Following a complaint lodged on Wednesday by Labor MK Stav Shaffir, the Rabbinical Courts Administration ordered the removal of signs at the Ashdod Rabbinical Court stating that bomb shelters were for men only.
“The thought that women who sought a secure refuge from rocket fire and encountered a closed door just because they were women is unthinkable,” Shaffir stated in a press release issued today.
Shaffir addressed her complaint to Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, demanding they ensure that gender segregation not be practiced with regard to bomb shelters and secure rooms anywhere in the country.
According to reports in the Hebrew media, the Rabbinical Courts Administration responded quickly and ordered the signs’ removal. It blamed the signs on “the private actions of an employee without the knowledge of the management,” and said it would take disciplinary steps against those involved.
“In practice, gender segregation was not implemented, nor will it be implemented when [it comes to] entering bomb shelters,” the administration claimed.
The signs at the Ashdod Rabbinical Court came to Shaffir’s attention thanks to Sefi Shalem, a volunteer in her office who had been visiting the building.
“There was a sign showing the direction to the protected area, and below that sign there was another indicating that it was for men only,” Shalem reported. “As well, there was a sign at the entrance to the secure area itself stating that entry was restricted to males.”
According to Shalem, the women’s secure area did not appear to be reinforced in any way. It was located among the regular courtrooms and its door was locked by a code. “It didn’t look like a regulation protected area at all,” he said.
“There are all kinds of gender segregation and discrimination in Israel, but this example is particularly jarring because of the immediacy of a life or death situation,” said Orthodox feminist scholar Elana Maryles Sztokman, author of the upcoming book, “The War on Women in Israel.”
“There is no way to argue that this is part of our culture. How can it be okay to expose women to falling rockets?” she said.
Shaffir agreed that modesty concerns could not be allowed to trump the obligation to save a life.
“Everyone has the right to uphold his or her beliefs and customs, but not if it comes at the expense of the personal safety of others,” she said. “Discrimination against women is improper in all cases, but when it prevents them from protecting themselves, it is more than just improper, it’s also dangerous.”
This is not the first time that there have been reports of women being shut out of bomb shelters. According to Sztokman, the segregation of shelters is just a single example of efforts to make totally women-free spaces in Israel.
“I and others are trying to keep track of these occurrences, but it is impossible to know of them all. You need eyes and ears all over and a willingness to record these things,” she said. “Incidences only get reported when people are really outraged”
Sztokman, who credits the Rabbinical Courts Administration for its quick and unequivocal response, is waiting to see if this latest incident will provoke widespread public outrage.
“The fact that a bureaucrat likely put the sign up without thought shows just how desensitized people have become and how ubiquitous gender segregation here is,” she said. “It’s so commonplace it scares me.”