Police Allow Haredi Community to Gender Segregate Mea Shearim Despite Court Ban

This week, Israeli police allowed the Toldos Aharon community to build a massive barrier down the middle of a street in order to prevent mingling of the sexes in violation of a court ban on such actions.

On Sunday, the High Court banned the 26 meter long fence that Toldos Aharon Hassidic sect has erected down the middle of Strauss and Mea She’arim streets, calling it discriminatory.  In addition to the fence, community activists erected signs that command women to use different streets from men.  Last year, the group erected make-shift barriers, but also banned women from walking in certain areas during the Sukkot holiday.  Those same signs appeared on billboards this year.

This year’s ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by Rachel Azaria, a Jerusalem City Council member.  Her suit made the claim that the Haredi community is attempting to confine women out of public view and that the Supreme Court should enforce its previous ban from last year.  After the ruling, Court President Dorit Beinisch said that lawsuit is part of a “long process of fighting for the public of women in Israel and for democracy. We must not let extremists take over the public domain, which should belong to all of us."  The ruling also ordered the police to enforce the law, which Azaria and State Prosecutor Aviad HaCohen accused them of avoiding.

Gender segregation is a chronic problem in Israeli society.  The trend was begun by Hassidic Jews, who view any mixing of the sexes as a violation of Halacha.  Over the last half-century, the practice spread to the rest of the wider Haredi community and has led to the gender separated sidewalks in sections of Ramat Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, as well as the hotly contested gender segregated buses.  The Supreme Court has already ruled that gender segregation on buses is illegal and that the Haredi community cannot force others to adhere to their customs.

Leaders of the Toldos Aharon community flatly denied the charges, saying they are in fact protecting women from harm by having them enter by a different entrance and avoid harassment by hooligans.