Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz has called on Transporation Minister Yisrael Katz to end the separation between men and women on the hareidi-religious bus lines, citing findings by a ministry committee investigating the issue. The Transportation Ministry committee that examined the issue of gender segregation on public bus lines submitted its report on the matter to the High Court of Justice on Tuesday.
The requirement by the "mehadrin" lines for men and women to sit separately is not legal, the committee reported to the court at its hearing. The Ministry noted that by law, any rider on the line can sit wherever he or she chooses. Nonetheless, the report also pointed out that it is permissable for men and women passengers to sit separately if they prefer.
Representatives for Egged and for the Ministry reminded the Court that there were numerous alternative bus lines offered for riders who wished to ride integrated vehicles. The Ministry said that there currently are 90 mehadrin lines serving the hareidi-religious population throughout the country, and none of the permits for any of the lines obligates riders to segregate themselves.
The designated bus lines, which travel to cities in which there are major hareidi-religious populations, feature buses in which the men typically sit in the front section of the bus, and the women sit in the back. The special routes do not stop at the central bus stations, but instead stop solely in the neighborhoods of the populations which they serve.
The mehadrin lines use direct routes between the specified cities., and since they make fewer stops, they are also faster. Moreover, because the Egged bus company is trying to compete with private firms offering a similar service, it has also offered lower fares for these routes than on some of its other lines.
The issue was raised last year through a petition filed in court by feminist activist and author Naomi Ragen and the Israel Religious Action Center of the Progressive Movement. The petitioners demanded that for every segregated bus -- which they insisted should be prominently marked -- there should be an "integrated" bus on the same route.
"I intend to bring my bill to the Ministerial Committee [on legislation] next week," Pines-Paz announced. "Such separation is an outrage; there is nothing similar in any proper country."
Gender separation is a basic social standard in observant Jewish life. However, there are conflicting rabbinical opinions as to the level of separation that must be observed when traveling on public transportation.
In the United States there are similar bus lines, specifically in the Greater New York City area, where there is a large population of hareidi-religious Jews. On those buses, which are operated privately, the separation is maintained by an actual physical "mechitzah" (barrier). A curtain which is hung from the ceiling in the aisle from the front of the bus all the way to the back. Men sit on one side of the bus, and women sit on the other.