Tuesday, July 19, 2011


By Sharon Shenhav

How should uppity women be treated in Israel today? A few weeks ago, on May 18, 2011 an answer to this question was given in the form of a psak (Halachic ruling) issued by the revered Haredi leader and Gedol Hador (Most Esteemed of his generation) Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv of Meah Shearim. The psak was published in the Haredi newspaper Kikar Hashabat and gives clear instructions as to how Jewish men should deal with women who refuse to conform to the requirements of Jewish Law as interpreted by Rav Elyashiv.

The question arose when a Yeshiva student boarded a public bus which had been a gender segregated bus until the Israel Supreme Court declared that these “Mehadrin” buses were illegal in January, 2011. Since January, all public buses on former Mehadrin routes must post notices that everyone has the right to sit wherever they choose on these buses and that anyone who interferes with that right is subject to criminal prosecution. The Court noted that women could sit in any seat on these public buses, including the front section of the bus. However, our Yeshiva student doesn’t recognize the law of the land as applying to him and his colleagues.
When he boarded the bus he discovered that a woman was sitting in the front of the bus. He informed her that this was a “Mehadrin”bus and that she must move to the rear section of the bus which was reserved for women. The woman refused to move, so the Yeshiva student screamed at her, insulted her in front of all of the other passengers and continued to harass her verbally throughout the journey.

After the incident, the Yeshiva student apparently had some doubts about his behavior and requested a Halachic ruling from Rav Elyashiv. The student thought that perhaps he should ask for forgiveness from the female victim of his attack. No such luck! Rav Elyashiv responded by stating that he had heard the details of the incident and there was no need for an apology to the woman in question. Since the woman should have moved to the rear of the bus, the section which was designated for women, her refusal to do so was a violation of the arrangement on ‘Mehadrin”buses. Obviously Rav Elyashiv does not consider himself bound by Supreme Court decisions either. In the response published in the Kikar Hashabat newspaper, available online, Rav Elyashiv gave the source for his psak by quoting from the Gemara. He quoted the case of Shmuel who saw a woman dressed immodestly in the shuk. Shmuel tore the clothes of the woman off of her. From this story, according to Rav Elyashiv, we learn that a Jewish man can publicly humiliate a woman who violates Halacha.

So now you know how to treat uppity women according to Halacha. The publication of Rav Elyashiv’s psak is a clear message to Yeshiva students and Jewish men worldwide. While the case in question involved a woman sitting in the front of a bus, I have no doubt that Rav Elyashiv’s psak can be applied more broadly to women who do not conform to Haredi standards.
How about women sitting as civil court judges, especially the President of our Supreme Court?
Then there are those women who serve as MKs and Cabinet ministers. Obviously women who are CEO’s of banks and corporations as well as women officers in the IDF. What about female academicians and scientists? Why there’s no end to uppity women today in Israel. They are everywhere, practicing medicine and law, appearing on television as entertainers and as news broadcasters, writing articles in newspapers---the list is endless.

As to the example of Shmuel in the Gemara, one can only imagine the results of this message! During the hot Israeli summer, as well as the warm days of spring and fall, the streets and public places are full of women whose mode of dress does not conform to Haredi standards of modesty.

The question I have is, how are the Yeshiva boys going to find time to study torah if they have to deal with all of the uppity women? Perhaps Rav Elyashiv can issue a psak in response to this question in the near future.

Sharon Shenhav, J.D. is a Jerusalem based lawyer and Director of the International Jewish Women’s Rights Project of the International Council of Jewish Women

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