'Mea She'arim not enforcing gender separation'

Yeshivot along J'lem thoroughfare upholding conditions required by High Court of Justice last year, police say.

Haredim in Mea Shearim 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredim in Mea Shearim 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Following several years of active opposition to gender-separate sidewalks on Mea She’arim Street during the Succot holiday, Jerusalem Police said this week that they are satisfied with the arrangements for the busy thoroughfare this year.
In recent years, haredi communal leaders and hassidic yeshivas along Mea She’arim arranged for stretches of the road to be divided into separate sections for men and women during Succot to prevent intermingling – particularly during the evening, when traditional Simhat Beit Hashoeva parties are staged and thousands of people throng the neighborhood.
Two-meter high barriers covered with cloth were used to divide the men from the women, while private stewards directed genders to the appropriate part of the street.
However, the High Court of Justice previously ruled that such arrangements are illegal and last October insisted that the police prevent gender-separation from 2012 onwards.
This year, a barrier without a cloth cover is erected every night along one sidewalk, during the evening hours only, from the corner of Mea She’arim and Shivtei Yisrael streets down the approximately 20 meters of Mea She’arim Street which runs in front of the Toldos Aharon yeshiva.
Stewards have not been present.
Ahead of this year’s holiday, haredi community leaders agreed with representatives of the police and Jerusalem Municipality that a fence would be set up to preserve order during the Simhat Beit Hashoeva festivities, but that segregation would not be enforced.
Jerusalem deputy police spokeswoman Shlomit Bajshi told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that all of the yeshivot along Mea She’arim, including that of the ultra-conservative Toldos Aharon Hassidim, are upholding the conditions required by the High Court of Justice last year.
The Free Israel secularist movement, which has lobbied strenuously for the gender-separation arrangements to be banned, said that the situation has improved, but that the movement still believed that such separation is being conducted.
Free Israel director Mickey Gitzin said that the High Court ruling called for no barriers at all and that the ruling should be adhered to.
Asked whether his organization would take further action, Gitzin said that Free Israel would keep working with city council members and would see how the mayor wants to deal with the issue.
Shmuel Pappenheim, a prominent member of the haredi community and a Toldos Aharon hassid, said that the community did not want fights and confrontation, but added that they nevertheless objected to “outside interference.”
“We’d prefer it if the High Court and the secular activists didn’t interfere with the way we want to live. We don’t want their values because ours our stronger and higher,” he said.
Speaking to the Post outside the Toldos Aharon yeshiva on Wednesday a hassid from the school, Haim, said that his community was “in favor of holiness” and that they should be allowed to erect the separation barriers if they so wished.
“Why do they care what happens here?” he asked. “We don’t interfere with them where they live, and this is what our community wants to do.” On Monday night, between 15 and 20 members of Free Israel went to Mea She’arim to check if the High Court ruling was being enforced, the movement said.
According to Gitzin, police insisted that the whole group not walk down the road and arranged for two Free Israel activists to accompany two police officers along with a Yediot Aharonot photographer and a journalist from Channel 10.
When they arrived in front of the Toldos Aharon yeshiva, stones were thrown apparently by extremist haredi men protesting the visit.
One of the stones struck Yediot photographer Ata Asivat in the head. He was taken to Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem with light injuries and remained there overnight for observation. A policeman was also lightly injured in the affray, but no arrests were made.
Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitsch of the haredi United Torah Judaism party condemned the incident calling it “a desecration of God’s name.”
“This is not the way of the Torah,” he told the Post.
“We’re talking about extremists who threw stones, but the people of Toldos Aharon have complied with all agreements.”
Deitsch added that the entry of the Free Israel activists into the neighborhood was “an unnecessary provocation.”
Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.