In a clash this week, between a powerful secular feminist eager to impose her social values on Haredi Jews, and a religious feminist who lives among those Jews, we sided with the religious one. It was quite simple, really, so we’ll make it complicated because it’s Erev Shabbat and you have time.
First, here is a string of tweets Labor Chairperson and Transport Minister Merav Michaeli posted earlier this week:
“Breaking: Women are human. Equal. Therefore, women cannot be excluded. Nowhere. Therefore, there is no room for segregating women on buses. And we will make sure of it. The Transport Ministry under my leadership has begun extensive enforcement against violence and the exclusion of women in public transportation.”
In 2011, the High Court of Justice embraced a Transport Ministry initiative whereby enforcing segregation between men and women on public buses is against the law, however, in communities where this arrangement is acceptable to both men and women, segregation may continue, but without physical enforcement. The court accepted the practice of making women board the bus through the rear door, while men walk in from the front.
Needless to say, the decision didn’t satisfy anybody, and the High Court was quickly served up with petitions from angry Haredi and secular women who had been mistreated on those buses. The fact that the latest Transport Minister, whose combative feminism is the foundation of her social agenda, decided to get involved––half an hour before the next election––was not a sign of an emerging real solution to the problem.
“How many times have we heard of cases where a woman was not allowed to board the bus because, in the opinion of some driver, she was immodest?” Michaeli continued. “How many times have we heard of cases where women were required to sit in the back of the bus? This phenomenon must stop.”
Tractate Sukkah relates that the women’s section in the Temple was originally inside, and the men’s above, outside, but the men couldn’t handle the temptation, so they were reversed. The same principle works in buses that are shared by religious men and women. For the men not to be gazing at the women, they must be seated up front. It’s not fair, and the thing about women having to dress modestly comes very close to blaming the victim, but it’s a status quo that works, so much so that even the Supreme Court was able to recognize its validity.
None of that has any meaning for Michaeli, who concluded aggressively: “I initiated the program that will start as early as September, in which undercover male and female inspectors will board the buses to make sure that women are not excluded in public transportation; and a clear message was sent to drivers that such cases should not be allowed and those who allow them will bear the consequences. Harming women has a price. We are done being silent.”
Like most salon revolutionaries, Michaeli probably wasn’t subject, at least not regularly, to the social evil against which she is rebelling. And, also like most salon revolutionaries, when she gets power, she won’t use it to find workable solutions, but to win.
Aliza Bloch, the first female mayor of Beit Shemesh, is a hands-on revolutionary, who, in 2018, overturned the Haredi establishment in her city to become the most beloved politician there. In 2021, Bloch fired seven council members from Degel HaTorah, Agudah, and Likud, accusing them of stunting development in the city. Earlier she was part of an all-out effort to close down illegally constructed synagogues. The Haredim hate her for those and other reasons, and someone even spray-painted “Aliza Bloch = Hitler” on a wall.
With those credentials, Mayor Bloch stood up to Minister Michaeli, declaring: “Transportation Minister, first make sure the bus lines arrive and run on time and then talk about other issues. At any given moment, thousands of my residents, secular and religious, old and young, students and pensioners, stand at the bus stops on hot days and rainy days, waiting for buses that don’t come.”