Sunday, February 22, 2009

Strongarming Badly

Some may have seen pieces on this before, but Eliezer StrongBad sent this one over, and a couple parts of it are very interesting. Essentially, there are stones being thrown at Egged buses for complaining about unlicensed private buses running in place of Egged within the public transportation network that are "mehadrin". While this is bad enough, the arguments and methods being used in forming and maintaining these buses are absolutely mind-boggling: [emphasis added]
Rabbis consulted and agreed that the cost of running these bus lines will be shouldered by some 1,000 newly-wed yeshiva students, each of whom would donate $100. Thus far, half the necessary funds have been collected.

Posters hung throughout the city called out to the haredi public on the issue: "The Egged Company systematically tramples the soul of the haredi public and destroys its holiness by coercing mixed licentious travel on a daily basis. Every rabbinical or entrepreneurial attempt at dialogue with them has been consistently rejected by them… The licentious travel of the Egged Company is enemy No. 1 to Judaism."

Menachem Konig, one of the Va'ad Mehadrin entrepreneurs, said to Ynet, "Everyone knows that the haredi community is very strict about separation (between men and women), and the only place where anti-religious coercion is commonplace is on buses. The crowdedness there doesn't exist in any other place – some 100 people in 27 square yards. Men and women are squished together like sardines."

Konig emphasized that he does not expect Egged to have a separation between the sexes on their buses, but simply to allow women who wish to sit separately to get on using the back door.
This is incredibly confusing. If there's no separate seating, why would you want the women to be able to get on through the back? Either Egged has to then have another hole puncher in back, or the woman has to come through the front anyway - and for what? For the woman to sit mixed? It seems disingenuous, and that the true intention is to slowly force separation even on non-mehadrin lines. If mehadrin lines were economically viable, Egged would probably have no problem creating them or the private buses would do just fine after getting licensing. That this has not happened suggests they are not particularly viable.

Next, there's the claim of "coercion". This is what is generally referred to as "insane" or "out of touch with reality". Nobody forces Charedim to use Egged, and it's laughable to suggest that not having mehadrin buses is somehow anti-religious coercion. Beyond that, the idea that Egged is the #1 threat to Judaism is incredible; that people can write such a thing shows just how out of touch with reality that segment of the population is.

Finally, and perhaps most troubling, is how the money for the alternative line is being raised. $100 (about 4oo NIS) is quite a burden to bear - and it's being dumped primarily on newly married couples? What is the logic for that? It smacks of desperation to find a new segment of society to help support yet another outrageous chumrah [stringency] that is a burden on the population.

Eliezer said his mother and grandmother made a point many others have made, contrasting Rabbonim of yesteryear to Rabbonim of today: Traditionally, our gedolim [religious leaders] would exert themselves to alleviate the burdens of the community - the common example being if a poor woman came with a shaila [Halachic question] about her chicken, he would bend over backwards to find a kulla [leniency] to mattir [allow] it. Now, these poor kollel families in israel are forced to pay almost double for mehadrin chickens in supermarkets, not to mention the fact that they require greater volume because they are now encouraged to have large families. It is almost like the bailout in how it subsidizes fiscal irresponsibility with tzedakah [charity].

To now add yet another $100 expense is quite hurtful - that is about 4 months' worth of bus travel within Jerusalem on all Egged lines, just to start a single line that does not sound as if it is running for free. It does not seem like those 1,000 couples are receiving anything for their "donation" to this cause. The money is being used to fund a line that if unsuccessful, will have been a waste; and if successful, it is doubtful that those 1,000 couples would be receiving a share. It's a fleecing of the Charedi public, and for what?

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