Opinion: United Torah Judaism and far-right Religious Zionist parties’ demand for legislation permitting gender segregation at publicly funded events takes us back to primitive habits from centuries ago

The United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionist parties, as part of ongoing coalition negotiations, have asked for a legislation permitting gender segregation at publicly funded events.

If approved, it would legally include libraries, healthcare funds, buses, and so on. How do I know that? Because it is written in the bill’s draft, and because I’m from Jerusalem, and that is already the growing reality in the city.

ירושלים כרם אברהם הפרדה מגדרית הדרת נשים
Paint spray saying ‘passage to women only’ in Jerusalem


The stated purpose of the proposed legislation is to expand the current gender segregation law to more spaces even if they are not intended for a religious public.

I’m a religious woman, and I wear a head covering, I also try to dress modestly. I pray in the synagogues with proper separation, and my children study, starting from middle school, in gender separate schools. So this is a complicated issue for me.

Still, I’m strongly against the idea of gender separation in public spaces. Why? First and foremost, because I believe in modesty, and such separation is not the religious way. Also, and perhaps the more importantly, because it is not a very modest thing to do.

ירושלים כרם אברהם הפרדה מגדרית הדרת נשים
Paint spray saying ‘passage to women only’ in Jerusalem


The Jewish idea of modesty, which I sympathize with and love, is to keep or even sanctify sexuality by keeping it within the personal borders and space of the couple. It is a constant effort to maintain the connection between physical touch and intimacy and between sexuality and intimacy.

Not to diminish it, not to turn it into a day to day routine, and not to let it be present everywhere and all the time. It’s the rationale behind separation in physical spaces, such as beaches. It means protecting the contact and the body from trivialization.

But, when you separate women from men on a bus or in line at the healthcare fund, you achieve the opposite result. You take a place where we’re all human beings and you insert the sexual aspect into it, although it wasn’t even present there before.

Instead of reducing and keeping sexuality contained to dedicated places, the proposed draft only brings the sex out to the public space by putting it in our subconscious. It creates a situation where no matter where we are, we will never be seen as humans first, but as – first and foremost – sexual beings.

And that’s before we touch on the subject of discrimination.

The reality of “separate but equal” has not been created yet. There will always be someone at the front and someone at the back. Those who get more and those who get less. And you can all guess who that would be. There is no “separate but equal” because even throughout history public spaces always belonged to men. Thus demanding such a law only takes us back to old, primitive times.

הפרדה מגדרית בפינת רחובות צפניה ועזרא, סמוך לשכונת "מאה שערים", בירושלים
Men only passage in Jerusalem (Photo: Inbar Toizer)


So, why do I still pray in a synagogue with segregation? Because in the synagogue there are clear rules and thousands of years of tradition. I can choose to follow it, or I can choose not to. It’s voluntary, deep, and well-established.

On the bus, however, if religious laws are applied, they will have the opposite result. That’s what Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the greatest ultra-Orthodox rabbis in the U.S. once said, and so did Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Those who can’t use public transportation because they feel it is a “sexual” space – can stay home. The whole world does not have to become a synagogue to accommodate you!

The debate of gender segregation in public spaces is not about Judaism versus democracy. It’s an internal debate between liberal democracy committed to equality for every human being, and a multicultural democracy committed to equality between communities with different lifestyles.

It is also an internal discussion within Judaism: between one side that wants to diminishing sexuality to the intimate space between two partners, and the other – that works to achieve the opposite.

As reported by Ynetnews