This news report was sent to me by a reader who knows that its contents would please me, and while they do, all these non-Orthodox groups struggling for recognition by the rabbinic establishment seem to me to miss the point, or at least my point. While it’s certainly a good thing that Jerusalem Police Chief Niso Shoham is committed to banning forced sex segregation in public, this should not be news. OK, so it made the news in the wake of last Succot’s public sex segregation in Mea Shearim. But what happens when a new police chief steps into the job? Supposing that s/he personally doesn’t take as deep offense at public sex segregation as does Shoham? Not only that, but should our energies, i.e., those of the non-Orthodox public, be aimed at banning sex segregation in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods or performances or in private schools, where the audience in any case segregates voluntarily?
Would our energies not be better expended on struggling for changes that would benefit the masses? For instance, public transportation on Saturdays? I did a little research on the origins of this ban, and it appears that it began in 1948, with the birth of the state. Not only am I outraged that David Ben-Gurion wheeled and dealed us into this corner, but I’m astonished that a ban on public transportation was not met with a public outcry: After all, in 1948, hardly any Israelis owned cars! Agreeing to such a ban on most citizens’ one day off work amounted to nothing less than a violation of human rights, as it still does today.
Today the cry for transportation on Shabbat should be all the louder, as environmental consciousness is far higher, and with the majority of Israelis car owners, we should be doing our utmost to remove as many cars as possible from the roads, not add them. Moreover, trains are a perfect answer as far as not offending Orthodox sensibilities on Shabbat, as unlike buses, they’re out of everyone’s view.
The struggle to have non-Orthodox denominations recognized is misplaced. We should instead be working toward separation of church and state, period. I would even accept the European model, wherein state symbols are religious — i.e., the Swedish flag, the cross in the Italian courtroom — nor would I even mind the state offering religious services to those who seek them, i.e., marriage, divorce, mikveh. But the state’s role in our lives should end there.
The rabbinic establishment recognizing more and more denominations won’t get us anywhere as far as our daily lives are concerned; in fact, I don’t need or want their recognition. Instead, we need to address each rights violation as exactly that, and I propose beginning with public transportation on Saturdays and Jewish holidays, as inroads have already been made, i.e., interurban buses run to and from Eilat. Only such a hands-on strategy will get the state out of our personal business and allow us to conduct our daily lives like Westerners.