Thursday, June 19, 2008

An ethical question from my trip to Israel

Last post I talked about some of my experiences on my trip to Israel. This post I'd like to address an ethical issue that came up during my trip.

Last Saturday night a friend of mine and her friend came across a group of charedi (ultra-orthodox) Jews dancing and singing about the coming of the messiah. This was occurring on Ben Yehuda street, an area where there is a lot of nighttime activity (there are open cafes and bars and all sorts of out-door events. Very nice atmosphere). Around the charedim were many people watching or chatting. Apparently a fair number of people joined the charedim. Now, here's where things get interesting: the group of people dancing were exclusively male. (Most orthodox Jews don't think men and women should dance together and the charedim really don't like it at all). The two people in question are female and decided to attempt to join in as a "feminist protest". This caused a fair bit of disruption.

Now the ethical question: was their intervention? I initially argued that this was unethical and was close to sexual harassment. The two arguments have heard in the other direction are: 1. The charedim were dancing in a public location. 2. This isn't substantially different behavior from Rosa Parks protesting segregated busing by sitting in the white section of the bus.

So what do people think about this? Ethical or unethical?


Naftali said...

It's not like Rosa parks and not discriminatory. They could dance in a different but equally attractive location, as opposed to Rosa parks who had to sit in a less attractive location.
They were sexually harassing the Chareidim, no question about it. the Chareidim considered it a sexual act, and were made uncomfortable by it.
I think this isn't much of a question; if you remove bias (such as: men are the only ones who sexually harass; modesty laws were created to degrade women, rather than to separate BOTH sexes, and possibly protect women [though the concept of women needing protection isn't too popular among the feminists]; and the fact that the perpetrators were your friends) it's an open-and-shut case.

treehouses said...

The protest is unethical if it is done purposefully to hurt the other party's feelings. In that case, it is not even a protest, it's bullying. If your friends were honestly standing up for themselves, then the charedi dancing is fair game for protest. The protest may be seen as a rude interruption, but that's just how protests work.

larryniven said...

Oho! Now I'm interested. naftali, would you equally say of Muslim women who walk in public spaces without head coverings that they're guilty of sexual harassment (or, if you prefer, religious harassment)? How about the revealing of a piano's legs (yes, this was considered an inappropriate sexual state at one point in history)? I don't think that feelings of discomfort and of sexuality are sufficient to establish harassment - people can misinterpret and get offended by any act. Are these people getting special treatment because of their religion (or because they have religion)? Because you think so-called "modesty laws" are morally appropriate? Is it, as treehouses suggests, the intentions of the women? In other words, what's the other contributing factor to this besides their mere feelings?