Law Students Vote on Whether to Partition Dance Floor for Religious Women

Five female students want separate space created for annual dance, but others object.

Daniel Bar-On

Law students at the Hebrew University are voting Monday on whether to create a separate space for religious women at the faculty's annual dance.

Last year, religious students asked for part of the dance floor to be allocated to women only, and the student union agreed without taking a vote. The matter elicited broad protests and the decision was later rescinded. This year, the union decided it would take a vote among dues-paying members on the issue.

This year's dance was also the subject of a complaint by Muslim students, who have protested that it's being held during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (June 6-July 5), preventing them from attending. They were told it was probably too late to change the date, because doing so would entail additional expenses, but the union will make an effort to do so.

Yael, a second-year law student who objects to a partition being erected on the dance floor, said the issue had to be viewed in the context of “broader processes in Israeli society – like the instances of forbidding women's singing [in public] that we’ve seen. It’s not this specific partition, but part of the larger struggle of how we want our shared public space to look. The message conveyed by a partition ... is a harsh message about the nature of women, the modesty of women, about how a woman is supposed to act, about male sexuality. When this is given the stamp of the Hebrew University, it’s problematic. This isn’t a private event.”

However, Gilad Katzir, chairman of the law school's student union, said, “What matters to us as the student union is that we conduct a public debate, in which all parties participate in a respectful and tolerant manner, and we make a joint decision that many places don’t succeed in making.

“We aren’t talking about a 4-meter high partition in the middle of the dance floor, but a small partition on the side for the five girls who asked for it and other [females] who might want to dance behind it,” he said. “I don’t see this as giving the faculty a religious orientation. The job of the association is to provide for all the students in the faculty and, as long as it’s an ethical decision, it’s not my place to judge who’s right.”

As for holding the dance during Ramadan, Katzir said it was an innocent mistake, a consequence of the fact that university calendars don’t list Muslim holidays.

The Hebrew University said in response, “The event is a student union event and we try not to intervene in events of this kind.”