Monday, July 4, 2011

Separate Seating

Another day, another story about increasing gender segregation in Israel. I wish I could get worked up over this article in Haaretz about a new "tradition" (if it's new is it really yet a tradition?) of having separate seating at meals in private homes. Most of the article concerns itself with the particulars of the seating arrangements of Gur Hasidim, who are the most extreme of the ultra-Orthodox when it comes to the separation between the sexes and I won't trouble you with commentary on those details. But I have pulled a couple of quotes that I find particularly illuminating:

Hebrew University lecturer Dr. Benjamin Brown, who specializes in Jewish philosophy and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, notes: "In the Gur Hasidic community, measures are taken to ensure that there is no mutual understanding between men and women, even between husband and wife." (Italics mine.)

How true this is. While I have never put it this way myself, this is exactly what segregation accomplishes, aside from oppression and humiliation -- the total lack of mutual understanding. As the opportunities for meaningful contact between the sexes decreases as more and more public and private space is segregated, the disconnect between the genders will widen.

One Litvak (Lithuanian) ultra-Orthodox Jew was not pleased about the spread of fundamentalism to his community had this to say:

In D.'s opinion, separate tables or seating women at the far end of the table or in the kitchen is a symptom of the oppression of women. "When the women are sent to eat in the kitchen, the young boys in the family learn to treat women with contempt," she notes.

I feel like similar statements can be made when it comes to sending women to the other side of the mechitza. Perhaps this does not garner them the same contempt but it certainly doesn't win them any respect as from the men in the community.

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