One of the great achievements of the moderate religious Zionist leadership in the past two decades has been manifest in the desire to advance the status of women within the religious community.
One factor that has contributed to this move – which expresses itself in the increased number of religious women serving in the IDF – has been the Torah education of women. While it can be debated whether women’s higher institution of Torah is the cause of the inclusion of women or a result of this, the bottom line is that the move to equality has begun.
This week, it became blatantly clear that the more extreme elements of religious Zionism have yet to recognize the valuable and even crucial contribution women can make at all levels of decision-making. Two separate events help crystallize the fact that – according to some in the religious Zionist community – women’s roles haven’t changed all that much.
Religious Zionists exclude women from convention to elect chief rabbi candidate
The first event was highlighted at the convention of religious Zionist rabbis where a candidate for the upcoming chief rabbi election was elected. These meetings, comprising more than 40 leaders of the religious Zionist camp, didn’t include any women.
When various groups “protested” that women were left out, the response of the rabbis was particularly muted. Following the election, in an attempt to justify why women weren’t on the committee, one of the participants said “A woman coordinated the event. That was sufficient.”
The absurdity of such a comment highlights the fact that there really isn’t a sense – among certain circles – that women’s voices might actually contribute to any discussion or meaningful dialogue, or that their very presence might provide for a better decision-making process. If there is one thing that is striking, it is that the more moderate rabbis who served on the committee didn’t insist upon women participating.
Imagine if a committee was formed that stated explicitly that no Sephardim were allowed to participate – I would hope that Ashkenazi rabbis would be offended enough to protest.
Religious Zionists blame murdered woman for terror attack
The second event was more sensitive, as it involved a terror attack. When commentators on Channel 14 questioned whether the young woman who was killed on the Egyptian border was capable of defending herself, and whether the presence of women there constituted a security risk – something that essentially placed the blame for the tragic deaths upon women rather than upon the terrorist – they were making a general comment about the role women play in the army and about the values that go along with that.
Rather than seeing the decision of the army as something that has inherent logic – I assume that the decision to protect the border is guided by professional considerations exclusively – the commentator, a religious Zionist, revealed his deck, expressing the feeling that many in the radical camp have, namely, that women really shouldn’t be fighters. And this led to a spirited reaction from some of the moderate leadership, chastising channel 14 for promoting radical values which are not in sync with modern sensibilities.
These two events are striking in their similarities, as they focus on two values that are “holy” in the eyes of religious Zionists – religious life and security of the state. And at the same time, the reactions to these two events highlight the growing chasm between the moderate religious Zionist camp and the extremist one. The various reactions to the events of this week make it harder to imagine how it will be bridged any time soon.
The writer is the founder of ITIM (www.itim.org.il) and the rabbi of Kehilat Netivot in Ra’anana.