In Israel the Haredi (Ultra-orthodox) Rabbi Ammon Yitzhak proclaimed that, according to Jewish law, women are forbidden to drive cars. Rabbi Yitzhak gives a number of reasons for his edict. First, it is “immodest” for women to drive and “ to drive causes immorality since the woman exposes herself in markets and streets for all to see which causes others to stumble and err”. The Rabbi further buttresses his position by saying that since a car is a replacement for a wagon and “there never was such a thing as a female wagon driver”, Jewish women should not be allowed to drive cars. Talmudic reasoning put to practical use.
The Rabbi’s ruling against woman driving in Israel is confusing, even bizarre, in a country that was founded on the Zionist principle of equal rights for men and women. Women in the kibbutzim in Palestine have equal rights and work shoulder to shoulder with men. The ultimate right for Israeli women is their right to bear arms - and die if necessary - in Israel’s many wars of survival. Except for Rabbi’s Yitzhak’s denial, Israeli women have an undisputed right to drive.
In Saudi Arabia the question of women’s right to drive is completely reversed. In that totalitarian, theocratic country women are denied the right to drive and the small number who attempt to do so are subject to arrest. A Saudi woman’s ability to go by car is dependent on a male relative or paid driver and Saudi women have revolted against this driving restriction. Saudi women who got driving licenses in foreign countries have tested the ban on women drivers only to get arrested when caught behind the wheel.
The contrast in women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and Israel illustrates the values of their societies. Both countries honor their women, but the right to drive illustrates how they do so. In Saudi Arabia the right to drive is a test of women’s rights against a rigid theocracy. In sharp contrast, in Israel a woman’s right to drive is disputed only by a minority religious figure. It is safe to say that Israeli women will retain their right to drive while the question of Saudi women driving is very much open.