Why did the Orthodox Jewish woman cross the road? Because a Yiddish sign ordered her.
A bold new religious decree was bolted to street trees this week that orders women to move to the side when a man is walking towards her on the sidewalk.
The red, yellow and white plastic sign, first noted in the Jewish watchdog blog Failed Messiah, is roughly translated, “Precious Jewish daughters, please move over to the side when you see a man come across.”
Orthodox activists said the signs should not be taken seriously.
“There are some hard-core Hasidim in Williamsburg who think they still live in 19th-century Ukraine and they consider interaction between the sexes, in even the most casual, accidental manner to be licentious,” said bike shop owner Baruch Herzfeld. “They are enormous pains in the tuchis, and most people try to avoid conflict, so they often get their way.”
But Hasidic residents say that the sign is being misinterpreted.
“It is very respectful; it’s not ordering you to cross the street — it means, ‘Let him pass head on,’ ” said one Hasidic man who declined to give his name. “There are a lot of people on the street during the holidays, and this is a reminder to let men pass so they don’t go barging into a group of women.”
Parks maintenance workers removed 16 signs on Bedford and Lee avenues between Marcy Avenue and Broadway on Wednesday because they were nailed to trees, a violation of city law subject to a $150 fine.
The signs do not indicate their author, but sources said that they are part of a campaign by a rabbinical group that has printed other “modesty” decrees, including one in June demanding that women not wear tank tops.
Many Hasidic women ignored that fashion advice — but the pedestrian etiquette warning appears to have more weight.
This week, women on Bedford and Lee Avenue could be seen allowing men to pass on several occasions.
“Sometimes a gentle reminder is needed to keep the neighborhood the way it should be and that Jewish values are supposed to be followed,” said one Hasidic woman, who declined to give her name.