About two weeks ago, I was at a lecture attended by about 100 religious men and women. In the break between lectures, the men quickly prepared for the evening prayers. The women were quick to leave the room and walk out. Nobody said a word. A day later I was in an almost identical event, yet this time half of those present were secular. During the break, the religious men again prepared for evening prayers. Yet this time they were the ones to leave the room. Nobody was thinking to hold the prayer in the room.
Even though this is a minor story, I think the difference between the two events merits some thought. Here is my commentary, and if you don’t like it you can send it back within 14 days in the original packaging and you’ll get your money back.
In the first event, it was clear to the religious people that the room they were sitting in is “theirs.” They are all religious, so if they need to pray, the prayer becomes the main event and that’s why they stay in the room and pray. Their wives understood it, so they quickly left to chat outside. There was even no need to explain it to them. The women, without complaining at all, walked out.
On the other hand, when we’re in a mixed group of religious and secular Israelis, we, religious men, don’t even think of “taking over” the room and holding a prayer there. We have a slight and deeply entrenched fear that “this isn’t the place for it,” lest a secular person give us a bad look, lest we disturb our secular friends while they’re drinking coffee, or God forbid, we may even be told “this isn’t a synagogue. That’s why we go over to another room to pray there.
Automatic patternWhen we’re facing the seculars, we’re not always interested in fighting over the public space and its nature. There’s a time and place for everything after all. Yet when it comes to our women, we the men decide unilaterally what the religious space should look like.
This is of course a minor example from everyday life, but truth is it serves as an allegory on the status of the modern religious woman. Despite all the progress, look at the pathetic female representation when it comes to religious Zionist parties. After all, it is unimaginable for us that nine women would serve in the Knesset and not even one man, yet the opposite is taken for granted.
It also seems reasonable to us that 95% of public posts will be held by men. And what about the problem of “women who cannot get a divorce”? Excuse me, boys, but if we realized this is in fact a problem of “men who refuse to grant a divorce”, we would be able to solve it a little quicker.
And back to those two evening prayers, where the religious made way to the secular, and the religious women made way to the religious men. This is an automatic pattern. We display, without noticing it, somewhat chauvinistic ownership towards our women, yet we move to the side vis-à-vis the seculars. We accept that public space belongs mostly to the seculars, while the religious space belongs mostly to men.