Monday, November 1, 2010

Gender Separation on Buses: Yes, It's Really True

When my school was headed to a hotel for our annual Shabbaton, or weekend dedicated to celebrating Shabbat (Sabbath) together, everyone boarded the bus and started laughing. “They sent us kosher buses!” my friends said. I saw a curtain separating the front from the back of the bus. I was, I’m embarrassed to say, completely clueless as to what a kosher bus was, or why a curtain made it so. What were they talking about, kosher buses?

So I did my research and discovered that very right-wing bus services in Israel (and America) offer buses that have separate seating for men and women - women in the back, men in the front. I don’t have to convince people how upsetting this is, or make parallels to the civil rights movement and the separation there had been between races before gains were made to enfranchise African-Americans. It makes me feel ashamed of the Orthodox Jewish community for acting in such a reactionary way.

Honestly, I think the separation of genders has gotten blown out of proportion by the ultra-Orthodox community because of what I call the outfrummingness factor. The word frum in Yiddish means observant, and I define outfrummingness as the desire of people to act “frummer,” or more religious, than others. While the aspiration to be closer to God and do more mitzvot (commandments) is noble, its manifestation in outfrummigness cases is anything but. The men of the ultra-Orthodox community want to “prove” to others how frum they are, so how do they do it? Subjugate the women who are already beneath them anyway.

Obviously not every ultra-Orthodox person has the outfrummingness factor and not every ultra-Orthodox man is a sexist pig, but right now I’m talking about the ones who are, and who have been making it into the news recently.

Nonetheless, there has recently been increased pressure on women to act and dress with tzniut (modesty). The gender separation on buses is just another way the ultra-Orthodox men are enforcing tzniut among their women. If a man can’t see her, then she’s definitely being modest, right? (I don’t want to address tzniut in its entirety right now, since I’m working on another blog post about it, and I don’t want to ruin all the fun.) These men are taking it so extremely that they are physically and verbally threatening those who oppose gender separation on buses.

I commend the women and men who are fighting this outrageous violation of women's rights. So far protesters have gotten the Israeli courts to rule that it is illegal to set up public gender barriers. The Transport Minister Yisrael Katz appointed a Supreme Court-ordered committee that decided that gender segregated buses should not be allowed, but Katz so far has done next to nothing, advocating voluntary separation.

I just find it interesting that one of the groups that support gender separation on buses call themselves the Sikrikim. The second Beit HaMikdash (Temple) was destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred for other people. When the Romans who would end up destroying the Beit HaMikdash surrounded Jerusalem, the sages of the time wanted to speak with them and negotiate a peace treaty. The Sikarikim were an extremist group at the time who refused to allow for peace and wanted to fight for the Beit HaMikdash, killing other Jews in order to do so, even burning a twenty-one year food supply stockpiled in Jerusalem so that they would have to fight, resulting in the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. I just find the current Sikrikim interesting for naming their group after such a reviled faction in history.


  1. Are you sure they call themselves by that name?

  2. According to this article at Jerusalem Post (, yeah. (Sixth paragraph down, fifth line in.)

  3. Keep up your outrage burning bright - the Jewish World needs it. You have no idea how many "frum" folk email me that I have halacha "wrong" in Rashi's Daughters because Jewish Law back in the 11th century was much less strict than today.