What is stylish of late is an incessant condemnation of the advent of Mehadrin bus lines with added emphasis on a number of incidents where innocent unsuspecting passengers were mercilessly victimized by sinister miscreant hoodlums dressed as defenders of the faith. Just as we are taught (Sanhedrin 102a) that 1/24 of every Jewish tragedy throughout history is attributed to the Golden Calf, I have yet to see a recent blog post on the subject that at least 1/24th does not extol the [alleged] Miriam Shear incident of November 24, 2006 as the al-Dura massacre of the decade. Ms. Shear is venerated as the banner victim of chareidi hegemony and oppression, a crusader of equality and righteous defiance, an innocent white sheep among the ruthless black wolves, and a modern day Rosa Parks.
Even one of the most acclaimed journalists in the Chareidi camp, one who I consider a close friend and role model, has chastised the chareidi community with coy references to this unsightly event.
I must comment that I cannot see this incident as one-sided as everybody else does. Nor do I think there is anybody worth cheering for.
To illustrate what I mean, I will dramatize what will befall our subject upon reaching the gates of judgment after 120 years. Though it is a dramatization, it is not conjecture. I am not dramatizing what may happen. I am dramatizing what I, and anybody else who believes in Maimonides 13 principles of faith, knows will happen:
May I have your name?
And where are you from?
Ms. Shear, I have your complete file in front of me, and, might I say, most things herein are quite impressive.
Thank you. I tried hard.
Indeed you did. It seems like you embraced Judaism on your own accord. That is quite commendable, Ms. Shear. You were able to do this because your neshama was of a loftier source than the average Jane. You have roots with the Jewish people and with Sinai. Your soul was elevated greatly and you had the opportunity to reach true spiritual greatness.
Well, did I not succeed?
There are various ways of measuring success, Ms. Shear.
What do you mean?
Well, let us examine some parts of your life. In particular let us go to the late fall of 2006.
Yes, one of my numerous pilgrimages to Eretz Yisrael.
How long were you there for?
Don’t you know? About 5 weeks.
And where did you stay?
Why, in Jerusalem. Har Nof.
And what did you do for spiritual advancement?
Oh, I did all kinds of things. Studying, praying, chesed…
Did you go to pray at the Western Wall?
Of course, quite often. Actually, I would wake up early to pour out my heart to G‑d at the break of day. I longed to get close to G‑d. That’s how I started my day.
And how did you get to the Western Wall? Did you drive?
Of course not. I was just a tourist. I took the Number 2 bus from Har Nof each morning. Hey, what are you getting at?
Do you recall the morning of November 24, 2006?
I will never forget that morning. I woke up before daybreak, my heart full of longing to get close to You. My mind was pure and full of devotion. I was, as usual, one of the first people to arrive at the bus stop and one of the first to get onto the bus. My ecstasy turned into a nightmare when one of those hoodlums approached me. And it wasn’t the first time, either. Again this one asks me to sit in the back of the bus. But I want to be from the forefront of Your servants. I did not want my pure actions to be seen as those of a reluctant back seat passenger. But this time he didn’t give up. I was attacked and spat upon and beaten. I was disgraced and humiliated. All this as I ventured to serve You with my heart. This is the price I pay for my zeal to supplicate to You in prayer. Humiliation is worse than death and I sacrificed myself to You on that altar. I am as the saintly Isaac. I have earned a place near the Throne of Glory with my blood. Now, if you don’t mind, will you please show me to my…
Just one minute.
You did embrace Judaism, did you not?
Oh yes, of course I did.
You are aware that embracing Judaism means observing the Torah, are you not?
Been there, done that!
Are you sure?
I beg Your pardon?
Ms. Shear do you recognize this book?
Why, yes. It is the Torah.
Ms. Shear, do you know what is written in this book?
Of course, I went to countless shiurim and delivered some myself.
Then would you mind reading this passage at Vayikra 19:2?
Well, okay. It says, “Speak to the entire congregation…”
How much of the congregation?
Um… the entire congregation...
“And you shall say to them – you are to be holy, for I am holy…”
Do you know what it means to be holy?
Well, sure. It means to do holy things, like wake up early and go to the Kotel to pray…
Where do you get that interpretation?
Well, it just makes sense. Isn’t that what it means?
Ms. Shear, the written law is quite vague. I created wise men to explain what my written law means. Do you know any wise men?
Well I suppose there is always Rashi.
And what does Rashi say?
Let’s see now. He says, “You are to be holy – you are to be separated from promiscuity and transgression because any place where we find a partition against promiscuity we find holiness.” Um, does this have anything to do with that bus?
Because it is not a synagogue. It’s only a bus. It is a public bus. Hey, that guy spat on me and knocked off my…
Ms. Shear, we are not judging them at this time, we are judging you.
But its only a bus. And it wasn’t one of those Mehadrin buses either.
What does Rashi say about places?
He says “any place” but he means any place in scripture!
Why should there be a difference?
Because it’s just a public bus. It’s not a synagogue. They don’t have separate buses in Toronto!
The gentiles in Toronto were not commanded to be holy. The Jews in Jerusalem were.
But it's just a bus. By the way, Rashi isn’t the only authority. There are authorities with different explanations.
That is no reason to discount Rashi. Besides, you do not really require Rashi. Would you mind reading this passage in Devarim 23:15?
“…and your camp is to be holy, and there should not be seen anything of nakedness…”
So, here we see in the scripture itself that if there is nakedness, there is no holiness. And, guess what?
Please don’t tell me.
This verse is not talking about a synagogue.
Yes, but I dress modestly. This is not ervah!
Are you a student of Talmud, Ms. Shear?
To some extent.
Have you studied the last Perek of Sukka?
No, I haven’t. What does it say?
There is an interesting statement from Rashi at the top of page 52a. Can you read it for us?
Do I have to? Oh, all right. He writes “…for even at a time of sorrow we must separate between men and women.”
And, do not assume that anyone from the House of David in mourning is inappropriately dressed. The Talmud gives pretty strict rules – a woman’s voice is ervah, a woman’s hair is ervah (Brachos 24a). The first woman on the bus may be purely modest, but what about the next woman? The message is –let’s keep our distance. Why should a strange man have to sit behind you and smell your perfume on the way to the Kotel? Men are predators.
Tell me about it! Anyway, it’s their business to keep away from me.
Ms. Shear, do you want to know how much I abhor the unnecessary mingling of the sexes? Would you mind reading this verse in VaYikra 18:6?
Do I have to?
Okay. “…they shall not approach to reveal a nakedness…” Rashi says, “They shall not- to caution a female as much as a male…” But I didn’t touch him. He touched me…
Ms. Shear, we are not judging them, we are judging you. And do you know what the term “approach” means? We derive from here the laws of seclusion, the concept of negiah, and the special added prohibitions for family purity (harchakos). Anything that can eventually lead to …
But it was the beginning of the route and there were all of these empty seats. They could have sat anywhere. And I have to move to the back! I felt like Rosa Parks.
No, you have no idea what Rosa Parks felt.
What do you mean?
She was the victim of discrimination.
So was I.
Not in the least. Rosa Parks was relegated to the back of the bus when any white woman could sit wherever she wants. Why should one woman be able to sit wherever she wants and another woman needs to sit in the back of the bus? But you were entitled to sit where any other woman was entitled to sit. In my eyes, all women are created equal. Nobody was discriminating against you. Any other woman would have been ushered to the back if she sat where you sat except that most of them do not need to be told.
But there were no grounds for them to force me then. I am already sitting there and it’s an empty bus. Why should they make a fuss over it? Anyway, most of the time, the bus gets all mixed up anyway.
Ms. Shear, you are aware that this was the Number 2 bus to the Kotel?
Of course I am.
And you are aware that this is the special Vatikin bus?
That’s why I was on it.
You probably know by now that the passengers prefer an assumed separation even though the bus line doesn’t require it. As such, if a passenger at the beginning of the route disrupts this balance, it is disrupted for the entire route. By choosing to sit in the “imaginary” men’s section, you are breaking down the barrier and not even giving it a chance. Did you not write in an email, "After a few weeks, other women decided that they, too, do not enjoy sitting in the back and sat down next to me or behind me"?
Okay. Poor judgment. But this incident is not my fault. They started up with me. If he didn’t spit on me, so there wouldn’t be as much kedusha, but there wouldn’t be a ruckus either.
Ms. Shear, we are not judging him. We are judging you.
But I didn’t do anything.
Ms. Shear, according to this file, it was not the first time that you were asked to change seats. Each time you refused. So you cannot say that you were not aware that you are expected to sit elsewhere. But there was a great commotion, and everybody is talking about it for almost two years. My name has been horribly desecrated.
But that's exactly it. I was told before. And nobody spat on me and made a scene. There was no reason for me to anticipate a big scene now.
Ms. Shear, are you not familiar with Pirkei Avos?
Of course I …oh-oh. What do I have to read now?
Right here, Perek 4 Mishna 5; at the end.
"Hmmm, it is as one both intentional and unintentional with regard to Chillul Hashem." You mean to say, this is my Chillul Hashem?
Do you have any idea what would have happened if you were to move?
I am sure you will tell me that there would have been no commotion.
I wish that would be all. No, Ms. Shear. If you would have picked yourself up and moved for the sake of peace and for the sake of kedusha you would have sanctified My name. You would have performed a Kiddush Hashem. This is what you embraced Judaism for, is it not Ms. Shear? You had numerous chances to do so, but you let every single one go by. Finally, I gave you one last chance. I sent one of My most hot-blooded zealots to convince you to move.
You mean, you set me up on all this?
Ms. Shear, nothing happens purely by chance. We prefer to call it, “accumulating merit through those who are worthy, and accumulating liabilities through those who are liable” (Shabbos 32a). You set yourself up for it. But it was an opportunity. Either one of you could have taken it a different direction. You do know the story of Kamtza- Bar Kamtza, do you not? But what did you do instead? You chose to defy those who wanted to implement Kedoshim tihiyu. You do not value it as much as they do. You threw it all out the door. You put your honor in front of Mine. And to top it off, you needed to circulate emails to the whole world! People are talking for months about how the wild chareidim spit at you and kicked and beat you. This is one of the biggest Chillul Hashems of the decade. Why? Because you did not want to observe Kedoshim tihiyu. And it’s completely your fault.
You mean completely my fault? What about the guy who...?
Ms. Shear, we are not judging him, we are judging you…
Now, shall we discuss that incident with Naomi Ragen…?