Ultra-Orthodox Jews tear down ‘bat mitzvah’ ads in Jerusalem

Buses carrying ‘Women of the Wall’ advertisements are vandalized and attacked; until earlier this year the Egged bus company refused to run ads featuring photos of women in Jerusalem.

Unlike the majority of Jewish communities in western countries, most girls in Israel do not usually have bat mitzvah ceremonies. A new Jerusalem campaign promoting the right of girls to have the ceremonies at the Western Wall has been met with violence by ultra-Orthodox elements in the city.

Busses carrying the advertisements, paid for by Women of the Wall, have been vandalized and the posters themselves ripped off of public buses. Half of the ads were vandalized, according to the Egged public bus company’s advertising agency.

The posters, which carry Hebrew text saying, “Mom, I want a bat mitzvah at the motel, too,” also feature photos of a bat mitzvah-aged girl and her mother.

A damaged 'Women of the Wall' ad on an Egged bus in Jerusalem, October 21, 2014. (Courtesy of Women of the Wall)
A damaged ‘Women of the Wall’ ad on an Egged bus in Jerusalem, October 21, 2014. (Courtesy of Women of the Wall)

Police reportedly had to extricate a bus carrying the ad that was attacked by ultra-Orthodox protesters in Jerusalem in recent days.

The marginalization of women in public spaces

At issue is more than just the idea of young women partaking in bat mitzvah ceremonies. Placing images of any women on public advertisements has been a point of serious contention in Jerusalem for years, part of a larger public struggle against pressure from ultra-Orthodox Israelis to marginalize women in public spaces.

For years, Egged, Israel’s most prominent public bus company, had refused to carry advertisements that featured images of women on bus lines in cities with large ultra-orthodox populations like Jerusalem. Ultra-Orthodox communities claim that just displaying photos of women is “indecent.”

Only half a year ago did the company agree — as part of a high-profile court settlement — to begin accepting advertisements featuring women. The settlement was only possible because the state agreed to cover physical damage to Egged’s buses caused by vandalism related to ads featuring women.

Two years earlier, the bus company decided to stop running advertisements featuring any people, men or women, in order to avoid being accused of discrimination while appeasing the ultra-Orthodox community.

Responding to the latest violence and vandalism, Women of the Wall leader Lesley Sachs said, “It is sad to yet again see the ultra-Orthodox citizens take the law into their own hands and use Judaism as an excuse for the use of force, threat and violence against women. We call on ultra-Orthodox leadership to strongly denounce this act of violence and all others.”

One of the young women featured on Women of the Wall’s current ad campaign plans to hold her bat mitzvah at the Western Wall Plaza this coming Friday. Police, however, have many times in the past prevented Women of the Wall from bringing their Torah scroll into the plaza.

The group and other non-Orthodox streams of Judaism negotiated a deal with the Israeli government to build an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall Plaza, although the plan has yet to be fully realized.

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