By Michele Chabin
Religion News Service
JERUSALEM (RNS) Ultra-Orthodox leaders on Tuesday (Sept. 28) removed barriers separating men and women from a Jerusalem street after Israel's High Court of Justice ruled that the tall screens were illegal.
Representatives of the Eda Haredit, an ultra-Orthodox organization that enforces modesty, erected the barriers in the religious neighborhood of Meah Sha'arim at the start of the Sukkot holiday to ensure that men and women could not touch or mingle.
On Monday, the ELLA-Israel Feminist Group and two members of the Jerusalem City Council petitioned the court to remove the barriers and the guards who were hired to enforce gender separation.
In its ruling, the court acknowledged that the screens used to separate the genders were used only along a 45-foot-long area near a crowded synagogue, and used only late at night during crowded holiday period, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Nevertheless, the court said barriers cannot be erected on a public street.
The court's decision comes against the backdrop of escalating tensions between Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox leadership and non-Orthodox residents, who say hard-line conservatives are trying to impose ultra-stringent religious standards on the public at large.
Feminist and civil rights groups are already waging a legal battle over several public bus lines that require women to sit in the back part of the bus.
One of the petitioners against the barriers, City Councilwoman Rachel Azaria, said the court's decision was a victory for women's rights in a city that has taken on an increasingly religious character in recent years.
"Any such separation is illegal," Azaria told Ynet News, "which means that all sorts of unspoken agreements made with the (ultra-Orthodox) community will not happen again."
Azaria called her petition "another stage in the struggle to ensure that public space in Israel is open to men and women alike, just like the struggle against separation on buses."