Haredim May Get Gender-separated Bus Line

It only took a few weeks of the Haredim running a pirate public bus line between Jerusalem and Bnei Brak before Egged caved in and agreed to run a separate Haredi bus line from the capital to Bnei Brak, and with tickets 20 percent cheaper than on the regular line.

It only took a few weeks of the Haredim running a pirate public bus line between Jerusalem and Bnei Brak - with men and women separated - before Egged caved in and in a quiet agreement with their community, agreed to run a separate Haredi bus line from the capital to Bnei Brak, and with tickets 20 percent cheaper than on the regular line.

In addition, a special Haredi supervisor will police the sanctity of Shabbat in Jerusalem's new central bus station and a Haredi monitor will vet advertisements in Egged buses.

Last Thursday night a meeting was held between Egged executives and Micah Rothschild, who heads the Mahadrin Council, a modesty monitoring service for public transportation. On Sunday, Egged held a press conference for Haredi journalists at which the deal was announced.

Yesterday, the Mahadrin Council published details of the agreement in the Haredi press, and Egged hurried to deny there was an agreement. But Egged also said it had no intention of publishing advertisements denying the Mahadrin Council's announcements.

Several sources have confirmed the existence of the agreement. Apparently, Egged wants the Haredim to know there is a deal and the secular community to think there isn't.

Even before the opening of the new central bus station in Jerusalem, the Haredim campaigned on behalf of their interests there. They stopped an opening to the bus station from the Haredi neighborhood in Romema and also prevented the opening of a MacDonalds restaurant in the bus station - an issue that is now in court.

Last summer, Egged decided to operate a new line, 402, between Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. The line would leave the Haredi neighborhoods of north Jerusalem on the old 400 route between the two cities, but wouldn't go through the central bus station or any non-Haredi neighborhoods, like Tel Hashomer junction and Bar Ilan University.

The line left from the Mt. Hotzvim area in Jerusalem, where an ad hoc central bus station for Haredim has evolved. Buses heading for Upper Modi'in and the Haredi neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh also leave from the Mt. Hotzvim station.

Transport Ministry approval for the new line was delayed so on Sukkot the Haredim began operating their own pirate service from Mt. Hotzvim. Egged and Dan, which operate Line 400, lost thousands of passengers.

The following are the details of the agreement as they appeared yesterday in Mahadrin Council advertisements:

1. The Jerusalem-Bnei Brak Line 402 will be operated in a Mahadrin format (separation of the genders, no radio, censored advertisements) at a discounted price. On Line 350, which goes between Ashdod and Bnei Brak, men will sit in the front of the bus and women in the back. On Line 402, which starts on Sunday, gender separation will start at the ticket office and bus boarding. Men will board from the front, women from the back, but seating will be mixed. The purpose of the separation is to avoid contact between men and women while waiting in line. No radio will be played on the line. The price on Lines 402 and 400 will be NIS 15 shekel each way and NIS 25 shekel round trip. That's a 20 percent discount off the regular price of Line 405 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Ya'acov Litzman of United Torah Judaism lobbied for that special price, which were okayed by the Transport Ministry. Nonetheless, they are discriminatory prices and are expected to be challenged in the High Court of Justice.

2. Egged will run Mahadrin bus lines inside Haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

3. Egged will use its influence with the operators of the new central bus station to make shop owners in the bus station adapt their presentations to take into consideration the sensitivities of the Haredi public. Of most concern to the Haredim are an Internet cafe and a lingerie shop in the central bus station. The Internet cafe has already changed its screen savers and the lingerie shop has changed its window dressings. An Egged source said "we explained to the shop owners that if the Haredim boycott the bus station, it will mean less business for them."

4. A supervisor will be appointed to make sure there is no activity in the bus station on Shabbat. The designated monitor is Yosef Rosenfeld, chairman of the Committee for the Sabbath in Jerusalem. Rosenfeld has already had his nose broken during one of his attempts to enforce the Shabbat in the central bus station. Now he says his appointment gives him authority and he can enter the station whenever he wants with the authority to force businesses to obey his orders.

5. The advertisements in buses in Jerusalem will be checked before being posted on the buses. The designated censor for the advertisements is Shalom Redjiminski, from the Purity Camp, one of the most extreme of the Haredi organizations. Micah Rothschild says that there is no final decision yet on the censor.

MK Yosef Paretsky from Shinui said he would be going to the High Court of Justice against the agreement. He said "Egged is turning the central bus station into a Haredi ghetto. From now on we have to change the name from Egged Lines to Taliban Lines. I suppose the next step will be putting the secular passengers in the baggage racks and Arabs on the bumpers."

Egged spokesman Ron Ratner denied there is an agreement between the bus company and the Mahadrin Council. Asked if Egged would advertise its denial, he said "Egged is not interested in this tendentious report."

He said that Egged will serve all its passengers according to their needs and demands and it does no harm to other communities if the line does not go through their neighborhoods."

Ratner claims there is no intention to run Mahadrin lines inside Jerusalem and denied there is an agreement for a Shabbat supervisor. He said "any citizen is allowed into the bus station when the gates are open." Another Egged source said that the Shabbat monitor is actually a liaison and not a monitor.

Ratner also said that the marketing department, not the Haredi Purity Camp, would decide if the advertisements don't "cause divisions among the people."

As for the separation of sexes, Ratner said it was a "voluntary matter" for the passengers to decide on. As for the cheaper price, he said it is at the expense of Dan and Egged, and therefore it was approved.