Reuters had a rare pro-Israel article last week about how Israelis were mystified by the French "burqini" ban:
In Israel, there may be profound ideological and political differences between the Jewish population and the near 20-percent Muslim minority, but it has never come down to banning someone's dress on the basis of religion.Reuters wasn't the only one to notice, and may have gotten the idea from this Dutch TV report earlier in the week:
"It is very funny that people think they are so liberal and open and yet they cannot stand other religions and the feelings of other people," said Ruti Solomon, an Israeli Jewish woman enjoying the sunshine on the beach in Tel Aviv.
Behind her, Muslim women with their bodies and heads fully covered in burkini-like clothing played in the water or relaxed on the sand, with the church spires and mosque minarets of the town of Jaffa in the near distance.
"I've heard what's happening in Europe," said Shams al-Duha Alayyan, a fully-covered young Muslim woman visiting the coast from Jerusalem. "This is personal freedom. If I want to cover my body, why can't I cover my body?"
I recently noted fully covered Muslim women on the beach in Bat Yam showering off their sand right next to Jews doing the same.
But there is another aspect of daily life in Israel that is far more liberal than other leaders of Western liberal culture.
Most places we visited in Israel, especially restaurants, had unisex bathrooms.
Coming right after the LGBT bathroom controversy in the US, I found this fascinating.
The stalls were mini-rooms, with floor to ceiling doors. The sinks were used by both men and women.
And no one batted an eye.
Doesn't this make more sense? It saves space, and any clothing adjustments can be done in private. And who cares if someone of another gender - or transsexual - is washing their hands next to you?
In fact, the idea of mini-bathrooms was floated by Rabbi Michael Broyde and Amy Katz in an article in the Jewish Week a couple of months ago, without referring to the fact that this is already largely done in Israel:
Why are we Americans suddenly so concerned about transgender bathroom usage when there was never an uproar about intersex bathroom usage?The restroom is another place where the supposedly bigoted and human-rights scorning Israelis are more liberal than the countries that their critics come from.
The proper solution to the transgender bathroom issue obviates the need for any in-depth assessment of gender status and identity, which is both hard to do and very individualized. While the particulars of one’s anatomy can be important in Jewish law, for example with respect to marriage, they are of no concern when considering bathroom usage. The solution is much simpler.
The solution is to change our bathrooms rather than our ethics. Regardless of the side of the moral argument on which one falls, a better bathroom solves the problems. Unisex mini-bathrooms would address not only the issue of transgender bathroom usage, but also of privacy and modesty concerns generally.
Houses have unisex bathrooms. The airplane on which the first draft of this paper was written has unisex bathrooms, and so do many other places. Unisex mini-bathrooms are more consistent with our Jewish values than the familiar, gendered, semi-private, communal model. Private unisex bathrooms are more modest in every way than communal facilities, which at best are only semi-private and which many find uncomfortable and immodest.
In this model, the bathroom area of any public place would contain many small, self-contained, fully enclosed rooms, like those in a private residence or on an airplane (hopefully larger than the latter), each with a toilet. Every person would have a private unisex mini-bathroom. There would be no collective men’s or women’s room.
Finally, it is worth reading this Times of Israel blog post about an (accidental) unisex bathroom in the Old City:
In the heart of the Jewish Quarter I stumbled across a unisex bathroom.The religious Jew in the Jewish Quarter was more accommodating a secular woman in the bathroom than most Americans would be towards running into someone of a different gender in theirs.
Yes, you read correctly, a unisex bathroom, where a secular woman could dwell peacefully in the stall while haredi men peed blissfully and openly into a nearby urinal. And together, the children of Israel, male and female, haredi and secular, Israeli and tourist were able, if not to break bread together, at least wash hands together without incident.
Has the messiah arrived – or has the Jerusalem municipality messed up so badly as to offend everyone equally, denying them all of their privacy and dignity?
Apparently the women’s room was inoperative that day, and who knows for how many other days, but from the undaunted looks of those who went in, the Israeli unisex toilet experience is not so uncommon. The haredi guy at the urinal didn’t flinch even a little bit when a woman passed behind him, nor did she, a secular tourist, whose smirk quickly melted when she saw that the last person to use her stall hadn’t put the seat down.
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