Israel Orthodox Laws: Why is Israel Moving Away From Them?


On May 8, the Israeli government announced its decision to outlaw gender segregation in public spaces, in an attempt to prevent Jewish extremists from imposing their rigid segregation on the rest of the country. This gender segregation has been a problem in Israel since the 90s, and previous attempts have been made to condemn such discrimination.

One of the more prominent examples of sex segregation in Israel is the back-of-the bus seating on public transport, in which women are made to sit at the back of the bus and enter through rear doors. This started off in the 90s with the creation of the Mehadrin bus line for the Haredi public. Haredi is the most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism, and the Haredis represent an ultra-Orthodox Jewish segment that focus on strict gender segregation.

Not only that, but the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community also believes that women should be dressed modestly at all times and that female radio broadcasters should be banned. It is clear that such gender segregation involves relegating women to the back of any given space.

This issue represents the struggle between the secular majority and the ultra-Orthodox minority in Israel. While most Jews are against sex discrimination, an extremist group within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population is bent on confining women to the private realm.

The Mehadrin bus-lines have been heavily criticized by the media since their implementation. Women who insist on sitting in the front of buses in Jerusalem have been subjected to humiliating treatment and even verbal and physical assault. Tanya Rosenblit's refusal to move to the back of the bus in 2011 received intense media coverage and prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn bus segregation.

In May 2013, the government decided to make forced segregation a criminal offense. Israels attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, advised ministers on Wednesday, May 8 to immediately end segregation in the public sphere and stated, "behavior aimed at preventing women from receiving public services with equal conditions" should be outlawed.

Shortly after Weinstein's announcement, the Minister of Justice, Tzipi Livni, pledged sweeping legislation to end public discrimination and segregation.

"Women in Israel won't sit at the back of the bus. Women in Israel will participate in state ceremonies and their voices will be heard on radio stations and in the army," Livni said.

Efforts are also being made to end the ban on the female broadcasters and to stop ultra-Orthodox members from posting signs that urge women to dress decently in public.

These reforms seem to be popular with the majority of Israeli citizens. The power of the ultra-Orthodox Jews has been weakened due to their exclusion from Israel's coalition government, and, even though their population is increasing, ultra-Orthodox Jews remain a minority. Hopefully, the attempts at reform will be implemented effectively this time.