Chassidot and Chutzpah
Anat Hoffman, head of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), addressed Congregation Beth Am in February of this year.
Hearing her talk gave me a good perspective on a recent blog post written by Chaya, an anonymous Chabad woman, in the XOJane blog on May 22. Chaya said that women in her Chassidic community are happy, empowered, sexually active, in love with their husbands, in touch with their bodies, in possession of good kugel recipes and can speak a bit of Spanish, besides.
“The next time you see a Jewish lady in a wig pushing a baby carriage through Brooklyn, I hope you won’t see an imprisoned waif who is just waiting to be liberated. Cuz we’re not like that. We’re strong. We’re invincible. And we make delicious kugel. L’chaim, chicas!”
They have to be invincible, or they would collapse. That typical woman pushing a stroller is probably pregnant, and has a part-time job or two.
Since the Yeshivot of Europe were founded, the women went out and earned a living, or depended on their fathers to support their families while their men studied. Women are bound to fewer mitzvot compared to men’s 613, so have more flexible schedules. One of a women’s mitzvot is adhering to the laws of family purity, so they only touch her husbands at the most fertile time of the month, AND many of them do not believe in birth control. But having children is a mitzvah, too. And there is no shame in being poor, or taking aid from the government. The 2010 US census revealed that Kiryas Yoel, the little ultra-orthodox hamlet in Rockland County, is one of the poorest places in the country, and one of the most heavily subsidized.
In Israel, men get paid to study. And they get paid to be rabbis. There are 4000 rabbis in Israel, they all have their salaries paid by the government, and they are all Orthodox men. “The chutzpah!” Anat Hoffman said during her talk. “I’ve visited many schools that are no more than post office boxes.”
We in America forget that synagogues in Israel are part of the infrastructure, like roads and streetlights and national defense and the court system and public schools are to us. Most Israelis don’t use synagogues more than once a year, if that. So they easily ignore the fact that synagogues are an Orthodox boondoggle.
This is why when Miri Gold, the Reform rabbi of Kibbutz Gezer, was recently recognized as a community leader for that rural area, liberals around the world rejoiced. Miri Gold is the first female, non-Orthodox rabbi on the government payroll. This court case began in 2005, and it is a big victory, but only one step on the road to equality. Gold will not recognized as a rabbi, only a “non-Orthodox community leader,” like someone who organizes daycare or sports teams.
Hoffman’s organization has fought everyone from bus drivers (who let women be moved to the back of the bus) to clerks (who tear up completed paperwork for women they do not think are dressed properly enough to obtain Israeli citizenship as Jews) and she said that many Orthodox women are her allies.
“There are many shades of black,” she said. “Women walk into my office and say, ‘thank God for you Reformim.’” While IRAC initiates a lot of lawsuits, so do a few Orthodox women ( most notably Naomi Ragen, the outspoken American author who is frank on the subject of misogyny in the Orthodox community, yet militantly observant). “Orthodox women,” Hoffman stated, “are some of the bravest feminists I know.”