As the Orthodox seek jobs and housing in other areas, they are increasingly interacting with mainstream Israelis who see their strict code of religious practice to be coercive, and a threat to Israel’s democracy.
“It’s a slippery slope. What starts with women boarding the bus in the back because of modesty can end up with women not voting,” says Mickey Gitzin, the director of Be Free Israel, a nonprofit that promotes religious pluralism. “It could turn Israeli society into a segregated society in which women don’t have a place in public life.”
In the past week, public outrage peaked following a TV report on the harassment of an 8-year-old girl by ultra-Orthodox men, in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh. The men spat on the girl and called her a prostitute for dressing in a way they considered to be immodest.
That spurred thousands of people to demonstrate against the segregation of women on Tuesday, Dec. 27; a counterprotest two days later ignited clashes in Jerusalem and in Beit Shemesh.
Haredi rabbis of Beit Shemesh said the women of their community observe modesty rules voluntarily because they are for women’s honor and Judaism orders the separation of men and women in the public sphere.