Women Against Capitalism


The case against the Egged Bus Company’s “Mehadrin Lines” is moving forward and in the news. I think it deserves its own comment thread, independent of the plagiarism complaints against one of the parties.

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.

First and foremost, the plaintiffs have gone to the press with their fight against “Jewish fundamentalists” with their “Taliban-like rules.”

Small problem: They are not suing Rabbis. They are not suing the Edah HaCharedis, the Torah factions in the Knesset, or Chaim Mod’chl Brecher and his gang of goons that terrorize female passengers. [N.B. In case you didn’t click the link, the reference to CM Brecher is a joke – it’s a spoof call to an operator. I’m not aware of any real person named Chaim Mod’chl Brecher.] They are suing… Egged, the ubiquitous bus company that operates most of Israel’s public routes. This is Egged, the Israeli cooperative with over 2300 employee-owners. The same guys with the grotesque ads on the side of their buses (from what I’ve gathered, the cities own the bus shelters with their own ads, but I’m not certain either way). This is hardly a charedi crowd. And Egged is … fighting back?! Unless we imagine that all the bus drivers secretly voted for Shas, since when do they align themselves with “the Jewish Taliban?”

When it hits them in the wallet, that’s when. As Shira Schmidt put it two months ago,

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.

Many seem to have lost that fact. More than once we’ve seen a commenter say “hey, if the charedim want their mehadrin buses, let them make their own bus line!” Which, in fact, is exactly what they did, but Egged knew a good business opportunity when it saw one.

This is not a dispute about what the Halacha requires or whose Rebbe or which Rabbi’s opinion should be accepted. The mehadrin lines are 100% market-driven. Whatever you think of their religious strictures, people have the right to make their own choices in the pursuit of what they regard as a religious value, and entrepreneurs have the right to create accommodations for those potential clients. Egged isn’t even government-owned. [Egged’s marketing materials claim that it is an “Efficient Organization” providing “Service with a Smile.” Like I said, it’s not government-owned.]

According to Mrs. Schmidt, “Egged took over these private lines but doesn’t label the buses or explain the separate seating on their website or on the phone.” None of the 73 comments contradicted her… but is she wrong? I agree with her that proper labels would be a benefit. But I also think that Egged would have agreed to that, rather than drag it through the court system. It would appear that the plaintiffs are not seeking proper labels, but the elimination of Mehadrin seating despite public demand. Again, if I’m wrong, please correct me — but this is what we are seeing.

If so, what the plaintiffs are claiming is that Mehadrin seating cannot be done by a publicly-owned company, or any company that would bid for government tenders in the Jewish State. They are denying the Egged cooperative the opportunity to compete on the free market.

Their real fight is not against Rabbis, their rules, or the few hooligans who take it upon themselves to enforce mehadrin seating (even, and most offensively, on lines that are officially not mehadrin). It is a fight against free association, free-market capitalism, and free religious expression. Naomi Ragen has attempted to cast herself as a Jewish Rosa Parks… but she is, in reality, closer to an Israeli Karl Marx.

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8 years 5 months ago

“The petition does not even ask that Mehadrin buses be banned permanently (something that many Chareidim, including some Rabbonim prefer).”

Can you tell us which charedi rabbonim favor banning Mehadrin buses permanently? If possible, can you provide a link or documentation?

8 years 5 months ago

“In Monsey you have communities where women don’t drive, and don’t even sit up front with their own husbands—they prefer to be chauffeured around….The private lines between Monsey, NY and Manhattan use a mechitzah (and note that these fully private lines were sued as well)….The women are choosing to ride these lines—they, too, could choose non-mehadrin if they wanted. Apparently they would rather sit in the back than have men staring at them. Why not ask them why they choose to sit there?”

First, as a woman who has given many rides to chassidic women who don’t drive, some may be OK or say they are OK with not driving, others are ambivalent and some outright hate it. They don’t perceive themselves as having much choice in the matter (so long as they are part of the community).

Second, you have mischaracterized the situation in Monsey. Yeshivishe women also ride those buses, and they have no interest in segregation and generally don’t care for these buses. There is limited clientele for these buses – they are private and they provide a service. The choice is segregated buses or no buses (unless someone can somehow set up their own bus). I take these buses sometimes, because those are the available buses, and since they are private, I have no right to make a fuss. The fact that I ride these buses is not a sign that I like them!

“I don’t know the rest of the plaintiffs, but their names are Mor, Tali, Eliana and Efrat. [I just got a copy of the complaint, and will probably have more comments after I read more.] Not a Devora Malka, Faygi or Sorah Shprintzeh in the bunch. Could it really be that the women riding these buses (gasp) want gender separation on the buses?”

There is nothing to make you conclude this for Monsey, and you then extrapolate from Monsey to Israel. Do women from meah shearim go to court or do their communities oppose making use of the secular court system!

In any case, your analysis of the larger situation is misguided. Many women might dislike the buses, but the buses are a battle between secular and religious, and people identify with their religious group ahead of identifying with their gender. A woman who supported mixed buses is choosing the non-haredi side, and in a choice between siding with non-haredim and siding with “women,” haredi women who don’t choose women are not making a statement that they are happy with the buses.

“When Prof. Harel spoke to several, he was apparently unable to find a charedi woman who reacted negatively to the separation—“this is what ought to have been always” and “even if there was no separation, I would never sit near a man” were typical reactions.”

He doesn’t say that. He says that “some UO women” support the segregation, and gives these quotes. He doesn’t say that he was unable to find those who didn’t, and I see no mention that he did a comprehensive survey. Just skimming the article I see a fundamental misunderstanding of at least one halacha, and he takes a woman’s statement that “this is our role in Jewish law” at face value, whereas even supporters of mehadrin buses are fully aware that up until recently, buses were mixed, and that state of affairs didn’t prevent gedolei E”Y from riding buses – nor did they call for mehadrin buses. I have little doubt that a more comprehensive survey would have gotten mixed results, assuming of course that haredi women would answer freely to a researcher (a big assumption).

8 years 5 months ago

“The mehadrin lines are 100% market-driven. Whatever you think of their religious strictures, people have the right to make their own choices in the pursuit of what they regard as a religious value, and entrepreneurs have the right to create accommodations for those potential clients.”

Not everything market-driven is legal, but I think you miss the point of many commenters. We, as religious Jews (some of us are haredim), have an interest in not seeing mehadrin buses except for isolated private buses. Haredim should be more sensitive to their image in society and not needlessly antagonize secular and other religious. In addition, the setup on these buses appears to be a recipe for problems. According to several articles I’ve read, women are sometimes forced to stand while there are still seats in the men’s section, and unquestionably, seats in the back are less comfortable. I think rabbonim should be leading their communities not to demand these buses, and to reconsider their priorities. It may or may not be true that once the buses are set up they are preferable when there is no halachic issue such as requiring women to stand including the elderly, pregnant, eshes chaver etc, but we needn’t set up everything to conform with a platonic ideal in one area, at the expense of other factors. There are other ideals, such as choosing one’s battles, and attempting to choose ones in which one can influence secular and traditional Israelis positively, rather than turning everything into a battle of turf and an occasion for isolationism.

“There is a concern for spiritual growth among the religious clientele that frequently travels the bus lines.” – irhakodesh, Sima

In the last CC piece on these buses, there were links to reports that in Beit Shemesh, there are requests for no non-haredim to be allowed to man the post offices and other public buildings. The requests included demands that men not show up without a kipa, and so these trends cannot be explained by reference to demands for tznius and kedusha. They appear to be about isolationism and “turf” and give every appearance of implying worrisomely negative attitudes and abdication of responsibility to other Jews. It is difficult to concieve of Americans requesting such separation on public buses even in a primarily haredi neighborhood, because Americans must reach accomodation with Non-Jews and are very concerned with chilul hashem and their image in society. Why do I get the feeling that haredim in Israel are not concerned with the impact of communal policies on the image of religious Jews?

“When Prof. Harel spoke to several, he was apparently unable to find a charedi woman who reacted negatively to the separation—“this is what ought to have been always” and “even if there was no separation, I would never sit near a man” were typical reactions.”

Please see this essay from a RW blogger who is a haredi defender, who both predicted a “Rosa Parks” scenario and clearly was not comfortable with the buses. If this is how those who defend haredim react, why does anyone think this won’t turn off people less friendly to haredim?


Yehoshua Friedman
8 years 5 months ago

Rafael (#17) gave us the link to the female professor opposing an orthodox minyan. The end-blurb about the author stated: “Janice Gross Stein is the Belzberg Professor of Conflict Management and director of the Munk Centre for International Studies.” Hmm, BELZBERG. A frum family. Pass the word around that they should get some bang for their bucks and raise a ruckus.

8 years 5 months ago

“People do not have a “right” to impose their style of prayer upon others, which is what Noam advocates in that example.”

Rabbi Menken conflates my mentioning his lack of support with advocacy on my part. Nowhere did I mention here any support for imposing a style of prayer on others. One might assume from what I wrote that I support that, but in actuality I do not. This is not the first time we have differed on the accuracy of Rabbi Menken’s assumptions. This time his assumption is unassailably wrong.