This has been a bad month for women’s rights in Israel (and Brooklyn).
Not on the buses in Jerusalem or Brooklyn, not on the streets on Sukkot, and now not on the billboards, a contributor complained to the Forward’s blog, The Sisterhood. “Where,” she asked, “is it okay to be a woman?’ Before trying to answer the question, we’ll explain the references. In recent weeks, we’ve learned that some publicly sanctioned buses in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn have required women to sit in the back of the vehicle, reserving the seats in the front for men. (Brooklyn Bus Owner Denies Segregating Women, Women ride in back on sex-segregated Brooklyn bus line). If this sounds familiar, that’s because some public bus lines in Israel have operated this way for years (A ‘Rosa Parksenstein’ Moment for New Israeli. This is backed up by the Israeli Supreme Court). And when a member of the Jerusalem City Council recently petitioned the high court to oppose such gender segregation, she lost her job and her membership in the governing coalition. (Jerusalem Official Opposes Segregation, Loses Role; also when she ran for re-election, refused to run a campaign poster with her picture.)
In those same Brooklyn neighborhoods with the segregated buses, there were reports of signs in Yiddish posted during Sukkot urging women to step aside when a man approaches (Does Judaism Really Want Women To Step Aside For Men?. See also an account of publicly sponsored seperation signs in Israel: Despite High Court ruling, gender segregation in Israel only expanding). (In other Haredi enclaves, men and women walk on separate sidewalks.) And in Jerusalem, a nonprofit civic organization is tracking “the disappearance of women from public life” — including a dramatic absence of women on billboards and in local newspaper and magazine advertisements (Women noticeably absent from Jerusalem ads). For instance, reports The Sisterhood’s Renee Ghert-Zand, the public safety campaign for Jerusalem’s new light rail only features men and boys, and posters for a women’s running race did not include any images of, well, women.
When religious army cadets walked out of an official IDF event because they were subjected to a female singer, they were disciplined with removal from the officer’s course. However their rabbis protest that the dismissal was an “outrageous, delusional and immoral decision…The obligation to listen to women singing appears nowhere in the General Staff command”. Thank goodness for a saner reaction from those who are with modern voices (and sadly in the minority) like Rabbi David Bigman of the religious kibbutz movement who wrote that a demonstrative pubic walkout is itself a violation of halakha, due to the harm it inflicts on the singers and the audience. Other advocates of this view include Rabbi Yuval Cherlow and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner. The Orthodox women’s organization Kolech, which opposes excusing men from events featuring women vocalists, noted that the chief rabbis have always attended events at which women sing. In another incident, women were turned away from IDF post-chag, Hakafot Shniyot celebrations of Simchat Torah (a second round of celebration after the religious holiday has officially ended, usually accompanied by music) where female soldiers were dancing separately from the men– but in view and they were asked to go to another room. (Female Soldiers Forced Away From Torah Dancing).
Hila Benyovits-Hoffman reacted to the cadet walkout in 972 magazine
When people make a show of leaving the room when another person is singing, they are expressing disgust and rejection, as though the singer were leprous, unclean, not legitimate. When a man advocates for “the singing of males” only, he is disgracefully dehumanizing 51% of the population and saying that women are not human. He determines, in effect, that women are the sum of their sex organs, and denies us a basic form of self-expression. …. And that founding principle, where women can always and forever step aside, because their role is sidelined – is not acceptable to me.
Benyovits-Hoffman was motivated to create a public female singing protest event called “Don’t Stop Singing-על תפםקי לשיר”. Shortly after she announced the Tel Aviv event, scheduled for November 11, simultaneous protests in Jerusalem and in Haifa were organized, and a fourth event, in Beersheva, is now being put together. (as reported by The Sisterhood- Singing Across Israel for Women’s Dignity).
This month’s troubling events also extended to attacks on religious but modern girls and women. Modern Orthodox girls at Orot Banot school in Beit Shemesh were welcomed back to school with a stink bomb because ulrta-Orthodox groups don’t want this modern Orthodox girls school near them and feel that it is OK to press their case by shouting curses like,”slut” or “shiksa” at young girls and screaming at their classroom windows until the police have to intervene. (See Stink Bomb Welcomes Girls Back to School, Tense Return to School for Beit Shemesh Girls, Throwing Eggs and Jeers at Little Girls, and video). The Haredim claim these immodestly dressed girls will be defile the character of their neighborhood. These girls are dressed in religious school uniforms and are aged 6-11.
Plus we have the ongoing struggle of the Women of the Wall to pray as Jews in public at the Western Wall.