When I publicly disclosed the beating I received on the #2 bus going to the Kotel last November it was after consulting with daas Torah and after lots of soul searching. I did not relish the black eye this would inevitably give Chareidi Jews, and I was uncomfortable associating my name with such a grievous event.
There was no shortage of criticism leveled at me for publicizing this horrendous incident. While the majority of the 3,000+ emails I received were supportive and even congratulatory for my refusal to be bullied by a group of mutineers on a public bus, there were nevertheless a significant enough minority who felt that I had erred for various reasons. The most common was that I should have behaved as a “bas melech Yisrael” and could have avoided all of the ugliness if I would have just been a little more compliant. A few even went so far as to condemn my response to the initial spitting (“you should have just gotten up and moved to the back”).
When Jonathan Rosenblum interviewed me for his Mishpacha article, “Knowing our Limits”, he was sincere (without condemnation) in his curiosity as to why I stood my ground in refusing to give up my seat. This is what I explained: “The incident has to be taken in the context of what was going on while I was in Yerushalyim for 5 weeks – during the “gay parade” brouhaha. Every night, yeshivas were letting their students out to riot in the streets. Garbage cans were dumped and strewn in the streets and their contents set on fire. Many people, particularly the elderly and small children, had been rushed to hospitals suffering from respiratory difficulties due to the toxicity of the smoke that was belching throughout residential neighborhoods. Public health officials were warning that the carcinogens in the air were at dangerous levels. I personally was in bed for 3 days with a severe respiratory infection caused by being forced to inhale these fumes every day. Almost every morning, our bus would have to stop and carefully navigate around burning piles of rubbish. Sometimes, people would have to get off the bus to remove these burning piles so the bus could get through and soil their hands and clothes in the process. I stood at Kikar Shabbat one evening and watched boys as young as 8 and 9 running through the streets setting anything within their reach on fire. A white van made the big mistake of traveling through Kikar Shabbat. The van was pelted with objects. When the driver stopped and got out of his van, it was overturned and torched. Nobody even knew if this driver was “for” or “against” the very thing the rioters were rioting about! I asked one of the boys – about age 10 – “do you know why you’re doing this?” His answer: “Because it’s fun!” The following Shabbos, an acquaintance of mine told me that her sons were “not going to shul today, they need to sleep in and catch up on their rest because their rebbe had let them out to go rioting almost every night this week.” I couldn’t resist responding that I wouldn’t send my son to such a yeshiva that employed such “rebbes”.’
I also went on to explain to Mr. Rosenblum that it sickened me to stand and watch the store in Geula which had been burned to the ground by the area’s “Tznius Patrol”. This store, “One of a Kind”, is owned by an American Rosh Yeshiva’s wife who sells nice and affordable tznius clothing. However, sequins on some of the items did not meet the tznius standards of this “Patrol” and they demanded its removal from the store. The proprietor refused; they responded with an arson that destroyed her merchandise, her store, and her livelihood – and probably jacked up the insurance rates for everyone else in the neighborhood. (Kol ha kavod to this woman for rebuilding her store since then.)
During my 5 week stay in Yerushalyim, I also heard many accounts of women being surreptitiously bleached by more “Tznius Patrol” squads. If their clothing did not measure up to their standards, a baby bottle of bleach delivered its contents, thus rendering the garment useless. I know people who refuse to shop in Geula and Meah Shearim as a consequence of such actions.
It is against this backdrop and in this context, I explained to Mr. Rosenblum, that I decided “enough is enough” and I am drawing my own line in the sand: I will not capitulate to anyone – even over a seat – who wants to impose their chumras on me. It wasn’t a matter of being an American who is socially conditioned to protect her “rights” – it was about pushing back against bullies who have yet to learn that they do not own the streets or the buses; who haven’t learned that basic derech eretz dictates that a young man half my age should not even suggest I move my seat.
It never crossed my mind that I would be inviting a beating by refusing to move to the back of the bus. The most I expected were some heated verbal exchanges. I honestly did not believe that frum men would beat up on a woman on a public NON-Mehadrin bus over the seating arrangement.
The beating was bad enough. The fact that nobody came to my assistance during this melee was just as shameful. Equally disdainful were those who voiced support for those engaged in the assault.
One Year Later
It has been almost a full year since this incident took place. There has been much time to reflect, to weigh the opinions and comments of others, and to explore solutions to this type of “holy” perversion in our community. Many web sites have discussed this phenomenon within the aura of Torah. Some of these people have done so at great risk to their personal and professional reputations within their own communities. These brave voices need to be given our support. They need us to stick our necks out as well and say “Enough is enough!” Most importantly, we need to educate ourselves and our children and become more “secure” in our Torah values.
It has been brought to my attention a few times that the arbitrary decision by the #2 bus riders to make this line Mehadrin was instituted as a response to the horrific bombing on this line a few years prior. In an effort to provide more physical protection, it was decided to increase the spiritual value of tznius – and its inherent protection – by implementing a separate seating arrangement.
Increasing our shmira in our mitzvah observance in the wake of tragedy is unarguably commendable to the highest degree. But, I would like to ask the men who beat up women on buses: Do the bruises and humiliation you inflict on others, and the dishonor you bring to our Torah and our people increase your ruchnius – and of those around you – or does it diminish it? Did you offer more physical protection in the “merit” of such actions, or leave all of us at greater risk – both physically and spiritually? Did you even manage to accomplish one iota in convincing anyone that separate seating on buses was a value literally worth fighting for? If you are still convinced that your cause has merit, then why didn’t you follow the course of due process available to you: Petition Egged to designate the #2 bus as Mehadrin? This is not a futile endeavor, as Egged has reviewed every single request submitted to them and granted almost all of them. Your failure to follow this simple, easy procedure makes all of us question your true motives.
Let me tell you what you have “accomplished” with your total disregard of halacha, Torah, and dina malchusa dina: Because of your actions, five women have petitioned the High Court to have ALL Mehadrin buses suspended. The hearing is scheduled this December. You have put Egged into a legally contentious predicament costing them thousands of shekels. Most likely, because of your actions, Egged will not be legally permitted to offer Mehadrin lines. This means that the private bus lines will return, catering to your request for separate seating arrangements. That’s fine for everyone – except Egged, of course, whose revenues will certainly be dented by these entrepreneurs. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.
To those who beat up this Beit Shemesh woman last week or the ones who assaulted me last November, or who engage in any kind of violence: The chumras you take upon yourself should not be used to dominate and control others. It would be better for you to forgo your chumras and correct that which is within. Otherwise, your actions will be your own sword upon which you will fall.
As for all charedi Jews worldwide; it is high time that we collectively say in a loud and clear voice, “Enough is Enough!”
That means standing up to the bullies who shame Hashem’s name by committing violence, and equally as important, assisting those who are injured by their criminal actions.
© 2007 Miriam Shear, all rights reserved
To sign up for Rabbi Horowitz’s weekly emails, please click here.