Via Haaretz, a popular niche restaurant in Jerusalem is cutting back on its waitresses’ hours in order to placate its Haredi customers. This is the kind of thing that makes my blood boil, since anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the laws of kashrut knows that employing women as servers has absolutely nothing to do with a restaurant’s kosher status, and yet this is a growing trend that does not appear to be abating. What makes this even more galling is that a large group of this particular restaurant’s customers are Americans spending a post-high school year in Israel at various yeshivot, and this is the type of behavior that could potentially influence their thinking when they return home about whether such blatantly unnecessary gender segregation is appropriate. No doubt those who are critical of illiberal trends in Israel stemming from ultra-Orthodox influence (and I unquestionably fall squarely into this category of critics) view this type of nonsense as a bad harbinger of things to come.

On the other hand, does it actually matter in the greater scheme of things when considering the future of Israel? Alright, a bunch of Haredi owned establishments are going even more overboard than usual (my favorite most cringeworthy example is a pizza place called American Pizza with a picture of the World Trade Center on its facade because the Statue of Liberty is deemed spiritually problematic due to its association with unfettered freedom – http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/02/world/middleeast/02orthodox.html?pagewanted=all) but the Haredi community has always done its own thing. The risks of Haredim taking over all of Israel are remote at best, and the risk of Haredi customs and restrictions seeping over into the rest of Israeli society is even lower. So while reading about increasingly extreme Haredi behavior makes me crazy, I wonder if I and people who share my mindset make too big of a deal of it than is necessary. In a perfect world, Haredim would not behave this way toward women, but in looking at the big picture, does this actually hold any predictive value for the direction in which Israeli society at large is going when it comes to gender issues?

On a more positive note, the restaurant’s owner has resisted all entreaties to fire his Arab employee, which is a good thing and means that the pressure on gender issues is far tougher than the pressure on Palestinian issues. It also tells you something about Haredi priorities and why their inclusion in government coalitions may not need to be a fatal blow to ending settlement activity or negotiating a successful peace deal if the incentive structure can be managed deftly.

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