August 10, 2011, 12:50pm
By Elana Sztokman
Just when we thought that gender segregation in Israel had become endemic, it spread further. In addition to the segregated business conference that my Sisterhood colleague Allison Kaplan Sommer reported on here, three new fronts for gender segregation have opened up in Israel, each one bringing a new version of extremism to life here.
The first is the Jerusalem light rail, which is slated to begin operating in the coming months. According to recent reports, the Haredi community has succeeded in winning gender-segregated cars. When the idea first reared its head last year, the (secular) managers of the project surprisingly expressed favor for segregation, citing the need to “serve everyone in the city.”
The idea that misogyny deserves to be accommodated by the municipality represents a frightening intrusion of warped religious thinking into public life.
Tali Farkash, a Haredi writer for YNet, writes that, “The light rail is just another battle in the war on gendered freedom of movement in Israel. This war is no longer just about specific buses in specific haredi areas. It is a nationwide war which currently includes sidewalks, supermarkets, planes, and HMOs with separate medical services.” In addition, the Supreme Court ruled it illegal to enforce segregation, but the powers that be seem not to have noticed.
The next front is on the Internet. There is now a separate-gender Facebook-type platform, FaceGlat, designed to ensure that men and women don’t mix in virtual, as well as real, life.
Asked why even men and women who are married to each other cannot connect on Faceglat, the site’s founder responded, “They can meet at home, on the sofa in their living room.”
Actually they can’t. Because a third new front in gender segregation is at home. According to a report in Haaretz,, the latest trend in the Haredi world is gender segregated family Shabbat meals. Women sit in the kitchen and men in the dining room. So much for married couples being able to meet at home. Indeed, what used to be seen as the entire purpose of a family meal – i.e., family members talking, interacting and connecting – is now seen as a terrible threat to piety.
This is all sad. It signals the death natural human relationships, eliminating even the most basic norms of conversation, erasing all possibility for boys and men to learn to see members of the opposite sex as people rather than as objects.
It’s also very troubling because this gender-segregation bug is like the Ebola virus, spreading uncontrollably and taking over everything with no end in sight. And it’s supported by economics and greed. Whether the light rail managing company or Internet entrepreneurs, some business people look at Haredi social trends with dollar signs in their eyes. Even secular leadership doesn’t seem to have the courage or the rhetorical ability to fight it.