National-religious rabbis slam gender segregation

Attempts at segregating buses by gender are "radicalization" and "demeaning," says yeshiva head and former MK.

Haredi man near a bus 311 (photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
Haredi man near a bus 311
(photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the rabbi of the Har Bracha settlement and the dean of the Har Bracha yeshiva, strongly criticized gender segregation on buses in a column to be published in the B’Sheva weekly on Friday.
A number of other senior rabbis from the national-religious spectrum have also weighed in on the current nationwide debate regarding gender-segregated bus lines and the broader issue of the exclusion of women from the public domain.
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“This kind of behavior damages family life,” Melamed wrote in the column.
“According to these principles, a man can’t sit next to his wife, a father can’t sit with his daughter and a mother can’t sit with her son.”
These “new inventions,” as Melamed termed gender segregation and other stringencies adopted by parts of the ultra- Orthodox world, attempt to completely prevent men and women meeting or even looking at each, which he claimed means that for those adhering to such demands, every encounter with a woman becomes a potentially arousing experience.
Melamed argued pointedly that the introduction of such stringencies as community obligations destroys the foundations of the Torah and Jewish law.
“The sages didn’t try to prevent men and women from meeting or looking at each other… they created a framework for a modest society which provides sufficient distance between men and women.”
However, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the rabbi of the Beit El settlement and the dean of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Old City, came out in support of the general idea of separate seating on buses, although he emphasized that it must not be forcibly instituted on public buses.
“Separate seats is without a shadow of a doubt a better option,” he told The Jerusalem Post, adding that separate buses for men and women is also a possibility. “One cannot enforce this on public buses though, this has to be stressed, and I’m very much against that.”
Explaining the benefits of separate seating, Aviner said that modesty is “positive and desirable,” but added that sitting apart was not required by Halacha.
The rabbi also leveled criticism at the media for “taking one or two incidents” and expressing them as a widespread phenomenon.
“It shows a complete lack of responsibility,” he said.
Aviner also questioned whether or not there is a problem with the exclusion of women in religious society, calling the phenomenon “entirely secondary.” What is worse, he said, is the problem of the harassment of women.
He stated that for every woman who gets on a bus and is told to sit at the back, there are tens of thousands of women who are pestered, either verbally or physically. So why is the media focusing on separate seating, he questioned.
But Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, a former member of Knesset for the Meimad party and the codean of Yeshivat Maalei Gilboa, has said that attempts to segregate buses and similar trends are “without a doubt part of a process of radicalization without any basis in Halacha.”
“It also demeans both men and women,” he told the Post.
“Attempting to cut off all contact with women subverts our humanity to our sexuality and says that we are unable to see the other sex as human. It means that men can only look at women as sexual objects, so what does this say about men?” he asked.
Gilad added that the trend to minimize contact with women comes from a fear of the secular world and its permissiveness and immodesty, but that in his opinion the ultra-Orthodox world must engage with the rest of society and stop trying to force its values on the wider public.
This sentiment was echoed by Rabbi Yaakov Medan, who said that, from a Torah perspective, the price being paid for such stringencies is too high.
Although he argued that if the ultra-Orthodox community wanted gender-separate bus lines, it should be able to come to an arrangement with Egged on condition that regular buses be provided for the same route, Medan strongly criticized the implications for Israeli society of adopting such attitudes.
“It pains me greatly that the haredi world is constantly trying to distance itself from general society,” he said. “They are erecting iron barriers between themselves and the other sectors of the country, and this, from a Torah perspective and from a halachic point of view, is forbidden.”
“I call on them to stop this process and participate in Israeli society,” the rabbi said.