Here we go again. Last week there was yet another ‘Mehadrin (sex segregated) bus story’ in the news.
Ynet reported that a young 22-year-old woman by the name of Miri Bleicher got onto a Mehadrin (sex segregated) bus. (It is not clear whether this was known to her – although from the description, it seems she was not at first aware of it.) She was promptly verbally abused by some of the passengers. Among the names they called her was “Shkisa” which is a pejorative often used to describe an irreligious and immodest Jewish woman. She was even spat upon by one passenger.
When she first boarded the bus she did not get off and re-enter the bus at the rear – as is required by Mehadrin buses. I say ‘required’ although if I recall correctly Israel passed a law against Mehadrin buses. But in the real world Mehadrin buses are going to happen whether anyone likes it or not. When the majority of a community desires it – that is the way it is going to be. Most people have learned to live with it when in those neighborhoods. But I digress.
While not bending to custom and re-entering the bus in the rear, Ms. Bleicher did quickly pass by the men sitting in the front and went to the rear.
This was not a short ride across town but an hour and a half trip to the city of Arad. Long story short – Ms. Bleicher said she was insulted the entire time and was brought to tears.
I can just hear all the “defenders of the faith” reactions. “She asked for it.” “She absolutely was confrontational.” All she had to do was re-enter the bus and sit in the back.” She was trying to make a statement – a feminist statement.” “She was a provocateur.” “She had an agenda.”
The truth is I don’t know what her agenda was or if she had one at all. My own feeling is that she did not know what kind of bus she was getting on to. She simply wanted to go from ‘here to there’. Once she realized what the situation was she refused to play along. I doubt that she got on the bus to make a point about ‘The big bad Haredim”. There were no cameras or microphones.
But even if she did have an agenda, what right did they have to harass her? One can see from the picture that she was as Tzanua (modestly dressed) as could be. There was no need to yell at her except for them to make their own point. Which is apparently that they are not going to let anyone interfere in their way of life on any level – no matter how innocuous such ‘interference’ may be. Accordingly – insulting a young woman to tears for the duration of an hour and a half bus trip is a perfectly legitimate way to make their point – as is spitting on her.
Unfortunately this is not a new story. Just a recurrence of similar ones. Only with a new victim. I realize that the majority of even extreme Haredim do not act this way. But there are far too many incidents like this for it to be an aberration.
I have no clue how to teach those who spit on others how to act in a civilized society. I’m not sure it is even possible. In my view the best way to handle a situation like this is to just give in to it. It is not worth the fight. They are not going to give up their way of life. The only thing I would fight is if they tried to extend their influence beyond their own borders and inflict their standards upon everyone else in Israel.
I bring this up to dismiss any thought that would blame Ms. Bleicher for her own troubles. There are always people who in cases like this will cast the victim as a provocateur. Even if they concede that the passengers were wrong. But even if I were to grant that she provoked these Haredi passengers (which I do not) the greater sin is not that she was a provocateur but in the way a fellow human being – not to mention a fellow Jew – was treated.
Lest anyone say that the passengers were exercising their natural right to freedom of speech just as she was exercising her right to enter the bus from the front – free speech does not include harassing or spitting on people.
Nor do I accept blaming the so called biased messenger as is so often the case. There are always those who will say the secular media is biased against Haredim and they therefore doubt the veracity of the story. I do not believe that Ynet made up the story. I believe it happened.
Then there are those who say that the reverse story of Haredim being mistreated by Hilonim (secular Jews) never gets reported. And they will give ample examples of it.
Perhaps that’s true, but it is irrelevant. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Let us examine that side of the coin for a moment. Are Hilonim naturally pre-disposed to bashing Haredim for no reason at all? As outrageous and wrong as their behavior toward Haredim sometimes is, it is not happening in a vacuum – out of the blue. They react to their prejudices the same way Haredim do.
The fact is that Hilonim and Haredim live segregated lives. So that each segment has no other frame of reference other than what they have been indoctrinated to believe (in he case of Haredim) or what they see reported in the news media (in the case of Hilonim). Unfortunately it is human nature to paint an entire group with the broad brush of prejudice in such circumstances. I think that’s true for both communities.
For Haredim – their views are skewed by their teachers who constantly bash the Hiloni community as “out to get them.”
For Hilonim – they take their cues from the constant news reports about Haredi misdeeds that seem to be a staple of daily life. Like the one in this post. Need I mention the many others that they are infamous for? To mention just one of the more egregious ones that come to mind is when a few of extremist Haredim in Ramat Bet Shemesh B screamed “whore” an assorted other indignities at 8 an year old girl on her way to school last year. There are so many incidents like this one – and worse – that it would take up far too much space in a relative short blog-post to mention them all. On top of that, there is resentment at how Haredim view the army and seem to extort the government for funding in exchange for their vote.
When a Hiloni sees someone who looks Haredi – these thoughts could very well be on his mind. And the more aggressive ones might be moved to attack him at least verbally. Not because he did anything wrong. But because he sees a Haredi as a member of a group that represents all that. That of course is does not justify it at all.It is painting them all with a broad brush. But it does explain it.
I believe all this could change if the two communities would integrate rather than isolate. Sadly that is highly unlikely on both sides. There is too much water under the bridge.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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