What is theocracy fundamentally (you should excuse the word) all about? Men on top. Nothing else is as central, as obsessive, as enforced, as nagged about.
Posters depicting women have become rare in the streets of Israel’s capital. In some areas, women have been shunted onto separate sidewalks, and buses and health clinics have been gender-segregated. The military has considered reassigning some female combat soldiers because religious men don’t want to serve with them.
This is the new reality in parts of 21st-century Israel, where ultra-Orthodox rabbis are trying to contain the encroachment of secular values on their cloistered society through a fierce backlash against the mixing of the sexes in public.
Because that’s what “secular values” most crucially boil down to - not enforcing subordination and official inferiority on women. Nothing else takes up as much oxygen.
“The stronger the ultra-Orthodox and religious community grows, the greater its attempt to impose its norms,” said Hannah Kehat, founder of the religious women’s forum Kolech. Their norms, she said, are “segregation of women and discrimination against them.”
Ultra-Orthodox Jews around the world have long frowned upon the mixing of the sexes in their communities, but the attempt to apply this prohibition in public spaces is relatively new in Israel.
In September, nine religious soldiers walked out of a military event because women were singing – an act that extremely devout Jews claim conjures up lustful thoughts. The military expelled four of the religious soldiers from an officers’ course because they refused to apologize for disobeying orders to stay.
But in a separate case, the army notified four female combat soldiers that they might have to leave their artillery battalion to make way for religious male soldiers who object to the mixing of the sexes.
Same old same old. Women out of public spaces; women hidden under tents; women told to obey men; women told submission is for the glory of god. The world and everything in it is for men, and that includes women.
Some supermarkets in ultra-Orthodox communities, once content to urge women patrons to dress modestly with long-sleeved blouses and long skirts, have now assigned separate hours for men and women – another practice seen in ultra-Orthodox communities in the U.S. Some health clinics have separate entrances and waiting rooms for men and women.
Meni Shwartz-Gera, an ultra-Orthodox journalist, says strict observance of modesty is a pillar of ultra-Orthodox Judaism and is being “wickedly” misrepresented as demeaning to women. People who dislike it can choose different options like supermarkets without special hours for men and women, he said.
And that makes it not demeaning to women how? If supermarkets assigned “separate hours” for white people and black people, would that be not demeaning to black people? Would a reasonable reply be to say that people who dislike it can choose different options like supermarkets without special hours for white people and black people?
For years, advertisers have been covering up female models on billboards in Jerusalem and other communities with large ultra-Orthodox populations. Ultra-Orthodox have defaced such ads and vendors faced ultra-Orthodox boycotts of companies whose mores they deplore.
Recently, the voluntary censorship has gone beyond the scantily clad: Women are either totally absent from billboards, or, as with one clothing company’s ads, only hinted at by a photo of a back, an arm and a purse.
Advertisers acknowledge ultra-Orthodox pressure.
A private radio station went so far as to ban broadcast of songs by female vocalists and interviews with women.
Ohad Gibli, deputy director of marketing for the Canaan advertising agency, confirmed Monday that his company advised a transplant organization to drop pictures of women in their campaigns in Jerusalem and the ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak for fear of a violent backlash.
“We have learned that an ad campaign in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak that includes pictures of women will remain up for hours at best, and in other cases, will lead to the vandalization and torching of buses,” he told Army Radio.
Jerusalem’s secular mayor, Nir Barkat, told reporters recently that “It’s illegal to forbid” advertising women. But “in Jerusalem, you’ve got to use common sense if you want to advertise something. It’s a special city, it’s a holy city with sensitivities for Muslims, for Christians, for ultra-Orthodox.”
Oh well then. If it’s holy, if there are sensitivities – then the hell with women and their stinkin’ rights.