Three years ago, a 57-year-old grandmother got on a bus in Israel departing Rechovot for Givat Shmuel and sat in a vacant seat in the front.
Shortly after taking her seat, the woman was approached by a fervently Orthodox man who demanded she move to the back of the bus with the rest of the women.
Unbeknownst to the woman, who asked JTA to be identified only as H., she had boarded one of the so-called mehadrin (super kosher) bus lines, on which the predominantly ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, ridership imposes sex-segregated seating. The man told H. that segregated seating had been sanctioned by the rabbis and by Egged, the state-owned bus company that operates the line.
H., who is herself religious, refused, prompting a barrage of verbal abuse from the man.
The man harassed her for the entire ride. Nobody, including the driver, came to her aid.
H. is among a group of women who filed affidavits as part of a petition to Israel’s Supreme Court to ban gender-based segregation on Israeli public buses. The petition was filed by the Israel Religious Action Center, which is associated with the Reform movement.
Before issuing any ruling, the court referred the matter to Israel’s Transportation Ministry. In January, more than three years since the IRAC petition was filed, Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is expected to issue the government's official position.
Some haredi passengers defend sex segregation, saying it upholds Jewish rules concerning sexual modesty. On mehadrin lines, women sit in the back and men in the front in order to avoid physical contact. Drivers do not enforce this code, but the IRAC considers such practices on public buses to be a fundamental violation of women's rights. It also says the practice has no basis in Jewish law, or halachah.