Hasidic Bus Company: Ladies, Sit in the Back of Our Bus

Private Transportation Corporation, a hasidic-owned company that operates a public bus line between two Yiddish communities, has special instructions for its female riders:

Go sit in the back of the bus because the front is reserved for men.

You probably wouldn’t know this, either, because the English portion of their brochure says that “When boarding a crowded bus with standing room only, women should be allowed to board first.”

Ok, fine… but then you look at the Yiddish part of the brochure and it says something completely different:


According to the psak [religious ruling] of the rabbis, men should concentrate themselves in the front seats in the first half of the bus, and women in the second half. Under no circumstances will men be allowed to stand in the second half of the bus, among the women, nor will women be allowed among the men in the first half of the bus.

When the front part of the bus is crowded with standing men, women are not allowed to board the bus from the front entrance in an attempt to push through between the men [to get to the back of the bus]. If possible, women will be allowed to enter the bus through the back door, after they paid first in front to the driver.

How are they still receiving taxpayer money for this…?

The company denies any discrimination. (What, they can’t read Yiddish?) But it would be fun to see what would happen if a woman boarded the bus and sat right in the first row…

(via Joe. My. God.)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Anonymous

    They receive tax payer support?

    If they get tax relief, they shouldn’t be allowed to decide which gender sits where or which gender boards first.

  • http://www.freedomloversacademy.com/ Kristina

    I don’t think this is about women being less than men. Hasidic men and women are not allowed to sit together in public. They’re not allowed to sit together in the synagogue, school, anywhere. Sure, a man made this rule and stuck the women in the back, and that probably wasn’t the best idea. But, to comply with their religious beliefs, they have to be separated. Whether or not we agree that men and women should be separated is moot. 

    On the other hand, they shouldn’t be getting tax money anyway.

    • Rich Wilson

      If they wipe out all the religious rules, and so long as they let ANYone on the bus, then I’m perfectly ok with them getting tax support.  They provide a service for the public good.

    • Donalbain

      They get taxpayer money. They don’t get to enforce their religious rules.

      • Rieux

        No, no, they’re a public accommodation even if they didn’t get a cent of taxpayer money. That’s the main reason they don’t get to enforce their religious rules. The funding issue is separate, and it’s a weaker argument on the law.

    • Dan O.

      You think wrong.  

      This is both about women being thought less than men, and men being thought less than men.  Women are thought less than men, because these rules aren’t for their benefit, it’s for men.  Men are thought less than men, because it is thought that they don’t have the capability to maintain an elevated state of mind in the presence of women.  
      I think more of both men and women. 

  • Anonymous

    Though I agree that the symbolism of going to “the back of the bus” is awful, a few things should be noted:

    - The norms are for both men and women and equally restrictive to both. Yes women should be at the back of the bus, but then they get to board first on crowded buses. Women aren’t allowed at the front of the bus, but men are not allowed at the back.

    - This is not the same as the black-white segregation on buses. Though the “go to the back of the bus” imagry has persisted, the real problem was that once the white area filled up, blacks had to get up to cede their seats to whites. There’s no indication that women are to stand once the male half of the bus fills.

    Certainly they should not recieve tax-payer money, but I suspect what they’re doing is illegal even if they only use private money, since buses are most certainly public accomodations and the Civil Rights Act covers gender.

    • SphericalBunny

      “The norms are for both men and women and equally restrictive to both.”

      Wrong, according to the quote; there are more restrictions for women. –

      When the front part of the bus is crowded with standing men,
      women are not allowed to board the bus from the front entrance in an
      attempt to push through between the men [to get to the back of the bus]. If possible, women will be allowed to enter the bus through the back door, after they paid first in front to the driver.

      Put another way, if the men’s section is full, if it is not possible for women to enter thru the back, they do not get on. If the women’s section is full, the men do not have to pay at one door, leave the bus, and then get in at another door. Yes, this may be logistics, but they do NOT work out equally.I’d also contest your idea of what the ‘real problem’  of black-white segregation was – no white person would have expected a black person to cede their seat if they weren’t seen as different, other, and as an extension, lesser. In the quotes in the article cited by CbC, there is a strong aroma of ‘Women! Know your place!’ ‘The back of the bus’ is a strong image, and to assume that people will disregard it in favour of ‘segregation doesn’t mean you lot at the back are thought worse of’ is probably naive.

  • Anonymous

    I would be the one to sit right in the front. I would love for one of them to try and remove me. :)

  • Ben

    It’s worth noting that the law could also be written backwards, men in the back and women at the front. Jewish law is segregatory, not discriminatory.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

      And yet every time this comes up, its always women in the back.  I wonder why.

    • Donalbain

      So, they are seperate, but equal?

    • Dan O.

      No, that is not true, in two ways.  (i)  The women sit in the back so the men can’t look at them while seated looking forward, and (ii) Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews, and other groups of the ultra-Orthodox do not regard this kind of gender segregation to be part of  ’the law’.  Although nearly all Orthodox Jews segregate during worship, only the most extreme segregate during transit.  (I leave Reform Jews out, as Halacha, for them, is not considered binding at all.)

  • Leora

    The thought process is that since men are more susceptible to improper thoughts (i.e. sex), women sit in the back so that the men won’t look at them. This is common in most hasidic settings.

    Not agreeing, of course, just explaining.

    • Anonymous

      That thinking is also very common in fundamentalist Christianity. They don’t cover up their women like Muslims, but women are definitely encouraged to dress modestly so not to excite the men. And the men (boys rather) are heaped with guilt for having sexual thoughts

    • Dan O.

      That’s the soft-peddled answer.  The full answer is that plus that the spirituality of women doesn’t matter. 

  • Rich Wilson

    Some shit you just can’t make up.

    Hasidic leaders complained that they are having trouble obeying their religious law forbidding them from staring at members of the opposite sex with women biking around in shorts.

     http://jonathanturley.org/2009/12/10/new-york-city-erases-bike-lands-to-appease-hasidic-men-who-object-to-seeing-women-in-bike-shorts/

    And the response from cyclists http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/08/hipsters-hasidic-jews-fig_n_384579.html

    reminds me of

    An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.

    -Victor Hugo

  • JustSaying

    This isn’t a discriminatory practice, just a dumb one. Men and women can’t touch in Hasidic communities so they naturally cannot maneuver around one another if they are all standing on the bus. The men can’t go to the women’s section or vice versa. They could have picked side on the bus i.e. right and left and been less offensive, but they run the risk of more intermingling. Yeah this is dumb, but it doesn’t shove religion down the throat of the rest of us. It’s a private company catering to people who believe they need this type of transport.

    • Donalbain

      It is taxpayer funded transport that enforces religious rules. If I decided to catch that bus and I was forced to the back of the bus because of some religious rules, I would be suing them before they could blink.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    It may be a private company, but it is running a PUBLIC service, and therefore CAN NOT institute this half-assed “policy” of segregation. Besides, if the men can’t control themselves, that’s THEIR problem, and women shouldn’t be punished for it.

    • John Brockman

      Look, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the men’s fault; it’s not a matter of control.  It’s that women are dirty and evil, especially if they’re on their periods.  The bible says that a man can’t use a seat if a menstruating woman has used it; do you know how expensive it is to replace bus seats twenty times a day?  It’s not *their* fault their religion is a little bit entirely misogynistic from a to z!  

      It’s women’s fault.  Somehow.  

  • m1kesa1m0ns

    It’s a good thing they don’t allow women to walk past the men to get to their seats.  The last time I saw that on a bus, they immediately started fornicating and praising the Devil.

  • CbC

    This is what happens when a woman sits in the front: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/nyregion/bus-segregation-of-jewish-women-prompts-review.html

    Oh, and where have I heard this “separate but equal” business before…oh right. Dred Scott still stands as a shining example of Civil War-era jurisprudence.

    • Rich Wilson

      From what I’m reading there, it seems like not only do they get taxpayer support, but they won the route in a bid.  So it’s not just money, but also the right (and obligation) to serve a specific area on a specific schedule.  One can’t just buy a bus and start charging people for rides.

      • Rieux

        That does make the bus company’s behavior even more offensive—but even if they had no taxpayer support and no bid-related connection to the government, their sexist policy would still violate federal law.

  • Erik

    It’s irrelevant whether men and women in this religion are allowed to sit together or not. The point is that it’s simply not the bus companies place to moderate. I’m sure these men and women can follow the rules of their religion with or without a sign telling women to move on back.

    • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

      I think that’s the problem. They can’t follow the rules without making women invisible. That’s why in so many Middle Eastern and African countries women are made to wear shapeless burlap sacks that leach away all sense of identity. They do it because the men, apparently, have zero self-control.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    This actually comes up every so often.  If you read the international section of the newspaper, every year or two there will be some elderly Jewish lady from New York or something who moves to Israel, wanders into the wrong neighborhood, doesn’t realize she’s traveled back in time two thousand years, does something that violates gender norms, and gets savagely beaten.

    I remember one very much like this.  Old lady moves to Israel, sits in the front of a bus in the wrong neighborhood, refuses to give up her seat to three young men who demand it of her (she just came from a culture where young men taking an old woman’s seat is EXTREMELY rude…), and was knocked to the ground, curb-stomped for a while, and hospitalized.

    In a way its a classic human error.  She probably assumed that her experience of Judaism was universal, and that because she was going to a Jewish country, it would be like all of the good things about her religious life, except moreso.  Turns out that’s not how it works.

  • http://twitter.com/TortugaSkeptic A secret red slider

    So, they get no confused tourists there?  I could totally see myself  plopping down into this situation and taking several minutes, possibly verbal cues, to find out it was bothering people.  How I respond would have a great deal to do with  my mood at the time and who was with me or if I was alone.  Om forbid I were to do it alone with a book and headphones, they’de never get my attention.  
     

    • Dan O.

      Honestly, there aren’t many tourists who go to Boro Park or South Williamsburg.  And there are very few tourists who travel between Boro Park to South Williamsburg!

  • Gus Snarp

    Just to be pedantic, I think that’s Hebrew, not Yiddish. Hebrew is written in an entirely different alphabet, while Yiddish is more like German, and written in the German or English alphabet.

    Also, I’m not sure Yiddish is the right term for the communities, either. 

    Funny, I used to think there was something sort of romantic about groups like this, resolved to live in their old traditional ways in the face of modern western society, but really, there’s nothing romantic about a tradition that oppresses women. 

    • Anonymous

      That’s not quite correct; Hebrew and Yiddish are both written in the same alphabet, with some minor differences in accents and auxiliary characters. The text above is in Yiddish, since many Chassidic sects consider Hebrew too “Holy” for signage and everyday correspondence.

      Of course, you’re right that this is disgraceful in any language.

      • Gus Snarp

        Thanks for the correction (and Dan O. too). I had no idea Yiddish was written in the Hebrew alphabet. Really pretty fascinating linguistically.

    • Dan O.

      Yiddish is an amalgam with German, but it is written in the Hebrew alphabet.   Both Yiddish and Hebrew are commonly spoken in Hasidic communities.  I lived in Crown Heights for a while (home of the Lubovitch sect), and I heard a lot of both.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    This should not be tolerated. I think we need several brave and defiant Rosa Parks to get on the bus. Women and men, Jewish and non-Jewish, who are fit and confident, perhaps with black belts in karate just in case some punk thinks he can push them around, riding at times when the bus is crowded and when it’s nearly empty, sitting and standing in the “wrong” areas, sitting and standing together, video recording everything, to disobey every single part of these bullshit rules until somebody violates their civil rights. Then take the individuals and the bus company to court and sue them out of business. 

    If they want to have their Bronze Age rules, they can pay for their own bus with no taxpayer support at all. Their bus will have to say, “Private, Members Only” on the front.

    • Anonymous

      Check out the NYT article@338149bb5fa0a7a600aae8bc3ac82acd:disqus linked above. Apparently there have been cases and complaints (though no video, yet). Mayor Bloomberg has weighed in saying that the bus company cannot do what they are doing and the matter is apparently under review.

      Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, the mayor said that segregating men and women was “obviously not permitted” on public buses. “Private people: you can have a private bus,” he added. “Go rent a bus, and do what you want on it.”

      Of course, unless someone keeps making noise and pointing it out, it could end up dying down, which can’t be allowed to happen. The most powerful man in New York has already said this is not OK, so it would be criminal negligence not to see it through to the end.

    • Dan O.

      I take it that you’re not a New Yorker.  The Hasidic community won’t take the bait.   If a consistent effort were made to do protest the line, the route would be temporarily suspended due some disruption or other, city pols will be quietly appealed to, the protesters will lose  interest, and service would be resumed as if nothing had happened.  The Hasidic community correctly believe that they have more staying-power than their opponents.  

      The only way something happens is if the State or Feds step in.  City pols are way too invested in Hasidic votes. 

    • Rieux

      And it’s worth pointing out that under federal civil rights law, this bus company absolutely cannot legally do this. (It’s the same statute, and pretty much the same issue, as that incident several weeks ago when a Michigan country club cancelled an atheist-group event because Richard Dawkins was speaking at it.)

      The practical/political issues raised by Dan O. and Claudia still apply, of course.

  • Dan O.

    Three points:

    1. The B110 bus does not receive public money.  Private Transportation Corp. pays the city a franchise fee for the right to operate this public route.  Without this franchise agreement, they would not be allowed to make pick-ups and drop-offs with on-board payments in New York City.   That is what makes the service public in this case, not existence of public subsidies.  

    2. The B110 connects parts of the Boro Park and South Williamsburg neighborhoods where the Satmar sect of Hasidic Jews are concentrated.  This is the same group, as Rich Wilson points out, that threw a tantrum over the Bedford Ave. bike lane because they could not tolerate scantily-clad female bikers (i.e. women wearing halter-tops).   Bedford Ave. is, of course, a direct route connecting the non-Orthodox neighborhoods of Prospect Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant, and North Williamsburg/Greenpoint.    

    3. Because of the extremely high birth rates among the Satmars and other Hasidic groups, their communities are expanding all the time.  I live two neighborhoods away from Boro Park, in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn (Kensington lies between the two).   Brooklynites are legitimately concerned that should their homes be enveloped by these communities, or should they have to travel through these communities, that they will be forced to conform to fundamentalist sensibilities.  There is a Chabad house around the corner from where I live, and my neighborhood crawls with Chabadniks (ultra-Orthodox outreach who proselytize to non-Orthodox Jews) during the Jewish New Year and Hanukkah.   If one asks if I’m Jewish at those times, I tell them to, please, mind their own business. 

    If this was simply a live and let live scenario, I wouldn’t get upset about it.  But it isn’t.  

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Whether or not the bus company receives public money in the form of tax money, they still receive money from the public in the form of bus fares. The license they won from the City allows and also requires them to transport anyone wanting to board the bus. They charge the non-Hasidic riders too, and they pocket that money. They must obey the laws governing services to the public as long as they let anyone on the bus.  Otherwise they must relinquish their franchise and run a members-only bus.

      • Dan O.

        I couldn’t agree more.  Thank you for clarifying my muddle.

  • Dave Roscoe

    If the goal is really just to keep the men and women separate I wonder how they would react to the suggestion that the men should go to the back with the women at the front. I realize this wouldn’t solve anything, I’m just curious what the reaction would be.

  • Trace

    I remember reading a post on this situation at Laughing in Purgatory a while back.  Surprising policy in this darn age.

  • MelanieInMiami

    I read another article about this last month, and part of the problem is that (supposedly) it is not the bus company enforcing the segregation. It is the men on the bus that are yelling at any woman who dares sit in the front:
     
    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.

    http://www.thenewyorkworld.com/2011/10/18/women-ride-in-back-on-sex-segregated-brooklyn-bus-line/

    • Rich Wilson

      “If God makes a rule, you don’t ask ‘Why make the rule?’”

      That calls for my favorite ever Hitchslap


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