Religious women fight for a front row access

Thursday, January 25, 2007 |  by Staff Writer
Some ultra-Orthodox Jewish women, tired of being relegated to the back of the bus, have filed a petition with Israel’s High Court, claiming that such segregation is illegal and humiliating.

Two Israeli bus companies began ‘kosher’ bus lines 10 years ago requiring female passengers to sit in a separate section at the back of the bus. Five women, including author Naomi Ragen, filed a petition against this.

“We’re sick of sitting in the back of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) buses. We prefer to sit up front,” they wrote.

In July 2004, Ragen sat in the front, unaware that she was on a religious bus. As the bus filled with passengers, men demanded that she move to the back of the bus. Ragen said she was verbally abused and even physically threatened by one man.

“He treated me exactly as if I were a black woman in the United States South 50 years ago,” Ragen said. “It was very humiliating.”

The petitioners argue that even when the male section of the bus is empty and the female section is overcrowded, men still prevent women from sitting on “their side.”

“Why should a woman with children and a baby carriage be forced to stand when there are plenty of empty seats on the bus?” Ragen asked.

“In the current format, the haredi bus lines are illegal, since they harm democratic rights and principles. The separation between the sexes sends a message of inferiority to women and we insist that the Ministry of Transportation become involved and address the issue immediately,” the petitioners concluded.

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