Haredi city council lays down law on modesty, gender separation

Modiin Illit municipality reportedly forbids male and female workers from traveling, eating or sitting together

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative: The ultra-Orthodox city Modi'in Illit (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative: The ultra-Orthodox city Modi'in Illit (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

An ultra-Orthodox municipality in central Israel has reportedly sent a modesty rule book to all of its employees that prohibits men and women from traveling together or sitting near one another at work, rules out informal greetings such as “hello” and “goodbye,” and bans joking together or discussing issues not directly related to work.

While the city council in Modiin Illit, located in the West Bank between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, said the document had been in circulation for years and was not binding, several employees reported that they had been asked to sign the agreement, the daily Haaretz reported Tuesday.

The prohibitions also apply to men and women eating together, communicating with one another after work hours — even on professional issues — and getting to know each other’s families. They specify that men and women should sit in separate offices or, if they have to meet, at separate tables spaced substantially apart.

In contravention of Supreme Court rulings against enforcing gender segregation on public buses, the document also mandated that men and women travel to and from work separately, and that if there is no alternative, women should sit in the back of the bus and men in the front, with no conversation between the two groups.

It called on managers to ensure that their workers were following the rules and on husbands to ensure that their wives were toeing the line.

The document — “Rules of Behavior in the Workplace” — began by warning that “serious obstacles” could result from men and women working together. It said that the rules formed the foundations of relations between men and women that were “clear” to all who were religiously observant.

It was distributed to workers in the same envelope as tax forms for 2018 with an instruction to sign it, Haaretz reported. Later on, the council reportedly changed its tune and announced that the document was merely intended to bring to the public’s attention rules that had been put together several years previously by senior ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

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