Reporter's Notebook: Riding the 417 bus

By
August 5, 2013 01:32

The situation on the buses in Beit Shemesh is not as bad as one might think, and most ultra-Orthodox commuters are courteous and friendly.

1 minute read.



Haredi man near a bus

Haredi man near a bus 311. (photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))

I was sitting toward the front of the 417 bus from Ramat Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem when she got on.

The ultra-Orthodox woman looked around and then turned to me. She said that she wanted to sit in the seat next to mine, but as she could not sit next to a man I would have to move.

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I looked at her incredulously and after a couple of seconds patted the seat. Rebuffing my overture, she repeated that she could not sit next to a man and reiterated that I would have to move.

“You can sit next to me if you want,” I finally replied, adding mischievously that if she wanted to act according to the haredi ‘rules’ requiring gender segregation on public transportation, she could go to the back of the bus.

She didn’t get the joke.

A couple of months ago on the 417, a friend of mine was about to sit down next to me for the ride into Jerusalem when a bearded hassid pushed him out of the way and plopped down next to me.

When asked why he had acted this way, he said it was forbidden according to Torah law for a man to sit behind (not merely next to) a woman, and that as such he needed my friend’s seat.

Am I not also a Jew? my friend asked. That’s not my problem, the hassid shot back.

During another incident, our bus was halted at a bus stop by extremists who blocked its progress with their bodies, sitting down in the street while their friends painted slogans on the back of the bus.

Such incidents are infuriating but, thankfully, becoming less common. The situation on the buses in Beit Shemesh is not as bad as one might think, and most ultra-Orthodox commuters are courteous and friendly.

I myself usually see women and men sitting together, with any separation the result of individual choice. However, on occasion I do see discrimination.

The occasional incident does make it less than ideal, and in the end you feel uncomfortable just knowing it can – and eventually will – happen again.

I must say that when it happens in front of me, it ruins my commute for weeks.


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