Sunday, January 01, 2017

What Is… and What Could Be

Rachel (Ruchie) Freier - Brooklyn Civil Court Judge (Brooklyn Paper)
One of my favorite campaign slogans was the one Bobby (Robert F.) Kennedy used during his ill fated campaign for President back in 1968: 
There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not? 
If I had to characterize what I try to do here it might be summed up by that quote. Well… almost. It’s not that things in Judaism never were. It’s that things that were - have been discarded with the claim that they never were by certain segments of Orthodox Judaism. So in that context I dream of things that never were and say why not?

I mention this in light of an event that happened last week. It was a wonderful example of the way things could be. From VIN
It was a historic moment tonight as Ruchie Freier, a Chasidic female lawyer and the founder of the all female Ezras Nashim volunteer ambulance corps, was inducted as a civil court judge at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Freier was introduced by several speakers including Brooklyn’s acting district attorney Eric Gonzalez.
Surrounded by her parents, husband, children and grandchildren in Borough Hall’s ceremonial courtroom, Freier donned her black robe as she was inducted as a judge by her uncle, former Judge David Schmidt… 
Unfortunately I don’t think they are celebrating this event in some of the more extreme enclaves of Chasidism. Nor would they celebrate this in Charedi Israel. It might even be anathema to them - as it goes completely counter to their isolationist worldview. 

First, the idea that a woman can be in a position of such high visibility goes counter to their oft quoted passage from  Tehilim (45:15): Kvudah Bas Melech Penima – the glory of the King’s daughter (i.e. all Jewish women) is on the inside. Which they basically interpret as a woman’s place is in the home.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard that famous quote used even to the point of  erasing women completely from the public square – forget about becoming a judge in a secular court.

And yet as can be plainly seen from this video (below), Mrs. Freier’s Chasidic husband could not be prouder of his wife’s accomplishments – telling everyone attending the ceremony how supportive her family is.

I believe his pride is genuine. I also believe that the Chasidic community that he is a part of may very well be tolerant and even celebrate this kind of thing. They might be classified as moderate Chasidim which are part of the growing moderate mainstream majority of Charedi America. But this would never happen in places like Kiryas Joel and New Square. Nor would - even the non Chasidic rabbinic leaders in Israel be tolerant of it. One may recall some recent comments by some of those leaders forbidding women to study any academic subjects at all – even in schools designed by Charedim for Charedim.

So as happy as I am to see something like this take place, I wish I could say that it is the wave of the future for Chasidism or for the Charedi world in Israel.  Or even that there is a ray of hope that things might turn somewhat in this direction. I tend to doubt it. I hope I’m wrong but my guess is that Ruchie Freier is the exception that will ultimately prove the rule. But I can dream...