Mehadrin bus lines

Mehadrin bus lines
A Dan bus labeled “mehadrin” which served the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the city of Bnei Brak. Photo taken in January 2006

Mehadrin bus lines (Hebrew: קו מהדרין‎) are special bus lines in Israel which run in and between major Haredi population centers. Mehadrin lines are generally cheaper and provide a faster service between cities than other lines.[1] In early 2010, there were 56 Mehadrin buses in 28 cities across Israel operated by public transportation companies, although usually not specifically labelled.[2]

Mehadrin lines were created to cater for the Haredi public who wished to travel in accordance with their traditional rules on gender segregation. On Mehadrin (meaning "enhanced") buses, female passengers utilise the rear end of the bus, while males board and exit through the front doors.[3] Women are expected to be modestly dressed, the playing of the radio or secular music is avoided and only advertisements appropriate for the religious community are posted.[4]

In a ruling of January 2011, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled on the unlawfulness of such gender segregation on public transportation and abolished concept. It did however allow the continuation of the gender segregation on a strictly voluntary basis for a one-year experimental period.[5] Before the ruling, instances of female passengers being harassed and forced to sit at the back of the bus were reported.[6]



The so called “mehadrin” bus lines were created in the late 1990s for the Haredi public. It began with two lines in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak in 1997.[3] In fall 2001, Dan and Egged bus companies, in order to compete with private buses run by Haredim, had come to an agreement with the ultra-Orthodox Mehadrin Council.[7] In 2007 there were an estimated thirty “mehadrin” buses operated by public transportation companies,[8] in early 2010 the number had risen to more than fifty.[2]

“Mehadrin” buses were heavily criticized in the media worldwide after an American Jewish woman, Miriam Shear, reported being attacked and beaten by a group of ultra-Orthodox men, after refusing to move to the back of the bus on a non-segregated line. The bus driver contended there was no violence, but that he did see a crowd around Shear and stopped the bus to inform passengers that his line was not sex segregated. Another passenger, however, confirmed Shear's account.[9] Critics have likened the “mehadrin” lines to racial segregation in the United States, with Shear compared to African American icon Rosa Parks.[10] Two years before, in July 2004, American-Israeli novelist Naomi Ragen, after unintentionally boarding a “mehadrin” bus toward her home in Ramot, was insulted and physically threatened because she refused to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus.[11]

According to a survey condacted by the Smith Research Institute in Summer 2010 for the organization Hiddush, 70% of Jewish Israelis, male and female, support abolishing or reducing the gender segregated public bus lines. 40% support complete abolishment, 30% are in favor of reducing their number and 22% support continuing the arrangement as it was at the time of the survey. Only 8% supports further expanding gender separated transportation services. Among those supporting the abolition or reduction of gender segregated public bus lines are 75% of Likud voters, 76% of Yisrael Beytenu voters, and 88% of Kadima voters.[12] A Jerusalem Post online poll found that 76% of those who responded did not approve of segregated buses, 6% approved and 18% said that segregation should only exist in lines that operate in haredi neighborhoods.[2]

Petition and court ruling

In 2007 the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), an organization close to Israel′s Reform movement, together with several women who were harassed while traveling on gender segregated buses, including Shear and Ragen, both Orthodox Jewish women, submitted a petition, demanding the introduction of alternative lines without gender segregation, and requiring the authorities to ensure the safety of female passengers. The Ministry of Transportation replied that the gender segregation is a “voluntary arrangement” and that the ministry does not intend to intervene.[11]

In January 2008, the Supreme Court recommended that the Ministry of Transportation appoint a committee to examine the matter. In its report published in October 2009, the committee came to the conclusion that gender segregation in public buses is illegal and that arrangements in public transportation that include segregation, inherently entail a dimension of coercion. The committee’s main recommendation was to introduce a temporary arrangement on the bus lines that had imposed gender segregation, in which both the door in front and in the back would be opened at the bus stops, instead of just the door in front, as customary in Israel, giving women the possibility to use the back door and sit in the back, but that each passenger, male or female, could choose where to sit with no defined segregation, and no specific seating arrangement would be enforced.[3] Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, in an affidavit to the High Court, said in February 2010, that the state would not tolerate the use of threats and violence to enforce the separation. However, he suggested, that bus operators should be permitted to hang “behavior-directing” signs asking passengers to sit separately, but indicating that this is not mandatory.[13] According to the state, who was required to monitor these buses, there were no problems, but data collected by IRAC showed numerous cases of abuse, harassment, and even women being denied entrance to the bus.[14]

Sticker at top reads: “Every passenger may sit wherever he chooses (except seats designated for disabled persons), harassing a passenger in this regard may be a criminal offense.” (June 2011)

On January 6, 2011 the High Court of Israel ruled that gender segregation was illegal and ordered that signs designating buses as segregated were to be removed and new signs to be put up informing passengers that they had the right to sit wherever they wanted, and stressed that neither passengers nor the driver could pressure anyone into complying with a segregated seating arrangement. These were to be the conditions of a one year experiment to see whether a voluntary segregation system could function.[5] In his ruling, Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein wrote: “A public transportation company (like any other person) cannot say, ask or order women where to sit on a bus simply because they are women, nor what they should wear, and they are entitled to sit anywhere they wish. Of course, this also applies to the men, but for reasons that are obvious, the complaints have to do with the harmful behavior toward women.”[15] And he added: “As I now read over these lines emphasizing this I am astounded that there was even a need to write them in the year 2010. Have the days of Rosa Parks, the African American woman who collapsed the racist segregation on an Alabama bus in 1955 returned?”[16]

The Egged bus company was also ordered to publish ads about the cancellation of the “mehadrin” gender-separation arrangement in three daily publications, including at least one haredi newspaper. In February 2011, the Jerusalem Post reported that all haredi newspapers had refused to publish the ads. One of them even presented the High Court’s decision “as a victory, enshrining the arrangement”.[17]

Fearing that the court′s orders might not be properly enforced by the bus companies, IRAC has launched a year-long Rosa Parks-inspired Freedom Rider project. Foreign and local female volunteers will be assigned a bus route that has been considered “mehadrin” until the court′s ruling, and will sit in the front section of the buses which used to be reserved for men.[18]

In early June 2011, Haaretz reported that Egged allegedly violated the Supreme Court ruling. According to the report, a haredi magazine puplished an ad describing arrangements for gender segregation on Egged buses linking Ashdod and Jerusalem for the holiday of Shavuot. The ad announced separate buses for families and for men only, accompanied by a supervisor onboard. Egged called the announcement “a forgery which was done without the knowledge of Egged”, affirming that there is no “mehadrin” concept on their buses and that the company “operates only in line with Supreme Court instructions and allows every passenger to select his seat without gender discrimination.” If there were only men on a bus, it was “because there was no demand by women, and not because there were instructions from anyone which prevented the travel of women”, according to the bus company. The head of the Free Israel movement which fights segregated bus lines doubts this, and claims that “Egged and the Ministry of Transportation ... use any means, to cooperate with the Haredi politicians in order not to carry out the Supreme Court decision, and in essence maintain these bus lines which discriminate against women”.[15]


  1. ^ MobileReference (1 January 2007). Travel Israel for Smartphones and Mobile Devices - Illustrated Guide, Phrasebook, and Maps. MobileReference. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-60501-039-7. Retrieved 16 August 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c Friedman, Ron (February 2, 2010 07). "Transportation minister OKs ‘mehadrin’ buses". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  3. ^ a b c Shapira-Rosenberg, Ricky (November 2010). "Excluded, For God’s Sake: Gender Segregation in Public Space in Israel". Israel Religious Action Center,.,%20For%20God's%20Sake%20-%20Report%20on%20Gender%20Segregation%20in%20the%20Public%20Sphere%20in%20Israel.pdf. Retrieved 2011-03-08. 
  4. ^ Kahn, Betzalel (October 31, 2001). "Bus 402 from Bnei Brak to Jerusalem Launched". Dei'ah ve Dibur. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  5. ^ a b Izenberg, Dan; Mandel, Jonah (January 6, 2011). "Court scraps ‘mehadrin’ buses". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2011-03-08. 
  6. ^ "Egged launches 11 'mehadrin' bus lines". Jerusalem Post. December 1, 2006. Retrieved 2011-03-08. 
  7. ^ Ilan, Shahar (October 24, 2001). "Haredim may get gender-separated bus line". Haaretz. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  8. ^ Berman, Daphna (February 4, 2007). "Canadian woman beaten on Egged bus joins High Court petition". Haaretz. Retrieved 2011-03-08. 
  9. ^ Berman, Daphna (December 17, 2006). "Woman beaten on J'lem bus for refusing to move to rear seat". Haaretz. Retrieved 2011-03-08. 
  10. ^ Forman, David (January 21, 2007). "Destination: Montgomery, 1955". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2011-03-08. 
  11. ^ a b Yoaz, Yuval (January 14, 2008). "Court to hear petition against segregation of sexes on buses. Orthodox novelist Naomi Ragen says was bullied into giving up seat, state claims arrangement is voluntary". Haaretz. Retrieved 2011-03-09. 
  12. ^ Smith, Rafi; Paniel, Olga (September 17, 2010). "Israel Religion and State Index. Fall 2010". Smith Research Institute; Hiddush. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  13. ^ Friedman, Ron (February 12, 2010). "Segregate or suffer". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  14. ^ "IRAC – Fighting Gender Segregation on Public Buses". IRAC. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  15. ^ a b Ettinger, Yair (June 21, 2011). "Israeli bus company advocates segregated seats despite court ruling". Haaretz. Retrieved 2011-07-19. 
  16. ^ Ettinger, Yair (January 6, 2011). "High Court: Gender segregation legal on Israeli buses - but only with passenger consent". Haaretz. Retrieved 2011-03-09. 
  17. ^ Friedman, Ron (February 10, 2011). "Egged faces contempt charges over haredi newspaper ads". Retrieved 2011-07-19. 
  18. ^ Chabin, Michele (January 11, 2011). "Sitting At The Front Of The Bus". The Jewish Week. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 

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