The Kidnapping of Rosa Parks

Rosh Hodesh Adar.
Sometimes I go to great lengths for the sake of the Cross-currents blog…. Last week I rode the length and breadth of the Land of Israel on the mehadrin buses in order to provide readers with a state-of-the-art summary of the controversial Egged bus lines.

I spent a few hours updating myself on the gender-separate seating. If you have been reading the media reports, you would have suggested I go in full battle gear, perchance I would be accosted by the 300-pound haredi who resembled a Sumo wrestler and commanded Naomi Ragen to move to the back, as she recounts in her interview on National Public Radio. Go to the NPR website and seach for “Jerusalem’s Rosa Parks Fights Modesty Patrols.” You can listen to and/or read the report. Listening is great because you can hear the derision in the speakers’ voices. I am so used to the haredi sector getting short shrift and unequal time that I don’t even mind that the anti-mehadrin side got most of the report, while my pro-mehadrin viewpoint was drastically abridged.

In contrast, the JTA (Jewish Telegraph Agency) was meticulously evenhanded. They had pro and con opeds. Phyllis Snyder, viewing things from her American perch, had written a blistering attack on the Israeli mehadrin buses. But the JTA held up publishing it until they had an oped of equal length defending the buses (by yours truly). They published them simultaneously on their website currently. Go to the JTA website . In the Mid East section you’ll find my “In defense of separate but equal” and Phyllis Snyder’s “Women Don’t belong at back of bus.”

One thing I regret is that in the JTA oped they had to cut, due to word count limits, a passage I quoted from a Naomi Ragen novel. Naomi is acutely aware of the problem of putting temptation in front of someone, so I am surprised she underestimates the attraction women sometimes present to men. This is the passage that was cut:

Naomi Ragen understands well the insensitivity of tempting others. She illustrates this in her novel Jephte’s Daughter. In a powerful passage reflecting Ragen’s keen insight she depicts Isaac, a father with a streak of cruelty towards his small son. “Once, when the child had finished eating meat and therefore would have to wait six hours before milk, Isaac deliberately took out ice cream and filled up the bowl, piling scoop after scoop. The child began to whimper as the father deliberately ate spoonful after spoonful, breathing in the tantalizing aroma of chocolate and strawberry. The child began to weep in earnest, and reached up, trying to stick his fingers into the bowl. ‘You have just eaten meat. You can’t have ice cream.’ His eyes twinkled with sadistic amusement as the child threw himself on the floor, hysterical with the denial.”

The BBC also is running a program about the issue titled “Israeli Bus Protests”. Go to the BBC and search for that title on Feb.12. (It is also one sided, interviewing Naomi and Mark Weiss,and omitting Jonathan Rosenblum).

What I found riding the buses last week was not a battlefront, but a group of quiet, amiable, easy-going passengers. The live-and-let-live was evident. One haredi man got on with his little son in tow and went to sit in the last row of the women’s section. No one batted an eyelash. I was the only one who noticed, and I realized that only single seats were available in the front men’s section, so he didn’t want to disturb anyone there and sat in the back. A young, newly married couple sat in the middle section, where husband-and-wife couples often sit. From time to time a woman got on and for one reason or another sat in the front. No one noticed (except for your researcher). This seems to be typical. There are the exceptional cases where haredim are boorish and there should be zero tolerance for that. It is good that Naomi and Miriam Shear are speaking up about the exceptional cases. But I didn’t encounter any in my small sample.

Several women said that the hasidic passengers are more particular about this issue than the Litvishe ones. All the women I interviewed liked the privacy in the women’s section. They were incredulous when I told them that sitting in the back is degrading in American eyes. My Israeli sample found it elevating and respectful, and they explained they were happy to help their menfolk keep to a stricter standard. I could criticize them for not knowing American history and having never heard of Rosa Parks, but I can’t criticize them for wanting to distance themselves from American permissiveness and public eroticism.

The most helpful interview was with a haredi owner/driver of a private separate-seating service that has been running between some cities for 25 years. Egged (the Goliath in the piece) has ruthlessly taken over and gobbled up many of the tiny private haredi lines (the Davids). The person whom I interviewed resisted a takeover, but most small bus lines can’t. Example – telephone the number 048666970, Kehilas Kodesh Haifa-Tahburat Hamehadrin. It is the formerly private Haifa bus company with lines to Bene Brak, Jerusalem, and elsewhere. You will hear a voice giving the bus schedule and explaining that if you take this line you are requested to sit separately and dress appropriately. Egged took over these private lines but doesn’t label the buses or explain the separate seating on their website or on the phone. So part of the blame for misunderstandings lies with Egged. They intentionally don’t label the buses, probably for legal reasons. But now with Supreme Court petition by Naomi Ragen, the Reform IRAC, and others pending, they may have to label the buses for legal reasons, in order not to mislead clueless passengers. That would be a benefit from the Bagatz.

The haredi owner of the private line that resisted the takeover said that he makes sure that pregnant women can sit in the front. During the wedding season when women get on perfumed and beautifully attired it is distracting, especially for young yeshiva students. He pointed out the truly great rabbis who have ridden with him couldn’t care less. They are immersed in their gemaras during the ride. But not all Jews are on that high spiritual level, and for them separation is helpful.

I heard two versions of the arrangement on the Ashdod-Bene Brak mehadrin line. The women enter and leave from the back, and punch their own tickets. One informant said the women are strict about being sure to punch. Another said that many women are not punctilious, and some take free rides. If the latter is true, it is a terrible hillul haShem. An informed source said that this arrangement of self-ticket punching will not be profitable because of the missing fares and will have to stop. This is a shande.

A decade ago under the rubric of multiculturalism private bus lines catering to the religious sector sprung up as an answer to rampant public permissiveness. Egged put them out of business, took them over, and problems began. Now the haredim are taking the rap for Egged’s rapaciousness. But the bottom line is that if haredim want the mehadrin lines to continue, then their behavior will have to be above reproach and always be as tolerant as I found my sample was last week.

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74 comments to The Kidnapping of Rosa Parks

  • mgard

    I’m a chareidi, and frankly, I’m rather noncommital about mehadrin buses. I haven’t found it makes a difference to me in any way, but that isn’t to say it hasn’t made a difference to others. I say, “Live and let live.”
    I decided to join this discussion for the first time because there are a few points that were not made by previous boggers that merit being said.
    1) Mehadrin buses were first introduced in Ramat Shlomo several years ago as a private company. Egged responded by negotiating to take over from the private company and opening their own mehadrin bus lines. Egged’s involvement is purely financial and they did it because they saw a demand which they decided to cater to.
    2) A vital point seems to have been totally ignored by all previous bloggers. I don’t know if this was a large part of the reason why Mehadrin buses were founded, but mehadrin buses certainly are effective in dealing with this problem — the problem of youths harassing girls on the bus. My cousin (baalas tshuva) told me she loved mehadrin buses because when she was younger, all kinds of jerks used to sit next to her and even touched her. This is non-existent on a mehadrin bus. My muscular son came home one day all bruised. He was traveling one night light on a bus and 4 youths were starting up with girls (I think they were all secular). The bus driver didn’t interfere, and these girls were in alarm. He chivalrously took on the 4 hoods and gave them a few souvenirs of the trip, receiving quite a few bruises in return. Harassment doesn’t occur in mehadrin buses. And here is an event that I experienced myself: I was waiting for the bus at the Har Chotzvim bus stop and I saw a thin religious girl weeping next to us. I asked her why she was weeping, and she said a man had been following her on the street and the bus. She had gotten off at this bus stop to evade him, but he had gotten off when he saw she had. She was afraid he would approach her. The man, who stood a distance away, had a threatening look on his face. The bus arrived, and me and another woman grabbed the girl’s arm and we boarded the back door, while the man threatening her boarded from the front. We formed a wall so the man couldn’t filter his way to the back. Needless to say, these kind of things never happen on a mehadrin bus. Do these things happen enough to justify mehadrin buses? I don’t know, but I have heard there are subway cars in Mexico and Japan which are designated “women-only” so it’s not just a Jewish issue.
    3) Concerning the problem of women being in the back, this is done everywhere in Judaism. Women sit in the gallery or the back of the shul while the men are in the front, that’s how it was in the Bais Hamikdosh too. It may be part of the concept of “Kvod bas melech pnima” — which is nonexistent in secular thinking and not that common in dati circles either. Women do not take public roles, they do not push themselves up to the front, they use their immense influence from the side and in a discreet way. You might have noticed that in rightwing and dati demonstrations, the youth including the girls are the most active, while the adults take a back seat to them. In chareidi demonstrations, there are never any girls or women. The adult men do it all, and on rare occasions, they may pull yeshiva students out of yeshiva to participate.
    This is not a sign of discrimination against women but rather recognition that the women’s fortress is her home and a woman’s field of action and her major efforts should be directed to creating a fortress of strength and stability for her family rather than competing in the public sphere. Hard for a secular or western-oriented person to accept this, but the strategy seems to work in having created a stable Jewish society and family life throughout the generations.
    4) One more point: Whenever implementing any endeavor for the public welfare, there were always be individuals that suffer. There is no such thing as 100% fairness and justice. The scales must be if the mehadrin buses are preferred and answer the needs of the majority of chareidim. If there are groups who are unhappy, or groups who feel they are getting a raw deal, that cannot take precedence over the needs of the majority. This results in the tyranny of the individual which ends up tearing apart society and decent society standards, as can be seen all over western society.
    5) I heard the reason why Kiryat Sefer decided not to use mehadrin buses is because most of the families in the city are young couples with lots of little children, and husband and wives must sit next to each other to take care of the kids.

  • Calev

    If modesty is the consideration then mehadrin buses should be organised in the following way: 1. They must be clearly marked as mehadrin buses, perhaps painted a different colour from regular buses. 2. Men should enter at the back and sit at the back in seats that face the rear of the bus. 3. Women should sit at the front, facing forward. 4. The windows should be tinted so that the men can’t oggle female pedestrians.
    However, given that Rav Moshe Feinstein and others have stated that it’s permissible for observant men to use public transport in much more crowded New York it is difficult to see why such measures are necessary in Israel.

  • Bob Miller

    The real power in Israel today is in the hands of a corrupt elite bent on making Israel an unholy land, a cosmopolitan paradise without Jewish content. The efforts of religious Jews to resist the encroachments of the elite’s way of life have to be understood in that context. Any instance of successful peaceful resistance against this encroachment can be viewed as empowering the religious Jews.

  • Etana

    There is one line in the link of the video of the mehadrin mall in which a chareidi man states (translated) “The way the chiloni women dress offends us, this is why we have our own seperate communities”. If that is so, then that’s great- that is the reason that communities like Kiryat Sefer, Beitar, Telzstone, etc were created, and are pleasant and successful. However, the city of Bet Shemesh is one of over 70,000 people and the chareidim of Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet just plunked themselves down in the middle of this city that has had all types of people over the last 40 years and expect everyone to suddenly conform to their standards. It’s NOT as the man mentioned in the video, a “seperate, chareidi community”. I should know, I live there.

  • Raymond

    It strikes me that what the problem here is not any given religious rule, but simply common courtesy. If a woman is sitting alone on the bus, whether she is near the front, middle, or back, then a man who does not feel comfortable sitting next to her, should sit somewhere else, or stand if necessary. If a man is already sitting down, and a woman comes into the bus and sits next to him, and he does not feel comfortable with that, then he should get up and move elsewhere, since it is he who does not feel comfortable. But this business of forcing woman to get up, or forcing them to the back of the bus, is extremely demeaning, and a desecration of G-d’s name. Is that what religous Jews want to be associated with?

  • Menachem Lipkin

    From Bob Miller:

    “The real power in Israel today is in the hands of a corrupt elite bent on making Israel an unholy land, a cosmopolitan paradise without Jewish content.”

    True and False. True because, through our fractured disunity, we can’t pull it together enough to elect decent leaders. False because, the “real power” is in our hands. If all dati, traditional, and Jewishly minded people would put aside their petty differences, like the nonsense that is being discussed here, and vote in the true interests of the clal, things could be vastly different.

    If our brethren in the Diaspora would wake up from their spiritual slumber and return home it would just add to our “real power”.

    It’s much easier to blame that nebulous “elite” or to “resist” from the outside than to roll up ones sleeves and become part of the solution in a fair and constructive manner.

  • Loberstein

    I had a discussion todfay at a Seminary and all of the girls felt that it is tzniyus, not segregation to sit in the back of the bus. One question that I would appreciate an answer. How does a bochur take a girl on a shiduch date if they have to sit in seperate parts of the bus?

  • Baruch Horowitz

    “… Someone “far right” may ideologically reject broad-mindedness , while someone “to the left” might see himself as broad-minded while being no less a fanatic”

    This brings to mind a quote based on a paraphrase of Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”(incidentally, Voltaire made some very disparaging comments about Jews, and can not, personally, be considered a model of tolerance).

    I would like to see writers and bloggers, in general, being able to put themselves in the shoes of someone else, whether Satmar chassid or Reconstructionist rabbi even(or perhaps, especially) when making the case for their position. It doesn’t mean one needs to agree with the other party, but rather that one is able to understand, as much as possible, where the other side is coming from. Regarding various issues relating to charedie insularity, both sides disagree not only on the actual issues, but they also share the concern that “ if we give an inch, then they will take a mile”. In other words, there will be no end to additional stringencies or to additional leniencies.

    In this case, the non-charedi position sees the bus issue(I wasn’t able to download the video, so I don’t know what “mehadrin malls” are supposed to be) in the context of a number of other charedi tzniyus initiatives, which are viewed as conformist and non-individualistic. People—even some charedim—are concerned that there will be no end to initiatives that will continue to take away from both charedim and non-charedim’s autonomy. The charedi side sees the situation in context of creeping secularism, immodesty, and foreign influences, which infringe upon, and threaten the community’s way of observance. The various takkanos and initiatives are viewed as being eminently livable once one adjusts to them, and certainly reasonable in light of the circumstances.

    The following quotation, based on a speech on the topic of “advocacy journalism”(e.g. editorials and op-eds, investigative reporting, and alternative media) delivered at the Canadian Association of Journalists, would also seem relevant to bloggers advocating their positions:

    “ Can a journalist have a declared bias and still practice journalism in a professional manner? Yes. In fact you may be seen as even more credible if your perspective is acknowledged up front… *A good journalist must play devil’s advocate. You must argue against your own convictions.* (emphasis mine, BH) In an interview, you still have to ask the hard questions of possible heroes, the tough questions, even of the people you admire. You are not writing public relations for them and they will not be vetting your piece. You will be far more credible if you write with a critical edge. You cannot view your cause or community through rose-coloured glasses. “

  • Ahron

    “My cousin (baalas tshuva) told me she loved mehadrin buses because when she was younger, all kinds of jerks used to sit next to her and even touched her…. I was waiting for the bus at the Har Chotzvim bus stop and I saw a thin religious girl weeping next to us…she said a man had been following her on the street and the bus.”

    Here’s a wild idea: In lieu of foisting insanity upon all of klal Yisrael… try teaching girls to defend themselves. Or is it just “not tzniusdik” for women to learn how to fight off an attacker? (BTW just five or six effective responses from women under threat would lead to a massive falloff in anti-female harassment and assaults.)

    “This is not a sign of discrimination against women but rather recognition that the women’s fortress is her home and a woman’s field of action and her major efforts should be directed to creating a fortress of strength and stability for her family rather than competing in the public sphere.”

    So then why should women be boarding buses at all?

    “Any instance of successful peaceful resistance against this encroachment can be viewed as empowering the religious Jews.”

    And so nothing bad can be done as long as it’s claimed in the name of “Team Torah”. There are few better conceivable recipes for the total destruction of Torah. The Baal of Empowerment is a jealous one indeed, but “Empowerment” isn’t worth selling your soul (well, it’s certainly not worth my soul). In any event, you’re dead wrong: The corrupt elites who rule Israel are not afraid of a self-segregating and self-obsessed haredi population–on the contrary, they’re thrilled with it. They’re terrified of intelligent, modern and sophisticated religious Jews coming to exert a profound (and natural) influence upon the entire society and shining light into all the dark corners.

    “How does a bochur take a girl on a shiduch date if they have to sit in seperate parts of the bus?”

    And who says it’s kosher to go on a date? Please mark my words: “Mehadrin” shidduch processes to come. There is no limit. (And there’s also a lot of money to be made).

  • Bob Miller

    Ahron claimed, “The corrupt elites who rule Israel are not afraid of a self-segregating and self-obsessed haredi population—on the contrary, they’re thrilled with it.”

    The actual Chareidi population disturbs the elite into all types of repressive actions, police, budgetary, you name it—and has done so for years.

    As for “shining light into all the dark corners”, all the Orthodox groups do this, each in their own way.

  • Jackie

    In criticizing Naomi Ragen and others who condemn the Haredi strictures on women intended to reduce “temptation” for men, Ms. Schmidt makes a special point of chastising Ms. Ragen for not recognizing that this is the same enticement as that of the little boy in Ms. Ragen’s novel whose cruel father tortures him by eating ice cream in front of him when it is too soon after the boy’s having eaten meat to partake. Are Haredi men “little boys” who have not learned to discipline their desires and impulses? In civilized societies do women have to wear burkas or sit in the back of a bus because men are little boys who cannot control themselves and their thoughts? Is that what spirituality and adherence to God’s laws teaches? How sad.

  • Korah

    To the person who wanted a doctor’s note that sitting in the back of the bus could harm a fetus: when you are pregnant then you can talk. Pregnancy, which we can all agree is necessary to build our population, can be very difficult on the woman, whether or not there is a clear danger to the fetus. Some women are unfortunate enough to be nauseous throughout the pregnancy, and the bumpy, fume-filled ride at the back of the bus will definitely have short term harmful effects. If she must experience that regularly, those short term effects can add up to a big problem. As a woman who routinely lost weight while pregnant (and I was thin to begin with), I cannot imagine coping with such a situation and remaining moderately healthy.

  • aj

    “I am sorry! I travel buses here in Jerusalem extensively, including several Mehadrin lines, and I never – ever – ever saw such a thing!Either people rearrange themselves on their own when noticing this, or someone asks them to and they do so, or they simply get up!! This series of discussion is actually pulling me to a more positive feeling towards the mehadrin buses… The myths, closed-mindedness and anti-haredi approach of so many posters really stuns me. I don’t like the separation, but it’s really not so terrible as so many are making it out to be.”

    That’s what the papers report (not just the Israeli papers – a Canadian journalist noted the same, even though the pregnant woman she interviewed was OK with the buses). As well, see this amazing story – the Haredi fellow who wrote it well before the event with Ms Shear writes that his pregnant wife had to stand (this is on a private mehadrin bus).

    http://bariveshema.blogspot.com/2006/05/mixed-seating-saved-my-life.html

    Note the prophesy of the emergence of a haredi Rosa Parks :-)

  • KHT711

    “It strikes me that what the problem here is not any given religious rule, but simply common courtesy. If a woman is sitting alone on the bus, whether she is near the front, middle, or back, then a man who does not feel comfortable sitting next to her, should sit somewhere else, or stand if necessary. If a man is already sitting down, and a woman comes into the bus and sits next to him, and he does not feel comfortable with that, then he should get up and move elsewhere, since it is he who does not feel comfortable. ”

    Interstingly enough, this is just what generally happens. As a Jerusalem resident, the only time I ever saw any woman “forced” to get up was by a clearly disturbed youth, who probably would have done so to a man too (he likes having his own two seats).
    In addition, do the readers realize that no one is forced to take mehadrin buses either? Most lines are not mehadrin, and there are plenty of alternate ways to travel, even taxis. foot, etc. Remember “live and let live”? It goes two ways!

  • Miriam Shear

    KHT711 writes: “In addition, do the readers realize that no one is forced to take mehadrin buses either? Most lines are not mehadrin, and there are plenty of alternate ways to travel, even taxis. foot, etc. Remember “live and let live”? It goes two ways!”

    Let’s keep in mind that the bus on which I was beaten was NOT a mehadrin bus. Nobody forced anyone to ride this non-mehadrin bus. Yet, the NON-mehadrin status of the #2 bus was insignificant to those who arrogantly feel justified in mutinizing a PUBLIC NON-MEHADRIN bus and imposing their will on others – even to the extent of beating those who do not submit to their tyranny. “Simple common courtesy” is a foreign concept to thugs. These thugs reinforce their sense of “entitlement” when others suggest that capitulation to their demands would have avoided the whole incident – thus the victims of THEIR abuse and THEIR mutiny and THEIR arrogance are considered equally guilty parties, as Rabbi Menken suggested in his condemnation of both the thugs as well as myself. And that is precisely why we will see more violent incidents – because their guilt is neutralized by the “guilt” of their victims’ refusal to capitulate to their thuggery and anarchy.

  • Yael

    Egged is a PUBLIC bus company heavily subsidized by our tax shekels. It is inherently wrong to have any sort of separation on the publice lines which create difficulties for other passengers.
    I suggest private transportation companies, where people may choose to play by their rules.
    In no other country would the Haredim dare to request such special dispensations as separate bus lines or segreagated government offices. Shame on US for agreeing to such nonsense.
    I think that the quote from Naomi Regan’s book is a misplaced quote as women are not ice cream, and self control is the name of the game. Read a book.

  • Michael

    Yael, what you are not recognizing (and Miriam Shear neatly sidesteps) is that Egged bought up the private lines you are talking about. They used to be private and Egged saw a good business and bought it.

    Egged does a very lousy job of marking the mehadrin lines, and leave it up to the passengers to enforce it. This leads directly to the problems.

    Let Egged sell off all the mehadrin lines if it doesn’t want to serve the market!

  • Jewish Observer

    “Egged is a PUBLIC bus company heavily subsidized by our tax shekels”

    perhaps people who are exempt from taxes are similarly exempt from following this line of thinking

  • Miriam Shear

    RE: #67 POST. Michael – nobody is sidestepping any issue. The issue is NOT that Egged bought up companies who WILLINGLY sold their lines to Egged. The issue is that those who have absolutely no ownership of non-mehadrin lines display a sense of arrogant entitlement to impose their chumras on other passengers. There are also taxi services available if a non-mehadrin bus is SO offensive to them that they can justify spitting, beating, and kicking a passenger who refuses to submit to their tyrannical demands.

  • bag

    “Yael, what you are not recognizing (and Miriam Shear neatly sidesteps) is that Egged bought up the private lines you are talking about. They used to be private and Egged saw a good business and bought it.”

    They’ve instituted mehadrin seating on routes that were never served by private mehadrin buses. Your argument is a red herring.
    http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2007/02/18/the-kidnapping-of-rosa-parks/#comment-83609

  • Chaim

    This bus thing has gone entirely out of hand. I’ve ridden on the Mehadrin (non-egged bus) to Bet Shemesh for two years w/o any problems. The primary passengers on Mehadrin buses in Charedi areas are Charedim. Why must a system that has worked well for years be thrown out beacuse of one (admittedly disgsting but I suspect exaggerated) spat. It should definitely be condemned by the Rabbonim, but why throw the baby out with the bathwater?

  • dovid

    “but why throw the baby out with the bathwater?”

    Why? In order to teach us to protest on the spot when we encounter an avlah. The person who publicly confirmed this incident related that “She tried to fight back and no one would help her. I tried to help, but someone was stopping me from getting up.” No matter how great the benefits of the Mehadrin bus, if we do not discipline the thugs within our camp, we don’t deserve it.

    That’s why.

  • [...] This is the article that appeared last month on the JTA website. I discussed it here in cross-currents on Feb. 18 in “The Kidnapping of Rosa Parks.” At one point I wrote about women sitting in a separate section at the back of some buses in Israel: [...]

  • [...] Sitting here in Baltimore, I cannot claim any special access to information. I read the news, articles and comments from Israeli authors and commenters here on C-C, and receive an occasional private email—for example, a copy of Mrs. Shear’s original complaint. If my facts are wrong, please correct them, because from what I have read and discerned between the lines, what is being portrayed in the press is far from the truth. [...]