Saturday, December 21, 2002

Mary has directed me to Howard Fienberg’s post about buses segregated by sex in Jerusalem. Last week I heard my very feminist neighbors in the next office talking about this heatedly, but I didn’t really listen. The ultra-religious have been pressing hard for this for a long time. I understand it’s only on bus lines that serve them in their neighborhoods. One of the reasons I dislike Jerusalem, having spent my two years of army service there, is the multitude of different cultures all mixed up together, and the tension between these different groups. Of course, coming from elsewhere, this makes the city seem all the more exotic and interesting, but I’d rather not live there, thank you very much. Eldest has a friend whose parents, both educated media people, fled Jerusalem a few years ago, because they couldn’t stand the rapidly growing ultra-religious flavor of the city any longer.

The special way the ultra-religious regard the differences between the sexes (aren’t I soooo politically correct?) is just the tip of the iceberg. There are all sorts of different sects and streams and degrees of intensities of the ultra-religious, but many of them live in horrifying ignorance. There is an ongoing battle to force them to teach the boys math and English at school. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

Dov Elboim, an Israeli writer and TV presenter, was brought up as an ultra-religious Jew. He comes from a family of important rabbis. A few years ago, he wrote a novel describing life in an ultra-religious yeshiva from the point of view of a fourteen-year-old boy. Very disturbing. I remember a passage in the book about the rumor going round the yeshiva that there were actually millions of secular Jews in Israel. If I remember correctly, the hero thought this a preposterous idea.

Of course, the more ignorant they keep them, the more difficult it is for them to leave, should they find the immense courage necessary to do so. The boys have absolutely no skills whereby to fend for themselves in the outside world. The girls are better equipped. They get a better education because they have to work to support their double-digit families, so their husbands can get on with the serious stuff of studying Torah.

I could probably write for weeks about the Haredim (ultra-religious), but I really don’t want to.