“Women walk down the street as though they are at the beach,” said Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim, a spokesman and leader for an umbrella group of ultra-Orthodox factions. “If in the past this was typical only of Tel Aviv, today it has reached Jerusalem as well. They encroach on our way of life, prompting our people to impose new restrictions, deepen separation and erect higher barriers to keep it away.”
The conflict is gaining intensity, he said, because of the rising influence and numbers of the haredi community, once a small, scattered minority that today numbers 1 million, about 15% of the population. The ultra-Orthodox live mostly in separate cities and neighborhoods where they have been free to practice their beliefs without interference. As their political power grows, they are demanding more accommodation for their way of life, Pappenheim said.
“We used to be a small minority fighting for survival,” he said. “Now we are a huge minority. As the saying goes, with food comes more appetite.”
He said the segregation was not intended to discriminate or oppress women but to “protect women’s honor and dignity.”
This is a general problem with highly religious subcultures which become prominent, and start to break out of their ghetto. The broader issue is that religious pluralism and tolerance are to some extent illusions born of the marginalization of some groups as the expense of others. The illusion is unmasked when the powerful and powerless invert positions.