Performances intended for ultra-Orthodox children currently underway under the auspices of the Jerusalem Municipality separate boys and girls in the audience, with boys seated in the main auditorium close to the stage, while girls are relegated to sit in distant balconies.
While the show “Havurat Taryag” is produced by a private company, the Jerusalem Municipality is sponsoring 15 of the performances, with two of the shows intended exclusively for boys.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon attended some of the shows, along with his deputy from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Zvika Cohen. The municipality has not released details of the budget allocated toward the sponsoring of the segregated performances.
Like in past cases of gender segregation in publicly-funded events across Israel, the Jerusalem Municipality defended itself by saying that the separation is done in an egalitarian way — meaning that the seating assignments are made according to the numbers of male and female ticket-holders — adding that it “holds cultural and leisure events for all communities of the city, while tailoring them to the unique characteristics of each community."
In contrast to the gender-segregated events held in Tel Aviv this summer, in which the segregation was enforced for children over the age of 3, in Jerusalem “boys up until the age of 5 are allowed to sit in the girls’ areas.”
“Even at a performance intended for the whole family and all ages, a Haredi family can’t sit together,” says Pnina Pfeuffer, CEO of The New Haredim organization for advancing the interests and needs of the ultra-Orthodox public that supports equality.
"In the United States there are many Haredim who consume Haredi culture,” she adds. “The standard there is men on the one side, women on the other side and in the middle an area intended for families. This arrangement answers to the needs of those who prefer mixed seating – and those who prefer separation. It’s absurd that a Haredi family can’t sit together at a performance intended for such families.”
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According to Pfeuffer, the organizers “apparently wanted to create full separation and to completely prevent women from being in the auditorium. By seating them in the balconies, there is a clear message of discrimination against women.”
According to Efrat Chocron, an activist in the Haredi feminist movement Nivcharot, separate events were held for boys and for girls in the past. “Ostensibly, this is an improvement, but it is not right that they put the girls in the back. If seeing the show from the balconies was so attractive, they should have allowed it for everyone. The seating division makes it clear whose needs are more important,” she said.
“Public money funding events at which boys get a first-rate show and girls get a third-rate show is a sign of a social illness originating from a municipality that hasn’t yet progressed to the 21st century,״ Uri Keidar, the executive director of Israel Hofsheet, said. "Gender segregation must not be normalized and given justifications. Anyone who does that shouldn’t be surprised that it is the girls who will pay the price – now and in the future.”
In 2019, former Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit declared that local authorities may, under certain circumstances, hold leisure and cultural activities with gender segregation. The circumstances include, among other things, consideration of the target audience and the nature of the event, whether the segregation is done willingly and whether it is essential. In this context, it was stipulated that events intended for children or families present great difficulty in justifying gender segregation.
As for the allocation of auditorium seating, the spokesperson for municipality said that it is determined “based on the number of audience members at the event. If there is need for more accessible seats, girls will also be allowed to sit in the main auditorium. The Jerusalem Municipality holds many events during the course of the year and especially during the summer vacation exclusively for girls from the Haredi community.”