Haredi extremists versus visitors - women are not invited
Gender relations, Mea She'arim style: Non-Haredi women plan a march through the neighborhood Friday morning to protest discrimination against women.
The posters put up Tuesday in Mea She'arim, a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox ) neighborhood of Jerusalem, answered some questions about what to expect during the week-long Sukkot holiday, and especially the mid-holiday Simhat Beit Hasho'eva celebrations. On one hand, contrary to rumors, women will not be forcibly prevented from entering the neighborhood. On the other, women are definitely not invited.
But that is not a good enough reason for a group of non-Haredi women to cancel a planned march through the neighborhood Friday morning to protest discrimination against women. On the contrary: They are threatening to petition the High Court of Justice against the police for having given them a permit to demonstrate only outside the neighborhood rather than in Shabbat Square, as they had wanted.
One poster, signed by the "Committee of Residents of Mea She'arim and the Vicinity," a group backed by neighborhood extremists, said the women's sections of their synagogues would be open only to the women "of each congregation, upon presentation of a special card."
Next to it were posters from Toldot Aharon, the largest Hasidic sect in Mea She'arim. Though Toldot Aharon is known as a bastion of zealous separatism, for one week a year, it welcomes thousands of visitors who come to participate in the dancing that is part of the Simhat Beit Hasho'eva, and perhaps to leave behind a few dollars in contributions.
But for the first time in its history, the poster put up yesterday announced that its women's section would be closed to the general public on the nights of the Simhat Beit Hasho'eva.
The poster, which was also printed in English, said that overcrowding and safety concerns were behind the new rule. After all, Toldot Aharon would be loathe to admit that it had bowed to pressure from even more extreme forces. One such force is a group calling itself the Sicarii. Another is Yoel Krois, who crowed yesterday, "This Sukkot, women have no reason to come to Mea She'arim. That is our victory."
But the Karlin Hasids, who are known to welcome even secular Jews, have rejected the demand to keep women out. One Karlin Hasid told Haaretz his group had received a threat that a stink bomb would be thrown at their study house, but it would not recant.
In recent years, even the neighborhood's official leadership has demanded stricter gender separation during the Simhat Beit Hasho'eva.
But this year, the extremists demanded that only men be allowed to walk the quarter's main street, while women would use side streets - a plan that was scrapped after yeshivas on the side streets complained. The Haredi factions on the city council also quashed a demand that public transportation be barred from the neighborhood for the duration of Sukkot.
Mayor Nir Barkat has apparently decided to let the Haredi groups work the matter out among themselves.
And the neighborhood's official leadership, the Va'ad Hageula, released a statement yesterday pledging that "any person may enter Mea She'arim from any direction."