Aryeh Deri, former chairman of the Shas religious party and a leading hareidi religious political figure, said Sunday that anyone who spits at women "should be beaten."
While Israel’s secular mainstream media have a field day pushing an agenda against religious separation of men and women, Deri told Army Radio he has no use for the small number of extremists who have captured headlines.
The case of spitting on women referred to one hareidi religious man who was arrested Saturday night for spitting at a young girl. Deri said, “This is defamation of HaShem. Even Yom Kippur does not forgive this. He added that "only death” atones for such sins.
He also took on other issues the media has focused on, using the the arrest of a man who spit at a young girl and the demand by a tiny number of hareidi religious people for separate sidewalks as launching pads for a general assault on tradition.
“If you want to change Judaism, then go to synagogue where men and women sit together,” he said, and you will get assimilation.
“In Judaism, we praise women and do not suppress them," Deri added. Where will you find a [more than] 2,000-year-old text that honors women, such as ‘Women of Valor,’” the beginning of the last chapter of Proverbs.
Concerning separate seating on buses, Deri said the situation has changed in the past 15 years. He explained that the hareidi religious community has grown while the bus system has not changed, “My daughters find it very uncomfortable” when they are crowded on buses with men, “but no rabbi would say that you can go to as a woman and tell her she has to sit in the back of the bus.”
Non-religious political leaders tried to make political hay out of the issues, with Opposition leader Tzipi Livni charging that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is responsible for the spitting at the girl Saturday night because he has sold out to "hareidi religious extremists.”
Likud Knesset Member Limor Livnat tried to strike a balance, stating there should be no religious coercion but that if people on a bus want separate seating, they should be allowed to so instead of having to bow to secular coercion.
Livni pounced on her for allegedly trampling women’s rights.