Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Demonstrating against Segregation

Demonstration against segregated buses 1

Over the past several months, I have attended two demonstrations against segregation on Jerusalem’s buses. (See my photos here and here.)

Last Tuesday morning, a special 11-member committee appointed by the Israeli Ministry of Transport determined that sex segregation on buses must be voluntary, not coerced.

A special committee appointed by the Transportation Ministry recommended on Tuesday conducting a yearlong trial during which passengers on "mehadrin" public bus lines would be allowed to enter from either the front or the rear doors, so those who wished to maintain gender separation could do so.
However, the committee stressed that the separation of the genders must be solely on a voluntary basis, that the passengers riding on these buses may not impose it coercively and that bus drivers would be responsible for intervening to prevent coercion if it arose.

While I was at yesterday’s demonstration, I suddenly found myself recalling a verse from the Book of Lamentations (1:8): “... She herself also sighs, and turns backward.”

The original Hebrew phrase that is translated as “turning backward” is va-tashov ahor. On Tuesday morning, I remembered it with a slight error, thinking that the word was va-teshev—“she sits in the back.”

When I got home, I looked up the text and realized my mistake. But then, I remembered that the Jewish sages engaged in a great deal of word play in order to illustrate various homiletical points. I decided to follow their example, and this is what I came up with:

איכה 1:8: ”גם היא נאנחה ותשב אחור“: אל תקרי תשב (בקמץ) אלא תשב (בצירה), שהאשה נאלצת לשבת מאחור לא מתוך רצון ולא מתוך בחירה או סתם מקריות, אלא מתוך כפייה ופחד, השפלה והשמצות כגון שעצם נוכחותה ברבים מהווה מכשול גם כאשר היא לבושה בצניעות הראויה, וכל זה מנוגד לדעת תורה ידועה. ולאשה אסור לתת קולה נגד מנהג מוטעה זה או להביע את צערה שמא יתנפלו עליה קנאים וירביצוה, אז אין לה אלא לשתוק ולהאנח....

Lamentations 1:8: “She also sighs, and turns backward.” Do not read tashov (she turns backward) but rather teshev (she sits in the rear), since the woman is being forced to sit in the rear not out of desire or choice or even by chance, but out of coercion and fear, humiliation and false accusations that her mere presence in the public sphere constitutes a stumbling block even when she is modestly and properly dressed. Even though all this violates well-known religious rulings, the woman cannot raise her voice against this misguided custom or express her sorrow over it for fear of physical attack by fanatics. So she can do nothing but remain silent and sigh.

I suspect that we haven’t heard the end of the matter.

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