On a sunny afternoon early this week, an ultra-Orthodox woman boarded a bus in the enclave of the Gur Hasidic community in Ashdod and took a seat in the second row. The bus, Egged line 451, was headed for Jerusalem. It quickly became clear that this simple, everyday act - choosing a seat to her liking - was enough to transform her presence in the bus into a palpable challenge to the rest of the passengers. I sat down across from the woman, fearing the worst.
Not only did the woman, whose name is Yocheved Horowitz, blatantly ignore the tacit agreement among the bus' riders to adhere to the most stringent religious practices - in this case, an unwritten rule that men sit in the front and women in the back. And not only did she not conform to the seating arrangements dictated by men - that is, those in authority. This was also a woman who, judging by her appearance, seemed to come from within the community.
Now Horowitz turned around and said loudly and clearly: "What do you mean by 'men's area'? A geographical area?" she wondered. "What is mehadrin? Are you talking about an etrog, a lulav?" she queried, referring to two of the principal symbols used during the festival of Sukkot. "Nowhere in rabbinical law does it say that it is forbidden to sit behind a woman, not in the Shulchan Arukh and not in the Yoreh De'ah [two classical compilations of Jewish law]. What is written in the Torah and in rabbinical law is that it is forbidden to humiliate sons and daughters of Israel."