Holy Moses

Heidi Moses, UTJ MK Menahem Eliezer Moses’s gay daughter, is running in the next Knesset race for Likud. In a conversation with the ‘Magazine’ she tells of her extraordinary journey.

Heidi Moses  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Heidi Moses
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
At age eight, Heidi Moses already knew she was a rebel, but little did she know what the future had in store for her.
The eighth of 10 children from a venerated Vishnitz hassidic family, Moses grew up in an insular environment in Jerusalem’s haredi (ultra- Orthodox) Mea She’arim and Geula neighborhoods, completely unaware of the secular world of downtown Jerusalem just a few blocks away.
Her father, Menahem Eliezer Moses, has been a United Torah Judaism Knesset member since 2009 and before that served as the Education Ministry’s deputy director-general. He has been responsible for haredi education as well as planning and developing nursing homes for the elderly, and housing projects for young couples.
At first, Moses’s rebellion took the form of singing songs with her brother until the wee hours of the night on Shabbat, pretending she was the Vishnitz rebbe.
Then she started going out on weeknights, riding bikes, and basically doing the opposite of everything her mother had told her to do. She played soccer with Sephardi boys in her neighborhood because the Ashkenazi haredi boys wouldn’t play with her and other girls didn’t dare play.
“They called me the boy of the neighborhood,” Moses recalls.
Deciding that their rebel had to be tamed, Moses’s parents sent her to the Vishnitz boarding school in Bnei Brak, where her older sister’s friend became her teacher.
“I was surprised to get a teacher who actually cared for me,” she says. “One time, she gave me a kiss on the cheek. I remember feeling something strange in my body when it happened.”
Years later, Moses would learn about relations between women, but already then, she remembers asking a friend if she was supposed to feel something strange from the kiss.
When she didn’t clean up her act at the Bnei Brak boarding school, her parents decided to send her to a haredi high school in Manchester, England. She arrived not knowing a word of English, or even that a language other than Yiddish or Hebrew existed.
She learned English quickly, though, and soon discovered various aspects of secular life, like shopping malls.
Two years later, and three months shy of her 17th birthday, Moses’s parents had her sent back home to Jerusalem. Her mother threw out all the clothes she had bought in Manchester, she recalls.
Soon after her return, a friend revealed to her that she was to be engaged to a man she had never met named Yitzchok, who was from Haifa. She went with her sister to buy a dress for the occasion, came home and cried.
“I went downstairs and found a man looking down,” Moses says. “It was a boring two hours in which he did me a favor that he even looked at me. Afterward, my father took me to his office. I told him: ‘Father, I’m still a child.’ He told me they could delay the party by a year. But the following morning, the engagement was already in the Hamodia [haredi daily] newspaper.”
According to Vishnitz tradition, a bride and groom are forbidden to have any contact for seven months between the engagement and wedding, so she returned to Manchester. A month before the wedding, she came back to Israel to attend marital relations classes.
“I asked a friend how you do that gross thing,” Moses said. “She told me to pretend I am holding a piece of meat at the supermarket.
“At the wedding, Yitzchok was crying as if he were being brought to be slaughtered. I saw my [female] teacher who I fell in love with at age 14, and I thought: ‘Why am I with this UFO, and not with my teacher?’”
The ceremony was held at a wedding hall in northern Jerusalem. The 17-yearold bride wore an opaque veil and touched a man for the first time at a ceremonial family “mitzva dance.”
The groom’s parents took the couple to their new apartment in Jerusalem, where the groom tried unsuccessfully to flee.
The couple was supposed to consummate their marriage that night. Yitzchok told Moses that he was adopting the most stringent rules of the hassidic tradition for sexual intercourse: that it be completely dark, and that both of them stay completely clothed, including head coverings. He did not even touch her.
“My [bridal] teacher had taught me where to direct him,” Moses says. “He had no idea what to do. He was told by his teacher that the woman would direct him. We didn’t really succeed.”
At 6 a.m., the groom’s parents returned along with Moses’s older sister in order to shave her head. Moses pleaded with her sister not to go through with it, but her sister’s response was, “This is how it is done,” and that the decision had been made the night of the engagement.
“When I looked in the mirror [after the head shaving], I didn’t recognize myself,” Moses says. “I was so embarrassed; I felt I had been emptied.”
The head-shaving tradition dates back to when local rulers in Europe would have the first right to women on their wedding night, Moses explains. Heads of brides were shaved to make the women unattractive and dissuade the rulers from taking them.
“I put the turban on and glued it to my head, like I was supposed to,” she recalls.
“He came out [of the room],” she continues, “and told me he did not love me, and he did not want to marry me, and he only did because I was a Moses.”
Yitzchok also revealed to his new wife: “I am not a man like other men. Women turn me off.”
In Moses’s bridal classes, she had been taught that she had a responsibility to prevent her husband from sinning, so when she would return from her monthly immersion in a mikve (ritual bath), she would force her husband to have relations with her.
Moses complained to the rabbi who had taught Yitzchok his pre-wedding classes that he did not want marital relations with her. Yitzchok finally relented after the rabbi told him that marital relations “only needed to take a few seconds” and that “from the back, men and women look the same.”
Moses gave birth to their son, Shlomi, when she was 19, and their daughter, Riki, when she was 20.
When Yitzchok saw his firstborn child, Moses says the boy disgusted him. “Who says they are really mine, anyway?” she recalls him saying.
The marriage worsened with time, she says. Yitzchok became violent, and Moses told him the marriage was over. He responded by locking her in a room and taking their children away.
She called the police, and they were at her home when Yitzchok came back.
The policewoman started yelling at him. When she saw her husband being handcuffed, Moses had mercy on him and asked the policemen not to take him away.
Looking back, she is shocked that they agreed. “Defending him was a big mistake,” she said. “He took away my phone and identity card, and then he took my kids away again, even though I was breastfeeding them.
“I can still hear Riki screaming. Such things still happen to haredi women to this very day, with the assistance of the rabbinate and welfare authorities.”
Six days passed before Moses’s father came and took her to her children. He asked her to attempt to reconcile with her husband, but when she spoke to Yitzchok, he told her she was crazy.
With NIS 14 in her pocket, Moses took her children to the home of one of her brothers who is modern Orthodox. When her parents sent word that they were worried, she refused to see them. She only agreed to move back to her parents’ house after her mother revealed to her that not only did she not want Moses to move back in with Yitzchok, but that she had yelled at him for mistreating her daughter.
The divorce process was completed quickly and easily because Yitzchok did not want their children. He moved to New York, where he married after the Moses family helped him find a new bride. He comes to Israel every couple of years and sees the children.
At her parents’ home, Moses lived a double life. Her parents tried to marry her off, and she pretended to play along. She would go to the Western Wall to pray, but along the way she would stop at secular venues, like a health club, and made friends who were far from haredi.
“At a pizza place in the bus station, I met a girl named Hila who told me she was a lesbian,” Moses recalls. “She told me to do some soul searching, repent and start going out with the right gender.”
Hila connected Moses to Bat Kol, an organization of religiously observant lesbians. Hila took her to a Bat Kol event and when she brought her home, she gave Moses a kiss – the first she had ever received from either sex.
“It was crazy that it was my first kiss in my entire life,” says Moses, who at the time was a 26-year-old mother of two. “She taught me that when you kiss someone, you’re supposed to look in their eyes.”
Since then, she has had good relationships with women, Moses says, but has encountered homophobia in the secular world. She is currently single, after her partner from 2013 to 2015 ended their relationship because the woman’s husband refused to give her a get (Jewish writ of divorce) if she continued seeing Moses.
The woman had met Moses’s family, attending two bar-mitzva celebrations for Moses’s son Shlomi – one organized by his father and another by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev at the synagogue in the Knesset.
So why politics?
Moses, now 34, has been interested in politics since a young age. She first learned about the Knesset as a child from the haredi newspapers in her home.
The challenges she encountered in her life influenced her to become active in politics, she says. She saw it as an avenue to help those who leave the haredi world, women forced into unwanted marriages, and those whose children have been taken away by social services.
“I had a vision of my father in the Knesset, and me speaking there,” she says. “I decided I would get involved in politics to make sure that what happened to me wouldn’t happen to others.”
At first, Moses decided to volunteer in Kadima under Tzipi Livni because the party was led by a woman. She was active in the 2009 election, in which Kadima won one more seat than Likud, but in the end Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu formed a government.
Then she started going to the Knesset building and helping people from there. She became a lobbyist, helped draft and pass legislation to help haredi orphans, and pushed for lifesaving medicine to be included in the health basket. When she isn’t at the Knesset, she works as a holistic health practitioner.
When Livni lost the leadership of Kadima, Moses joined Likud. She is now running in the next Likud Knesset primary, which will be held ahead of the next general election. With a number of slots reserved for new female candidates, she stands a good chance of getting in.
“A party is a platform to achieve goals,” she says. “I go where there is power.”
When asked about her political views, Moses says she opposes giving the Palestinians concessions or a state. “There are 21 Arab states, so they can go to Mosul [Iraq],” she says.
Among the issues Moses is interested in advancing in the Knesset are legal recognition for same-sex couples, and making taxi services more available on Shabbat across the country. She says she keeps kosher and that “Shabbat keeps her.”
The Knesset has had many MKs who were formerly modern Orthodox, including Yossi Beilin and Gilad Erdan. But an MK who was formerly haredi is extremely rare.
After five years of not speaking to her father, Moses was reconnected to him by various MKs, including Livni, Regev (Likud), and the late David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu).
When she started volunteering in Kadima, Moses didn’t tell anyone whose daughter she was. It was former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik who found out and told Livni. From then on, Livni started telling her father what a great daughter he had.
“Miri Regev hugged me in front of my father and told him she was hugging him through his daughter,” she says. “We started talking. I know how proud he is of me and the legislation I have worked on. He has always loved me, but he is part of a system that is so intense. I hope that soon we will serve in the Knesset together.”