Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said on Thursday that segregation between men and women should only be carried out in private, and not in public spaces.
In the wake of the public debate over the exclusion of women from the public arena that has been ragin in Israel in recent weeks, Metzger said in an interview on the radio station “Kol Hai” that those who wish to put up a Mechitza, a Halakhic partition used to divide men and women, “cannot demand that the general public do what you enforce upon yourself.”
Metzger said Israeli citizens from all sectors should aim for unity, and not for division.
“I call on all sides: Stop looking for justifications for hostility, and for enmity, and for division. We are not in a period of time where we can allow ourselves to argue. We are one nation, and we need to find an opening for respect, and a solution for everything.”
He also suggested that Israelis should avoid provocation, and “not be extremist,” saying that recent incidents that have spurred the public debate have been blown out of proportion.
Metzger also criticized the media for making the situation more extreme. “I think the media is exaggerating a little over the issue of the exclusion of women from the public arena,” he said.
“Things have hardly changed. They take extreme incidents and blow them up, and you always have to listen to both sides.”
Regarding the controversy over the opposition of some religious IDF soldiers to hearing female soldiers singing, he explained that:
“We, both of the Chief Rabbis, met with the IDF Chief of Staff, and the following day all the headlines were a big exaggeration – women are not allowed to sing. We did not say a word about not allowing women to come and sing. They did not ask, and we did not give our opinion. We only asked to find a respectful way that whoever is not interested in hearing a female soldier sing, that this be made possible for them.”
In recent weeks, a number of controversial incidents have spurred the discussion over women’s equality in the public arena. The debate started following the refusal of a number of IDF soldiers to listen to a female soldier singing.
The debate continued with protests over the removal of images of women from advertisements and on buses in Jerusalem, disagreement on a public bus where women are forced to sit separately from men at the back of the vehicle, and a number of cases of segregation between the sexes in public places, such as at medical centers.
Following the forced removal of a female passenger from her bus seat by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man on a public bus last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the incident, saying that Israel “must protect its public space, and maintain its openness and safety for all citizens.”
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