Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “They shouted at me,” said Naomi Ragen, after an ultra-Orthodox man had asked to move to the back of the bus. “I felt humiliated. The driver didn't even open his mouth to defend me,” she added.
Naomi Ragen, an Orthodox Jew, and five other women, including a representative of the Reform Judaism movement, filed a petition with Israel’s High Court against public bus companies to stop telling women to sit in the back of buses running through some Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods.
“I got off the bus with a terrible, terrible feeling that in my country I have to take a public bus home that is under the purview of the Taliban,” said the US-born novelist.
Many members of the ultra-Orthodox sects of Judaism follow teachings that bar any public contact between men and women, and Israeli government-subsidised transport companies have recently granted demands to run gender-divided buses along some routes.
The petitioners asked the court to instruct the Transport Ministry to study whether there was a real need for "segregated" buses and, if so, to limit their number and label them so women could choose not board.
The ministry declined to comment but a spokesman for Israel's largest bus company, Egged, confirmed it had a policy of allowing Orthodox men to sit separately from women on 30 public routes.
Israel Eichler, an ultra-Orthodox newspaper editor and former Member of Parliament, protested against the petition, calling it a bid "to impose Western secular culture on us.”
The court case has put a spotlight on a growing divide between ultra-religious and other Jews. It was filed jointly by Jewish women who are Orthodox and Reform, groups that rarely mix in Israel.