gender separation 311.
(photo credit: Jeremy Sharon)
Chabad can hold an event that separates men and women in Tel Aviv’s central Rabin Square, the Tel Aviv District Court ruled on Sunday.
The court ruling was not a full-throated endorsement of gender segregation in the public square as much as a scolding of the Tel Aviv municipality for first agreeing to allow the Chabad event with a mechitza (partition used by Orthodox Jews to separate men and women), and then withdrawing its permission nearly at the last moment.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai had released a statement on Thursday morning announcing he would not allow gender segregation in public spaces in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
Accordingly, he was not going to allow Tuesday’s event to go forward with a mechitza.
He made the announcement after Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit
issued a decision saying that the municipality has the authority to disallow gender segregation at events that need its approval to take place.
Mandelblit’s rationale was that the event was not a manifestly religious that it needed to happen in that public space, and that there were plenty of private spaces where Chabad could hold the event with a mechitza.
“Our town, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, in which the Declaration of Independence was read, has always been a pioneer when it comes to protecting human rights, equality and gender equality in particular. This decision is consistent with the values of the State of Israel which strives for equal rights in eradicating the grave phenomenon of exclusion of women from the public sphere,” Huldai said.
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He said the municipality had taken into account that the event was to be held in a central square through which many people pass and was supposed to be open to the public and not exclusively religious.
The event – under the slogan “faith, joy, redemption” – is scheduled for the Hebrew date Tammuz 12, which marks both the birthday of the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, and the anniversary of his release from imprisonment and a capital sentence in the Soviet Union in 1927.
In response, Chabad filed an emergency petition with the Tel Aviv District Court.
As part of the proceedings, the Tel Aviv municipality committed that in future, it would reject such gender-segregated events from the outset.
It did not appear that the court would have forced the municipality to approve the event if it had been rejected from the outset.
Rather, the court’s focus seemed to be that it was unfair of the municipality to have approved the event. The organizer’s then invested time and resources in planning it and then the municipality withdrew its approval without even a hearing at the last second.
Furthermore, the Coalition of Women in Israel, which had helped oppose the gender-segregated event, noted that outsider men and women would be permitted to crossover and sit on whatever side of the mechitza they wanted.
In other words, the mechitza would be optional and likely only used and observed by the Chabad attendees who desired it and would not be imposed on residents who did not want to observe the gender segregation strictures.
Even among the expected event attendees, there would be a mixed area behind the mechitza area where people could eat, drink and mingle.
Finally, the court pointed out to the municipality that it had approved a similar gender segregated event in 2016 without any protest.
The municipality responded essentially that the 2016 approval and the initial approval in this case had been errors as the issues had not been fully considered.
Meretz party leader Tamar Zandberg said the decision saddened her and that it was “proof that the struggle to end discrimination against women is far from over.” She added that the attempt to bring gender segregation to “Tel Aviv, the bastion of liberalism, will not go unanswered.”
Shas MK Michael Malkieli called the decision, “praiseworthy” adding “there is a limit to how much hypocrisy…that can be forced on us by secular coercion.”Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.
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