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.
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.
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.