It’s a holy city with sensitivities

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.

Witness Jerusalem.

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.


  1. Rumtopf says

    Well done Mayor, Ad companies etc, give in to what is effectively terrorism, show those misogynistic assholes that violence works!

  2. Sheikh Mahandi says

    Occupy the supermarkets with separate hours !
    Occupy any buses which segregate by sex !
    Occupy Jerusalem !

    Tell 5 to tell 5, the more people who learn about these misogynistic scumbags and the apologists who enable their odious behaviour the better.

    On a related note, I noticed a piece similar to this in our local sunday paper which pointed out that similar behaviour is already taking place in some U.S. cities, my son has taken this as a presentation on current affairs for his civics class.

    I sometimes think the world be better off with dogs in charge, and only a few token humans kept around to throw sticks for them.

  3. julian says

    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.

    I had always considered Israel’s willingness to treat their soldiers as soldiers regardlessof sex or sexual orientation as somethin the U.S. should aspire to. (I can think of at least one infrantryman who after workin in Israel walked away with a new respect for women (at least those women) and dropped the ‘women are to fragile for grunt work’ attitude he’d had for most of his life.)

    What sense does it make for a military to kow-tow to every religious whim, especially those that stand to decrease the effectiveness of their unit and their overall manpower?

  4. Sam Bigelow says

    Tell 5 to tell 5, the more people who learn about these misogynistic scumbags and the apologists who enable their odious behaviour the better.

    Oh I can’t do that! Then I would become a bullying mob.

    I’ve been trying to talk to Jeremy Stangroom on Facebook about why he keeps ranting about the new atheists. He says they’re a bullying mob. I don’t get it.

  5. says

    Anyone in favor of buying some ads in Jerusalem?
    “We exist. We sometimes leave the house. Some of us pose for photographs. Some of us sing. Deal with it.”

  6. Stewart says

    Two points:

    Firstly, I was suddenly reminded of this, which I forget how I came to see a few days ago, which shows a bit of what movement there is on the other side of the divide. There may be a few situations or expressions not everyone will get, but it’s certainly a different angle on the situation:

    Secondly, because it won’t automatically be understood, “Kolech” means “your voice” as addressed to a female. I checked whether there was already an online explanation of the name and came up with this (from:

    The name of the organization, “Kolech: Religious Women’s Forum,” was chosen with the express intention of bringing the female voice to center stage, inspired by a famous verse from the Song of Songs: “Let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet.” The address of the lover to his beloved “may be interpreted … as the unique promise of the Almighty, throughout human history, to listen to the female voice” (Kehat 2001). The female voice must be restored to its proper place in history—this basic demand is being repeated again and again by women throughout the world, who have been silenced in patriarchal societies for centuries.

  7. Yoav says

    In a way the crazies are doing the sane parts of the country a favor. When I was growing up most of the secular population of Israel have been mostly apathetic toward religion and the religious establishment was a lot less intrusive. Over the last couple of decades the religious got more and more extreme in trying to maintain control over their communities but they are fighting a losing battle, more and more people in ultra orthodox communities have TV’s and internet access at home despite repeated edicts from rabbis against it. And you start seeing a backlash from the secular side over the increased intrusion by ultra orthodox fundies into people lives. They still hold disproportional power due to the way coalitions are formed in the Knesset but it get closer to the day that the price for kowtowing to the religions parties in losing support among the rest of the country will get too high, hopefully that will happen before they manage to do irreversible damage.

  8. lanir says

    Mysoginists are the lazy haters. Eventually if you’re enough of a useless excuse for a human being and have enough friends just like you, sane people with different sexual preferences, skin colors and beliefs will tend to go elsewhere. Women are much harder to get rid of because daughters will pop up in any family whether they’re wanted or not, and then taught some random nonsense as early as possible.

    I’m not sure about Israel, but in the US it seems like a quality education is the most effective way to deal with these kinds of attitudes long-term. You’ll never get everyone because some will willingly fall for the siren song of the “I am special” message underlying all these holier-than-thou viewpoints. But the reason so many of these groups are against education is because they know it’s the most effective weapon against them as well.

  9. Anat says

    I hope Yoav is right and the secular public shakes up seriously, instead of grudgingly accommodating the religious public all the time. Years ago the secular accommodationism was portrayed very clearly by Ephraim Sidon in the children’s book The Isle of Nonsense (alas, looks like it wasn’t translated). Time to stop being ‘donkeys, potatoes and rags’ (see link for relevance).

  10. plutosdad says

    Sorry slightly OT, but I think people need to know about this: another “holy city” in downstate Illinois full of Apostolic Christians (another anti-female cult that stay out in the boonies), got a teacher suspended for talking about the Cain harassment allegations. Most people think it’s about the teacher showing “the daily show”, but the Mayor outs himself when he says it’s really talking about “sex to minors”.

    to the mayor, and most Apostolic Christians, harassment probably is about “sex”, since they are probably some of those people who think rape and harassment don’t exist.

    Comments were disabled, but one student posted that the students were at least on the teacher’s side, so there is some tiny hope for their future, unless it’s only the non Apostolic Christians who are.

  11. Lyanna says

    I believe it was Katha Pollitt who pointed out, in her response to Susan Okin’s “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?”, that no one is ever allowed to use “culture” or “religion” as an excuse for opting out of financial regulations, even though Islam (for instance) has things to say about usury.

    [quote]nine religious soldiers walked out of a military event because women were singing – an act that extremely devout Jews claim conjures up lustful thoughts[/quote]

    This is the only logical result of an ideology that holds women responsible for men’s lustful thoughts, and considers lustful thoughts to be the end of the world. So, you have a lustful thought. So what? That’s usually a pleasurable experience, unless you feel [i]entitled[/i] to more than thoughts, in which case you start to resent the object of your lust for not providing you with sex.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *