Thursday, August 05, 2004

And the Bus Blues Roll On

The Jerusalem Post is running an opinion piece by a woman who seeks to defend the idea that women should have the “right” to sit in the back of the bus for reasons of modesty. If you want to read it, head over to the Opinions section of the Post and scroll down. You’ll find it if it’s still posted there; its title is unmistakable. I’m not going to excerpt it or link to it here; I see no reason to delay its swift slide into the oblivion it deserves.

The author of the article goes on about how women should have the “right” to choose to sit in a more protected area of a public bus. Yet she conveniently ignores the fact that Ms. Ragen was not given a choice. She was intimidated, bullied and ordered about by a man who expected her to obey him as a matter of course. That is not modesty. It is arrogance. If this man were truly modest, he would have remained seated and silent with his eyes averted—just as I’m sure he thinks women ought to do.

I have news for this self-appointed guardian of public morals and women’s seating choices: no one behaves in this way out of devotion to modesty. History shows that people who bully and intimidate others do not do so for the sake of a higher spiritual cause, even if that is what they would like us to think. Their real goals are to assert their power, defend their turf and frighten others into obedience. The man who attacked Ms. Ragen violated his own religious law, with its strong emphasis on decent behavior, even as he claimed to defend it.

A brief aside: I recall stories of the “kosher bus” from Monsey, New York, to Manhattan. (I do not know whether it is still in operation.) This early-morning commuter bus, which doubled as a synagogue, featured a curtain placed down the center aisle with men sitting on one side and women on the other. This may have seemed awkward—particularly if the bus rounded a sharp curve—but I admire the compromise. The organizers sought to honor Jewish tradition (since the bus also served as an Orthodox synagogue, which requires separate seating) and at the same time would not countenance forcing anyone to sit in the rear. If only we all behaved with such decency.

One bright spot in all this: a Young Israel rabbi wrote a letter to the Post, speaking of the need to expose and be aware of the fundamentalists in our midst. True, we need to be vigilant against people who would bully and intimidate others while using religion as their excuse. The only thing such people seek to teach us is to fear them, and they act as they do not out of reverence, but because they have none.

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