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Egged bus (archives) Photo: Oren Agmon
Egged bus (archives) Photo: Oren Agmon
 
 

A painful bus ride

Religious woman shares her experience, fears after facing humiliation on a segregated bus

Sarah Shein
Published: 03.03.08, 18:31 / Israel Opinion

I boarded the bus and sat at the front, as I usually do. An ultra-Orthodox man that followed behind me told me to move to the back of the bus. Why? I asked. Because this is what the rabbis and their congregation decided, men sit at the front, while women sit at the back, he said.

 

An ultra-Orthodox group of people, possibly with the support of their rabbis, decide to turn to the Egged bus company in order to regularize segregated sitting arrangements between men and woman. Egged, which is a public company, is not allowed to order such discrimination. Yet the Orthodox proposed that they would merely ask women to sit at the back – not demand and certainly not force them to do so.

 

The Orthodox are trying to present the situation as if they have an agreement with Egged that orders the segregation. This is misleading and fictitious. There is no agreement and there can be no such agreement. Egged drivers on the segregated buses are instructed to remain silent and refrain from interfering.

 

Well, they asked, and I refused to move to the back, pleasantly but resolutely.

 

I sustained numerous humiliations. They yelled at me that I’m suspicious in their eyes because I’m interested in sitting among the men. In return, I proposed to one of the men that he can sit at the back, and I promise not to look at him for the rest of the ride. My proposal was rejected out of hand.

 

He yelled at me that I’m sinning and making others sin. I expressed my pity, but on the other hand I felt it was a compliment – at my age, as a grandmother, I apparently can still make someone think sinful thoughts. I promise that on my part, there will no trace of sinful thoughts. It’s not my thing.

 

When all the humiliation proved useless and I remained in place, my new “friend” reached the conclusion that I’m apparently insane and suggested hospitalization. “Anyone who doesn’t listen to the rabbis is crazy,” he said. Following this professional prognosis I hoped he would let me be and refrain from dealing with an insane person, but it didn’t work.

 

Is Jewish mosaic crumbling?

He opened the window in order to make me flee to the back, yet I survived the harsh winds, both the ones coming from the outside and the ones inside the bus.

 

There were many mutterings of support around, and at some point a religious man approached, made a more intelligent impression, and attempted to convince me to take my rightful place, at the back. Again, I asked why I should do it. “This is Jewish law,” he said. I started to argue otherwise, when I noticed the man was in great distress. I failed to understand why, and suddenly it hit me: Perhaps there is a problem in hearing Torah lessons from a woman.

 

I asked him. “Of course,” he said. “This is a religious ruling – one must not hear Torah lessons from a woman.”

 

So what do we have here? A woman who must not share Torah wisdom, and who must sit at the back in order to respect the men, a public being lied to regarding a non-existent agreement with Egged, humiliation of women under religious pretenses, and much pain over the trampling of the Torah, whose ways are meant to be pleasant and peaceful.

 

Heavy barrages of contempt, humiliation, and threats were directed at me and accompanied me as I left the bus. I returned home and decided to write about it. I used a little humor, meant to cover great fear. Physical fear and genuine dread in the face of the Jewish mosaic, which I so strongly believe in, and which is crumbling before my eyes.

 

I’m a religious woman and I think that every group within society has its own uniqueness. Each one of us is connect to the others, and this diversity enriches all of us and creates this complex mosaic, which is so empowering.

 

I’m physically scared of their thuggery, (and therefore I did not use my real name,) but I’m even more scared of the dismantlement of the mosaic that brings us together. Is it possible for my piece of the mosaic and his piece of the mosaic to co-exist? I hope so, but my doubts grow every day, every time I ride the bus.

 

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