It''s amazing how willingly partisans of a cause, like the cause of religious gender separation, can hand the other side a symbol of their own defeat. In the case of bus segregation in Israel, it''s as if the haredim, who are busy banishing women to the back of the bus, never read or heard of Rosa Parks.
If they had they would surely be wary of the power of a symbol. But it seems as if that is not the case: that they are blinded by their own passion.
And a passion it is. If a guiding religious principle of separation -- which, with the prohibition of mixing foods, crops, and even fabrics, certainly is a guiding Jewish principle -- were at work, a better solution could be found. For instance, a mehitza could separate the bus into left and right spaces, which would not involve the kind of subjugation and humiliation that making a woman move to the back of a bus involves.
Also, if there were a sound guiding principle at work, it''s unlikely that women, ostensibly whose sanctity and honor such a Jewish principle upholds, would be called "whore" and spat upon. Nonetheless, the haredim have seemed to have made other choices, and in doing so have given women a symbol, and have delivered their secular opponents a victory.
But what about that other side, the partisans of Tel Avivite culture who are bravely crusading for the rights of women? They are rightfully outraged by this humiliation, and scandalized by the fact that images of women are torn from ads on billboards. And yet, as if to offer their religious antipodes reason for these actions, they willfully ignore the abuse of the image of women, of the idea of women, and of women themselves, on the secular streets of the country.
Last night, speaking with a journalist friend of mine, we both noted the deep offense we take at seeing the sidewalks of Tel Aviv strewn, sometimes literally covered, with "business cards" for prostitution and escort services. The phenomenon has reached such a peak that the messengers boys who are paid to scatter these cards do so in full view of the public, in all parts of the city, and at all times.
Here too is an abuse of woman -- not only in image, but in substance, since on the other end of those business cards is a woman who, just as likely as not, has been pressed into service as a prostitute, in many cases in conditions no different from slavery.
Is this something for the women of Tel Aviv, and its secular culture, to march against? One would hope so -- one would hope that the support for women goes beyond mere opposition to the haredim. But looking at things in this way, one wonders.
Ashley Rindsberg is the author of Tel Aviv Stories.