haredi women in Beit Shemesh_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
The alarming image of eight-year-old Na’amah Margolis being harassed by swarms of haredi men outside the Orot Girls School in Beit Shemesh last year is embedded in all of our minds. The media explosion that followed, including the Channel 2 exposé on Beit Shemesh religious fundamentalism, led to an investigation of the frenzy of fanaticism facing the community. As the Israeli public struggled to determine who was behind the attacks and pointed fingers at overzealous fringe groups, one group that was allowed immunity and inviolability is now about to join the fundamentalist ranks, if its adherents don’t act fast: the right-leaning sector of the religious Zionist community.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner’s latest formulation of women’s modesty “regulations,” in which he writes that girls should begin to be educated about modesty between the ages of three and six, was published in the weekly synagogue pamphlet Be’ahava U’bemuna, and sheds light on a growing trend among our country’s religious factions – looking to women’s behavior and clothing as the utopian recipe for the Orthodox community’s success.
As a (modest) woman who has always identified with this sector, Aviner’s ostracizing clothing regulations are enough to render his understanding of the religious Zionist cultural climate obsolete. His words are also enough to dissuade young, religious Zionist women from attempting to take their engagement in Judaism seriously. How can we really relate to a leader who hyper sexualizes women, objectifying them as mere inducements to sin?
I couldn’t help but feel violated as I read through the regulations – Aviner, a talmid chacham (wise student) who spends his day immersed in Torah learning, seems more aware of the inches of a woman’s body than most girls I know.
Does a man publicly highlighting every nook and cranny of women’s physiques reflect the so-called “modesty” that we are aspiring to? Is this what God had in mind when He declared: “Let your Camp be holy”?
When asked why his wife did not cover her hair, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the great halachic and philosophical authority of the last generation, reportedly responded: “ask her.” When will religious Zionist rabbis like Aviner follow suit and maintain a more “ask her” policy toward women’s behavior and dress?
In the pamphlet, Aviner states: “So much tenderness and humility. Such a blessing. ‘All glorious is the princess within her chamber; her gown is interwoven with gold.’ How modest and holy were the great mothers of Israel throughout the generations and everywhere.”
Modest yes, but hidden? Certainly not.
Our greatest female leaders were ones who took active, public roles.
It is written in the book of Judges that Barak deferred to the prophetess and Judge, Deborah, who led the Israelite army to defeat Sisera. After their victory, a hymn was sung by the two of them about the Canaanite defeat.
What, according to Aviner, would likely be wrong with this biblical picture today, besides – everything? A female warrior and judge playing an authoritative and political role, and singing in public, too? A far cry from the recent October call Aviner made barring women from public office or voting. Deborah is lucky she predated modern-day fervor. Had she been around today she’d likely be sharing the same jail cells as the Women of the Wall.
I beg and plead – will the real leaders of religious Zionism please stand up?
Hear our voices: We, the Jewish mothers, sisters and daughters are trying, sometimes against all Western odds, to maintain meaningful, spiritual Jewish lives – to bestow upon our children Jewish values, to play positive, prominent roles in society despite the aggression we are facing in the ever-fanaticizing contemporary landscape.
Let us grow, let us flourish, let us lead. Let “authentic practitioners” of Torah Judaism represent the various streams that are the beauty of our people. Be vocal in your support of us, do not let us fall through the cracks, or confine us to narrow columns of oppressive pamphlets. We are your other half, not simply adjuncts to the men in our lives. Without diminishing the essence of Judaism and halacha, do not limit us to buttons and inches, but nurture us, integrate us and let us continue to be the protagonists we have always been.