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December 22, 2011 10:19 am

An Orthodox Bus for Hillary Clinton

avatar by Dovid Efune

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A Eged bus. Photo: Marcel Masferrer.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently come under attack for her statements regarding the treatment of women in some segments of Israeli society, when she said, that attempts in some parts of Jerusalem to separate men and women on buses was “reminiscent of Rosa Parks”.

Clearly the general separation of men and women in certain situations can’t be the subject of her complaint, as gender division is standard practice in mainstream modern society. Gyms (Lucille Roberts), posh schools (Eton College), synagogues, mosques, the U.S. Army (women can’t serve in most combat roles).

If she was concerned that this separation was somehow imposed, or included some form of prejudice against one side or the other, she is mistaken as well. You can rest assured that if a man decided to take a seat in the women’s section, he would have faced similar objection from the rest of the passengers, as to if it would have been the other way round. Additionally travel on the segregated buses is optional, and passengers are free to choose to travel on vehicles that allow mixed seating.

Possibly her grievance relates to the fact that some of these buses are public and paid for by the government, reflecting a lesser adherence to the strict separation of church and state that is so sacrosanct in the United States. However, it is not at all unheard of that local government programs are geared towards the needs and specific requirements of a localized majority constituency. State aid to certain religious schools for example, or ‘prejudice’ against Hamptons outsiders who are not allowed to visit certain beaches, and often times those needs are influenced by religion. The ‘majority rules’ principle of liberal democracy applies in many ways on a localized level as well as a national one, and as is almost always the case the minority is subjected to the laws imposed by the majority.

Perhaps her complaint was more specific, as indicated by the Rosa Parks analogy and in this she may have a point. If the community wishes to separate men and women on public transport, why should the women need to sit in the back? Why don’t the men sit in the back and the women in the front? In truth when listening to secular minded segregation objectors, the word ‘back’ is often the word that is emphasized as therein lies the prejudice and all the negative associations of the past.

Those from within the community explain, that since sexual attraction for men is well documented to be more visual than it is for women, seating the women at the back of the bus will ensure that the men won’t be gazing into the opposing section.

However, as it does present fuel for misunderstanding, and perception often becomes reality, I would suggest the following: In those neighborhoods of the religiously committed, or on those bus routes commonly used by them, if there is a majority consensus to allow some of the buses running those routes to be segregated, than by all means it should be allowed.

However, instead of a front back separation, women should sit on one side, and men on the other. In order to avoid ‘gazing,’ some sort of separator should be erected that runs directly through the center of the bus.

Hillary has shown herself to be ignorant, rash, insensitive and downright prejudiced. However for the sake of those well-meaning individuals, who are respectful and sensitive – but who are a little concerned over what the scenario could come to project – making an effort to demonstrate Judaism’s esteem for the fairer sex in the implementation of these orthodox customs will go a long way.

The Author is the director of the Algemeiner Journal and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at defune@gjcf.com

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