Ultra-Orthodox Jews dance with Torah scrolls during the celebrations of Simchat Torah in a synagogue in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The chairwoman of the new ultra-Orthodox Ubezchutan Party for women, Ruth Colian, described the situation of haredi women in the country as akin to slavery and said that the need for female haredi MKs is overwhelming.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Colian, who is 33 and married with four children, outlined the reasons why she is starting a political party to represent haredi women.
“There is a vast number of different population sectors who have representation in the Knesset – Arabs, Jews, Sephardim, Ashkenazim, haredim, and so on,” she said. “But haredi women have no representation at all. There are male haredi representatives, but they do not address the needs and concerns of haredi women.”
Colian noted that the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women had held a hearing in November to discuss worrying findings about women’s health in the haredi sector, including a 30 percent higher rate of breast cancer mortality and the fact that haredi women have one of the lowest levels of life expectancy in the country.
“Not one of the haredi MKs showed up to the hearing,” said Colian. “Haredi women are ranked eighth in Israel for life expectancy, while haredi men are ranked second. This is an unbelievable gap,” she continued.
“The burden and division of labor within a haredi family is completely lop-sided. Women have to bring in an income to support the family financially, take care of the children, cook, and perform other family requirements. Some men are now working, but many still go to study all day and this burden on women has a toll.”
“Politicians are talking today about the weaker sectors of society and the invisible people.
Well, we are slaves, we are invisible, we are the weaker sector.
Haredi women are a group of people together and we need to gain Knesset representation as a people and take care of ourselves by ourselves.”
Colian said Ubezchutan would also seek to provide representation to haredi men who have left full-time yeshiva study and joined the workforce, noting that they also have no Knesset representation.
She noted that, prior to launching Ubezchutan, she approached the two mainstream haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, asking for slots on their electoral lists to be reserved for women, but the requests were denied.
Colian was also part of a group of women who submitted a petition to the Central Elections Committee chaired by Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, demanding that Shas, UTJ, and the new Yahad Ha’am Itanu Party established by former Shas MK Eli Yishai be required to include at least one woman on their respective electoral lists.
The petition was denied, with Joubran writing that the committee did not have the authority to intervene in the political parties’ choice of candidates.
Despite the problems facing haredi women, Ubezchutan’s chances of entering the Knesset are slim, given the way the haredi public, including the women, largely adhere to the instructions of the leading rabbis and vote for the established parties.
Colian was more reticent when discussing her own background and place within haredi society, but insisted that she and her party are representative of mainstream haredi women.
She has taken a public role and is active on Facebook, both of which are unusual for haredi women, and her husband works full-time, when the oft-espoused ideal for men in haredi society is to study fulltime in a yeshiva.
Colian rejects such yardsticks for defining her haredi identity, arguing that “to be haredi is to have fear of heaven,” and the length of one’s skirt and Internet usage are not relevant to her place in haredi society.
“Haredi women do not have to be confined to the role of a kindergarten teacher who goes home only to take care of her own children as well,” she said. “There are haredi women who will hear what we have to say and will see that for the first time there is someone who is attentive to and understands them.
“The haredi woman is alone at the voting booth,” Colian added, in reference to the strong influence rabbinic declarations about the importance of voting for the established haredi parties have on the haredi public.
“The community is becoming more aware of this cynical use and manipulation of our great rabbis and will come to understand that something really smells bad with this kind of political model,” she said.