Monday, August 22, 2022

Are Charedi Women Missing Something?

Eizeh Hu Asher? HaSameach Bechelko – Who is rich? Those who are happy with their lot (Avos 4).These are the words that came to mind after watching a video on Life in Israel entitled; Ultra-orthodox women: Do you feel second-class in your society? (see below). 

A group of women (randomly selected - it appears) were independently asked  whether as Charedi women they felt like second class citizens. In every single case they answered with an emphatic no. When  presented with details about which their second class status would seem obvious, and asked why not, they explained that they did not see themselves that way at all. Each more or less explaining that they are quite happy and even proud of their unique role as women in Orthodoxy. And do not desire in any way to do the things men do. (Like making their own Minyan and reading from the Torah.)

This raises the question about why there are so many women on the left of Orthodoxy that feel deprived. Can there be such a disconnect between – for example - Women of the Wall and what seems like the entirety of Charedi women? Why didn’t a single randomly selected Charedi woman express even the slightest reservation about her role? Why did not a single woman feel deprived by virtue of her status as a woman? Can human nature be so radically different  among observant women? I realize that this is not a scientific survey that tells us the real statistic. But my gut tells me that this admittedly small random sample is pretty much the way it is among the vast majority of Charedi woman. (Although I’m sure there are exceptions.)

In my view the answer to that question has little if anything to do with human nature. It has mostly to do with the specific values one incorporates into their value system. And where they learn those values.

Charedi women  are by no means feminists. They instead see themselves as the glorious personification of perfection as a woman in their God given roles. Jewish women on the left see their roles unfairly designed by a patriarchal society that for centuries had - by fiat -  assured that men will rule over them. Thereby denying them the same rights as men; leaving them spiritually unfulfilled as Jewish women. In other words  the current feminist ideal of equity in all things is seen as an objectively higher value that has been distorted by rabbis of the past for purposes of control.

This observation is not meant to dispute the motives of the Orthodox left. I beleive that in many cases they truly believe that by inisiting on doing things their way - they are serving God more fully than they otherwise would. That it enhances their own sense of spirituality  

But at the same time,  I also believe that this feeling is tied to their sense of being denied a legitimate religious modality because of their sex. Thus leaving them unfulfilled as Jewish women. So they ask if there is technically no Halachic reason to not adopt the modality of men in prayer, why prevent them from doing so? Why deny them the higher level of spirituality they can achieve by doing so?

There are in fact reasons for opposing the Women of the Wall  despite their sincerity of purpose which I have addressed many times.  But they are beyond the scope of this post.

The point here, however, is that motivations, no matter how sincere are influenced by the way we are raised and the values we absorb by the environment in which one imbibes.  The only question is what values are we raised with? Are they internal values of our Torah and our Mesorah? Or external values based on the ethics of the times? 

I’m not making any judgment about whether external values have merit. I absolutely think that many of them have great merit. But when external values contradict - and then override traditionally religious ones, I have to wonder how much weight is given to  traditional values versus current ethical values.  When it comes to Charedi women versus left wing Orthodoxy women, the answer seems obvious to me. 

At the end of the day, one thing seems clear.  An observant woman can feel very fulfilled in her role as woman in service to God without the need to do things ‘out of the box’.  In fact the sense I got about the Charedi women interviewed in that video is that they are a lot happier with their lives than are the Orthodox women seeking equity with men. This does not mean that there aren’t exceptions. But in my view, that is what they are. Exceptions. 

Just sayin’