Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Separate lives

Haaretz is running a disturbing piece on the increasing separation of genders in the public sphere amongst Charedim. Disturbing because so many of the people involved don't actually want it; but everyone, including the rabbis, is afraid of looking "less frum" than their neighbour, even if halachah actually has little to do with it. It is a sad time when there are no rabbis willing to take a principled stand because they are afraid of "the street". Disturbing, also, because these trends have a way of "leaking" into the margins of the national-religious community, and from there, in some ways, to the rest of us.

Personally, among a long list of meshugaas, I found this paragraph most disturbing:

The trend toward increasing gender segregation is evident as well in various local initiatives in Haredi communities and neighborhoods. In Komemiyut, a small ultra-Orthodox moshav in the Negev, separate hours have been designated for boys and girls at the public playground. In a dental clinic subsidized by the Chabad Hasidic sect in Mea She'arim, men and women have been allotted separate days; a similar system exists now at a branch of the Clalit health maintenance organization on Jerusalem's Strauss Street.
First the playground: completely apart from the fact that this makes life impossible for mothers, who can no longer bring their whole broods to play together, this completely sexualizes young children. The idea that there is some kind of problem with two-year-old (or eight-year-old) boys and girls playing next to each other (under parental supervision!) is actually sick.

The medical facilities: Goes with a wider trend of men and women unable to share public space that was once, just several years ago, completely normal. It goes without saying that it is ridiculous that adults are apparently no longer trusted to sit in the same waiting room without pouncing on each other. Beyond that, though, I worry that national public services like Clalit - and like bus company Egged - are misguidedly buying into these ideas, helping to turn extremist values into a norm and imposing them on people who are not interested.

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