This is actually about a month old and it’s already been reversed, but it’s still worth calling attention to an appalling situation that was going on in Brooklyn, where an Orthodox Jewish community was forcing women to sit in the back of city buses for religious reasons.
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.
The B110 bus travels between Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn. It is open to the public, and has a route number and tall blue bus stop signs like any other city bus. But the B110 operates according to its own distinct rules. The bus line is run by a private company and serves the Hasidic communities of the two neighborhoods. To avoid physical contact between members of opposite sexes that is prohibited by Hasidic tradition, men sit in the front of the bus and women sit in the back.
It doesn’t matter that it was run by a private company, it was providing a public service and being paid with public money. And this is blatantly illegal. And it turns out this has been going on for at least two years because a local group of rabbis declared that it should be so:
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.
Absolutely disgusting. The bus company has now reversed itself as a result of the bad publicity, but that may not be the end of it. Even without an official rule from the company there will almost certainly be coercion to force women to ride in the back of the bus. These are highly insular communities that really do believe that they are commanded by God to enforce such medieval rules and I predict there will be all sorts of intimidation going on in lieu of official enforcement of those rules.
This is the same town, after all, that had street signs that ordered “precious Jewish daughters” to move to the side when a man walks by on the sidewalk. And when the city forced them to remove those signs, many of the local residents claimed that this violated their liberty!
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