For once it will be the men sitting behind women, rather than the other way around.
Unlike in Jerusalem buses passing through Haredi neighborhoods, in which women are required to sit at the back while men sit at the front, on the capital city’s new light rail system it will be men sitting in the last car of the trains.
While representatives of the ultra-Orthodox Edah Chareidit have protested the light rail through its years-long development, they now say they will use the last car for men only and coordinate prayers there in afternoons and evenings.
“The distance between the cars solves the halachic problem of sitting behind a woman, so we’ll have no problem sitting there and proving that our insistence on sitting in the front in buses does not stem from chauvinistic motives,” said Edah spokesman Yoelish Kroiz in an article on Ynet.
The gender segregation on Jerusalem buses has prompted protests by those who say that it’s discriminatory.
What exactly, the Sisterhood wondered, is the halachic problem with a man sitting behind a woman? Perhaps it would explain why, when we see cars traveling from Williamsburg to Boro Park, Brooklyn, with both men and women in the cars the women are invariably sitting in the back while the men sit up front.
According to the website Halacha for Today, which answers questions about Jewish law on hundreds of different pragmatic topics, the Shulchan Aruch says that a man should not walk behind a woman lest he look at her and have improper thoughts which could lead to improper actions.
The author of the website, who lives in Lakewood N.J. but is otherwise anonymous, says, “There is a debate amongst contemporary Poskim if this applies today when it is much more prevalent for women to be in public, and only in the times of Chazal when it was rare to see a woman in public would it perhaps lead to sin.”
Whichever way modern devisors of Jewish law come down on the issue, it does seem clear that members of the Edah Charedit and their sympathizers have taken gender segregation to new recent extremes.
A woman named in another Ynet story only as “L,” was recently refused sale of a ticket on the Jerusalem train when she went to buy one in the Haredi neighborhood Geula and was told ‘we don’t serve women.” She was instructed to go to a different stand a few blocks away, where, after a lengthy wait she bought a ticket.
“I felt humiliated and was flooded with feelings of anger and offense. It’s not the beach or a swimming pool; it’s a public transportation ticket,” she told Ynet.
“There’s a handful of Haredi extremists who have turned modesty into the most important thing in Judaism and are forcing it on a large group. Many Haredi women and men are against this,” she told Ynet.
Then where are the voices of those who oppose the extremism? I appreciate that conformity is a communal norm in the Haredi world, and that people may fear a range of types of retribution if they are perceived as not being “frum enough,” but when is enough actually enough? Why do we not hear about anyone, male or female, pushing back back against this continuously growing extremism from within the Haredi community?