Writer fights segregated bus lines

Egged has 30 Haredi bus lines where women are forced to sit in back.

egged bus 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
egged bus 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The Egged bus company operates 30 mehadrin (haredi) bus lines throughout the country where women are forced to enter the bus from the rear doors and sit in the back rows and are barred from boarding unless they wear "modest" clothing, according to a group of women who petitioned the High Court on Wednesday against the Egged and Dan bus companies and the Transportation Ministry. The petitioners included author Naomi Ragen and the Israel Religious Action Center of the Progressive (Reform) Movement. The five women who petitioned the court recounted personal experiences riding on the mehadrin lines. Ragen, for example, was riding on the No. 40, a municipal route connecting Strauss St. in downtown Jerusalem with her home in the Ramot Gimel neighborhood. On the occasion in question, the bus was empty and Ragen took a single seat towards the front of the bus. As the bus began to fill up, several men approached her and demanded that she move to a seat at the back. Ragen replied that there was no sign posted in the bus stating that she had to do so. She also told them that as an observant woman, she knew that there was no halacha (Jewish law) preventing her from sitting where she was. She then reportedly suffered insults and physical threats, including a scolding from a haredi man that lasted the duration of the trip. According to Ragen, the bus driver did not intervene to guarantee her safety or order the male passengers to leave her alone. One of the other petitioners, a woman who is serving in the army, was returning to Kibbutz Revadim from Jerusalem on mehadrin No. 494 late one night when the driver ordered her to get off the bus in the middle of the highway after haredi passengers complained that she was dressed provocatively. The woman said she had been wearing a skirt that came to just above her knees. A third petitioner was barred by the driver from entering the bus because she was wearing trousers. The first mehadrin lines were introduced in 1977, after a committee appointed by the Transportation Ministry recommended introducing bus routes that would attract haredi customers. According to the plan, all passengers were to be allowed to alight from any door and the bus and drivers would not prohibit any passenger from sitting where he or she wanted. It would be up to the haredi community itself to "persuade" male and female passengers to enter the bus and take their seats separately. There were originally four pilot routes, two in Jerusalem and two in Bnei Brak, all of which served haredi neighborhoods. After a certain period had elapsed, the Transportation Ministry and the bus companies were supposed to review the situation and decide whether or not to expand the lines. No such review ever took place, but the number of mehadrin lines has been increasing ever since. Today, 23 of the segregated Egged lines are intercity, meaning that they are not used exclusively by haredim. In some cases, the mehadrin line is the only one traveling directly between two destinations. Passengers who do not want to abide by the mehadrin restrictions must often take two buses, travel for longer, and pay more to get to the same place from the same starting point. The petitioners demanded that the Transportation Ministry stop running the mehadrin lines until they operate in accordance with the law and that it conduct a study to assess the demand for mehadrin routes, rather than acceding automatically to the requests of haredi rabbis and communities for more segregated bus lines.