I wrote this in 2017 after reading about buses in Jerusalem that were to be men only, or parts of buses that were to be men only.
What a tricky subject this is. The religious men in Jerusalem would have a fit if they saw the way some women in Britain dress on the street.
However, there are standards in Britain, too. So, in Britain it is illegal for a woman to walk down the street naked because she is likely to cause a breach of the peace contrary to the Justices of the Peace Act, 1361.
But if women walked about naked and no-one behaved other than they would if the women were not there, then no offence would be caused because no peace would be breached.
To look at it another way, there is no law that prohibits a woman walking down the street holding an apple in her hand. That is because experience has shown that this has no affect on people and so there is no peace that will be breached.
There are specific obscenity and indecency laws in Britain, but walking naked down the street is neither indecent nor obscene unless there is a deliberate sexual element to the behaviour. So the bottom line is that there are standards in Britain and there are places – such as on a public street – where it is permissible to ‘force’ a woman under threat of criminal prosecution, to ‘cover up’.
And obviously, societies vary in their moral attitudes and in their laws, and they also change over time. Women sit bare breasted on the beaches of San Tropez and the parks of Copenhagen today where they would not have been able to do so one hundred years ago. Women wore bouffant hair-dos and pencil skirts on the streets of Kabul in the 1980s and cannot do so now.
The rabbis say that women and men should be modest: They should not flirt and they should not lust after people that are forbidden to them. But for men in Jerusalem to establish a fence of propriety around themselves by forcing women to move away simply because they are women – properly dressed and of good standing – seems wrong.
Is it because of a fear of being tainted with a desire to flirt or lust? If so then the men should look to themselves. Is it because they fear the women will flirt? Either way it imputes onto these women traits that no-one should be suggesting that they have – that they would flirt or be responsive to lust with men that are forbidden to them.
I can’t help but picture the people in the time of Moses, and I don’t picture those men being terrified of a glimpse of stocking.