Gender Equality vs. Religion in Israel

In addition to the usual battles that Israel is fighting, there is another more private struggle that they’re dealing with.  While Israel may seem like it has things figured out with gender equality, having had a female prime minister and an army where women serve alongside men, underneath the surface, it isn’t so.  Gender is part of a new conflict between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular communities.

The Orthodox community makes up the minority of the population, but is growing rapidly.  Currently, they are estimated to make up about 9% of the population, but by 2025, they are estimated to reach 15%.  The secular population makes up about 50%, and the rest follow traditional Judaism.  Though the Orthodox are the smallest community, they hold a disproportionate amount of political power. “The stronger the ultra-Orthodox and religious community grows, the greater its attempt to impose its norms.  Their norms, are segregation of women and discrimination against them,” said Hannah Kehat, the founder of the religious women’s forum Kolech.

Though they have always opposed the mixing of women and men within their communities, it is only very recently that they have tried to impose their views in the general public.  On some bus lines, women have been ordered to sit in the back of the bus, and in some supermarkets, there are now different shopping hours for women and men.  Just last month, there were barriers erected in the Mea Shearim neighborhood to keep men and women from walking on the same sidewalk.  In the past, it was a common occurrence for billboards to be defaced and for there to be a boycott of a company that depicted a model that was too scantily clad.  In Jerusalem, and other heavily Orthodox neighborhoods, female models on billboards have basically been phased out.  No women’s faces are shown, and only rarely will an advertiser depict a part of the body.  A private radio station has banned music by female singers and interviews with women from being played.

The army as well is facing difficulties in balancing religious views.  In September, 9 religious soldiers walked out of a military event because there were women singing, resulting in 4 of them being dismissed from their officer’s course.  However, in a separate incident, 4 female combat soldiers were told that they will have to leave their posts and be re-assigned because some of the religious male soldiers refuse to serve alongside them.


How do you think they should handle the rights of one group to practice their religion, with protecting those that don’t have the same beliefs from discrimination.



One comment

  1. The problem seems to be that there is no Israeli law that either establishes the Jewish religion as the state’s religion or clearly separates “synagogue and state.” The Israeli Supreme Court seems to hint that the latter is preferable, as the practice of gender segregation on buses was successfully challenged; the Court additionally ordered the dismantling of barriers that were erected to keep women and men from walking on the same sidewalk during a religious ceremony. But this preference –establishing a national religion or establishing a clear demarcation between the state and religion–ought to be made at the state level in order to protect EVERYONE’s rights. Otherwise, this kind of confusion and the imposition of one’s religious beliefs on others who do not share them will continue and cause conflict.

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