Haredi group tries to bar woman from street on Succot

The Committee for the Purity of the Camp seeks to keep women of main thoroughfares in J'lem neighborhood of Mea She'arim.

Mea Shearim 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Mea Shearim 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
If a haredi group in Mea She’arim has its way, women will not be able to walk down the neighborhood’s main thoroughfares during Succot.
The Committee for the Purity of the Camp, a haredi group which seeks to enforce strict adherence to Jewish law in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, this week issued a decree outlining guidelines for those participating in the festive Simhat Beit Hashoeva parties that are staged every year during Succot.
Included among the various guidelines is a clause calling on women from the community to not walk down the main thoroughfares in Mea She’arim, principally the neighborhood’s emponymous street.
The sixth provision of the guidelines reads: “Women belonging to the holy congregations in Mea She’arim and the neighborhood are requested to use alternative roads on their way to their homes and synagogues, and to try to not pass through Mea She’arim street in order to prevent mixing.”
In recent years, communal organizations have required men and women to walk on separate sides of the narrow street due to the huge number of visitors to the neighborhood who go to watch the Simhat Bet Hashoeva spectacle. The overcrowding of the main roads in the neighborhood led communal leaders to insist on dividing Mea She’arim street so as to prevent intermingling between men and women.
Last year, the committee attempted to completely ban women from Mea She’arim Street and also erected screens to separate the men and women. After meeting with the police, the group issued a statement saying that the street would, in the end, be open to women, although the separation barriers remained.
The High Court of Justice was petitioned on the issue and ruled that such enforced separation was illegal.
The committee’s provisions this year appear to fall short of an outright prohibition on women using the roads in question and are directed at the women of the haredi community.
According to Shmuel Poppenheim, an unofficial spokesman for the haredi community, the streets will be open to female visitors in general, although groups such as the Toldot-Aharon hassidic sect are discouraging women not belonging to their community from attending their Simhat Bet Hashoeva.
“These regulations don’t harm anyone,” Poppenheim added.
“We’re talking about very cramped conditions with very narrow streets and thousands upon thousands of people passing through them,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
“It’s not an extreme measure, it’s a moderate way of ensuring that the spiritual nature of the Simhat Bet Hashoeva is maintained. There is no need to make a big drama out of it.”
Other clauses included in the decree stipulated that women’s galleries in the various synagogues are reserved only for women wishing to pray; the Smahot Bet Hashoeva should finish by midnight; and that loudspeakers should not be directed towards the streets so as to prevent tourists from being drawn to the neighborhood.
The regulations are enacted, say the communal notices posted around the neighborhood, “because the large numbers of people cause a huge amount of [male and female] intermingling and because many of the visitors are not appropriate for the holy spirit of our neighborhoods.”
The Free Israel movement, which lobbies against the imposition of religious standards on public life, sent letters to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the Jerusalem district police commander Nissan Shaham calling on them “to take the necessary steps to prevent gender segregation this year,” and threatened to take the issue to court if such moves were not forthcoming.
“The exclusion of women from public life in Jerusalem is a despicable phenomenon that is gaining strength among the haredi public, and, shamefully, is answered by the free public with capitulation to the dictates of the extremists.
“We in the Free Israel movement see how the police and other supposedly- responsible parties choose again and again to turn a blind eye and allow the blatant violation of the law in the heart of the capital, and the outrageous injury to the rights and status of women despite the High Court ruling on the issue.”