Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger says that no one can force involuntary separate seating for men and women on public buses, despite any discomfort it causes to hareidi religious men.
His comments came two days after an Ashdod woman refused to accede to demands of a male passenger that she sit in a separate section. The man protested her refusal by standing in the door, preventing the bus from continuing on its route.
After a 30-minute wait that angered many passengers, the bus driver called the police, who quietly took the man aside.
Rabbi Metzger’s comments on an Israeli radio station put in perspective the attitude of the majority of Israel’s observant community, including hareidi religious Jews.
Mainstream media and secular politicians, ranging from Jews in Israel to non-Jews such as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have given Israel a black eye because of isolated incidents that have made headlines, to the extent that Clinton said Israel is becoming like Iran.
Some hareidi religious communities demand separate seating because of modesty and also because of Jewish laws of ritual purity.
“So long as someone pays for a bus ticket, there is no way we can force anything on the purchaser, as much as it may be uncomfortable for men,” Rabbi Metzger said. “It is the passenger’s right to sit where she wants, and we are forbidden to act against this,” he added.
The rabbi suggested that one solution would be to establish a hareidi religious private bus line that serves only communities where there is a demand for separate seating.