New petition to remove modesty signs in Beit Shemesh

For several years, prominent signs have be on display in haredi neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh, placed by extremely conservative haredi synagogues and communal organizations.

January 13, 2016 16:52
3 minute read.
Beit Shemesh

Women are requested not to loiter near the synagogue, Beit Shemesh signb reads. (photo credit: ISRAEL RELIGIOUS ACTION CENTER)

The infamous modesty signs in the city of Beit Shemesh are once again in the spotlight, as the next legal battle against them is poised to commence.

A magistrate’s court ruled last year that the Beit Shemesh municipality was negligent in not removing them and ordered the city to pay compensation to four women who filed a law suit over the issue.

The court did not have the authority to order the signs removed, however, so a new suit was filed at the Jerusalem District Court requesting it to order the notices removed. A hearing on the case has been set for next week.

For several years, prominent signs have been on display in haredi neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh, placed by extremely conservative haredi synagogues and communal organizations, telling women to dress modestly in the particular area of the city where the signs were posted and not to tarry outside certain places, particularly synagogues.

Four women living in Beit Shemesh requested that the municipality remove the signs, but they were not taken down, resulting in a law suit filed by the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, on behalf of the four women.

In January 2015, the Beit Shemesh Magistrate’s Court ruled that the Beit Shemesh Municipality was guilty of severe negligence for not acting to remove the offending signs, which it ruled harmed the rights of women in the city.

The judge ordered the municipality to pay a total of NIS 60,000 to the four women who had filed the suit “The signs were designed to restrict women from using public spaces simply because they were women... and constitute a severe injury to the rights of women to equality and respect. The signs are also humiliating,” said Judge David Gideoni in his ruling.

The fines were paid, but the magistrate’s court did not have the authority to order the signs taken down and so they remained in place.

IRAC subsequently filed another petition in May last year, this time to the Jerusalem District Court, requesting it to order the Beit Shemesh municipality to remove the offending notices.

Shortly before the municipality submitted its response to the court in August 2015 some of the signs were removed, but according to IRAC they have now been restored.

Other signs were not removed but have faded and some signs have been posted on residential buildings over which the municipality has no control.

IRAC has submitted separate suits against the residents of these buildings.

A spokesman for the Beit Shemesh Municipality said the signs had been taken down six months ago, but in one place the sign had been replaced and was again taken down.

Nili Philip, one of the parties to the original law suit who is also a plaintiff in the petition to the district court, said, however, that several of the signs are regularly replaced by designated members of the communities and organizations which insist on the placement of these notices.

“Signs are being regularly fixed and maintained without any effort from the municipality to bring the situation under control,” Philip alleged.

Said IRAC executive director Anat Hoffman, “In places like Beit Shemesh, officials have used street signs like these to control the religiosity of the entire public sphere by policing where women walk and what they wear.

“There are lots of problems in Beit Shemesh that need fixing. Exposed women’s ankles and strands of her hair sticking out from under head-coverings should not be what concerns the municipality and its mayor.”

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