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Brooklyn Bus Blues

Woman told to sit at back of Orthodox-friendly bus

Stephanie Butnick
October 19, 2011
(Adam E. Moreira/Wikimedia Commons)
(Adam E. Moreira/Wikimedia Commons)

It looks like Brooklyn’s B110 bus has some explaining to do. Last week, Melissa Franchy rode the bus at the request of Columbia Journalism publication the New York World, and was quickly told she had to move to the back as more passengers boarded. This bus, which is mainly used by Orthodox travelers, enforces gender segregation by requiring women to sit at the back. The New York World reports:

They were Orthodox Jews with full beards, sidecurls and long black coats, who told her that she was riding a “private bus” and a “Jewish bus.” When she asked why she had to move, a man scolded her.

The driver, the article states, did not intervene. The World explains further:

The B110 bus travels between Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn. It is open to the public, and has a route number and tall blue bus stop signs like any other city bus. But the B110 operates according to its own distinct rules. The bus line is run by a private company and serves the Hasidic communities of the two neighborhoods. To avoid physical contact between members of opposite sexes that is prohibited by Hasidic tradition, men sit in the front of the bus and women sit in the back.

According to the New York Post, “Signs written in Hebrew and English direct women to use the back door during busy times.”

What remains to be determined, and likely will be—the Department of Transportation has launched an investigation—is whether a private bus company that provides a public service (and pays the city to do so) largely serving a religious community is exempt from anti-discrimination laws.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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