It has become a place where big ideas find a global audience. It is known simply as TED. And TED Talks are little presentations that anyone can watch online for free. There are TED Talks on almost every subject you can imagine: building your own nuclear reactor; stopping cyberbullies; exploring Antarctica; a better way to tie your shoes. But what sets TED Talks apart is that the big ideas are wrapped up in personal stories and they're mostly from people you have never heard of before. And it is those stories that have captured the imaginations of tens of millions of viewers around the world. Giving a TED Talk can be life-changing even if some speakers don't always realize what they're getting into.
There is one Ted event that has particular significance to Orthodoxy. Especially the Charedi version practiced in Israel as it relates to women. (See video below). I believe it makes an important statement that may very well auger change for the better. Not because the Charedi leadership wants it to. But because there are finally female voices in the Charedi world that are speaking up and doing something about their current status in that world.
The Ted talk is given by Esty Shushan. She saw the extremism that is building up in her world and had just about enough of it. Believing that a Kenesset seat held by a Charedi woman might stem the extremist tide, she tried to join the Charedi political parties. But she was quickly rebuffed. Mrs. Shushan decided to open a facebook page entitled, ‘No Voice, No Vote’ .
This caused her to be seen as a ‘crazy woman’ by many of her Charedi compatriots. But her Facebook page reached out beyond the parameters set by Charedi leaders. It was now being heard by various media outlets. Enough for the Charedi leadership to pay attention. She formed a party and ran in the last election. Very cleverly she posted posters in the Charedi neighborhoods that had the look of the typical Charedi posters one finds. Usually banning one thing or another. It had the look of opposition to these women. Which allowed people actually look at those signs and read what they had to say. Instead of them being ripped off the walls and destroyed. She did not win any seats. This time.
Mrs. Shushan correctly points out that Charedi politicians have no problem dealing with the secular female Kenesset members. It is perfectly permissible for them to engage with them on political matters. But are opposed to female Charedi Kenesset members.
The attention these Charedi women got from the media generated insults from the Charedi leadership. One Charedi leader calling them schizophrenic! Another Charedi Rav said that these women are ‘rebellious’ and have thereby lost their Kesubah rights! When you start getting insults like this, you have made an impact.
And yet the biggest insults were from Charedi women themselves. A phenomenon she blames on the way they were educated. Women are supposed to be out of the public eye and be domestic. Good wives and mothers. In other words they are taught that to be a good Jewish woman, they must stay barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. Running for political office undermines that role.
But her message has apparently come through. Mrs. Shushan says that it has resonated with many Charedi women. And even many Charedi men and Charedi children. They see her movement as a bulwark against the extremism that has become so prevalent. Where women are increasingly marginalized and mistreated in the name of Tznius. Like being made to sit at the back of a sex segregated bus. And as a bulwark against all the violence against women by extremist thugs acting on that premise.
There is and will continue to be pushback by Charedi leadership. And it will no doubt be even stronger now than before. But this time it may just work in her favor as more Charedi men and women wake up to what she is saying.
Women in Israel have a right to be heard. And that includes Charedi women, many of whom are shedding the doctrine that being marginalized is a feminine virtue. And perhaps extremism will be stamped out once and for all.
Thank you Ted for giving this woman your platform.