backwards and oppressive thinking that pervades the region is taking a growing economic toll. The principal opposition to modernising Arab culture in general comes from political Islamists who genuinely idealise a 7th Century way of living, although they do allow special dispensation for some of the 21st Century’s developments (mostly its weaponry). Sadly, unlike most other unsavoury trends in the region, this wave of intolerance that is sweeping the Middle East is not passing over the doors of the Children of Israel.

Following on from this story about the High Court ruling against the forced separation of men and women in public streets, it seems that the Haredi community are continuing to champion the “Apartheid Israel” label and fiercely battling to keep the fairer sex off the airwaves and at the back of buses. I kid you not.

‘Gender segregation practices are ‘apart… JPost – National News.

Religious IDF soldiers also refused to listen to women singing at an army event because of a prohibition within Jewish law of listening to women sing in person.

A complaint was submitted to the broadcasting authority about the exclusion of women on the haredi radio station Kol Berama, and the issue of gender-segregated buses in haredi neighborhoods has also not been resolved.

[MK Tzipi] Hotovely made her comments during the first-ever hearing of the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women into the issue, initiated by MK Einat Wilf (Independence).

“The committee… sees the exclusion of women as apartheid which contradicts the values of the state of Israel and Jewish law,” Hotovely said. “We have to fight this phenomenon of radicalization that is being expressed through the exclusion of women [in public life], because it seriously injures [the rights] of women and society as a whole.”

… The committee said that it would be asking that Egged and the Transportation Ministry provide within three months a document detailing any occurrences in which the ruling of the Supreme Court outlawing gender segregation on buses is infringed.

MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) was also present at the hearing and further proposed that Egged demand that its drivers complete a form whenever any incident of segregation occurs.

Oh, and I’ll add to that: off billboards.

Jerusalem mayor battles ultra-orthodox groups over women-free billboards | World news | The Guardian.

Jerusalem’s secular mayor, Nir Barkat, has pitted himself against the city’s swelling ranks of ultra-orthodox extremists by demanding that local police enable women to reclaim their position in the public domain.

Over recent months, women’s faces have disappeared from billboards across the city amid mounting pressure applied by the powerful ultra-orthodox lobby, who find the female image offensive.

Several advertisers have erased female models from their posters in Jerusalem. Elsewhere in Israel, the winter campaign of Israeli clothing brand Honigman features a model cosily dressed in winter knits. In the capital, the woman’s head has been removed from the image, leaving just her arm and a handbag.

This kind of thing has no place in Israel. It’s backwards, it’s harmful to society as a whole and, most of all, it’s un-Jewish. This stems from an insular and extreme community that is more than happy to piggyback off the rest of society when they receive their welfare cheques, but otherwise do everything that they possibly can to isolate themselves (many of them are not even Zionists). Fortunately, some are speaking out. Here’s haredi Rabbi Chaim Amsalem explaining why the encroaching gender Apartheid is un-Jewish.

The traditional Jewish approach to wo… JPost – Opinion – Op-Eds.

Let me begin by making a clear and loud declaration for all to hear: There is absolutely no basis in Jewish law for the separation of men and women on buses or public streets.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the greatest Orthodox halachic authority of the 20th century, made this very clear in his responsa, where he ruled that there was no problem with riding the New York subway, where men and women are often pressed together in very tight quarters. This applies all the more so when simply sitting in close proximity on a bus.

Aside from the fact that Jewish law certainly allows men and women to sit together on the bus or walk on the same side of the street, there is actually a specific halachic transgression that occurs when such extreme actions are taken … even according to the warped understanding that Jewish law does mandate the separation of men and women in these circumstances, there would certainly be no justification for demeaning a woman by forcing her to move to the back of the bus.

Granted, Jewish law does mandate the separation of men and women during prayer and specific other times, but nothing beyond that. The Torah opens society to women and cautions that it is the man’s responsibility not to “stray after your eyes.”

But this isn’t just about buses. This is about growing extremism in the haredi world, part of which includes the demonization of women.That is the reason in certain neighborhoods the Clalit healthcare fund has stopped giving children stickers with pictures of little girls on them, and the reason some haredi newspapers will not print pictures of women. Some go as far as doctoring photos in order to remove women in adherence of this policy.

… Right at the beginning of Creation, the Torah says God created one being in the following way: “Male and female He created them.”

If there was only one being, why does the Torah say “them” and describe it as both “male and female”?

The Talmud explains that God fashioned an original being which embodied both male and female characteristics and then separated that one being into two. Why? Why didn’t He make them into separate male and female beings from the start?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, one of the most prominent Orthodox rabbis of the 19th century, explained as follows: “So that what was previously one creature was not two, and thereby the complete equality of women forever attested [to].”

… But our tradition goes even beyond demanding equality.The Talmud teaches that the Jews were redeemed from slavery in Egypt due to the merit of Jewish women, and that the women did not worship the golden calf or believe the negative report of the spies about Israel. Our salvation in the Hanukka and Purim stories came because our women rose to the occasion. According to our tradition, women have binah yeteira – an increased ability to understand and comprehend. That quality has saved the Jewish people throughout history.

 It is almost prohibitively difficult to penetrate haredi society and they will only ever listen to internal debate, so it is hugely important that people like Rabbi Amsalem are empowered. Aside from the looming possibility of an Iranian nuclear warhead, the single biggest threat to Israel most certainly comes from within.

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  1. Beit Shemesh is now on par with Saudi Arabia and Iran « Major Karnage
  2. A warning for Arab women, hope from Palestinians but in spite of everything, Israel still way out in front « Major Karnage

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