Text size

While law enforcement authorities are hard pressed to initiate criminal proceedings in instances in which women have been excluded from public venues, some women have sought recourse through civil claims.

Earlier this year, Suzi Ayad, a Netanya resident, submitted a claim in the city's small claims court, demanding NIS 32,000 from the local Hevra Kadisha burial society. During the funeral of a close friend, the plaintiff was required to stand, along with other women mourners, behind an Orthodox religious partition (mechitza ).

The foundation for the claim is the law banning discrimination in products and services, leisure venues and public places.

In her complaint, Ayad describes how she discovered at the Netanya cemetery that the partition separates the compound into two parts. When the funeral ceremony started, the rabbi who officiated as Hevra Kadisha's representative approached a microphone and asked men to stand on one side of the partition and women on the other.

"Many of the people attending the funeral objected to this demand, which is at variance with out worldview," wrote Ayad in her complaint. "Nonetheless, we refrained from creating an uproar, given the nature of the event; and so, by necessity, we assented to the rabbi's directive.

"Throughout the funeral, I felt humiliated, and was also angry about being forced to stand with the women and separated from the men. I can't understand how at a public venue such as a cemetery, someone has the authority to tell me where to stand because I am a woman," Ayad wrote.

Following the eulogies, the ceremony was conducted according to tradition, but Ayad could not free herself from the feeling that "something irregular happened here, something which hurt me badly."

In a response filed by the defense, Hevra Kadisha member Aharon Yaakovovitz rejects the plaintiff's complaints. "Since its founding, Hevra Kadisha has operated according to Jewish tradition, and this tradition holds that at holy places, including synagogues, there is separation between men and women; yet Hevra Kadisha does not coercively impose such segregation."

Hevra Kadisha accuses Ayad of trying to drag it into a "public debate and dispute."

This is inappropriate, the burial society says, since it deals with such a sensitive matter; Hevra Kadisha deals with events to which mourners come in a fragile emotional state, it said.

Hevra Kadisha confirms that at the beginning of the ceremony, the rabbi asked men and women to stand separately. "Such a request is made as a result of repeated requests relayed by the public [for such separation], and it does not convey any sort of illegal discrimination," Hevre Kadisha claims.