Last month, Anat Hoffman of the Reform Movement proposed that I board one of the previously gender-segregated bus lines and examine the attitude to women. These are the bus routes where the High Court of Justice ruled such segregation is illegal and must be annulled.
I boarded the Route 418 bus from Ramat Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem. The bus was full, and I, an elderly woman over 80 years of age, sought a seat. The men did not appear ill to me yet nobody offered his seat.
I finally found a free seat at the front of the bus. I sat down and immediately heard someone yelling: “Women to the back of the bus.” They screamed but I smiled and continued to sit. Emotions were high but eventually the bus driver said: “Stop it. Let her sit wherever she wants.”
This segregation is disgusting. It is a shame that the Egged bus company cooperates with this for some profits. However, the problem is not Egged. After all, Egged is subsidized by the State and must serve the entire public, regardless of ethnicity, creed, religion or gender.
We are currently experiencing the revival of radical, zealous rabbis who seek to elicit power. They challenge the government and Knesset, brainwash their students and present themselves as an alternative: The rule of the Torah. This radicalization is fed by money, political power and the weakness of ministers and Knesset members who seek to curry favor with the religious public.
This is not a new phenomenon. It started when politicians began to make pilgrimages to rabbis.
Judaism never espoused the need to distance from women. After all, God created both man and woman in his own image. The segregation we are witnessing is the producing of prejudice and power struggles.
A crazy countryI learned from various rabbis, such as Shlomo Goren, who followed historical precedents of a “conditional divorce” to prevent women from becoming Agunot. Together we managed to prevent injustices done to many women. Rabbi Shmuel Avidor Hacohen was also a special man, and when I approached him with the problems of couples who could not get married he spared no effort and smoothed over the issues elegantly.
I meet successful women at the highest level of every field. I admire their rational, practical devotion to the targets they pursue. I also view the women of Kolech, Israel’s first Orthodox feminist organization, as wise, educated and incredibly clever. Yet I feel that we live in a crazy country. Everyone woos women but they are not given rights. We want them to be pretty, healthy and make a living – yet we also want them to shut up. Only few appreciate and truly care for their rights.
The Israeli public has tired of struggles for changing legislation for the sake of human rights. Yet now of all times – when winds of change are blowing and people are enlisting to the cause of a more dignified life for all of us – we must not forget the notion of equality for the entire population. We must care for others, allow every group and individual to express themselves, and respect each other.
We are persecuted by people who are supposed to be men of letters who honor every human being. So I have news for them: A woman is a human being too.
Shulamit Aloni takes part in the “Taking a Seat” project for eliminating gender-based segregation in the public sphere
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