etrog - Gili Cohen Magen - October 12 2011
Jerusalem residents choosing etrogs at a traditional four-species market ahead of the Sukkot holiday. Photo by Gili Cohen Magen
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The ultra-Orthodox community in Mea She'arim is planning to impose gender segregation in the Jerusalem neighborhood's streets on Sukkot, despite a High Court order forbidding it. Women's rights and other watchdog groups intend to fight against the segregation, which excludes women from certain streets in the neighborhood during the intermediate days of Sukkot.

Last year the court ordered the ultra-Orthodox leaders of Mea She'arim's Toldos Aharon community to revoke the segregation they imposed on women on Sukkot, after they had forbidden women to walk on certain sidewalks and streets during Sukkot's intermediate days. Thousands of people are expected to attend Simchat Beit Hashoeva (the Water Drawing Celebration ) held on Sukkot at the Toldos Aharon synagogue.

Large billboards posted throughout the capital's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods this week forbade women to enter Mea She'arim Street during the celebration.

"Women ... are requested to use alternative streets on their way home and to synagogues ... to help prevent mingling," the posters say.

Last year community leaders put up tarpaulin partitions along the sidewalks on Strauss and Mea She'arim streets, creating a narrow path on one side for women to walk on. The other sidewalk and the center of the street were reserved for men. A group calling itself "the neighborhood committee" operated "ushers" to make sure the women were keeping to the narrow path.

Womens' rights groups and organizations opposing religious coercion demonstrated against the segregation. Jerusalem councilwomen Rachel Azaria of the Yerushalmim (Jerusalemites ) faction and Laura Verton (Meretz ) petitioned the High Court of Justice, which accepted the petition and ordered the police to revoke the segregation.

"This year will be the the same as last year," a senior ultra-Orthodox official told Haaretz. "We're not doing it to harm women. 15,000 men are coming and 1,500 women, so we're simply moving the women to Shivtei Yisrael Street, from which they will enter the women's section," an ultra-Orthodox official told Haaretz.

"They're flouting the law brazenly, knowing it forbids segregation. The court ruled unequivocally that segregation in public places is prohibited. The law enforcement authorities must make sure these things don't happen," said Verton.

The Be Free Israel movement said: "During the day we'll send a letter to the police district commander demanding to enforce the court ruling on segregation. If the law is not enforced we will march this year, as we did last year."