Some Modest Proposals

The new Central Bus Station in Jerusalem is perhaps the best illustration of the mounting failure of coexistence between the secular and Haredi sectors in Israel's capital.

Last week the functionaries who are fighting for ultra-kosher bus lines (in which there is a separation between men and women) chalked up another achievement in Jerusalem. They reached an agreement with the Egged bus company that the stop for lines in which the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) population have an interest will be located outside the new Central Bus Station, thus enabling Haredim to get on a bus without having to visit the shopping concourse in the station.

Some of the intercity lines that are heavily used by Haredim, mainly lines that connect to cities where there is a mixed Haredi-secular population, such as Ashdod and Netanya, don't enter the central station at all.

The new Central Bus Station in Jerusalem is perhaps the best illustration of the mounting failure of coexistence between the secular and Haredi sectors in the city. Last week the court thwarted another attempt by Egged to capitulate to the Haredim by preventing the opening of a non-kosher branch of a McDonald's outlet in the new station.

The truth is that McDonald's applied for a kashrut certificate; they already have in the shopping mall in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion.

In Jerusalem, though, the religious authorities weren't satisfied to have just the restaurant in the bus station kosher; they demanded also that the McDonald's branch downtown also be made kosher, claiming that otherwise the public would be misled and become confused.

In practice, this is not just a battle over kosher fast-food places; it is part of a larger war being waged by extremists in the ultra-Orthodox community against the phenomenon of shopping malls.

The new Central Bus Station in Jerusalem is part of a truly handsome mall, as opposed to the bazaar of the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv. If in the past the fearful Haredim used to lash out at public places that might serve as meeting places for couples and hangouts for young people, now their apprehension is being aimed at glittering commercial centers, which they consider an affront to modesty.

Among the demands put forward by the Haredim so that they would not boycott the mall in the new station were the replacement of the immodest screen saver in the local Internet cafe (this was done) and placing clothes on the mannequins in the women's lingerie shop (this was not done, because what can you put on mannequins in the window of a shop that sells undergarments - coats?).

Underlying these and other demands is the Haredi desire to create an independent public transportation system, which might be less convenient than the new bus station but will be free of immodesty. There is a good chance they will get what they want.

Some buses on the Haredi lines already leave from the Har Hotzvim industrial zone rather than from the Central Bus Station. Incidentally, some of these lines are operated by Egged's competitors, as the new Haredi cities and towns are pioneers in breaking Egged's decades-long monopoly on the intercity public transportation system.

In fact, in a situation in which the Haredim in Jerusalem already have separate commercial centers, an autonomous education system and an independent health system, it's only logical for them to have their own public transportation as well. The Haredim are ready to apply this principle of separation in every framework except for that of the municipality. City Hall is located downtown, in an area that is rich with spiritual affronts. The Haredi members of the municipal council in Jerusalem are responsible, as part of the duties, for numberless activities that involve Sabbath desecration and heresy, including support for institutions of the Reform Movement in Judaism and education that teaches the theory of evolution.

The reason that the Haredim don't want municipal separation is, of course, that the municipal services the Haredi public receives in Jerusalem are paid for in large part by the working taxpayer - the secular and national-religious residents.

Secular Jerusalemites are a group in danger of becoming extinct. Those who wish to continue to pursue a secular lifestyle in Jerusalem will have to adopt a program of separation along the lines of the one that is now taking shape in public transport, along with the division of the city into boroughs with their own municipal powers and separate budgets. However, there is very little chance that this will happen, so that within a few years the Jerusalem Municipality will likely go bankrupt from a lack of residents who pay city taxes.

The big picture is that the Haredim would seem to have no real cause for concern. Their representatives in the national coalition government, headed by the chairman of the Knesset's Finance Committee, Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), will ensure a steady flow of funds from the state budget to the Jerusalem Municipality, this time at the expense of taxpayers throughout the country.