Friday, February 11, 2011

Teaching Nine Year Old Boys Promiscuity

As if in response to my post on the right wing obsession with sex via its focus on Tznius - comes a headline in a Jerusalem Post article that underscores it: Women teaching 4th grade boys is ‘promiscuity' . So said Sephardi Posek, Rabbi Avraham Yosef, son of Rav Ovadia Yosef.

It isn’t whether that is actually a Halachic problem. I don’t think it is at all - but I can hear how one could say it is still inappropriate in certain circles. It is that he put it in such terms. Promiscuity? Are we now supposed to believe that this is the standard for all of Orthodoxy? That a woman teaching 9 year olds Torah is teaching them promiscuity?

My assumption is that he takes this idea from the Gemarah in Sotah (20A) where it says that anyone who teaches his daughter Torah – teaches her Tiflus. Tiflus is usually translated as immorality. Although at one time women were not taught Torah at all except for Halachos that pertained to them we have long ago settled the issue of teaching women Torah. There are variations on this theme. But today the vast majority of women in virtually all strata of Orthodoxy are taught Torah in very formal and organized ways in classrooms all over the world - well beyond ‘what pertains to them’.

But this post isn’t about that. It is about the right wing focus on sex. And in this case it is a case of role reversal. The question Rabbi Yosef raises is, ‘Should women teach men Torah?’

I personally have no problem with that at all. In a proper setting like a classroom there should be no issues of promiscuity at all. Certainly there are no Halachic problems with a woman dressed in Halachicly modest clothing teaching Torah to 9 year olds. And yet Rabbi Yosef says this is tantamount to teaching them promiscuity.

How did we come to this? The Tznius issue has really gone off the planet into the wild blue yonder. The world of the right has raised this issue to new heights. Heights that I do not believe were ever intended by God. It’s as though it were a contest among factions of the right. How can we outdo the next guy in our level of Tznius? What Chumra can we incorporate so that the other guys will look at us as the Frummest of Frum?

Just look at the behavior this has led to.

There are now kindergarten Rebbes for the boys. No longer is a motherly influence on young boys considered appropriate. Girls are separated in right wing schools from the earliest ages. The more right wing – the earlier they are separated.

I recall how upset Rebbetzin Debbie Keller ZL was back in the 70s.(Rebbitzin Keller was Telshe Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Chaim Dov Keller’s first wife who passed away at a very young age from cancer.) She was upset that Arie Crown Hebrew Day School caved in to pressure from the right and separated the boys from the girls in her first grade class. She told my wife and me that by doing this they were pulling any moderating influence the girls had on the boys. An all boys class was much rowdier and less well behaved than a mixed class at that age. She was right.

But the artificial excess attention paid to Tznius won the day and Tznius Chumros have been proceeding at a very fast pace ever since. I need not mention all the ways this has happened. Just to mention one - the way women are virtually erased from the public square in every way possible including photos of them in the right wing religious media.

I truly find this extreme obsession with Tznius bizarre. Especially since there is absolutely no Halacha against any of these current Chumros. And certainly there is nothing Halachicly wrong with a woman teaching a 9 year old Torah. Which brings me back to Rabbi Yosef’s comment.

I wonder if in his heart of hearts he actually believes that here is anything immoral about it? Somehow I tend to doubt it.

I have to surmise that this is more about being politically correct in a climate where Tznius issue is a front burner issue. Anything one can do to advance the cause of Tznius is promoted full throttle! Is it any wonder that the lessen learned by some misguided women is that covering up with a Burka type outfit – face included - is an appropriate extension of Hilchos Tznius?

Although I am no left winger, I can’t help agreeing here with the Israeli modern Orthodox feminist organization - Kolech:

“It is wrong to attribute such thoughts to such young boys. This is an expression of the lack of faith in the possibility to conduct a normal dialogue between a woman and a boy, that we believe could carry educational and moral value.

“We would also like to wonder why we didn’t hear Rabbi Yosef speak out against men heading institutions in which pubescent girls study, or the many men who teach at such places,” Kolech said. “To point a finger only at the problematic element of women teaching boys and not vice versa is hypocritical and immodest.”

Very good point - and perhaps more valid than the issue he protests. A man in charge of a group of women does not always lead to Torah activities. Ask Rabbi Baruch Lanner. Is this obsession with Tznius really an obsession with sex? There is a popular saying that I’ve heard in the context of politicians having extra marital affairs that might answer that. If they say it’s not about the sex – it’s about the sex.