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Hasidim scrap with New York City municipality

Big Apple forced to contend with local haredi pressures for female lifeguard in public pool, bus segregation, modesty clauses for haredi shops

Ynet
Published: 08.23.13, 23:38 / Israel Jewish Scene

Separate sidewalks in Mea Shearim? Demands for segregated bus lines? Not just in Israel: The New York City municipality has recently been dealing with similar problems, the New York Times reported.

 

Some 1.1 million Jews live in the Big Apple, out of a population numbering 8 million. Out of these Jews, about 330,000 are orthodox.

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After dozens of years of a moderate decline in size, the Jewish population has seen a growth spurt, most likely due to the orthodox community's high birthrate.

 

A study conducted by the UJA Federation in New York in 2012 found that more than 30% of New York's Jews define themselves as orthodox, compared to only 23% in 2002.

 

Furthermore, 74% of Jewish children in the city are orthodox, which officially makes New York the city

with the largest orthodox children population in the world.

 

A New York Times article written by Joseph Berger revealed several of the issues which put the leaders of the orthodox sect and the New York City municipality at loggerheads.

 

Though top officials in the municipality always consider their own reelection – and as Samuel Heilman, a sociology professor at City University of New York, said it: "No one can deliver votes like a rebbe can," – they are also familiar with the limitations imposed by the American constitution and code of law.

 


Modesty demands in New York

 

The newspaper reported that the New York's (Jewish) Mayor Michael Bloomberg condemned the segregated public bus line which traverses the route between the Hasidic neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Borough Park, Brooklyn, in which women sit in the back and men in the front.

 

According to the New York Times, haredim won a smaller battle when they insisted on using water from groundwater wells rather than from reservoirs in preparing the dough used for matzos. The city's health department turned its nose, but capitulated after some legal hairsplitting by the Hasidim's lawyers.

 

On the other hand, when they wanted the city to post a female lifeguard during a women-only swim session at a municipal pool in Williamsburg, they were flatly denied. "We can’t commit to providing a female lifeguard because it would run against the establishment clause of providing a service on the basis of a religious belief,” Liam Kavanagh, first deputy commissioner for parks and recreation, said of the

Hasidic request.

 

Sabbath and modesty

Hasidim have also been pressing public libraries in their neighborhoods to open on Sunday, just as the post office and banks now do, since they cannot patronize them on the Sabbath. But Brooklyn library officials refuse, pointing out that union contracts require expensive Sunday overtime, the article said.

 

In an affair that has reached the courts, the city’s Commission on Human Rights issued complaints last year against a half-dozen Hasidic merchants on Williamsburg’s Lee Avenue for posting signs stating, “No shorts, no barefoot, no sleeveless, no low-cut neckline allowed in this store.”

 

The signs, the city said, discriminated against women and non-Orthodox men in places patronized by the public. Hasidic advocates said the signs were no different than dress codes at places like the Four Seasons Restaurant. The dispute is still being litigated in a city administrative court.

 

Most prominently, the city has battled with ultra-Orthodox Jewish representatives over the health risks in metzitzah b’peh, a technique for orally suctioning a circumcision wound. Instead of banning the practice outright, health officials instead required parents to sign a consent form so they could be alerted to the risks. But ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders were still infuriated.

 

Even after the Rabbinical Council of America called for the practice to cease, the Hasidim made it clear they answer to God alone, not to the New York Municipality or to a non-haredi rabbinical council.

 

 

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