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Archive for the ‘Haredim’ Category

Short update from Israel.

Last Friday my group went to the Kotel to daven Friday evening services. Immediately upon arriving, our leaders told us that the boys would go to the male side, and that the girls would go to the female side. I was not surprised–I have prayed at the Kotel many times before, and have unhappily become used to being forced to pray separately from men there. However, being used to it did not make it any less frustrating.

A group of friends and mine decided to lead our own Kabbalat Shabbat services separate from the boys, and it ended up being really nice; we stood in a circle behind the lines of women praying silently to themselves and, amidst many slightly dismayed looks from onlookers, sung aloud together. The sense of community we created was great, but what made it even more beautiful was the fact that a couple strangers decided to join in and pray with us.

However, after finishing the first part of the Friday evening services, we arrived at Ma’ariv, something that according to Orthodox Judaism, women are not supposed to lead. (Women are allowed to lead the first part, excepting a few things.) Because the girl who led the first part of our services is Orthodox, she did not want to lead the second part, and so she, as well as a few other girls decided to pray on their own. Our group quickly dismantled, and I ended up praying Ma’ariv on my own. It was nice to pray at the Western Wall, but it was basically almost that; all of the spirituality that otherwise would have been inspired by the sense of human longing and desire and hope was diminished by the feeling that I was missing out on the amazing communal prayer that I was hearing from the male side.

Walking away from the Wall, all I could think about was how their should be three areas there: one for men, one for women, and one for men and women to pray together. Israel should not be a state only for Orthodox people–it should be a state where all Jews (and non-Jews, but that’s a different topic) feel comfortable, that accommodates all of our needs. Women of the Wall serve as an inspiration for all women who feel frustrated with the limitations imposed on them at the Wall, but the fact that women have been arrested for reading Torah at the Wall is simply depressing. Something needs to change.

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My stepmother just sent me this note from NIF (the New Israel Fund), an organization that is near and dear to her heart. What separates NIF from other US-based groups dealing with Israel is its focus on domestic issues, which are often overlooked in light of Israel’s international political symbolism. Domestic issues all around the world are in large part comprised of issues of women’s rights, which, as we know quite well, intersect with marriage rights.

Check out this release from NIF:

This Sunday, for the second year in a row, NIF is sponsoring a wedding. It’s Tu B’Av, Israel’s Valentine’s Day, and like most Jewish weddings in Israel there will be flowers, dancing and a chuppah. But unlike most weddings in Israel, this one will be a Jewish alternative ceremony, joining the lives of two young people without the assistance or interference of Israel’s Orthodox-only Chief Rabbinate.

In Israel, the only way to have a legally recognized wedding is to have an Orthodox ceremony, and the only way to have an Orthodox ceremony is to meet the ever-harsher requirements of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate.  Yulia and Stas, the bride and groom, are choosing a public ceremony in Tel Aviv to help raise awareness about the need for a civil marriage alternative in Israel.

By sundown on Sunday, Yulia and Stas will have had a Jewish wedding, but not one recognized by the laws of the State of Israel. Like many couples who wish to avoid the involvement of the Orthodox rabbinate in their wedding, Yulia and Stas will have to get married outside of Israel in order for their union to be legally recognized in their own country.

The need for a civil wedding option in Israel was driven home dramatically during the last few weeks, as emotions have flared in Israel and throughout the diaspora over the Rotem bill legislation introduced into the Knesset that, if passed, will grant the ultra-Orthodox an iron monopoly on conversion and on who is a Jew.

It’s one thing to get married in the United States, where a marriage does not have to involve religion and where the core issue at hand is denial of same-sex marriages. In Israel, there is another issue that falls under the umbrella of marriage equality: denominational representation. The ultra-Orthodox rabbinate controls marriage laws in Israel where there is not an option for a justice of the peace AND there is no such thing as a marriage that is not performed by an Orthodox rabbi in observance of very specific halakha.

The scary part is that many of these ultra-Orthodox rituals and observances go against the beliefs of the majority of the population. A marriage, an act that is supposed to create a union of two identities, ends up contradicting the beliefs of the two people who are united.

So take action now and contact Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to recognize all forms of Judaism as valid.

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The Women of the Wall were (you guessed it) praying at the Western Wall this morning like they do every Rosh Chodesh morning. At least, they were trying to pray; praying is made pretty difficult when rather large plastic chairs are being thrown at you from behind a mechitza that resembles a tent.

The work of the Women of the Wall is considered civil disobedience – a nonviolent fight for the right to pray where women have not been traditionally allowed to pray through doing the very act they are prohibited from doing. This is a historical practice, a form of protest that exists in the exertion of positive rights. It is the practice of the great heroes who have changed the world like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Alice Paul. Now, it is also the practice of Anat Hoffman and all those who pray with her.

But who was really being “disobedient” this morning? Who were the Women of the Wall disobeying? Certainly not their religion, a minority fraction of their government, and then the men on the other side of the wall who somehow think that they have the right to take away the religious entitlements of their wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers. It seems to me that the Haredi men throwing the chairs were the ones doing the disobeying and it was so far from civil.

These outbreaks are terrifying. They remind us of how far we have to go as Jewish feminists and they remind us of the ridiculous nature of some people who would interrupt their own prayers to throw chairs at women. One would think that if they were that into davenning they wouldn’t want to shave time off of a spiritual practice to hit women.

These outbreaks simultaneously help the movement because they show the irrational cruelty of those who claim they are the opposition and the sanity of the allies who instead of fight for equality practice it and resist the fight for inequality that comes in the form of chairs interrupting prayers.

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I hope you enjoy that pun of a title, but if we were to take it seriously, don’t women in general want what the Women of the Wall, an organization that advocates for women’s rights to pray at the Kotel, desire? The mission of Women of the Wall is one inspired by equality, choice, and equal opportunity.

Anat Hoffman, the founder of Women of the Wall, who I have blogged about before seeing as she is one bad-ass Jewish feminist who’s been making some headlines lately, wrote a fantastic op-ed for The Forward where she breaks down exactly what has been going on at the Kotel since Nofrat Frenkel’s arrest and why equal opportunity for prayer is essential to progressing Judaism for everyone.

Hoffman writes,

Women of the Wall is sometimes accused of protesting against the “status quo” at the Western Wall. In fact, there is no status quo at the Wall — things change all the time. Men and women used to enter the Western Wall plaza together through the Jewish Quarter’s Dung Gate; in 1994, separate, gender-segregated entrances were created. Within the past decade, women soldiers were still allowed to sing the national anthem during ceremonies at the Wall — now they are instructed to be content with mouthing the words.

People sometimes ask us: “When will you achieve your goal?” This is a question one asks of a general. A general has soldiers, uniforms and a strategy. With Women of the Wall, we don’t know whether 10 or 100 women will show up each month — though we hope for 10,000. We have no uniforms, as we are a pluralistic group and come from all streams of Judaism. As far as strategy, we are only as bold as our least brave member.

Simply put, our goal is to obtain the freedom to pray and to do everything that is halachically permitted for women on the women’s side of the mechitza. This includes reciting prayers together that do not require a minyan, and, yes, most of all, it includes reading from the Torah. (Though it has been many years since we have been able to read from the Torah in the women’s section at the Wall.) At a minimum, we want to be allowed to pray at the Wall for one hour each month, free of injury and fear. This should not be a provocative request.

This is most definitely not a provocative request. Not only does it follow Jewish law precisely, but it even follows the sexism embedded in it through the organization’s aforementioned compromise. Women who wish to pray at the Kotel deserve way more than what Women of the Wall demands as a minimum, but I realize that an all-or-nothing approach can be unproductive  when dealing with religious extremists and Hoffman’s proposal is one that deserves to be heard because let’s face it – it’s pretty generous to the right.

If Judaism is to have a future, pluralism is necessary. Jewish pluralism depends on Jewish feminism. That is what the Women of the Wall are working so tirelessly for. This one site – whether one is comfortable praying there or not – is symbolic for Jews everywhere.

I will end this rather long post with Anat Hoffman’s own words: “The antidote to silence is action; we are now turning to the whole Jewish world, men and women alike, to help us reclaim the Wall for all Jews. HaKotel l’kulam — the Kotel is for all of us.”

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Yes – you heard it: women are being forced to the back of the bus. Due to ultra-Orthodox leadership, some bus drivers in Israel are forced to have women enter buses from a separate entrance in the back of the bus. And why? Because women are too great of a distraction for men. Coexisting is simply too great of a plight so some ultra-Orthodox men thought they’d make it easier on themselves and just not coexist at all. But at who’s expense?

Sometimes when I blog about sexism in Israel, I feel kind of funky because it seems so far away that action seems either paternalistic (excuse my patriarchal “French”) or inaccessible. The New Israel Fund, however, seems to disagree and I agree with their disagreement. Join their Say No to the Back of the Bus campaign today. Take action. Your tax dollars (or those of your parents) go to Israel already and the majority of Israelis are not ultra-Orthodox anyways so speaking up against this will actually advocate for Israeli rights.

Email Transport Minister Israel Katz (Likud) today to let him know that this is not okay:

yiskatz@knesset.gov.il

And this gets even easier; use the sample text NIF provides:

Dear Minister Katz,

Forcing women to sit in the back of public buses contradicts democratic principles, Jewish tradition and universal values of religious and personal freedom.

In the past, Israel has taken many commendable steps to further gender equality, and we call upon you to make the right decision in promoting and defending women’s rights. At the very least, please uphold the recommendations of the Special Committee and insist that no woman ever be coerced into entering or sitting in the back of the bus. Even better, require those who insist on such segregation to provide their own, privately-funded, transportation.

We in the U.S. cannot stand idly by while Israel grants a small minority the power to dictate what Judaism is or to make halacha into an instrument of discrimination and segregation. We hope we can count on you to prove your commitment to equality and Israel’s pluralistic democracy.

Sincerely,
Shira

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Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a New Israel Fund panel with my stepmother. At the panel, Naomi Chazan spoke along with other Knesset and NIF officials. Naomi Chazan is the former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and is currently the president of NIF. She held a firm feminist perspective throughout the panel, which I deeply admire because she truly showed how all oppression is connected. I am wildly impressed by her bad-assness and would like to share a response she gave to the question on how to deal with freedom of religion (they were actually talking about Jewish religious pluralism, not Islam or Christianity) in Israel:

“Religious Orthodoxy is bent on crushing women. This is not just an issue of freedom of religion or freedom of belief. This is a feminist issue.”

Can you see why I’m impressed? In Israel, there is a conflict that dims in comparison to Palestinian-Israeli relations. It is a conflict between the Haredim and the non-Haredim (note: I am not saying between the Haredim and the secular because non-Haredim can also be modern Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform). This conflict is directly connected to women’s rights. This conflict is a feminist issue. It is a feminist issue when women are forced to the backs of buses. It is a feminist issue when the government coerces Haredi women into not getting abortions. It is a feminist issue when the “religious right” extends to Judaism.

I will blog more about what I learned at this panel, but for now I just wanted to thank Naomi Chazan for her work on behalf of Israel and on behalf of women everywhere.

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