Israeli Segregated buses

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Concept.png Israeli Segregated buses Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png

Autobus mehadrin (literal translation "beautified bus") is the name for segregated buses in Israel. These routes meet Haredi standards of modesty with men sitting at the front and women at the back.

Secular passengers travel on the 60 or so routes and may be expected to voluntarily comply with the same standards after the 2011 High Court of Justice ruling.


The practice began with private bus-companies who catered for the haredi community, a demographic that owns fewer cars but has large familes.[1] These services were challenged in the 1990s by the Egged and Dan bus companies, who began to run gender-separated buses themselves. In the decade from 1997 to 2007 the number of such bus routes proliferated and spread from urban to intercity routes and by June 2006 there were about 60 of these routes. Controversy surrounds the coercion and even violence sometimes applied to women who refuse.[2]

Hasidic men sit right at the front with non-Hasidic men behind, This configuration means that the men’s distance from the women’s section in direct proportion to their community’s zeal for segregated buses. Segregation on some buses is assisted by the presence of entrances at front and back, while others have a single entrance at the front.

2011 Court Case

In 2007 a petition was filed against the gender-segregated buses at the High Court, in which five women, including New York-born novelist Naomi Ragen, questioned their legitimacy. The women charged that there were no formal arrangements or conditions for the operation of these special bus lines and that, as passengers on these buses, they had been harassed by haredim for insisting on sitting in the front section.[3]

On the judge’s instruction, the Transportation Ministry convened the Langer Committee to formulate a policy regarding gender-separation on buses. The committee reported on the 26th October 2009 and recommended outlawing it, saying "the arrangement grew and spread without direction, supervision, assessment or significant intervention by the Transportation Ministry and created a sense among haredi groups that it was the obligation of the ministry to provide bus lines suited to their way of life. This, in turn, let to attempts to impose the seating arrangement on those who did not adhere to it.". Then Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said they should continue.[1]

On 6th Jan 2011 the High Court of Justice officially abolished the so-called "mehadrin" public buses operated by the Egged bus company. According to Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, "There is a common understanding today that the operation of the buses as they were run until 2007 is forbidden. This is the current opinion of the Transportation Minister and, as the regulatory body, that is what he will instruct the public bus companies. For those who are not clear on this, we will say that a public transportation operator (like anyone else) may not tell, request or order women to sit in a specific place on the bus just because they are women, or to tell them how to dress, and they are entitled to sit anywhere they wish."[3]

The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) attorney Einat Horowitz praised the ruling but said that the "verdict anchors what is obvious. Every woman is free to choose her seat on a public bus and is entitled to egalitarian treatment that respects her choice.” Another IRAC director Anat Hoffman, however, noted that the court had “left the back door open” because women would still be expected to enter by the back door of the bus. “Women who have been bullied into sitting in the back of the bus, have been trained to sit there. I want that door closed. If men and women enter by the front door, chances are the women will take the first available seat at their own convenience.” Hoffman added that in the first trial year there would be 1,000 "freedom riders" checking on whether women could really sit where they wanted to. Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz welcomed the decision, "Israel is not, and shall not be, Iran.”[3]

The ruling still permits the separation of men and women on buses serving some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, but only if the passengers agree.[4]

The Jewish Virtual Library suggests that wife-beating is a significant problem in Israel and amongst Jews generally, Jewish women typically taking twice as long to leave abusive relationships, fearing that they will lose their children and because of the difficulty of getting a Jewish divorce decree (dependent on the abusive husband's consent).[5][6]

2011 incident

On 18th Dec 2011, another incident was reported by Haareetz and an Egged spokesman said "such incidents were increasing". Egged's directives clearly prohibit the driver from "permitting or creating any separation on the bus unless it is voluntary". In case of a confrontation, drivers should call the police.

The particular incident concerned a woman passenger on public bus 451 from Ashdod to Jerusalem. She was told by an ultra-Orthodox male passenger to move to the back of the bus and abused with "a derogatory word for a non-Jewish woman". The man held the door of the bus open and would not allow it to move for approximately 30 minutes. Some inconvenienced passengers wanted the driver to intervene. The policeman eventually called to the scene spoke "pleasantly" with the man and then asked the woman to move to the back of the bus. When she refused, the man who had been holding the door alighted and the bus continued on its way.[7]

Reaction to the 2011 incident

Two days after the new incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened his weekly cabinet meeting with a condemnation of ultra-Orthodox efforts to segregate women and men on public buses. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said of the woman, Tanya Rosenblit "Her determination symbolizes the need for all of us who fear for Israel's image to fight and not give in, Tanya has shown personal bravery."

Haaretz said that the practice was a longstanding phenomenon which had been officially in place for over 10 years. The verdict of the Supreme Court earlier in the year had effectively approved the practice, since permitting women to board at the back of the bus (if the corridor was blocked by standing men) effectively forced them to do so and take the back seats. The bus in question, No. 451, was registered under the High Court of Justice as a 'mehadrin line' (also known as 'strictly kosher') as were more than other 50 bus lines. The "trial period" had already lasted over two years. Despite both sides having claimed victory, the court might as well have made bus segregation kosher.[8]

Geographical coverage

The busy Route 322 runs from TelAviv to Jerusalem via Ashdod is operated by Veoila Transportation (formerly Connex), a French-based multinational which manages to undersell its secular counterpart, Egged, Israel's largest bus company.[1]

Gender segregation in Israel

Another phenomenon angrily noted by some Israelis are incidents involving serving IDF soldiers (mostly from nationalist Orthodox yeshivas) who walk out of public ceremonies where women are singing. This group of soldiers has received the backing of prominent rabbis, including Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of Yeshivat Elon Moreh, who believes that the army has ceased to be a Jewish army. Another such phenomenon is that of the shawl-draped 'taliban' women on the fringes of the ultra-Orthodox society, who have stirred a stormy debate of late within the Haredi sector. In both of these phenomena, the controversy began first as internal debate before emerging into the public sector. Suddenly, every separate swimming hour held at the university pools looks like the ayatollah regime has descended.[8]

Segregated buses, New York

A privately operated bus, the B110, runs in Brooklyn between Williamsburg and Borough Park, seating men in the front and women in the back. It does not accept MetroCards and does not run Friday night or most of Saturday. It had been doing this since 1973 "awarded the route through a public and competitive bidding process" but only became an issue in Oct 2011 when "The New York World", a Columbia Journalism School publication, reported that a female rider was told by other riders that she had to leave the front.

Notices at the front and back of the bus read "when boarding a crowded bus with standing passengers in the front, women should board the back door after paying the driver in the front" and that "when the bus is crowded, passengers should stand in their designated areas." Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told a news conference that such segregation was "obviously not permitted" on public buses. Other buses catering to the Hasidic community segregate with one sex sitting on the left and the other on the right.[9]

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  1. a b c Israel's Sex-Segregated Buses Riding High “Hey, lady!” yelled the bus driver. “You forgot your Psalms booklet.” Jewish Daily Forward, June 2006.
  2. Woman beaten on J'lem bus for refusing to move to rear seat Ha'aretz. 15th Dec 2006.
  3. a b c Court scraps ‘mehadrin’ buses Israel Religious Action Center praises ruling but says "court left back door open." Jerusalem Post, 6th Jan 2011.
  4. Israeli court approves gender-segregated buses ruling permitting separation but only if the passengers agree. Washington Times, 6th Jan 2011.
  5. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE "For many years there was a myth that domestic violence among Jewish families was infrequent". JVL 2008.
  6. Domestic violence in Israel: changing attitudes "For many years, knowledge of the prevalence of violence against women in Israel was marginalized in such a way that it never figured in public discourse". Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006 Nov;1087:301-10.
  7. Israeli woman refuses ultra-Orthodox dictate to move to back of bus When the passenger refused to move to the designated back seats, even when police arrived, the bus continued on its way, despite her refusal. Haaretz Dec 18th 2011.
  8. a b Israeli leaders are to blame for the religious segregation they decry The sudden public outcry over gender segregation on ultra-Orthodox buses is misplaced: such practices have been going on for years. There are other new phenomena that should worry us more. Haaretz Dec 19, 2011.
  9. US bus runs Williamsburg and Borough Park seats men in the front and women in the back. New York Times Oct 20 2011.