Thursday, July 27, 2017

My Kind of Feminist

Adina Bar Shalom with her father, R' Ovadia Yosef (YWN)
Now this is my kind of feminist. Speaking about her father, Adina Bar Shalom said the following: 
(W)omen’s rights within the context of Jewish law were extremely important for Rav Ovadia, a quality sorely lacking in today’s ultra-Orthodox rabbinic leadership.
 “My father used to say that every dayan should treat a woman coming to court as if she’s his own daughter,” she said. “In reality, things are very, very different. Dayanim do not think this way and cannot bring themselves to reach serious, truthful rulings. The suffering of the other does not concern them.”
I have been a fan of Adina Bar Shalom ever since I heard about her. But I didn’t realize just how many of her views mirrored my own. An article by Elhanan Miller in Tablet has just made me aware of that.

Mrs. Bar Shalom is the daughter of a genuine Sepahrdi Gadol, Chacham Ovadia Yosef who was Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi back in the 70s. He was a brilliant Talmud Chacham whose encyclopedic knowledge of Halacha was recorded in voluminous detail in the many Seforim he published. As Miller notes: ‘Rav Ovadia… (is) widely regarded as the most prominent Sephardic scholar of the 20th century.’ 

Some of Mrs. Shalom’s responses surprised me. But not all of them. For example her support for changing the educational paradigm for Charedi in Israel is well known. A position that is identical to my own: 
Shas, the political movement he founded in 1984, is now controlled by an ultra-conservative rabbinic council. The movement’s educational system, Ma’ayan Hachinuch Hatorani, refuses to introduce secular studies to its curriculum, thereby condemning its students to a life of poverty, unable to integrate into Israel’s high-skilled workforce. “In 10 years’ time, our children will sue us for recklessness and neglect,” the 70-year-old said… 
 “Haredi society is reaching a crossroads,” she explained. “The boys want to study English and math. They can’t manage in the world without secular studies. You simply can’t allow them to study only religious studies; you must allow both. If we do not rise to the challenge the cost will be terrible. Young men will not want to attend yeshivas at all, and we will have thrown out the baby with the bath water.” 
Where have we heard that before! Unfortunately Shas, the Sephardi political party is now led by a fanatic that would fit in easily with extremists like Rav Shmuel Auerbach. Here is what Mrs. Shalom had to say about that: 
Shas, under the guidance of Rabbi Shalom Cohen, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s successor as president of the Council of Torah Sages (the party’s steering committee), is “no longer my father’s party.” 
Mrs. Shalom was not reticent about criticizing the rest of the Israeli Charedi rabbinic establishment either: 
“They are fearful and, unfortunately, not learned enough. I believe that anyone who is deeply learned can find solutions to every problem. I don’t want to denigrate anyone, but we don’t have enough brave giants. Unlike that high-school student I was speaking to earlier, a great scholar cannot try to please his friends. He must take responsibility as a leader and solve the problems of his people. If he wants to safeguard the Torah, that’s the only way. The moment he tries to please the mediocre scholars, mediocrity wins, and that’s our downfall.” 
Miller notes that she was probably talking about her younger brother, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchok Yosef.

Adina Bar Shalom is the founder of the Haredi College of Jerusalem, which caters to the sensibilities of Charedim offering separate classes for men and women. Originally created for Charedi women it has since evolved into a school for both sexes. This and her social activism earned her the highly regarded Israel Prize.

Here is another of her surprising views . Although a strong devotee of her father and being ‘fiercely loyal to him, it is nonetheless hard to imagine his having similar views on at least one issue. Here are her honest thoughts about the LGBT community - via her own personal experiences: 
 “For a woman coming from such a different world, to meet a man like that was a big ‘wow.’ I met a person whom I even loved to some degree. A nice, kind person whom I could befriend. Should his [sexual] orientation drive me away because it’s so different? That was a question I asked myself.” 
As I indicated, most of the comments made by Mrs. Bar Shalom could have been made by me. Many of which are indicative of the problems the Charedi world faces right now. I have to wonder though whether things would be different if the leaders of the past were still around… Perhaps Adina Bar Shalom hints at the answer with the following:
(T)wo years after his death, his eldest daughter observes with alarm—and a measure of disgust—as Ovadia’s legacy atrophies. 
This is true not only about Rav Ovaida’s legacy. I thinks its true about the legacy of all his contemporaries that have since passed on.  Which is not to difficult to see when comparing the legacy of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach to the behavior of his son.