A voice in the halls of power

The formula is simple. Find the core values of a society and check where the women stand in relation to them.

Women in the IDF (photo credit: REUTERS)
Women in the IDF
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The latest statements by Rabbi Eli Sadan in an interview with Dana Wiess were eerily familiar. In fact, to my Bais Yaakov-raised ears, they were fairly mild.
Nothing particularly strange or harsh in a religious figure who is convinced that women were created in Man’s image, not God’s. Sadan, an Israel Prize winner who has been influential in a pre-army program, has also made controversial statements in the past about women in the army.
The consternation felt by friends and colleagues passed me by. So yes, yet another chauvinist tirade has been launched into the world. I’m too busy raising my daughters to be independent and struggling to keep my own.
However, once I was persuaded to watch the interview, a realization hit. While I’m inured to this particular brand of thinking, it is precisely because I was exposed to huge overdoses of it. Not the pandering, excusing, masquerading as women’s advancement formula. Rather, bold, bald and entirely unselfconscious, and not by men but rather women.
Teachers and principals who had us convinced that the very idea of a career was an abomination and an anomaly.
This did eventually cause reason for some uncomfortable intellectual squirming when it came to pass that us women were expected to be the breadwinners. And that is something I’d like to make an unlikely comparison to.
Last year, a controversy surrounding the deaths of an Umm El Hiran (an unrecognized Beduin settlement in the Negev) resident and a police officer was widely discussed; at first billed as a terrorist attack and then admitted to be an accident, the incident was widely reported.
An interview with the Beduin widow was conducted in which the astonishing fact that she had married the deceased – after losing her first husband, his brother – was revealed.
The reason she gave was as prosaic as it was horrifying: Had she not, her children would have been taken from her to the deceased husband’s family. This woman holds a doctorate in education and teaches at a college, this means she is both financially independent and well educated – what liberal society deems the two keys to freedom.
But the law turns a blind eye in and so her predicament was completely unaffected by her status.
Sadan boasts in his interview of a daughter who is a gynecologist. He makes the point that she is the mother of seven. When pressed, he admits that of the two, her children are the accomplishment he prefers, were he to choose. This is a reasonable (if not universal) value. But, he is adamant that a woman must depend on her husband. To him, this dependence is part and parcel of the family unit.
Just last week, my colleagues and friends founded the haredi women’s lobby at the Knesset. This is the furthest women from my community have gone in achieving a voice in the halls of power.
Haredi women are not oppressed, they can remarry to their heart’s content without fear of losing their children (in most cases). They earn money, many times more so than their partners, they are fairly educated and have more access to culture than ever before.
This serves the haredi leadership twofold; firstly, in order to revolt, one must be either terribly miserable and desperate or absolutely free.
Haredi women are neither, we are not downtrodden, beaten or deprived. And so we are complacent when we are removed from the two arenas where the decisions regarding us are taken; Torah scholarship and politics.
Just like the Beduin widow, unless we are a part of what is valued in our own society, we cannot have a say. Financial independence and education are keys that fit into a lock shaped by a society’s core values.
That is why a voice like Sadans is so problematic.
Precisely because he allows women’s advancement, with strings attached. The more subtle the message, the likelier it is to miss it or ignore it.
The formula is simple. Find the core values of a society – in Sadan’s case, the army and in the haredi case, Torah scholarship – and check where the women stand in relation to them. If they are not full partners, all the money and education in the world will not make them equal.
Eli Bitan is a haredi journalist for several media outlets and radio host at Moreshet.
Pnina Pfeuffer is a haredi political activist working at Politikva and board member of the Yerushalmim municipal party.