When we think of the most misogynistic societies where the freedoms of women are severely curtailed, one tends to think of Islamic countries. But it turns out that any society that takes the religious beliefs of its holy books seriously tends to repress the rights of women, and this includes Christianity and Judaism as well. If anyone needs a single reason as to why religion should have no role in public life, it is because religious doctrines are incompatible with democratic values. Once you let religion get a foothold in setting government policy, it will steadily encroach, demanding more and more concessions to its beliefs
A case in point is in Israel where the rise in power of the ultra-Orthodox known as the haredim and the pandering to them by the government is causing increasing stress on civil society there.
Shmarya Rosenberg writes about the hostile reaction to the Israeli group called Yerushalmim that “fights for inclusion of women and against things like forced gender segregation on public buses, sidewalks and playgrounds.” These are ideas that would normally be unquestioned unless, of course, religious groups have dominance.
This group wanted to place ads on buses promoting these ideas but the bus company Egged initially refused. Why? Because the ads had images of women on them and this would offend the haredi men who ride on them. Mind you, these ads were utterly bland, featuring just headshots of smiling women. But apparently merely showing a woman’s face is offensive to the religious nutters.
The haredi community, which has gotten progressively more extreme with regard to this issue, now largely bans the depiction of any human females in ads or in haredi publications, and it is not unusual to see retail product packaging covered with stickers to blot out females – even infants and toddlers – in stores that cater to the haredi community.
When Yerushalmim’s head, Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria – who is herself Modern Orthodox – wanted to run a campaign ad several years ago for her candidacy for city council, Egged refused because the ad had a picture of her face. It was this ban that sparked the long court battle.
Yerushalmim won their court battle and the Israeli government agreed to reimburse the bus company for any vandalism done to the buses. And sure enough, as soon as the ads ran the buses were vandalized by the haredi who in their defense brought out the usual religious whines about their right not to be offended.
“These immodest ads hurt the feelings of the haredi public in the city. Why are there no sentiments for a populace that asks not to be exposed to depictions of women’s faces in its public space? Is this motivated by racism? Is there no value to basic Jewish halakha?” a local politician linked to the vehemently anti-Zionist haredi umbrella organization Edah Haredit told Arutz Sheva.
That was not the only instance of the haredi vandalizing buses that had images of women’s faces. Another ad by a group advocating that women had equal rights to pray at the Wailing Wall was also the cause for attacks on the buses.
The so-called right to not be offended or to not have one’s feelings hurt is one of the most spurious rights ever concocted that, if generally applied, would completely paralyze society. But extremists of all religions never realize that. They think that the entire world has a duty to change their behavior to accommodate only their particular set of religious beliefs and that they do not have to change their behaviors to accommodate the beliefs of others. They think that only they have the right to not be offended because only their beliefs are the true ones.
The idea that the very sight of an uncovered woman is forbidden can lead to comical results. I saw a dash cam video (unfortunately no longer available) of a haredi man walking down a city street who sees a woman ahead and immediately takes off his hat and uses it to cover his face and scurries in a different direction so that he would not have to see her even with peripheral vision.
But many times this is not funny as the haredi men resort to violence against women in public as in the video below.
But as we have seen, this avoidance of women is a form of sexual repression that erupts in others ways such as the case of the Orthodox rabbi who installed secret cameras to record women taking a ritual bath. Apparently conversion to Orthodox Judaism also required women to take a ritual bath naked and the rules required that a rabbi, the people who are horrified at the idea of seeing even the face of a woman in public, must observe the woman in the bath as part of the process. This has resulted in charges of impure viewing because rabbis have entered the bath area before the women are fully immersed. This supposedly occurs accidentally, an unlikely story.