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NYC threatens to shut down Orthodox Jewish bus line that practices segregation

posted at 12:50 pm on October 20, 2011 by

I have lived in New York for virtually all of my adult life but had no idea until this week that some of the city’s bus lines were franchised out to privately owned carriers. I also had no idea until this week that at least one of those lines—the B110 bus, which runs through heavily Orthodox Jewish sections of Brooklyn—demands that women sit in the back.

The city is now threatening to shut down the route if the carrier, Private Transportation Corporation, doesn’t stop its practice of segregating passengers based on sex.

The New York World, which broke the story on Tuesday, recounts the experience of passenger Melissa Franchy, who boarded the bus on October 12 and took a vacant seat near the front. Franchy claims she was immediately warmed by curious glances from the men on the bus, all wearing full beards and long black coats.

When the vehicle began to fill, one of the men rose and told her she would need to move to the back, adding that the B110 is a “Jewish bus.” When she inquired why she had to move, the man responded sternly, “If God makes a rule, you don’t ask ‘Why make the rule?’”

After the World story ran, the New York Post got in on the action. The paper dispatched one of its photographers to Williamsbug, one of the two Hasidic communities serviced by the line, and instructed her to refuse to change seats. She did. Like clockwork, the driver told her the bus would not budge until she moved to the “non-reserved” section at the back. At the time, the vehicle was half-empty.

Yesterday, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (a woman yet!) fired off a letter to Jacob Marmurstein, reminding him that his comapny’s franchise agreement with the city prohibits discrimination “based on race, creed, color, national origin, sex, age, handicap, marital status, or real or perceived sexual orientation.”

The letter further warned that if the company continued its discriminatory practice, the city would terminate the agreement.

The view of women as inferior under Orthodox Jewish law last made news in May, when a Hasidic Jewish newspaper photoshopped two females out of the iconic White Situation Room photo taken during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s lair. One of the two was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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Wrong is wrong. You don’t make anyone sit in the back of the freaking bus.

WitchDoctor on October 20, 2011 at 1:12 PM

I bet if the rop type had a bus that did the same thing, NOT one word would be said? Too bad the Jewish group can’t buy their own bus and do as their faith says they should. But, someone would tell them they couldn’t use the road if some female, that wasn’t of their faith, wanted to set in the front of the bus.
L

letget on October 20, 2011 at 1:24 PM

This should stop immediately.

And, any type of the same by Muslims should be REPORTED as well.

But it won’t be, you can count on that.

Muslims still do not allow women to even pray in the same room as men in Mosques and they get carte blanche to hide behind their religious rights to do so.

They see women as dogs.

Opposite Day on October 20, 2011 at 2:26 PM

Yeah, you can’t give them an inch.

Churches and mosques are private property. What they do is their business. Public transportation is not and there will be no segregation.

Blake on October 20, 2011 at 2:46 PM

I am not Jewish, and certainly not an Orthodox Jew. But to say that women are viewed as “inferior” is at best grossly misleading. Women’s duties are considered so important that they are excused from some deadlines that men must obey. Women are the interior face of the family, men the exterior. For most of human history, civilized society benefited from this division of labor; indeed, without it a society might perish.

The point of the public division, if I understand correctly, is that a man should not sit viewing another man’s wife, or at least not her face. In other circumstances, this might have been accomplished by dividing the bus with a curtain, but that creates a hazard for a bus moving in traffic.

In an earlier generation, this might have been acceptibly solved with signs explaining that most riders of the bus observe these rules, and requesting that others respect them. In this age of anti-tolerance, that probably won’t be possible.

njcommuter on October 20, 2011 at 2:50 PM

njcommuter: I am Jewish (albeit not Orthodox) and I am here to tell you while your arguments are technically correct, in practice the net effect is the same.

Asking women to surrender their seats to males and then go sit in a separate section is a modern application of Jewish law–and a clumsy one at that, made all the more odious by its associations with an ugly chapter of American history.

I recall reading about a month ago about the appearance of signs posted on utility poles in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn reminding women that their place was behind men. I didn’t choose to write about it but it’s just more of the same silliness.

Howard Portnoy on October 20, 2011 at 3:11 PM

I have to agree with njcommuter, and I am a Jewish woman, but not Orthodox. And one reason I am not orthodox is that I don’t agree with such clearly demarcated separate spheres for men and women, determined by gender.

However, if it’s a private bus line and its rules are determined by religious law, the state has no business interfering.

Once you have decided the state can tell religious groups what to do, where do you stop? The next step is prosecuting people for insisting that women dress modestly in houses of worship (which some religious institutions insist on), outlawing the hijab (which I disagree with) and then outlawing circumcision.

This reminds me of the uproar several years back when “The Ethicist” columnist in the NYTimes was presented with the question, should a woman be offended if a religious Jew refused to shake hands with her because in Orthodox law, men may only touch women in their immediate families (except for professional necessity like physicians or police). He thought the woman had the right to be offended and that the man was being offensive.

I think that was wrong. I am not offended by respecting the religious customs of another group, as long as they don’t impact me legally. If these laws and customs are so pervasive that my ability to work or socialize are curtailed, I leave.

The problem with a place like Saudi Arabia or Iran is that all women are subject to these laws of the land, and are punished if they disobey. If some communities want to live like that, but others don’t have to, SA would be a different place.

YehuditTX on October 20, 2011 at 3:48 PM

PS I forgot one example which is already almost law: the courts ruling on whether religious institutions can fire someone, or whether they have to hire someone.

YehuditTX on October 20, 2011 at 3:49 PM

If the Orthodox Jewish community wants a segregated bus they shouldn’t expect it to be funded by the govt.

katiejane on October 20, 2011 at 3:52 PM

Just to clarify: This is a New York City bus route. The bus is available to anyone who pays a fare. It is under the aegis of the NYC Dept of Transportation.

Howard Portnoy on October 20, 2011 at 3:58 PM

I am not offended by respecting the religious customs of another group, as long as they don’t impact me legally. If these laws and customs are so pervasive that my ability to work or socialize are curtailed, I leave.

YehuditTX on October 20, 2011 at 3:48 PM

If adhering to one’s religious customs interfers with functioning outside the confines of a closed community that person with those customs should be the one to leave – not you.

If it is unacceotable for an Orthodox Jewish man to touch a woman the onus should be on him not put himself in any instances where he would come into contact with a woman. Let him be the one behind the curtain.

katiejane on October 20, 2011 at 3:59 PM

The Jews are as radical, if not more so, as the Muslims.

It’s funny to read all the posts trying to make this about Islam.

Face facts; any religious zealot is a nut. Period.

KMC1 on October 20, 2011 at 4:04 PM

Face facts; any religious zealot is a nut. Period.

The “religious zealots” who commit murder in the name of their religion are a more pernicious lot.

Howard Portnoy on October 20, 2011 at 4:13 PM

When I spent a year in Israel a few years ago, there was an American Jewish woman who dared to sit in the front of one of the few buses that traditionally segregates men and women (one that goes to the Western Wall), and she was beat up by the men on the bus. The driver didn’t help at all.

tikvah on October 20, 2011 at 4:20 PM

The Jews are as radical, if not more so, as the Muslims.

It’s funny to read all the posts trying to make this about Islam.

Face facts; any religious zealot is a nut. Period.

KMC1 on October 20, 2011 at 4:04 PM

Interesting how you segued from Jews are radical to zealot nuts without a pause.

WitchDoctor on October 20, 2011 at 4:28 PM

Just to clarify: This is a New York City bus route. The bus is available to anyone who pays a fare. It is under the aegis of the NYC Dept of Transportation.

Howard Portnoy on October 20, 2011 at 3:58 PM

That’s what makes this different from when Delta Airlines recently came under fire for their police re: Israeli passported passengers flying into countires that wouldn’t allow Jews to land in their airports. I disagreed with Delta’s decision, but it’s a private company and I can choose to give them my business or not.

This is public transportation, under NYC transportation dept. oversight and it’s absurd that this is still going on.

If the Orthodox Jews feel that strongly about it, either don’t take public transportation, or hire your own service.

DrAllecon on October 20, 2011 at 4:47 PM

The “religious zealots” who commit murder in the name of their religion are a more pernicious lot.

Howard Portnoy on October 20, 2011 at 4:13 PM

We can argue degrees, but it sounds like we agree on the basics.

KMC1 on October 20, 2011 at 4:58 PM

Interesting how you segued from Jews are radical to zealot nuts without a pause.

WitchDoctor on October 20, 2011 at 4:28 PM

Actually, to clarify your half true post, I went from radical jews and muslims, to all religious zealotry, without pause.

KMC1 on October 20, 2011 at 5:04 PM

We can argue degrees, but it sounds like we agree on the basics.

If “the basics” include your claims that “the Jews are as radical, if not more so, as [sic] the Muslims,” think again.

Howard Portnoy on October 20, 2011 at 5:12 PM

If “the basics” include your claims that “the Jews are as radical, if not more so, as [sic] the Muslims,” think again.

Howard Portnoy on October 20, 2011 at 5:12 PM

Lol! I always get a kick out of people who try to “prove” their case, by pointing out typos.

I guess it’s better than focusing on the facts.

KMC1 on October 21, 2011 at 12:57 AM