Insult, embarrass, harass ‘uppity’ women

A recent ruling by an influential haredi rabbi takes Israel back 3,000 years.

July 13, 2011 22:50
3 minute read.
Egged Buses in Jerusalem

buses 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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How should ‘uppity’ women be treated in Israel today? A few weeks ago, on May 18, an answer to this question was given in the form of a psak (halachic ruling) by the revered haredi leader and gedol hador (most esteemed of his generation) Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv of Mea Shearim. The psak was published in the haredi paper Kikar Hashabat, and gives clear instructions as to how Jewish men should deal with women who refuse to conform to the requirements of Jewish Law as interpreted by Rav Elyashiv.

The question arose when a yeshiva student boarded a public bus which had been gender-segregated until January, when the Supreme Court declared that such “mehadrin” buses were illegal. Since January, all public buses on formerly mehadrin routes must post notices that everyone has the right to sit wherever they choose, and that anyone who interferes with that right is subject to criminal prosecution. The court noted that women could sit in any seat on these buses, including the front section.

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However, our yeshiva student doesn’t recognize the law of the land as applying to him and his colleagues.

When he boarded the bus he discovered a woman sitting in the front. He informed her that this was a mehadrin bus, and that she must move to the rear section reserved for women. The woman refused to move, so the yeshiva student screamed at her, insulting her in front of all the other passengers, and continued to harass her verbally throughout the journey.

After the incident, the student apparently had some doubts about his behavior, and requested a halachic ruling from Rav Elyashiv.

The student thought that perhaps he should ask forgiveness from the victim of his attack.

No such luck! Rav Elyashiv responded by stating that he had heard the details of the incident, and there was no need for an apology.

Since the woman should have moved to the rear of the bus, the section designated for women, her refusal to do so was a violation of the arrangement on mehadrin buses.

OBVIOUSLY RAV ELYASHIV does not consider himself bound by Supreme Court decisions either. In the response published in the Kikar Hashabat newspaper, available online, Rav Elyashiv gave the source for his psak by quoting from the Gemara. He quoted the case of Shmuel, who saw a woman dressed immodestly in the shuk. Shmuel tore off the woman’s clothes. From this story, according to Rav Elyashiv, we learn that a Jewish man can publicly humiliate a woman who violates halacha.

So now you know how to treat uppity women according to halacha. The publication of Rav Elyashiv’s psak is a clear message to Jewish men worldwide. While the case in question involved a woman sitting in the front of a bus, I have no doubt that Rav Elyashiv’s psak can be applied more broadly to women who do not conform to other haredi standards.

How about women sitting as civil court judges, especially the President of our Supreme Court? Then there are those women who serve as Members of Knesset and Cabinet ministers. Obviously, women who are CEO’s of banks and corporations, as well as officers in the IDF are uppity. What about female academicians and scientists? Why, there’s no end to uppity women today in Israel! They’re everywhere, practicing medicine and law, appearing on television as entertainers and news broadcasters, writing articles in newspapers. The list is endless.

As to the example of Shmuel in the Gemara, one can only imagine the results of this message! During the hot Israeli summer, the streets and public places are full of women whose mode of dress does not conform to haredi standards of modesty.

How are yeshiva boys going to find time to study Torah if they have to deal with all the uppity women? Perhaps Rav Elyashiv can issue a psak in response to this question in the near future.

The writer is a Jerusalem-based lawyer and Director of the International Jewish Women’s Rights Project of the International Council of Jewish Women.

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