Four sons and misogyny

Misogyny is a disease that must be cured.

Male and female soldiers remember the fallen at a Remembrance Day ceremony on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Male and female soldiers remember the fallen at a Remembrance Day ceremony on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
IN THE past few weeks, statements by some Israeli rabbis regarding women are a reminder of a sad fact: institutions controlled by men degrade women. Throughout history, institutions controlled by men, dictated women’s behavior out of fear of losing their power and monopoly. Taboos about what a woman can and cannot do were as true for the American Congress, which gave voting rights to slaves before women as they are for Saudi Arabia, who until recently banned female drivers. Sadly it has frequently been the case in rabbinical institutions throughout history. Misogyny is a disease that must be cured.
Recently, a video was circulated on the Internet as well as shown on main Israeli news networks. The lecture was given to an all-male audience at the pre-army academy (mechina) at Eli. These are young students, bursting with motivation and a willingness to serve their country. Many, as graduates of the mechina before them, will go on to elite units in the army. In the video, Rabbi Yosef Kalner, a prominent religious leader at the academy, defines what he perceives to be the genetic and social make-up of women.
Among many inappropriate statements, he postulates that women are mediocre both spiritually and in practice. Women who received Nobel prizes or became prime ministers are referred to as “mutations.” One video camera exposed to the whole world the approach towards women in certain sectors within the religious Zionist camp in Israel. These words come at the time of a heated debate on the role of women in the Israeli army, both within Israel’s civil as well as religious sectors.
Many of my female childhood friends serve in the IDF. They are in intelligence units, cyber departments, the educational and social work corps, as well as in combat roles protecting Israel’s borders. The majority of these friends are fully practicing, religious Jews. So, as with any trauma, I had to recover from the shock, stop the denial and avoidance, and say “It’s enough!”
I studied in yeshiva. The year of studying before the army gives a feeling of Noah’s ark, sitting isolated from the world, only you, the Talmud, God and a few charismatic rabbis saving you from the flood that is the real world. That is exactly why rabbis need to be especially careful. Boys sitting in those rooms are at an age when they do not always have the filters or the capacity to stand up before venomous statements made by men they respect. In this case, a revered rabbi is presenting women as being handicapped throughout history, as a result of which fewer women reached their potential.
Fortunately, this is not what the Jewish national movement was like. Israel was one of the first countries to have a female prime minister. The Hagana and the Palmach were made up of men and women fighting and sometimes dying together. Women in Israel have taken on leading roles in hi-tech, education, culture, and the Supreme Court.
I sat and tried to understand how we came to this situation. I was reminded of the Seder night story of the four sons. I thought to myself, this is our discussion: boys and Torah. So here are the four sons, who I believe represent the problematic attitude toward women in certain parts of Israeli society.
Wise: These are public personas like Benny Lau, Yuval Sherlo and Shlomo Riskin. These rabbis that have left Noah’s ark and are asking themselves questions regarding society and Halacha. They are seeking to strengthen the status of women without compromising Halacha.
Wicked: Those who see all religious Jews and Zionists in black and white, the blacker the better. They look to these videos as a way of demonizing a whole sector of society, while avoiding serious ques- tions about the status of women in their own back yards.
Simple: These are the radical neoliberals. For them, there is no place for discussion on the content in society. All they do is defend freedom of speech (extremely important) but do not repost what is being said – only the right to say it. Their simplicity ultimately is a barrier to improvement.
He who does not know to ask: Rabbis, students and people of all sectors who choose not to face the problem. They confine themselves, so as not to, God forbid, be considered controversial. They do not fully appreciate the danger of certain statements and their potential regarding women.
It is precisely because I care about the Torah that I want to tackle the problems that some of its texts present to modern Israeli Jews in the 21st century. If the Torah is only interpreted in a radical or old-fashioned perspective, it will become irrelevant. Only constantly rethinking the Torah’s thought and philosophy can keep it eternal. We must all seek to find which of the four sons lives inside us, and facing that reality, facing the old illness of fear, denigration and hatred of women, we men and women must work together to repair the world.
The writer is a student at Shalem College in Jerusalem.