Back of the Bus: A Woman’s Place

Get thee behind me, woman!

I’d read about gender-separated buses in Israel, and was not happy about it, but … let it slide. You can’t fight every battle.

But now I find gender-separated buses happen HERE. In New York City.






On the morning of October 12, Melissa Franchy boarded the B110 bus in Brooklyn and sat down near the front. For a few minutes she was left in silence, although the other passengers gave her a noticeably wide berth. But as the bus began to fill up, the men told her that she had to get up. Move to the back, they insisted.

They were Orthodox Jews with full beards, sidecurls and long black coats, who told her that she was riding a “private bus” and a “Jewish bus.” When she asked why she had to move, a man scolded her.

“If God makes a rule, you don’t ask ‘Why make the rule?’” he told Franchy, who rode the bus at the invitation of a New York World reporter. She then moved to the back where the other women were sitting. The driver did not intervene in the incident.

Whatever else you think about it, you have to wonder how any citizen of the present-day U.S. can believe this is okay. Even if you were a Jewish woman comfortable with the cultural practice, wouldn’t you occasionally wonder “Hey, why is it US who have to go to the back? If the men want to sit apart from women, why don’t THEY go to the back?”

Just so you know this is not some little unwritten rule enforced by passengers, there’s this tidbit from another story on the bus line:

Further, the bus company’s board of consulting rabbis directed that male passengers occupy the front of the bus and females the back. When a bus driver attempts to service an overflow of passengers, men and women are unacceptably intermingled. Accordingly, when buses are full, the board of rabbis has directed that buses not stop for additional passengers.

Rather than “unacceptably intermingle” men and women, the buses will actually pass up people waiting for the bus at stops along the way. I’m moved to wonder if there’s a slight preference in passing up waiting women. You know, so as to prevent “unacceptable intermingling.”

New York Hasidic community: Fail.

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