Rabbi seeks sex-segregated bus line in Tiberias

Haaretz, Israel/January 4, 2010

A prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi has asked a Tiberias bus company to launch a line similar to the ones in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak that segregate women from men.

Rabbi Asher Idan from Jerusalem, a ruler on religious matters pertaining to modesty, contacted the company Veolia Transportation last month, saying that ultra-Orthodox Jews from Tiberias wanted a segregated line.

"The requests came after an increase in the number of Haredim in and around Tiberias," Idan told Haaretz. He said the request was for segregated buses "in certain neighborhoods in certain hours - when schools and religious seminaries close for the day." He added that "it is important to us that the Haredi public receives services that it is entitled to and that its needs are met."

A veteran woman resident of Tiberias who spoke on condition of anonymity said the request was "an enraging attempt to take over the city." She said that despite her "advanced age" she will wear a miniskirt and sit in the front of the segregated bus "to make a statement."

An ultra-Orthodox resident, who also requested anonymity, said the line was "unnecessary and can only serve to alienate people from the Haredi minority."

But Idan says the segregated line will change people's minds once it is launched. "The secular people of this city will see and learn how good this modesty is," he said. "We don't want to coerce anything - coercion goes against the Torah. We are simply begging that this thing be allowed to happen and that the secular public see how the holy Torah looks."

Idan said the line could be "problematic" in Tiberias because "unlike in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, the Tiberias line would pass through secular neighborhoods as well as Haredi ones." For this reason, Idan said, the people promoting the new line are "being careful and are looking to check how this thing works out."

He added that Veolia would be glad to meet the needs of the Haredi public. But when queried by Haaretz, Veolia would only say that it was "acting according to the directives of the Transportation Ministry as they are issued from time to time, and will continue to act according to them."

The ministry said the issue of segregated lines is pending a court ruling. "For this reason, the ministry does not process requests of this kind until a ruling is made," it said.

The ministry is expected this month to give answers about the segregated lines to the Supreme Court, which is reviewing the legal basis for their operation following a petition on the matter. The petition was filed by the Israel Religious Action Center, which is associated with the Reform Movement. It also prompted Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz to form a committee on the issue.

The committee ruled two months ago that the 90 segregated lines currently operating in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem should be canceled. Segregated buses are a relatively new phenomenon in Israel, with the first one appearing 10 years ago on a line between Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.

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