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February 26, 2013

Orthodox Women Sue Beit Shemesh Over Haredi Forced Gender Segregation, Violence

Women Move To The Other Side Of The Street Beit Shemesh Sign 12-21-2011Four Orthodox women from Beit Shemesh have filed suit against the Israeli city for allegedly failing to prevent haredim from dictating so-called modesty rules which they insist must be followed by women in public haredi areas of the city.

Women Move To The Other Side Of The Street Beit Shemesh Sign 12-21-2011
A 2011 Beit Shemesh haredi modesty sign telling women to walk on the opposite side of the street than men.

Orthodox Women Sue Beit Shemesh Over Haredi Forced Gender Segregation, Violence
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com

They’re fed up and they’re not going to take it any more.

Four Orthodox women from Beit Shemesh have filed suit against the Israeli city for allegedly failing to prevent haredim from dictating so-called modesty rules which they insist must be followed by women in public haredi areas of the city, Arutz Sheva reported.

The haredim, most of whom are part of a community that is an outgrowth of Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, posted signs on public property warning that "immodest" women are prohibited to walk in their neighborhood in Beit Shemesh.

When a plaintiff took down one of those signs, she was spotted by a haredi man who allegedly responded by stoning her. "There"s a threatening atmosphere here due to the repeated violence against women who the attackers think are not dressed appropriately," she said.

The women are suing Beit Shemesh for failing to remove the signs. The plaintiffs are also asking 25,000 shekels as compensation for the emotional distress they have suffered because of them.

The Israel Religious Action Center, the Reform movement"s advocacy group in Israel, helped the women file the suit, even though they are Orthodox. The RAC has been involved in several lawsuits related to haredi lawbreaking, including one that caused Israel’s High Court of Justice to ban gender segregation on public buses, and another, not yet resolved, that seeks to make full-time adult yeshiva students ineligible for state welfare payments.

Beit Shemesh has a haredi mayor, Moshe Abutbul, who is a member of the Sefardi haredi Shas political party. He and the city have been sharply criticized for turning a blind eye to haredi violence and extremism, including the refusal to protect grade-school-age Modern Orthodox schoolgirls who were being harassed by haredi adult men in 2011 and early 2012. The girls were chased down the street in front of their school, spat on and called “shiksas” and “whores.”

The city and Abutbul only began to take the problem serious after an exposé on an Israeli television news magazine featured an 8-year-old Modern Orthodox girl who too traumatized by the haredim to walk to and from school without adult protection. The new report caused a sensation across Israel and sparked a massive anti-gender-discrimination rally in the city attended by rank-and-file Israelis from across the country and a few political leaders.

Thousands attended and all segments of Israeli Jewish society were well-represented – except for Beit Shemesh haredim. Only a handful of local haredi turned out, none of them associated with the Mea Shearim sect or local haredi leadership. Abutbul’s solution to the problem of haredi violence was to try to convince the Modern Orthodox school to relocate to a part of Beit Shemesh that did not border on the Mea Shearim community’s ‘turf.’ Past that, Abutbul initially claimed, there really wasn’t anything he or the city could do.

But sharp national and international condemnation prompted Abutbul to take small steps to limit haredi extremism just at it prompted the previously lethargic Israeli police to act to protect the Modern Orthodox schoolgirls.

But as national and international attention faded, haredi modesty signs posted on public property or facing public property were no longer removed by the city, and violent haredim largely went unpunished.

Haredim stoned a woman from Israel’s national lottery, breaking her car windows. They stoned a young non-haredi mother and her baby who had dared to shop in a supermarket that borders on that haredi neighborhood. Supermarkets adjoining that neighborhood suddenly sprouted their own modesty signs, and guard at the front doors not only checked patrons bags for bombs and guns, as is normal throughout the country, but they also allegedly directed non-haredi women to cover their bodies with large black shawls provided by the stores in order to fulfill haredi modesty requirements.

All of this lawbreaking (and more) went largely unpunished, especially after Tzipi Livini was deposed as Kadima Party leader last spring and resigned from Knesset. Without her voice fighting to uphold the High Court of Justice rulings banning enforced public gender segregation by haredim, the ruling was simply not enforced.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu desperately needs haredi political parties to stay in power. Without them, he is forced to include centrist and left of center parties in his coalition, and he risks losing the prime minister’s office to one of those parties’ leaders. Haredim, however, do not pose this direct risk to Netanyahu because many haredi leaders will not support a haredi candidate for prime minister, meaning that even if his Likud-Beiteinu party was a minority party in a haredi-led coalition, Netanyahu would have a strong chance of remaining prime minister anyway.

(Likud-Beiteinu won 31 seats in January’s national election. The haredi bloc won 19. But the Beiteinu faction could choose to run independently in future elections as it has in past elections, and that could leave Netanyahu’s Likud with fewer seats than a haredi bloc.)

For its part, the City of Beit Shemesh doesn’t believe removing the haredi modesty signs are its responsibility.

"There were multiple efforts to remove the aforementioned signs in coordination with the police. But new signs were put up immediately, and municipal supervisors do not have the power to deal with a situation like that,” a city spokesperson reportedly claimed.

Comments

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Good for them! Hope these women succeed.

The city is rotten to its core. No one is going to "succeed" until the entire structure of the municipality from mayor to street cleaner are dismantled ... that is, expect the worst of the worst haredim.

Unfortunately, this is the face of Israel in the duture. As the population of Haredim grows disproportionally, and their political power grows with the population, the haredi culture will dictate societal norms. Israel will become a theocracy.

Being familiar with Bet Shemesh, I can tell you that the social lack of civility is compounded by non-Charedi lawlessness as well.
The culture in Israel, not only in Bet Shemesh, is one of very limited respect for the rule of law in terms of municipal statutes. They are very primitive. The trend is changing slowly, but even secular Israelis are very much used to complete violation of zoning laws. Enforcement is rare. The local governments are very corrupt and hopelessly incompetent at enforcement. Add to that atmosphere a Charedi culture and you have severe lack decorum.

Reform Judaism... reminding everybody that Judaism is a religion, not a cult, for at least fifty years... :-)

even secular Israelis are very much used to complete violation of zoning laws.

Well, do Israelis want zoning laws? If so, how do they intend to zone? Zoning is one of the methods of urban planning, the art of determining how a city should look and what the land uses should be. If zoning laws are too strict for the culture to bear, then people will either ignore or move to overturn them.

The problem with Mea Shearim is that they're acting like an American-style gated community, while their streets are actually public, unlike many American-style gated communities. Therefore, if the streets are public, shouldn't the rights and freedoms of the public prevail? If Jerusalem wants to give the streets of Mea Shearim to the Mea Shearimites, then maybe it should be allowed to do so, in return for a fee or for an agreement that the Mea Shearim "homeowners' association" would keep up the streets itself. Nonetheless, if the streets are still public, then they're public.

Now for the other issue, the one that led to this article. Gender segregation is a touchy issue. On the one hand, there are women-only places in some parts of the world (i.e., women only railroad cars in certain countries) because the women feel that the men aren't keeping their hands to themselves. So they ask for, and get, women-only facilities to feel more comfortable.

Then there is Abrahamic and other traditional gender segregation, in which it's essentially the men running away from the women. This is because the societies involved are patriarchial, and they take a male-centered view that members of their own gender shouldn't be thinking about sex. Hence, tznius, hijab, and other "modesty" rules, mechitzas, and other such things.

(This puritanism has also occurred in Vedic religions to some extent, where it has taken weird forms. For example, the X-rated sculptures at Khajuraho were created with the intent of disarming the sexual response of people to those images through practice, so that they'd focus on spiritual things rather than sexual things.)

There's "birds of a feather flock together" gender segregation, which is informal (guys might want to "hang out with the boys" or women might want to have "girl talk").

However, some women and men are uncomfortable with gender segregation. They grew up in a culture where boys and girls study together, pray together, live with one another, and interact on an everyday basis. To them, not being allowed to walk around in public without having to "dress up" is just... weird. Yes, they are concerned about sexual harassment, but they are not concerned about whether or not they stoke unrelated frummie libidos belonging to people that are not going to pounce on them anyway. They are concerned about violence from idiots who should be minding their own business, though.

To frei and moderate frum yidden, gender segregation is a matter for the bathroom, living accommodations (if unmarried or not in a relationship), and groups of friends (and, for the moderate frum Jews, the shul). Apparently, the hareidi have different ideas, and this is where push comes to shove.

Replace putting up modesty signs with illegally parking cars in the middle of the street or in disabled parking places:

"There were multiple efforts to remove the cars in coordination with the police. But new cars were parked immediately, and municipal supervisors do not have the power to deal with a situation like that,” a city spokesperson reportedly claimed.

You think anyone would take that seriously?!

I would like to point out a mistake. The Israel Religious Action Center's abbreviation is IRAC, not the RAC. The RAC is another organization based in Washington DC.

Thank you.

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