Haredi women have decided they're sick of keeping kosher. Ten years after Egged and Dan bus companies came up with the 'kosher' bus lines - which require female passengers to sit in a separate section at the back of the bus - a campaign is being launched to fight the segregation.
Five women, among them haredi author Naomi Ragen, will file a petition with Israel's High Court, claiming that such segregation is illegal and humiliating.
"We’re sick of sitting in the back of haredi buses. We prefer to sit up front," they wrote.
The petition describes a personal experience by Ragen in July 2004 while on a 'kosher' bus line, coincidentally the only direct bus line from central Jerusalem to her neighborhood of residence.
At first, the bus was empty and Ragen sat alone in a seat up front. As the bus filled with passengers, haredi men came up to her and demanded harshly that she move to the back of the bus.
Ragen, unaware that it was a haredi bus, responded that she had seen no sign requiring her to sit in a specific location. Furthermore, she said, as a religious woman, she knew that there was no Jewish law forbidding her from sitting wherever she pleased.
Forced to stand, even when bus half-emptyFrom that moment, Ragen said, she was verbally abused. At every bus stop, the incoming haredi male passengers yelled at her. There was even one man who threatened her with physical harm.
"He treated me exactly as if I were a black woman in the United States South 50 years ago," recounted Ragen. "It was very humiliating."
According to the petitioners, the separation becomes even more enraging when the male section of the bus is almost empty, while the female section is overcrowded. At such times, the petitioners said, the men still prevent women from crossing over to "their side".
"Why should a woman with children and a baby carriage be forced to stand when there are plenty of empty seats on the bus?" Ragen asked.
Ragen added that, because there are no signs on the buses, women have no way of knowing whether they are 'kosher' or not.
The petition will also complain that the Ministry of Transportation is avoiding the issue, using the excuse that it has no jurisdiction over private bus companies.
By ignoring the issue, "(the Ministry) is lending a hand to discrimination against women and to violence against women who do not submit to such discrimination, as well as against men who choose to sit next to their spouses," the petitioners said.
"In the current format, the haredi bus lines are illegal, since they harm democratic rights and principles. The separation between the sexes sends a message of inferiority to women and we insist that the Ministry of Transportation become involved and address the issue immediately," they concluded.
The petition will be submitted by attorney Orli Erez-Lehovsky, from the Israel Religious Action Center, which is affiliated with Israel's Reform Movement.