In the midst of cleaning for Pesachâ€”or, as they say, making the house kosher for the holidayâ€”I have been pondering the use of the term kosher as it is being applied to Israelâ€™s â€œkosher busesâ€.
The segregation of women on some public transportation in and between religious neighborhoodsâ€”literally, sending them to the back of the busâ€”has caused a outpouring of anger in many circles here and overseas. As always, it falls to the victims themselves to campaign against the infringement of their civil and human rights. Women who do not want to be relegated to the back seats, and who have been humiliated and even attacked for this refusal, are now appealing to Israelâ€™s courts to challenge this arrangement on public buses. They are being supported by overseas groups, including a campaign by the U.S. affiliate of the International Council of Jewish Women, the National Council of Jewish Women, and initial reactions from the judges in these cases agree that there is a clear violation of womenâ€™s rights as protected by the law.
For those of us who remember the first acts of the civil rightsâ€™ movement in the United States, we are very aware of the significance of segregated buses. We can also attest to the fact that these violations of civil and human rights inevitably lead to violenceâ€”in this case, violence specifically targeted against women.
And here is the true point of the â€œbus situation.â€ This is not really about seating on buses, or any real attempt to preserve modesty between the sexes. If those behind the segregation of men and women were really acting in the interest of modesty, they should have perhaps followed the example of countries like Mexico who provide women with separate â€œgrope-freeâ€ public transportation.
Every woman who has ever used public transportation has experienced sexual harassment of one type or another. The idea of â€œgrope-freeâ€ transportation offers separate transportation for women so that they can travel comfortably, without having to fight off the wandering hands and lewd looks of male passengers. Had the â€œkosherâ€ bus initiators made similar arrangements for the women in their community, I doubt whether there would have been any uproar. In fact, the argument could have been made that there was some forward thinking in this policy, just as there is a strong argument to be made for separate education for boys and girls. (In many research studies, the latter has actually been shown to serve the scholastic and intellectual development of the girls.)
But the point of segregated buses is not to protect the women. Insisting that the women travel at the back of the bus is a symbolic act of patriarchal oppression in a community that feels it has to remind its women of their â€œproper place.â€ It has nothing to do with religion, and it is not remotely â€œkosher.â€ It is another tactic to enforce the status quo in a community that fears the cracks of gender equality are growing wider.
As we get ready for the Pesach holiday, let us remember that the message of the holiday is freedom. Any perversion of that message is simply not kosher.
Written by Leah A.