Monday morning briefs

Ding dong the witch is dead: Kim Jong-il is gone. Alas, another is ready to take his place. Stupid Sith lords.

Not my grandfather’s religion: I don’t care what you say, rioting is not the part of Orthodox Judaism that I learned about growing up. No excuse. No excuse. NO excuse.

Why does Israel bother to keep its words when terrorists don’t keep theirs? The second part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner release deal went off as usual, with Palestinians attacking the IDF in gratitude. I’d have told them “Seeya!” and kept the terrorists in prison. Hamas doesn’t keep its word about not firing rockets. Just once, I’d like to see Israel tell them to go piss off, deal’s off. Or at least keep the ones involved in terror.

The awesomeness of the Arab Spring in one photo: This is what Arab democracy looks like. Especially for women. I would like to point out that in spite of the problems with religious Jews not wanting to sit near women on a bus, Israel has never had a state-run organization treat its women like this. Or execute them for witchcraft. Or send them back into a burning school for not having their heads covered. Yeah, that Muslim ERA Watch category is going to keep on getting bigger here.

Of course they do: The Haredi are asking religious millionaires to fund a private bus line so they don’t have to look at women when they ride the bus. Again, not the Judaism my grandfather taught me. I wonder what these guys would have done during the Exodus. Probably told Miriam to stop playing on her timbrels and the women to stop singing.

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15 Responses to Monday morning briefs

  1. Russ says:

    Meryl, there is a good Jewish ethic that you may have heard of called dan l’chaf zechus, which very roughly means, “give people the benefit of the doubt.” I’d think for this blog, it is especially important to follow this rule with regard to one’s fellow Jews.

    In the case of the Eda Haredit protest, did you overlook the condemnation of the rioters by the leaders of the protest? There was no “oh, they are just picking on the Haredim” or “we have to understand their frustration.” They would, it appears, agree with your assessment that rioting is not part of Orthodox Judaism. So why cite it? All it does is make Jews look bad, and haters who seize on such denunciations will not confine their hatred to Orthodox Jews.

    And you are most unfair to the Haredim seeking private financing for busses with separate seating. It is not about “so they don’t have to look at women.” Traditional Judaism goes out of its way to avoid incidental contact between men and women who are not married. Yes, it is very enjoyable to touch a member of the opposite sex, even casually, but our tradition expects us to restrict such contact to our spouses. Many women, especially, would prefer not to be crushed among crowds of men – having separate seating makes it easier to avoid.

    True, modern Orthodox Jews don’t worry about that so much, accepting it as part of living in the modern world. But there is something to be said for Haredim going out of their way to avoid it.

    I presume that your stated explanation simply reflects you not being aware of this – it is certainly very different from the casual contact/sex world of secularism. But it is an ever-present reality for religious Jews, and in the future, I would hope that you would cease to give ammo to the antisemites by spreading what you will now know are falsehoods.

  2. ger says:

    Meryl, if Israel were to withhold the release of the second batch of terrorists, can you imagine the reaction of the EU, UN, the USA, and, most important, the New York Times (hah)?

    Of course, the good thing that would result would be Tom Friedman’s head exploding, but that should happen soon in any event.

  3. Michael Lonie says:

    OK Russ, how about if the men sit in the back of the bus? Surely they will be willing to do that in order not to be offended by the proximity of women. Or they can walk or take a taxi. The beneficent millionaires that rabbi is begging to finance a private bus line can finance a bunch of jitney busses, and each jitney will take men or women but not both. I notice the rabbi calling for it wants it to be free. Surely his congregants would be willing to pay enough to make up at least part of the operating expenses of such a bus system in order to enjoy transportation without the mixing of sexes, which appears to be such an important point to so many of them.

    Meryl cites the rioting so people reading her blog will learn of it. To fail to cite unfavorable news just because some antisemites might use it in a hostile manner is the advocacy of cowardice. Deliberate suppression of controversial news that calls for criticism will result, before long, in dysfunctional behavior by Jews, because such behavior has never been criticized as it deserved. Without the criticism, dysfunctional behavior won’t be corrected. In this case, if the new bus line actually operates and proves to be an acceptable solution to the problem of ill-mannered Haredim, it will come about only because of the criticism leveled at the Haredim’s original, bumptious demands that women sit in the back of the bus.

    Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, American economists, have often pointed out that suppression of criticism of dysfunctional behavior by black people over the last forty years has led to disastrous results for black people themselves. Let us not imagine that Jews are such delicate, hothouse flowers that criticism of bad behavior must be muted or suppressed because, dontcherknow, it wouldn’t look good.

  4. Russ says:

    I think there would be no problem with the men being at the back, other than that it hasn’t historically been done that way and the people involved (including the women) might not be comfortable with it. But if it is done in private buses specifically chartered for the Haredim, why is it any business of yours how they choose to use them?

    Meryl cites the rioting, but describes it in such a way as to implicate all of Orthodox Judaism. That is, she is implying something that is clearly not the case. If all she wanted was to make sure that people “knew about it” she could have done that in a much more appropriate fashion. It is not the link to the news that it is the problem, but the framing.

    And there is a serious problem if traditional behavior that harms no one is likened to clearly abusive or self-destructive behavior. That you cannot conceive of a good reason for separate seating of the sexes does not mean that when it happens, it must be anti-woman. It’s just a different culture than you are used to. Different cultures are excused all the time – except when that different culture is some subset of Orthodox Judaism.

  5. Russ, here’s where I’m calling bullshit on the different culture theory. I reject all religions that make women second-class citizens, force them to cover up, and refuse to allow them full participation in that religion. I’m in the Conservative movement for that very reason.

    As for your assertion that traditional behavior harms no one, well, gee. What happens to young men brought up to believe they are superior to women? Go chart the incidence of spousal abuse. I won’t be at all surprised to see it on the rise as the subjugation of women continues.

    Separation of the sexes in the ways the haredi are calling for IS anti-woman.

  6. Russ says:

    Meryl, how much time have you spent talking with Orthodox women? They are most definitely not “second-class citizens.” We do not raise our boys to think they are superior to women, and the women certainly do not consider themselves to be inferior.

    I posted as I did because over the years, it has seemed to me that there is a lot of similarity between the way you speak of Orthodox Jews and the way antisemites speak about all Jews.

    But I am not the best one to talk to about this. May I request that you read the site, Jew in the City, written by an Orthodox woman who was raised Conservative? It is written with a lot of humor, and the she seems to be very good at answering questions. You have nothing to lose but your prejudices.

  7. Rahel says:

    Russ, the demands that women sit in the back of the bus, make themselves increasingly invisible, not talk on cellphones in public, not eat ice cream cones in public, walk on separate sidewalks and so on have nothing whatsoever to do with modesty and everything to do with power and control.

    Surely you are aware of the ruling of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein that traveling on public transportation is not considered immodest behavior, and that a man who feels that using public transportation where he might see women might make him think indecent thoughts is better off staying home.

    Judaism teaches that holiness does not come at the expense of others, nor does it come at the expense of embarrassing and humiliating others — a grave sin in Judaism. There is also the concept of the mitzvah that comes at the expense of committing a sin, so even if this whole argument were about modesty — which I maintain it is not, and never has been — the methods of the Haredim would be pasul (invalid) from the outset.

    Many Haredi women do not like these new strictures but are afraid to speak up because of fear of social pressure and fear for their physical safety. This is not the Judaism I was taught, Russ, nor is it the Judaism that I freely chose to observe twenty years ago. I am extremely distressed by what is happening to Judaism — and distressed when I see apologetics for it as well.

  8. Russ says:

    Rahel, this is not “happening in Judaism.” The Haredim (sometimes called “Ultra-Orthodox”) do things a bit differently from “mainstream Orthodox” and I would check with Haredi women before making pronouncements on what they want. If you know for a fact that they object and are intimidated, there are probably forums in which to address that problem. But posting here in the way that Meryl has done, and continually claiming that Orthodox Judaism denigrates women and treats them as inferiors is not doing anything other than stirring up ignorant hatred for Orthodox Jews.

    As for what they feel, a quick google search led me to this Ynet article. Perhaps you have other sources which disagree?

  9. Rahel says:

    Russ, I know that Haredi women are calling the religious Jewish women’s organization anonymously to protest the segregation.

    What these zealots are doing makes Orthodoxy look bad. There’s no getting around that. Many religious people are saying that what they are doing is an outright hillul ha-Shem, and I would tend to agree.

  10. Rahel says:

    Oh, and Russ, that opinion piece was written by a Haredi male journalist. Do you honestly think that Haredi women are going to tell him, for the record, that they oppose the segregation? Honestly.

  11. Russ says:

    Do you have evidence that they do? Or is it just that you personally, not being of a culture where such segregation makes sense, are projecting your own feelings?

    As it happens, a number of Haredi women commented on the article. Every one that I saw wanted the segregation; however, several would have preferred that the bus be divided side-to-side rather than front-and-back. Such a bus is depicted in the movie, A Stranger Among Us, and had a curtain down the aisle, if I remember correctly. I suspect that it is more expensive to do it that way.

  12. Rahel says:

    Russ, I have been on the “Kosher Bus” from Teaneck to Monsey. A friend of mine used to commute to work on it long ago. It has the curtain down the middle because there are prayer services on the way to work. The guys stand up and recite the shemoneh esreh in the center aisle. My friend — a woman — was sitting in her seat when the bus rounded a curve, and one of the guys on the other side of the curtain landed in her lap (with the canvas curtain between them, of course).

    The bus is part of a private line. If the Haredim want to have a private segregated line, that is their business — but they have no business imposing segregation on a public bus line. Not only that — I have seen the posters that they use to urge segregation on the buses. They are filled with magical thinking and scare tactics — hardly a healthy thing for a community.

  13. Russ says:

    I understand the public/private argument, and in the US, it’s not even close: there would be no way to justify using public funds for a clearly religious purpose. I wonder about the situation in Israel, though, where the Haredim are about 8% of the population and growing fast, and there is no separation of synagogue and state. Is it right that secular standards must be imposed on them? What if religious Jews, now about 1/3 of the population, and certainly at least comfortable with religious gender segregation in such cases, becomes the majority? Would democratic principles justify making all busses segregated?

    It seems to me that we should not be applying US standards to Israel on this point, and that the shear numbers, especially on certain routes, justify designating a portion of the busses to accommodate such a large constituency, as long as they are clearly identifiable from outside.

  14. Rahel says:

    Russ, the thing is done by force, intimidation, social pressure and scare tactics. There is no free choice involved, and such segregation has no basis whatsoever in halakha.

    The people who enforce it behave like thugs, without an ounce of courtesy or respect. I know women who have been intimidated on buses, and I’ve had a few run-ins myself, including on a taxi van where I was asked to move “up” by a man who did not look at me as he spoke, so I actually had no idea at first that he was talking to me. When I asked him what he meant by “up,” he gestured toward the back of the van, and I told him that I would be staying where I was. There were no other passengers in the van at the time but the two of us — and he got on despite my refusal and took a seat.

    I feel that the very fact that he asked me to move was disrespectful. He simply wanted me to know my place and sit there. The van was all but empty and he had his choice of seats. I was not blocking him — for example — from sitting with his family, as we were both traveling by ourselves.

    Then there was the rabbi who hired a bunch of ushers to herd women toward the rear door on public Egged buses last Sukkot outside the Old City of Jerusalem. The ushers were given megaphones that contained recorded messages asking men to board from the front door and women from the “second” door (they didn’t even have enough honesty to say “rear” door). The whole thing was illegal, and when the police found out about it, they put a stop to it immediately. I was there and documented the incident.

    All this points to a very disturbing trend in Haredi society. These zealots have no respect for democracy, but they are all too willing to use it for their own ends. I have no wish to be ruled by thugs who use religion as a cloak for their lust for power.

  15. Russ says:

    The problem I hear is that you are engaged in mind-reading. This goes back to the original point I made about judging favorably. “Lust for power”? On what basis do you state that the underlying goal is a lust for power? I’d say rather that they have this segregation thing going on and are trying to make people follow it, because that is what they are comfortable with.

    Yes, I see Haredim engaged in inappropriate ways to try to make others adhere to their standards, but that does not mean that they are doing it because they want power. Like most religious zealots, they want people to behave in ways that they see are right and proper, even when those ways are not agreed-upon by others.

    The man you encountered in the taxi van is almost certainly not used to dealing with women outside of his own culture; women who would probably expect to be riding in a different part of the van from men. Consequently, he was rude, and you were absolutely correct in standing your ground.

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