Confessions of a Cross-Sitter — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

To the respected Torah scholar, Rabbi Rosencrantz, may he live a good and long life, amen:

I would not disturb you at your studies were it not that the problem I face is pressing and the agony of my soul no longer bearable. Nor would I dare to write you under a false name, if it were not so embarrassing, but this you will no doubt understand as you read. I plead with you to respond quickly and with all the wisdom at your disposal, as my family, my livelihood, and my soul are all at stake.

It’s about public transportation. That is, I have a bus issue. Perhaps the word “issue” might be misunderstood. Perhaps I should say a seat problem. But perhaps that, too, may sound improper. Let me get to the point.

illustration by Avi Katz

Each morning I kiss my wife and children good-by and descend the narrow stairs from our modest apartment in the Holy City of Jerusalem and wait, along with many of my neighbors, for the number 2 bus. As befits our God-fearing neighborhood, the passengers board and the men take seats in the front and the women proceed to the back.

I swipe my Rav-Kav card and begin to walk down the aisle. A seat presents itself but I decide to try further back. I continue down the aisle toward the swivel section of the double bus.

For quite a long time after glatt-kosher buses began running in our neighborhood, I convinced myself that I was just looking for a more comfortable or convenient seat. But yesterday I was confronted with the truth.

I was perusing the Hamedir chapter of the Ketubot tractate, preoccupied with understanding Shmuel’s claim that no divorce is necessary in certain cases where a bridegroom has conditioned marriage on his wife not having taken vows not to wear colorful clothes or to enjoy certain kinds of food. I did not notice those around me as I walked down the aisle. I kept walking and then, out of the corner of my eye spotted an inviting seat. I sat down, and felt a sense of peace and wholeness that my normally tortured soul has not felt for many years now. It’s the kind of feeling you yourself must know, the sense of completeness that overwhelms you when you have a hiddush, an insight into a difficult question of Torah or halacha that no one else has ever thought of before.

This wonderful sensation was rudely interrupted when Mrs. Schechter, who happens to be my downstairs neighbor, screamed straight into my left ear.

I looked up, bewildered, to meet fifty pairs of glaring female eyes. I looked around. I had seated myself in the ezrat nashim, the women’s section in the back. I realized that I should get up and apologize, that had had committed a thoughtless infraction.

But, rabbi, I was not able. It felt so right to be there. As if this was the place I should have been my entire life, since I was the smallest boy in Rabbi Breslau’s heder and Moishe Bach, now commander of the Greater Givat Shaul Modesty Patrol, beat me up every morning. I stared at the black coats and hats of the men in front of me. They were starting to turn and stare. The thought of moving up to the front to join them nauseated me. It was all I could do to raise my arm to press the red button that signaled the driver that I wanted to get out. As soon as he pulled up at the next stop I shot out of my seat and bounded into the fresh air. I found a bench and sat down in horror with myself. To atone for my sin I recited the entire book of Psalms then and there. But it did not help. Rabbi, I have realized that while I occupy a man’s body, my bus ticket is that of a woman. What am I to do?

A Desperate Soul


My dear Desperate Soul, may the Almighty comfort you in your tribulations,

We cannot understand the ways of The Holy One, Blessed Be He. Did he not answer Job out of the storm wind and say, “Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. Wilt thou also disavow my judgment? Wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayst be in the right?”

The Lord of the Universe has seen fit to give you a soul of a special kind, a man’s soul, but one that feels not lust but affinity for the souls of women. I cannot know the divine plan, but perhaps you have a special task before God, to understand the daughters of the King and offer them succor, just as Elisha the prophet did for the Shunamite woman.

But of course you must strengthen your soul with study and prayer and never make this immodest mistake again.

With great love in the Torah,

Rabbi Baruch Rosencrantz


To the respected Torah scholar, Rabbi Rosencrantz, may he live a good and long life, amen:

Since the words of a great scholar of Torah must be considered to be the words of God himself, I have devoted myself for the past two weeks to intensive study, prayer, and penance. Furthermore, after consulting with my wife, we agreed that I should henceforth go by foot to the kolel where I study, and that on rainy days I would apportion money out of my meager stipend to pay for a cab, so that I might not again encounter a temptation and fail.

The sweet words of our Holy Torah provided me with much comfort and my soul began to feel strong, although my heart remained broken. But then something even worse happened.

Yesterday, on the Holy Sabbath, I entered our small neighborhood synagogue deeply engrossed in the recitation of the sacrificial service that precedes the morning prayers. I did not notice where my wayward feet and heart were taking me, that they were climbing stairs when they should have been walking straight to my seat by the Holy Ark. I sat down and felt a sense of tranquility and was certain that your advice had brought me to wholeness and healing. But then Mrs. Schechter screamed, this time in my right ear. I looked up and found that I had taken a seat in the balcony reserved for the women. Mrs. Schechter began beating me with her copy of Tzena U-Rena and calling me a pervert. I gathered up all my strength and ran home in tears to my wife and children.

What am I to do?

Ever More Desperate


Dear Ever More Desperate,

Our Sages said that God sends tribulations to righteous men so that their merits may be to the benefit of all of Israel. You may consider yourself blessed that the Creator has chosen you as a vehicle for sanctifying his Chosen People.

Nevertheless, like Abraham our Father, you must meet the challenges sent your way and not give in. I suggest fasting on Mondays and Thursdays and ritual immersion three times a day, before meals.

In humble submission,

Rabbi Baruch Rosencrantz


To the respected Torah scholar, Rabbi Rosencrantz, may he live a good and long life, amen:

I must express my heartfelt gratitude that a scholar and spiritual guide of your stature has deigned to concern himself with a worm like me, and to reply so swiftly to my entreaty.

I received your reply at sundown and, overjoyed, wished to immediately begin the course of action you prescribed. With my mind conscious only of God’s blessings to me and my poor family, my feet took me directly to our neighborhood mikveh, the ritual bath that God in his mercy has given us so that we may be cleansed of our impurities. Determined to face bravely the tests that God has imposed on me, I strode straight into the changing room, undressed, and headed for the pool of living water. Did not Rabbi Akiva, the wisest of our Sages, say: “Fortunate are you O Israel! Before whom do you purify yourselves? And who purifies you? Your Father in Heaven! As it is said: “I will sprinkle upon you pure water and you shall become purified.” I closed my eyes, said the required blessing, and plunged in.

Then I heard Mrs. Schechter scream, first in one ear, then the other.

The Modesty Patrol was called in and Moishe Bach beat me up. Only by going down on my knees and telling him that I am under your spiritual care was I able to convince him not to call the police. Mrs. Schechter has in the meantime told my wife that my children will be kicked out of their schools and that the minimarket up the street will no longer serve me. I am ashamed to show my face at the kolel.

Rabbi Rosencrantz, what am I to do?



Dear Suicidal,

The Holy One Blessed Be He expects us to turn over the words of the Torah time and time again to discover His counsel. Did not Rabban Gamliel himself bathe in the bathhouse of Aphrodite, saying “I have not come into Aphrodite’s domain, she has come into my domain?”

What I mean is, you must keep up your studies. Just take a different bus.

With expectations of Israel’s immediate redemption,

Rabbi Baruch Rosencrantz


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