A religious woman and a female soldier pray at the Western Wall..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Undervalued. Subjugated. Repressed.
These are adjectives often used to describe haredi women. A February 9 Haaretz interview with United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni likely generated a similar description for many readers, certainly upon reading Gafni’s response to the pertinent question: What is your opinion on the new movement of haredi women demanding to become involved in politics? Gafni’s answer – that if UTJ would include women, haredi women wouldn’t vote for UTJ – seems at best a lame excuse. Considering the racket made by Ubezchutan, the new haredi women’s party, Gafni’s response comes across as downright condescending.
But I believe him.
Why, you ask. Because I would not vote for a haredi party that included female representatives.
And neither would my neighbors and friends.
On a surface level, our objection (and Gafni’s) to female reps in the Knesset would be to the ensuing breach of modesty (for lack of a better English word – the concept of tzniut is infinitely deeper than it’s simple cousin, “modesty” – but that discussion is beyond the scope of this article).
However important modesty may be, the price tag for haredi women seems hefty indeed.
To explain, I’ll have to digress a bit.
Like many haredi women nowadays, I work.
Talented and dedicated, haredi women work either to enable their husbands to become Torah scholars, or, like most families in Israel, because they find it difficult to make ends meet on a single paycheck.
But like most haredi women (and secular women as well), my center of gravity is not at work. It’s at home.
We all want our children to grow up to become productive, contributing members of society. At the same time, many of us resent the investment required to reach such a goal. Parenting is thankless work. Children, cute as they are, are demanding and unappreciative. The sheer amount of time required just to tend to a child’s physical needs – never mind the educational and emotional investments that are part and parcel of childrearing – can be overwhelming.
There are particular aspects of childrearing that make it an especially difficult task in our generation. For one, there is no external approbation for a parent’s investment. Most childrearing occurs in the inner recesses of one’s home, with no one but the four walls (and if you’re lucky, your spouse) as witness. In an increasingly externally oriented world, where who you are becomes what you can portray on your Facebook page, this is indeed a bitter pill to swallow.
Another difficulty of parenting in our society is that results are a long time in coming. The frustration associated with this fact cannot be underestimated in our instant generation, where the whole world is at our fingertips with the click of a button.
To a degree, haredim are immune to these challenges. The insular haredi society affords protection to those less connected to Western society’s trends as disseminated on the Internet and television. But what’s even more compelling is that for haredim, it’s all about education.
This axiom explains a number of peculiarities about haredim. It’s why we fight so hard for the right to educate our children in the manner we see fit. It’s why we fight to keep our yeshiva students in yeshiva. It’s also why employment in the education system is considered more prestigious than, say, becoming a doctor or lawyer.
As Gafni said, “The haredim don’t send their best to the Knesset. In haredi society, the best become heads of yeshivot and rabbis.” He’s correct. But his statement only covers the men.
What about the women? Gafni couldn’t say it – for fear of the backlash, for fear of being misunderstood. But I will. We don’t send our best women to the Knesset either. We send them into their homes, where they are on the front lines of education – even more so than the rabbis and teachers.
It’s true that no one will hand them a paycheck, award them a prize or ask them for an interview. But a haredi woman knows: the Jewish people’s future sits squarely on her shoulders.
Someone has to sit in the Knesset. And we’re grateful to Gafni and the rest for taking on the task. As we watch the mud-slinging election campaign slink to its grubby end, the haredi woman will continue her productive work in other venues. You can find her in places of employment across the country, in the countless haredi volunteer organizations, and most important, in the Jewish home. Undervalued? Not a chance. Not by our society, and certainly not by G-d.