Friday, May 27, 2022

A Just Lawsuit by IRAC

IRAC Executive Director, Anat Hoffman (TOI)
Even a broken clock is right twice a day. That is what went through my mind when I read the following in the Times of Israel: 

The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) said Wednesday it was seeking NIS 345,000 ($100,000) in damages from the Behadrei Haredim website for a picture it ran last year of female leaders of Jewish movements meeting with President Isaac Herzog, in which the faces of the women were digitally smudged. 

IRAC is an activist arm of the Reform Movement. As much as it pains me to say so, they are right about this issue.  Seems like I’ve been doing that a lot lately- agreeing with movements I believe are heretical in nature. And to be honest I feel queasy doing that. It does not give me any pleasure to side with movements like this on any issue. Even one in which they are right about. 

But the truth is the truth and should not be hidden just because I don’t agree with the people saying it. So I do in fact hope they succeed in their lawsuit – despite my discomfort with them.  

IRAC’s head, Anat Hoffman is better known as the leader of WOW  (Women of the Wall). This is a group of women that come to pray at the Kotel once a month (Rosh Chodesh). They do so as a group in the manner of men. This has proven to be disruptive to the peace and tranquility that should characterize one of the holiest places in the world. This monthly event has been opposed by most of mainstream Orthodoxy which has brought about huge counter protests - far outnumbering the Women of the Wall. It has also occasionally generated the worst in some of those who participated in that opposition - whose behavior turned violent. 

I am not going to go into detail about how serious the intentions of those women are – many of whom are observant and quite spiritual in intent. Even if their intentions are a sincere as could be - sometimes good intentions do not produce good results. That should be obvious by the above-mentioned massive opposition and violence. 

It is clear that Hoffman’s motives are not all that spiritual. She has openly stated that her real purpose is to forward the egalitarianism that characterizes today’s feminism.

Egalitarianism is a left wing political goal that seeks to apply the same standards to both men and women. That is a noble goal in most cases. But not always the case on Judaism. Hoffman seeks to apply it to all areas of Judaism. Judaism is not an egalitarian religion. Men and women are not the same in every respect and do not have completely identical obligations to God. While in most cases they do, it is not universal. This doesn’t mean that women can’t sometimes participate in Mitzvos that apply to men. In many cases they may - and are encouraged to do so if they wish. It is their prerogative. 

However, some Mitzvos that belong to men are not permitted to women. Even the most left wing rabbis would prohibit them. To cite one example, women may not be counted toward the minimum of ten individuals required to make a Minyan.  No matter how knowledgeable or how many there are. That there are some gray areas does not mean they must be fully exploited in the name of an egalitarianism. Which can never be fully applied anyway.

Anat Hoffman doesn’t care about that. She believes in full egalitarianism. That is her ultimate goal. And she is using group of sincere observant women to forward that goal. I think that is a shameful abuse of people whose spiritual intentions may be very sincere.

And yet, Hoffman’s group is completely right about suing Behadrei Haredim. The  erasure of women from the public eye is something that was never practiced in the non Chasidic world. At least in the 75years of my lifetime – until relatively recently. Now, however, the most widely circulated Orthodox Jewish magazines are erasing images of women from their pages. Which is an unnecessary and unhealthy concession to the observant Jews on their right. Jews consisting primarily of the most right wing Chasidim who (if I understand correctly) had never published pictures of women.

But in the non Chasidic world even Agudah used to publish pictures of women - right on the front cover of their now defunct publication, the Jewish Observer. They stopped doing that after a while. The explanation I keep hearing from those quarters is that the Frum community has grown and evolved. Our standards are much higher now.

Really? I don’t buy that for a minute!  These are standards that never existed in the non Chasidic world and still don’t. There is no way the legitimate Gedolim of that time - some of whom were on the Agudah Moetzes - would have ever permitted those pictures to be published on the cover of their premier magazine if they thought it to be even the slightest violation of Jewish modesty standards. Making that argument now would seem to cast aspersions on the Gedolim of the past. 

Unfortunately the trend seems to be going in the opposite direction. I therefore believe it needs to be vigorously protested every time it shows its ugly head. We must do whatever we can to stop a trend that makes a mockery out of all of Orthodox Jewry.

I have heard the argument made that those of us that are not Charedi should not be concerned with what goes on there. That we should just do what we think is right in our world and ignore what goes on there. But that is a big mistake. The Charedi world is huge and growing exponentially with every passing generation. Far outpacing the growth of the rest of the Orthodox world. What they do reflects on all of us. Distinctions between Charedi world and the rest of the Orthodox world are not usually made by the general public – who will look at this trend with mild amusement – and perhaps even ridicule.

So aside from all the other problems with erasing women I and others have mentioned before, it does not serve us well when we unnecessarily do things which bring ridicule upon us. It is one thing to stand up for Halacha – even when it isn’t popular by general cultural standards. That is a Kiddush HaShem. But when doing things that are far from Halacha for purposes of false modesty… well, I wouldn’t call  it a Chilul HaShem. But in my view it comes pretty darn close when we do things not based in Halacha that bring ridicule upon us.

Which brings me back to IRAC’s lawsuit in this regard. Their motives are not our motives. They  see this lawsuit as a step towards full egalitarianism. So even though I have problem with why they are doing it, they are nevertheless right to pursue this particular goal and I hope they win. I just wish it were someone else doing it.