Women, Charedim and the future of Israeli society

By Maggie Suissa, January 5, 2012
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When I first heard of the recent protests over the exclusion of women by the Charedim in Israel, I wasn't surprised. At first I thought to the issue of segregated buses: "It happens anyway, at least this way it will remain within their community".

But then I saw Charedi female bloggers rushing to the defense of this private gender segregated bus service. Their argument was that Charedi women want this so that they can practice their Judaism comfortably. I wondered; has Israel become so consumed with secularism that we have forgotten the right to freedom of religious expression? But I was wrong. It became apparent to me that the reason why these women want such a service is because within their community, a community so disengaged from the rest of society, their needs have been forgotten.

We are now at a stage where people from outside the Charedi community cannot get in to help, but more so that they are not wanted. It's laughable that Israel should try to communicate and build relations with the rest of the world, when we cannot even talk to each other. It's a disgrace.

That little girls should be made to feel scared by adult men is an atrocity, and I don't care if it was done in the name of being a good Jew, it does not represent Judaism. The further these extremist individuals, who harass women on buses and little girls on their way to school, push the boundaries, the more the rest of society will both resist and resent them.

We fracture our society at its very core, because we become so parted by the "them" and "us" in allowing the tensions to build between the Jewish communities that we make a mockery of the reason why the state of Israel was established. One state, for all peoples, sculpted by the Jewish character, that is not determined by religious practice but by the value of community.

What we need now are the brave voices within the Charedi community to speak up and speak to the rest of society. I hope to one day see buses run on Shabbat throughout Israel; I hope to never again be told to move to the back of a bus because I'm a woman, and I await the day when there are no double standards on national service.

I say this as a modern Orthodox Jew who grew up with many a Charedi teacher and friend and as someone who has a great respect for the Charedi philosophy. So it is out of compassion that I say that whilst the Charedi world must maintain its outlook to not mix with the outside world, if it does not re-educate its own people, or start talking to the rest of the Jewish community, then it will be our generation that has to pick up the messy pieces.

So where does that leave us, the students? Do we hide our views on campus to not give the Jewish community or the state of Israel a bad name? As a student, you have access to infinite resources and people who have the time and want to listen to you. If you are on a Jewish society or Israel society committee, host a speaker or join up with the debating society and discuss these current events. Talk to not only your own members but to all students. The more we at a student level can engage and associate ourselves with these affairs, the more chance we have of finding a solution, because at the moment, those in positions of power in our community have failed us.

Maggie Suissa is an English Literature student at Manchester University and a former campaigns coordinator for Manchester JSoc. Follow her on Twitter here.

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Last updated: 12:45pm, January 5 2012