Archive for January, 2012

Segregation of Women on Buses

Not in Bet Shemesh, Mea Shearim or Bnei Brak

Some 30 years ago when I entered the business world, I lived with my family in Rockland County, which has the Orthodox Monsey neighborhood and the Hassidic New Square neighborhood. I found work in Manhattan and this warranted a commute of about 2 hours. I found out about transportation options and there was a charter bus company from Monsey to midtown Manhattan. This option was a boon. I drove about 15 minutes to the bus stop in Monsey, where there was a lot with ample parking. The bus had a very efficient route through Monsey and then got onto the highway straight to the city.

First, the bus was ordinary. A married couple could sit together, individuals could sit next to same sex passengers and/or their family members.

The venture was successful and became very popular among commuters and like many successful businesses, competition was soon born. The competitive company installed a curtain down the length of the aisle to separate the right from the left for modesty’s sake and to segregate between the sexes.

Please keep in mind that all this began as a lark but the passengers ignorantly accepted this new reality and even began weaving tales, legends and myths around it. Suddenly, this baseless practice was crowned halachically correct (according to Jewish law) and modest.

Women were made to sit on one side and the men on the other. If the men wanted more room, they could hook up the tail end of the curtain across the backs of one row of seats thereby shortening the women’s section. The men often did this to spread out.

The photo is unrelated to the story
and is only for illustrative purposes.

The other company, owned by continued to operate as usual, with no curtains separating the rows of seats. In time, the company was losing money as more and more, like passive sheep, chose to ride the buses with the partitions. The family that owned the company turned to the rabbi of New Square and sought his sage advice. The rabbi advised them to install curtains as partitions along the aisles of their buses.  So they did and saw that it was good!  Shortly thereafter the revenues increased.

Please remember the author who sat on the women’s side, twice every day for two hours.  What could be better than to spread out a bit?  In time, riding those buses became intolerable.  The men began the practice of standing and praying while riding – they brought a Torah scroll and would also light a candle on Mondays and Thursdays, the days on which the Torah is read during the morning prayers.

Oftentimes the buttocks of the men swaying in prayer would be level with the women’s faces.  When the men wanted more room to spread out, they would pick up the curtain and tell the women to move up and double up and sit next to one another – this was allowed, you understand?  Many times, the men would pass gas at the level of the women’s faces and if the bus was riding at high speed, they would lose balance they would lean backwards, even if they landed on the women.

The author was equipped with a large umbrella and attache case, with which she would poke them in places they would not soon forget.  The author would also, many times, poke the offending man with her shoulder.

All this was about 30 years ago.  The fights that broke out were animated and heated.  It was chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d) and sinat chinam (baseless hatred) – a shame and a disgrace.

In visits to Monsey in recent years I had opportunity to travel those buses.  There were no partitions and people sat where they wanted, without fighting.  No doubt, at some point the authorities intervened and I expect the company stood to lose its licenses and permits and, of course, its income.

Although I have lived on my own most of my life and am a certified educational coordinator for equality between the sexes, I’m well aware of differences between the sexes.  I’m also aware of different roles for men and women in Judaism but a partition on a bus is not based on any Jewish law and nowhere is it written that such a thing is necessary.  I have no problem with segregation of the sexes in a synagogue but a partition that is contaminated, filthy and malodorous that is hung along the length of the bus, which prevents parents from finding their children and properly watching over them during the ride, is not justified, not wise, not based on anything in Judaism and even dangerous.

Segregation of women, like taking a mitzvah to a higher level, is meant to elevate the soul and not the opposite.

© 2012 כל הזכויות שמורות לאורית פרסר-היזמי

 

הדרת נשים באוטובוס

לא בית שמש ולא בני ברק

לפני שנים רבות גרתי בניו יורק שבארה”ב באחוזה בשם רוקלנד המכילה, בין היתר, את השכונה הדתית מונסי והשכונה החסידית ניו סקוור (New Square).  בתקופה שעבדתי בעיר מנהטן, הייתי נוהגת למונסי ועולה על אוטובוס צ’רטר שהיה בבעלות חסידי ניו סקוור, שמסלולו עבר בכל מונסי ואז יצא לכביש המהיר העירה.

בהתחלה האוטובוס היה רגיל. זוג נשוי יכלו לשבת יחד ובודדים ישבו ליד בני מיניהם או בני משפחותיהם.  האוטובוס היה דבר ענק כי בתחנה בה עליתי היה מגרש חניה, המסלול היה קצר ולעניין והאוטובוס הגיע ללב מנהטן והמחיר היה סביר ביותר.

כדרכם של חברות מצליחות, לחברה הייתה חברה מתחרה.  החברה המתחרה תלתה וילון לאורך המעבר בין הכסאות לשם צניעות והדרת נשים.

זכרו שהסיפור בכלל התחיל מטעמי תחרות נטו ואף כמעשה קונדס, אבל האנשים הבורים נסעו בתנאים החדשים ובמקום לראות שמשהו לא בסדר בווילון הזה שגם הווה סכנת בטיחות באוטובוס, קיבלו את זה כמו צאן שקט ותמים.  אחרי זמן החלו אגדות ומעשיות שזה הנכון מבחינה הלכתית ושזאת הדרת נשים ושזה מאפשר תפילה בזמן נסיעה למי שלא הספיק מניין בבית כנסת.  סיפורי סבתא נולדו מידי יום והאנשים הטובים התרגלו ואף הצדיקו את הדבר האבסורדי הזה.

לא עבר הרבה מדי זמן וחסידי ניו סקוור שהיו הבעלים של חברת האוטובוס ללא מחיצה פנו לרב כי החברה עמדה בהפסדים.  הרב פסק למשפחה להתקין וילון גם באוטובוסים שלהם.  כך עשו וייראו כי טוב!  יותר אנשים נסעו בקווים שלהם והחברה התאוששה והחלה להניב תשואה גדולה יותר.

Monroe Bus

התמונה לצורך הדגמה בלבד ואין שום קשר לכתבה

זכרו בבקשה את המחברת שישבה בצד של הנשים ושהנסיעה היית בת שעתיים בערך כך שהכי כיף היה להתרווח.  עם הזמן המצב באוטובוס היה בלתי נסבל.  הגברים נהגו לעמוד תוך כדי נסיעה לתפילה – הם הביאו ספר תורה והיו גם מדליקים נר בימי שני וחמישי כשקוראים ועולים לתורה.

לעיתים רבות הישבנים של הגברים המתנדנדים תוך כדי תפילה היו בגובה הפנים של הנשים היושבות. כשהגברים רצו להתרווח, הם היו מסתכלים על הצד של הנשים ואומרים לנשים להצתופף ולשבת יחד, אחת ליד השניה, על מנת שלהם יהיה יותר מקום.  לא פעם השתחררו גזים בגובה הפרצופים וכשהאוטובוס נסע מהר והגברים אבדו שיווי משקל, הם היו נשענים לאחור, גם אם זה היה נופל על כתף של איזו אישה.

המחברת הצתיידה במטריה גדולה ובתיק  עבודה והיית תוקעת להם במקומות שהם לא שכחו כל כך מהר והם היו מיד עומדים.  המחברת גם היית לא פעם ולא פעמיים תוקעת להם מרפקים בשיא המרץ.

כל זה היה עוד לפני כ-30 שנים.  המריבות שהיו מתרחשוב בקווים ההם היו ססגוניות ולוהטות.  חילול ה’ ושנאת חינם -בושה וחרפה.

בשנים האחרונות בביקורים שלי למונסי שבניו יורק, נסעתי באוטובוסים ולא הייתה מחיצה ואנשים ישבו איפה שרצו בלי מריבות.  ללא ספק, התערבו הרשויות השונות ואני סבורה שהחברה עמדה לאבד את כל הרישיונות שלה וכמו כן את פרנסתה.

אף על פי שרוב חיי אני חיה בגפי ושיש לי הכשרה כרכזת חינוכית לשיוויון בין המינים מטעם משרד החינוך בישראל, אני מודעת להבדלים בין נשים וגברים.  אני גם מודעת להפרדת תפקידים בין גברים לנשים ביהדות אבל מחיצה באוטובוס לא מבוססת על שום הלכה ולא כתוב בשום מקום שצריך דבר כזה.  אין לי שום בעיה עם הפרדת נשים וגברים בבית כנסת אבל מחיצה בסגנון בד מזוהם, מטונף ומסריח שתלוי לאורך אוטובוס שמונע מהורים למצוא את ילדיהם ולהשגיח עליהם בצורה נורמלית בזמן נסיעה, לא מוצדק, לא חכם , לא מבוסס על שום דבר ביהדות ואף מסוכן.

הדרת הנשים כמו הידור מצווה, אמור להעלות את הנשמה ואת הרמה ולא להיפך.

© 2011 All Rights Reserved Orit Presser-Hizme

The Evil Eye (Ayin Hara)

The Evil Eye.  I just say the words and images of ululation and palms of hands with fingers spread wide and hissing  “Hamsa! Hamsa!” come to mind.  Add to that some spitting “tfu! tfu! tfu!” and the picture is almost complete.  I hear shchuuuuuur (in Hebrew, black magic spells) with a drawn out vowel and more dark, ominous figures of various sorts with bulging pairs of eyes and raised brows, of course.   Not for nothing arise associations of an ancient, old world society – uneducated, illiterate, complete with an old witch bearing a prominent wart and missing, rotten teeth.

 

Where does the Evil Eye come from?

 

Although indeed, the evil eye is mentioned in the Bible, it is acceptable in Jewish tradition gains power and momentum as long as people believe in it and when we do not believe in the evil eye, it becomes weak, insignificant and whittles down to nothing.  On the other hand, ancient Greece brought forth the concept of the evil eye and thus the same notion of the evil eye spread, like wildfire, throughout the Mediterranean and reached Europe.  As a culture, the subject of the evil eye seeped into Islam and also Judaism.

 

Is there Ayin Hara (Evil Eye) in Modern Times?

 

Due to the fact that every generation thinks it rediscovered all kinds of things, in the modern age we don’t hear so much about the evil eye – there are euphemisms borrowed from other cultures, idol worshipping cultures.  We live in an era where everything is programmed, applicable and can be understood – is it so?

In the same way that Uri Geller has energy that bends spoons, etc., the evil eye is intangible, cannot be photographed, nor can it be measured in a laboratory.  If so, then how can the evil eye exist?  How many people hear from time to time “kennahorah,” “Ben Porat Yosef” (the same meaning as kennahorah in the Sefardic culture); how many times do we see hand gestures or people knocking on wood – today they knock on glass and metal, too.  The custom of touching wood or knocking on wood is Christian in origin because of their belief that touching the cross that was made of wood would ward off the evil eye.  Today we hear more terms like negative energies, etc.

 

The Evil Eye in Judaism

 

Judaism teaches that the evil eye is created when one person sees something that his/her soul years for and cannot attain and the soul cries out for this and shouts to the heavens and then an angel is created that comes and takes the coveted object from the one who has it, in order to balance the equation, since for one reason or another, it is not possible to give this to the one who wants it and covets.

The Maharal of Prague, zt”l of Blessed Memory, a genius and kabbalist, wrote in his book, Netivot Olam – chapter 3 and also in another book, Derech Chaim

“We know that the evil eye has a personal burning power and a person is harmed by that which has personal burning power, for the evil eye burns like the fire that it burns.

The person who possesses the energy of the evil eye uses more force from his soul, until he burns everything with his eye and this is a great mental exertion, much more than it should be, and in doing so it comes out the other side, that a person was not created only in a balance of body and soul and what he puts on the edge sticks to him without any explanation.”[1]

 

The Maharal tells us, in essence, that a person has different and strange powers, both in body and soul.  As in our five senses, from person to person it is different, just like sight, hearing, speech, etc.  One person has particular senses that are more developed and keener and another person has less.  Like a person who has large, more developed muscles, there are people who have a heightened sense and power of the evil eye – they possess negative energies and can project them to the environment.  A high spiritual level is like any inborn talent that can be developed and a person can use it for good and for bad.

“Ethics of our Fathers” of the Mishnah, chapter 2, tractate 11, says:  “Rabi Yehoshua says the evil eye and the evil inclination and baseless hatred for creation take a person from this world.”[2]  Likewise, there are also commentaries by Rashi and proverbs that speak of the evil eye.

Real Life Stories about the Ayin Hara (Evil Eye)

 

My mother, of Blessed Memory, told me that when I was a very small child of under two years of age, she sat with friends while I drank milk from a bottle.  One of her friends said “Oh, look at how nicely she is drinking from the bottle!”  Suddenly, I threw the bottle to the floor and began crying and screaming.  In a moment I was burning up with fever.

A friend once told me that when she was a baby she fell very ill and lay listless, with a very high fever.  No matter what they gave her or did for her, the fever would not come down and she lay in bed without moving.  Her mother spoke with some neighbor, who told her the baby has an evil eye and to take a knife and place it under the baby’s mattress.  Without question, the mother took the big kitchen knife and placed it under the crib mattress.  The baby arose the following morning bright, cheerful and healthy, as though nothing had happened.

I remember that when my brother was a baby, my mother taught us that people put a hamsa as an amulet on the infant’s undershirt, with a diaper pin to protect the newborn against the evil eye, of course.  Imagine this teeny newborn wearing a huge diaper pin – the ones with the thick safety closures – remember those?

When my son was born, my mother who was then a brand new grandmother, came to put the diaper pin with the hamsa.  My husband almost had apoplexy – I thought I would have to call him an ambulance!  He absolutely refused to put the pin on our son’s clothing, arguing sensibly that it could open up and stick him.  We reached a compromise and attached the pin behind the crib pillow.

When I got married, people told me that to protect the bride from the evil eye, they would sew a few stitches with red thread to her undergarment and my mother, may she rest in peace, did the same.  Allow me to say that it didn’t really help but so be it.

I have heard stories about children with bumps on their foreheads and the adults remark breathlessly – “What!  The child has a mark on his forehead that looks exactly like an eye!

 

Removal of the Evil Eye

 

What haven’t people done to get rid of the evil eye?  In Jerusalem especially, many a child was taken to the neighborhood witch who was strongly recommended, who in order to remove the evil eye burned some powder, sulfur or lead and mumbled and made all kinds of gestures over the child’s head.  There were people who in order to remove the evil eye took urine – yes, you read that right – urine and rubbed it on the eye shaped bruise.  There are many more customs that derived from superstition and folklore that most people today do not even know from where they originated, all for the purpose of removing the mal occhio (evil eye).

There is the red string (a.k.a. kabbalah thread) that is purportedly from the Tomb of Rachel and also the blue eye, a hamsa with a chai, etc.  There are kameas (talismans) of this or that Babba and also of various ultra-orthodox Hassidic sects.  People are afraid and look to grasp onto physical symbols.  Of course there are prayers and psalms for protection and ridding the evil eye.

I believe people fight on the level of the problem.  That is, if the problem is spiritual then they fight on a spiritual level with prayer, psalms and good deeds.  A good mystic can also be a messenger who offers guidance and direction.  There are also legitimate seers who can guide people how to get rid of the evil eye, etc.

In any path you choose, I wish you much success!


[1] Author’s translation of text presented in:  http://youtu.be/yIesFtPMTK8

[2] Ibid.

A Rose is a Rose – My Best Friend Rose Has Stories Like No Other!

Before I tell you this story, allow me to simply say that with a friend like Rose, I don’t have to make up stories.  After too many months of not speaking, Rose, who was my neighbor more than twenty years ago in the rent stabilized, six-story brownstone where we both rented apartments, near Brooklyn College, we finally had a nice, unhurried conversation yesterday.  Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway) Rose and I became close friends until this very day; she once visited me in Jerusalem during a trip here years ago and I visited her in her apartment and outings on my trips to New York.

Catching Up on Old Times

We caught up on family business, personal business and health business.  Our families include spouses, children, grandchildren and pets.  At the close of our long heart to heart, Rose suddenly asked whether I remember her daughter, Michelle’s, dog – a Teacup Pomeranian.  Of course I did.  Well, the dog “almost died.”

The picture is only for illustration
It is totally unrelated to the story

Near Death Experience

As friends will often exaggerate, I waited to hear the story of Pom Pom’s near-death experience.  One morning, Pom Pom woke up with tremors and other strange symptoms.  Some time later, Pom Pom lost consciousness.  Michelle took Pom Pom to the vet.  The vet examined Pom Pom and said that in this breed, there is a blood vessel that goes from the liver to the brain, which disconnects at birth.  Pom Pom’s blood vessel did not disconnect and so it carries toxins from the liver to the brain.  This could have been operated at birth but since it wasn’t, Pom Pom would remain in a non-living, non-death state unless the family would come to a decision.  They all decided that they would have to put Pom Pom down and everyone stayed home; no school or work for anyone in the household.

Michelle’s eldest called their rabbi and asked whether she is allowed to read tehillim (psalms) for the dog’s health.  The rabbi told her that she is allowed to pray for the dog’s health and recovery [note:  awesome rabbi].

Burial in the Yard

The family inquired whether it was legal to bury a pet in one’s yard, thinking it might be against the law.  As it turned out, it was legal and they were planning a burial after putting Pom Pom to sleep.

Get a Second Opinion

Crying miserably, they decided to talk to another vet.

Vet #2 examined the unconscious, comatose dog and gave it medicine.  The dog woke up!  Super Vet (everyone’s hero, come on, admit it) prescribed medication and said what Pom Pom had was a seizure and would need medication everyday for the rest of its life.

Today, Pom Pom walks and jumps but needs to be re-socialized.

 

Like I said, with my friend Rose, I do not have to make up stories!

 

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