26 of the Third Month 5768
Well, I guess it's about time that I jump into the mehadrin bus fray.
We have Rafi giving us a relatively comprehensive overview of the various incidents, scuffles, and protests which have occurred in and around mehadrin buses.
Then we have American, "modern orthodox" Jews chiming in from thousands of miles away in the Galuth, wanting to tell us how things should be done. They actually rely on the Jerusalem Post for factual and objective information regarding Haredi communities, so their opinions [in my humble opinion] are not relevant regarding this issue.
Then we have the leftist media lapping up any opportunity they can to demonize Haredim. They are actually more relevant to this issue than the armchair Zionists back in the ol' U. S. of A. I'll get to that later....
After reading the countless takes on mehadrin buses in Hebrew and English, and riding mehadrin buses myself within Jerusalem, I have a few patterns in my observations. Since I do not have experience with mehadrin buses outside of Jerusalem, save for the Jerusalem-B'nei Braq run, I will be careful only to make non-judgmental hypotheses regarding those lines running outside of Jerusalem. "What's the difference?" you may ask. Well the answer to that can be found in the first pattern which arose from my research.
1. More conflicts seem to arise on mehadrin buses running outside of Jerusalem [and B'nei Braq].
This is only speculation, but it seems to me that those living in Jerusalem, for better or for worse, are more used to dealing with the issues of living in mixed areas. Jerusalem residents will take cabs, or just "deal with it," on a non-separated bus if they are only traveling a short distance.
This is not to say that residents of Ramath Beth Shemesh, for example, are not used to "dealing with it." After all, many of them grew up in Me'ah Sha'arim or Beis Yisroel or similar neighborhood in Jerusalem. When they moved to Ramath Beth Shemesh, Elad, or Beitar, part of the deal was supposed to be homogeneity. They are simply asserting what they thought they were supposed to getting in the bargain of paying to live in a homogenious neighborhood, with mehadrin bus service.
Within Jerusalem, conflicts arise on the #1 and #2 lines from the Kotel HaMa'aravi (the Western Wall) when the buses are often packed to the brim. Thus no one can argue the necessity of mehadrin buses, in order to maintain an atmosphere of modesty, and to prevent the squishing together of, sometimes massive numbers, of men and women standing in the aisle.
While traveling on the crowded #40 and #56 lines, there always seemed to be a couple of school girls or an elderly woman stuck in the very front of the bus, followed by the men and the women's section. No one even batted an eyelash. There was clearly nothing those women could have done about it. Perhaps it was easier for them to get on in the front, or perhaps they needed to pay for a new pass or card. The spirit of a mehadrin bus was in tact. There was no need to raise the issue further, which brings me to the next pattern.
2. Mehadrin buses are not for the religious so much, as for the non-religious.
First off, I say "religious" so as to include the, albeit silent and small, national religious minority which also cares about this issue.
Why is it that the #143 bus is not mehadrin? The #143 connects Haredi Tel-Tzion community and the town of Kokhav Ya'aqov with Jerusalem. The Tel-Tzion community leases this line. If if was so important for them to have a mehadrin line, all they would have to do is ask. Kokhav Ya'aqov residents probably wouldn't mind, at least I don't think that they would. It is more on the religious side of the spectrum than most communities in Yehudah and Shomron (Judea and Samaria). But, the #143 doesn't have to be mehadrin. When space is limited, the adjust. Men automatically sit next other men, and women next to women, married men with their wives. If fraternization between boys and girls ever became that much of a problem, I have no doubt the community would address the issue, and explore its options.
Likewise, talk of making the #15 mehadrin would be more due to the Arab workers, and the non-religious Jews going to work in Giv'ath Sha'ul and Har Hof. Of course, I am only speculating here. It is certainly possible that people want to have a mehadrin running through their neighborhood so that they can feel frumer. However, the #15 is often crowed, particularly during rush hour. Making the #15 mehadrin does have some logic to it.
The #16, on the other hand, connects religious neighborhoods to one another as well. Yet, I rarely see non-religious on this line. I do not think this bus is officially mehadrin. Passengers naturally sit in appropriate seats, women not necessarily in the back. Passengers just use common sense and good judgment.
Thus, there only seems to be a need to make a bus mehadrin when the bus is generally crowded or when non-religious, who don't know any better or who don't care.
3. Those who seem to have the biggest problem with Mehadrin buses are Americans, "modern orthodox," and national religious.
Americans? Well, "they" know better, of course. "They" never did THAT in the U. S., so it's obviously not something necessary. Not all Americans are opposed to mehadrin buses, obviously, but of those who are, the women include those who identify as Haredi, and those who do not.
Someone just told me the story of the time he took a mehadrin bus to the Gallil and back. The men's section was crowded, but the women's section had only a handful of seats filled. He went into the women's section to go sit in the back, but was stopped by the women, even though he would have been separated from the women by several empty rows. He that if he can't go sit down in the back, then the women could move back a row. The women refused, saying that they would get car sick, or have to breathe the fumes from the exhaust. He was furious. "One row back is going to make a difference?" He then said that if someone wanted to bring something to hang up in the back as a mehitzah, then please feel free, but no one was going to stop him from sitting down for the long trip back to Jerusalem.
The women were American. Yes, of course, we cannot generalize from an isolated incident. Let us not forget the ballagan being caused by She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,...a "religious" woman from America who is suing in the secular, Israeli court system against mehadrin buses.
"Everything modern (ie. progress) is good."
"Hassidim in particular are primitive and are going nowhere fast."
And, finally, they confuse Western sensibilities with Torah sensibilities. To them there are no stiroth (contradictions) between the two.
I heard a great quote quite some time ago, which is a great response to the above sentiments of the modern orthodox:
"Modern orthodox end up either being modern or orthodox, because they eventually come to the realization that they cannot exist as both."
Their idea of dialog on this issue is, "We're right; you're wrong."
In many ways, they are not too different than the so-called modern orthodox. But, I believe they are actually worse.
Modern orthodox at least do not try to make excuses, nor cover up their sentiments about what they believe and why. I include your average "hafifniq" or "datti light" Israeli in the M/O category. Whereas the official, national religious leadership makes excuses for its lousy educational approach in this area which seems to leave the issue of how boys and girls should relate to one another to parents and youth groups. Sure, if a boy were to sneak a girl into his dorm room, there'd be hell to pay. But what kind of effort is made to teaching the boy why this kind of thing is not OK in the first place.
They don't even justify their approach with any sources. They don't have an approach. Then when issues like mehadrin buses come up, their "rabbis" fumble through a politically-motivated response, devoid of any halachic reasoning.
There are some scholars among the national religious, and there are some yeshivas and girls' schools with strong foundations in Torah and hashqafah. Yet there is a lot of inconsistency across the board here, and its educational system is what's going nowhere fast.
I would love to see the bus from Jerusalem to where I live, #148, be a mehadrin bus. But it'll never happen. Like I mention above, it would be not so much for those of us who care, but for those passengers who don't care, to keep those girls from a particular "religious" town and "religious" high school [which shall remain nameless] out of MY way. Their behavior is often atrocious, and not in the least bit modest. Yet, the girls from the three other schools in the area are all relatively well-mannered, do not sit next to boys as a rule, accept that the bus is not there personal clubhouse, that passengers like to have relative quiet at 10:30 at night on the long trek home, etc. But like I said, it'll never happen....
In conclusion, I will leave with my last observation. Why is it that it's the women who sit in the back of the bus, and not the men? Well, isn't it obvious.
On the #49A, I saw a Haredi woman get on the in the front. Again, no one batted an eyelash. It was obvious she had a good reason for doing so. In this case she did not have the exact change for the con box in the women's section, and wanted to make sure that she paid. The driver was polite, and said not to worry, that she could pay when she got off.
Women can be trusted to punch their own tickets or put their fare into the coin box....
Clarification: Under the "Modern Orthodox" section, the "they" and "their" are referring only to those Modern Orthodox who have issues with Mehadrin buses. Certainly, not all Modern Orthodox Jews having issues with Mehadrin buses hold to all of the points of view stated above, and some of those who do hold to one or more in varying degrees. However, I have no doubt that there are exceptions even to this.
#16 - connects Har Nof to Ramot, running through Giv'ath Sha'ul, Suratzkin Street, Qiriyath Belz, Shmu'el HaNavi.
#40 - connects Ramot with Shmu'el HaNavi, Beis Yisroel, and Me'ah Sha'arim.
#49A - connects Neve Ya'aqov with Shmu'el HaNavi, Qiriyath Belz, Suratzkin Street, and surrounds.
#56 - connects Ramath Shlomo with Ezras HaTorah and surrounds.
#143 - connects Tel-Tzion and Kokhav Ya'aqov with Jerusalem.
#148 - connects towns in Binyamin (Giv'ath Assaf, Ofra) and the Shomron (Shilo, Eli, Ma'aleh Levonah, K'far Tapu'ah, Ariel) with Jerusalem.