A recent Jerusalem Labor Court ruling ordering the state to end a Civil Service training course for ultra-Orthodox men or bring women into the program brought sharp responses from the Haredi parties and some nonreligious Israelis who didn’t understand the fuss.
Supporters of sex segregation got a boost Wednesday, when Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef ruled that the decision was contrary to Jewish law and made it clear that the separation of the sexes is not a religious custom but rather an imperative.
This is a far-reaching ruling. If sex segregation is a religious commandment, it clearly goes beyond a professional training program.
Yosef did not say so in his letter, but the next step is clear: more sex segregation at work, in the army and in academia. This undermines the distinction between the public space, in which sexual equality must be observed, and a space that complies with religious rulings; between a modern state and one ruled by Jewish law.
In her ruling, Judge Rachel Barag-Hirshberg said the need for a segregated course was not proved. That determination was given added force when, after the ruling, it emerged that many Haredi candidates for the program were willing to study with women. Collaboration between the state and extremist elements in the Haredi community. Moreover, in its decision the court in effect ruled that the desire to open the civil service to Haredi men cannott come at the expense of women. The right to equality is stronger.
The Civil Service Commission and the Labor Ministry are appealing the ruling to the National Labor Court.
Yosef’s religious ruling, which he sent to Acting Civil Service Commissioner Udi Prawer, will go toward reinforcing the response that is taking shape.
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According to Yosef, because the Civil Service cadets’ course “includes personal and group processes that require great closeness between colleagues,” it cannot be coeducational. It’s “impossible,” and that’s that.
This position, he said, “is consistent with pure halakha,” or Jewish religious law and is “not a stringency, but an issue that touches on the fundamental observance of Torah by any believing person.” Thus, those Haredim who were prepared to study with women are apparently not Jewish enough.
Yosef’s letter leaves no doubt: From his perspective, integrating Haredim in the labor market and academia can only be through gender separation. One could perhaps swallow the fact that one public servant (a chief rabbi of Israel) wrote to another public servant (the acting civil service commissioner) with a request to ignore a court decision. But while Yosef’s letter focuses on the Haredi cadets, separate frameworks will inevitably affect the entire population.
A sweeping order to separate the sexes can’t stop with training courses. It will also apply to the workplace: attending meetings with women, taking orders from women and providing service to women. The “evil inclination” will not be subdued after these 20 Haredi cadets finish their training. As was proven by the “modesty regulations” imposed on Modi’in Ilit municipal workers, which Haaretz revealed a few months ago, the expectation is that everyone will toe the most extreme line — even those who don’t believe in it and certainly those who were not even consulted.