Moral opposition to religious misogyny

Religious bigotry towards women is more difficult to counter as it often comes garbed in clothes of piety

Many of us have been watching in horror as a fringe element of haredim in Israel advocate the exclusion of women from all forms of public life.


Over the last week we have seen violence erupt with rioting in Beit Shemesh that included throwing stones at police officers, the threatening of a Ynet female photographer, and perhaps more disturbingly than anything else was the harassment of a seven-year-old girl on the street for not being dressed "modestly enough."


As the father of a little girl, my outrage can barely be contained.


The idea that women should not be involved with communal affairs and, for all intents and purposes, be treated as second class citizens, is nothing new. Women have been treated this way by men of all cultures, religions and backgrounds for centuries up until relatively recently.


The fact that Jewish communities and their norms, in some ways in the past, went along with this is something we should be embarrassed of, but is not surprising.


Nonetheless, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has mentioned, a perusal of the Torah and the holy Scriptures clearly shows that woman are not to be seen or treated in this light – much to the contrary.


Certainly today, when it is clear that women are as capable, and arguably more competent and efficient in many ways, than men, there is no excuse for this type of jaundiced attitude.


To say, as this fringe group does, that excluding women is a matter of modesty is nothing short of a smoke screen for what we would otherwise call bigotry.


The idea that women shouldn't have a say in how things are run because of issues related to modesty is clearly misogyny and male chauvinism dressed up in the cloths of piety. It must not be tolerated at all.


Ambitions know no boundaries

History has taught us that when the rights of women are trodden on, all groups should start to be concerned for their rights. If this is allowed to occur towards women, it will inevitably also turn its attention towards other groups.


Who may be next? Will it be you? Will it be me? Perhaps both of us. Witness how Saudi Arabia treats people who practice a religion other than Islam, or even how it treats members of its own Shi’a minority, for a modern day illustration of this point.


When you examine human nature you will notice that people often remain unsatisfied even after they achieve their stated ambitions. The goalposts seem to keep moving.


When it comes to achieving positive for the universe, for oneself, and for one’s family this is a good thing. Unfortunately, however, this same type of thing happens to people with nefarious aims.


For a long time there has been a tacit approval of woman being relegated to a somewhat lesser status in many religious communities. Even in the Brooklyn enclave of the relatively enlightened Orthodox Jewish community of Crown Heights, women have been barred from voting for the local Jewish Community Council.


But this is changing, at least in Crown Heights. The current Council president, Mr. Zaki Tamir, promised the New York Times in April 2011 that he would reverse this, and women would be allowed to vote in the next election held in 2013.


In some communities, however, there has been no such progress. In fact, the opposite has occurred – the fringe zealots have been emboldened and the standing of women has been slowly eroded.


In Jerusalem, women have been relegated to sit at the back of buses. While visiting Israel last year, for the first time ever, I saw Jewish women in the Geula section of Jerusalem wearing clothes that completely covered their entire face, similar to the Islamic niqab or veil. Companies have been pressured to remove women from their advertisements.


These are all relatively recent additions in many Jewish communities. They are certainly light years away from the Judaism which used to celebrate the 15th of the month of Av as a day when single boys and girls would mingle in the vineyards to meet potential marriage partners.


All types of bigotry must be opposed. But somehow religious bigotry towards women is more difficult to counter because it often comes garbed in the clothes of piety. It is precisely for this reason that we must be vigilant in calling it out and oppose it at every level and immediately whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head.


This responsibility falls primarily to the leaders of the community and the women within the communities. But it also must be opposed by the rest of us.


If a sense of justice does not motivate us, then this should: If bigotry is allowed to thrive in this form, history has taught us that its ambitions know no boundaries.


Rabbi Levi Brackman is co-founder and executive director of Youth Directions , a non-profit organization that helps youth find and succeed at their unique positive purpose in life



פרסום ראשון: 01.06.12, 15:12
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