What are the questions?
For several weeks now there has been an ongoing furore about the place of women and religion in Israel: Orthodox soldiers walked out of a ceremony involving singing women. Mehadrin bus lines force women to sit at the back of the bus. Women are removed from advertisement hoardings in Jerusalem. A Haredi sect in Bet Shemesh uses unacceptable means to try to stop girls going to school in their area.
In an attempt to clear our heads, we are trying to work out what are the underlying fundamental questions at play? What, if anything, do these different incidents have in common?
We have formulated a collection of questions, and below we are gathering the responses and suggestions of Jews around Israel and the world.
Is the conflict in Bet Shemesh about
- Law enforcement?
- A clash between separationists and integrationists?
- Generations of poor policy towards Haredim,
- The place of women in Judaism,
- Or just common decency?
Some might suggest that when a girl is spat on by an adult, there is nothing more at stake than a individual behaving disgracefully. Others would argue that until the spitter, his supporters, and his violent colleagues, are put behind bars, this is not an issue of common decency, but a question of poor policing and inadequate sentencing. Yet more would point to the ongoing failure of a succession of Israeli governments to come to terms with the cumulative effect of state-supported Haredi separatism.
Women singing in the army
would seem to have nothing to do with Haredim, since the 1,200 Haredim serving in the army do not attend these ceremonies anyway, and rarely see a woman throughout their service. The soldiers who walked out, and the rabbis who supported them, would seem to be raising non-Haredi-connected questions:
- As another group of women recently graduated from the Israel Air Force pilots’ course, what is the place of women in the army?
- Where are the implications of orthodox and ultra-orthodox rabbis’ changing attitudes to and growing influence in the IDF?
The gender-segregated buses charge us to ask
- What are the moral implications of women being sent to the back of the bus?
- What about freedom of choice? (For Haredi men, as well as women.)
- What can be done about the sexualization of the public sphere? (Haredim pull one way, while the secular commercial world pulls just as brazenly in the other.)
- What should be the rules governing public services (private bus firms offering the same services were not criticized)?
What are the questions that would seem to apply “across the board”?
- What price feminism in Israel?
A Western, modern understanding of a woman’s place in the world is challenging a very different approach.
- What price multi-culturalism in Israel?
In supporting the autonomy of diverse sectors (Haredim, Arabs, Kibbutzim, etc) is Israel is undermining its ability to maintain a coherent society?
- What is the nature of the public sphere, and who controls it?
- What price “Jewish Peoplehood”?
Is there a way for us to accept our antagonists as part of the same people? What values of our own might need be sacrificed in search of mutual responsibility?
- What will Israel look like in the future?
With a rapidly-growing Haredi population what will this demographic reality do to our understandings of Zionism and the Jewish State?
- Do we need pragmatism or principles?
Behind the scenes, a quiet revolution is taking place. Thousands of Haredim are entering the work place, colleges for Haredim are sprouting up, and an openness to accommodation is spreading. Yet each time a principled protest against the status quo picks up steam, progress is stymied for another period.
Religious extremism and the oppression of women are essentially the same thing.
In the Jewish community, here and in Israel, religiosity is (tragically, incorrectly) expressed by the treatment of women.
The more religious a community is, the more silent and invisible its women are in the public sphere; the less religious a community is, the more access its women have toward public ritual, leadership, and visibility. Witness our own confusion here in the US: “Traditional” communities are places where women do not count in a minyan; “liberal” communities are places where they do.
In my mind, the most religious, most traditional communities are places where the entire population is obligated: obligated to the public performance of ritual, obligated to joining the communal conversation about issues of vital importance, and obligated to the daily, unending work of raising children and creating homes that reflect deep observance of and commitment to Jewish life and law.
Rabbi Joanna Samuels is the Director of Strategic Initiatives for AWP – Advancing Women Professionals and The Jewish Community
The 1st of two questions we should be asking ourselves is
- Why are we non-Ultra-Orthodox so unwilling to draw red lines in the sand?
The Haredi world in Israel( unlike in the Diaspora) is exploiting the rest of the country’s feebleness. We allow vast numbers of them not to work and not to serve in the army and not to educate their children in line with the rest of the citizens. For the sake of a few mandates we shut our eyes, write the checks and send our kids to serve.
I applaud the Haredim who want to change this situation and so the 2nd question must be :
- What more can we (responsible Haredim and non-Haredim) do more to help the process advance speedily? To Full Post
The framing I would give to this question is connected to the ongoing process in Israeli politics of undermining (or exposing the limitations of the Western notion of…) the social contract.
The same problems the West has dealing with radical others are reflected in the inability of the current Israeli political system to find modes of co-existence with elements inside Israel that feel excluded from the ethos of the social contract as it currently stands. To Full Post
January 30, 2012 by Anton Goodman
Israel is a society which solves its problems piecemeal, blinkered to the broader implications of our actions.
We continually appease sectors of our overly partisan population by lighting small fires which we naively believe will harmlessly smolder on a low flame. We then forget about these fires and only wake up to them when they are raging, out of control, and then we raise our eyes to the skies and ask “how could this happen?” To Full Post
The core issue is about the nature of Judaism, and specifically the place of women within Judaism. To Full Post
Taken as a whole, it is safe to assume that an overwhelming majority of Israel’s 7.7 million citizens have quite frequently found themselves the victims of crude generalizations, prejudice and stereotypes at the hands of other groups of their fellow citizens.
The fact that experiences like these are shared by so many is obviously a source of great personal upset and collective concern for the future of Israeli society, but also possibly a paradoxical source of some hope. To Full Post