Are Orthodox Jews Sexist? (The Blog Version)

I recently released the latest episode of “Jew in the City” with a guest appearance by Mayim Bialik. The video has gotten an overwhelmingly positive response, but there have been some negative comments posted on various websites too. I was called an “apologist” in at least one place, but I must set the record straight – and my husband will vouch for me on this one – I generally do whatever I can to avoid apologizing.

I would, however, like to clarify something about the video since we cut out a small section for artistic reasons (as it was dragging on), but that I wish was left in content-wise. I mentioned that of course there are some sexist Orthodox Jews out there, just as there are, unfortunately, a certain number of liars, cheaters, and thieves within the Orthodox community.

The main point that I hoped to get across, though, is that except for a few isolated instances, in the dozen years since I’ve become observant, I’ve seen tremendous respect and honor given to women, mothers, and wives in the Orthodox world. In my Conservative Jewish household growing up, my parents had and still have a great marriage, but my father was a bit old-fashioned in his view of women. He didn’t want my mother to work once she had children and was never particularly helpful around the house. (In his defense, he wasn’t around very much because he worked so hard, but he did provide a nice life for his family.) Both of my parents (as well as my two sisters) became observant a decade ago (after me), and ironic as it sounds, since my father has become Orthodox, he’s been more helpful and attentive to my mother’s needs than ever before.

I considered myself a feminist, even at an early age. I never studied feminism in a formal way, but it always seemed logical that as a woman I’d want women to be treated well. My older sister went off to college a year before me and minored in gender studies which basically sealed the deal that I would NOT do the same. (Hey, we middle children have to define ourselves in some way!) So though I never took a single feminism class in college, I remained committed to living a life where I felt free to make my own choices and find a husband who valued and respected me (and was more helpful than my father!).

I was initially wary of Orthodox Judaism and its treatment of women. I was raised to believe, as many people are, that women are subjugated, second-class citizens in Orthodox society. But then I started meeting religious Jews and my experiences were vastly different than the rumors I had grown up with. At one of my first Shabbos dinners at the local assistant rabbi’s house, I remember being blown away by how helpful the rabbi was during the meal. He served the dishes, cleared the plates, was very involved with the kids. I remember whispering to my friend, “I can’t believe how helpful he is.” And then a moment later he playfully came over and whispered to us, “he also has excellent hearing!”

Not only have I met respectful, attentive husbands, I’ve also met strong, educated women who voice their opinions, have jobs outside the home (if they choose to), and seem quite content with their lives. Do they do all the same things that their husbands do within Judaism or life in general? No – but neither I nor any of my friends have ever felt that our differences within Judaism held us back in any way.

Are there Orthodox women out there that do feel slighted in some way and want to have religious roles more similar to men? Definitely, but from what I’ve seen, these women are in the minority and many have found an outlet for their needs through left-wing Orthodox groups which try to create leadership and prayer roles for women (similar to men) within the boundaries of Jewish law. (My goal is not to tell anyone here what to do or not do, but the personal conclusion that I’ve come to concerning these groups is that I’m happy with the way things are already, and even if something is technically allowed within Jewish law, I feel most comfortable when tradition is kept in mind as well.)

When I was first becoming religious, I was trying to work through various gender differences in traditional Judaism. I thought about how I would never want my husband to sit at the head of our Shabbos table because that would imply that he had some extra power or prominence over me. I decided that we’d get a round table, with no head, so everyone would know we were equal. I also thought that it didn’t make sense that the husband customarily makes the blessings over the food for everyone during the meal if I, as a woman, could make them too.

And then I met my husband, who’s probably a bigger feminist than I am. He would have been fine with any shaped table. He would have been fine if I made some of the blessings during the meal, but when it came right down to it, I realized that I didn’t actually care! I didn’t need to sit in a certain spot to know that I was elevated in my husband’s eyes. And I knew that he secretly liked sitting at the head of the table, in the traditional patriarch-of-the-family-spot, so I enjoyed letting him have it. (Incidentally, he always gives me the most comfortable chair whenever there’s ever a choice!)

During the first few years of our marriage when my husband was in school and around much more often, he did the majority of the shopping and quite a bit of the cooking and cleaning, but I still liked baking the challah myself every Shabbos and having him make the blessing over it. It was just this nice way for both of us to share in the experience. Yes, it was completely traditional to do it in such a way – he could have baked it and I could have blessed it – there’s no law that says it can’t be done like that – but something just felt nice about doing it more traditionally.

And since my husband started his job a few months ago, leaving more of the Shabbos preparation up to me, it’s my pleasure to cook him his favorite foods. Not because I have to, but because I love him and I know how happy it makes him when he catches the smell of Shabbos even before he walks through the front door. He brings home the most beautiful bouquets to me every Friday afternoon on his way home from work in honor of Shabbos. Again – so traditional, but other than the occassional frustrations that everyone has, this system seems to be working quite well for us.

Perhaps my feeling happy and comfortable with such a traditional set-up is that I was able to strike a balance that worked for me. I could have had a career outside the home. I could have been a full-time stay at home mom. I could be part of the left-wing Orthodox groups or I could have chosen to never have become Orthodox in the first place!

I did my best to educate myself and see what was out there before I made any decisions, but I fear that too many people base their opinions of Orthodox Jews on rumors and stereotypes. So I wanted (as a real, live Orthodox woman) to get a chance to explain what my personal experience has been, and I encourage everyone to take the opportunity to see it for themselves and come to their own conclusions.

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  1. Leslie Clay says:

    Thank you for this post. I think some of the rumors and sterotypes could be prevented if perhaps not traditional/orthodox jews and perhaps their neighbors could be more open to each other. I live in an orthodox neighborhood in Williamsburg Bklyn. I am one of 2 non-orthodox people who live on my floor (15 apts). I try my best to be a good neighbor but I have to admit that it have to steel myself when I get in the elevator and the men fight to get off the elevator first just so they don’t have to get in with me or if I say good morning to the women (I don’t speak to the men as I was told this was disrepectful) I don’t even get a nod. Its very frustrating and maybe because I am a single AA women they feel uncomfortable but imagine how I feel…everyone around me is married with children and I just want to feel comfortable where I live. Anyway, I can go on and on but I just want to personally thank you for sharing information about yourself and about Judiasm. Thank you again!!!

  2. This is a nice article and a very non-threatening way to describe your life to those who don’t really understand Orthodox Jews and their way of life. Thanks for sharing these insights into your life and your world.

  3. Hi Leslie- I’m sorry that your neighbors are so unfriendly. People in my community don’t act that way. I actually wrote two posts addressing the issues you bring up:
    http://tinyurl.com/n522cy
    http://tinyurl.com/nbhedv
    There are many benefits that come with being insular, but rudeness certainly does not have to (and should not) come with them.

  4. Melanie Levenstein says:

    I, too, was brought up in a non-religious home but also find comfort in the traditional roles Judaism gives men and women, or moreso, husbands/fathers and wives/mothers (perhaps I wouldn’t find the same comfort if I wasn’t married with kids, to be honest). I like that I am still obligated to daven (pray), but that I don’t have time constraints nor obligation to daven in a minyan (in shul) like men have. Being a mother, if I remember (I have a baby… I’m often so tired that I forget) to daven, I’m happy! Adding when and where to daven would make it impossible.
    Lots of my friends are feminist Jews (I live in Israel) and try to do whatever they can to “equalize” the roles of Judaism (e.g. making the bracha over the challah on Shabbat). I just don’t care to change these roles. I joke with them that I’m the biggest female chauvinist. Maybe I am. But I just don’t see why it’s a problem to have different roles between the sexes. We’re NOT the same (physically, mentally/emotionally), but that doesn’t mean we’re not equal in other ways. Also, the fact that women are spritually elevated than men in Judasim is something that people forget when saying it is an archaic religion. Don’t take the elevation so lightly, people!
    Thanks so much for this posting. You really wrote how I feel succinctly, and I bet there are many more women out there like us. It’s important for the world to know that women are not, and don’t FEEL like, second class citizens in Judaism! Thanks again!

  5. Debbie Schoen says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am a Jew by choice. I studied for a year, and had my conversion done by my rabbi in a conservative congregation.
    I also felt that something was missing,but there are so many untruths out there about the Orthodox, many from fellow jews. I was determined to find out. The more I read, the more observant I am becoming.
    I found your site one day, and I’m so glad I did. I have learned so much already.
    I’m trying to find an Orthodox rabbi to study with, but where I live, we are the only Jews. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.
    Please keep writing. I learn so much. Thank you

  6. Thanks for your post, Allison. I would like to add that I also am a very happily married Orthodox woman, and I have the most wonderful, helpful man for a husband. He does most of our food shopping, plenty of our cooking, on top of being supportive of me in every way and never being critical of me– not to mention being the most involved father I could have ever imagined. Similar to what Allison said, I can honestly say that my Orthodox husband is way less misogynistic than my completely-secular father. It’s a shame that these sterotypes exist, because I find that Judaism gives men and women exactly what each one needs. That doesn’t mean we do everything the same way– for example, it makes my husband feel special to sit at the head of the table and make the blessings for us on Shabbos, and I think it’s important for men to have that. I, on the other hand, feel special to have a man who doesn’t look at other women– real or on screen, and who is always attentive and responsive to me. I believe when we give men the respect and leadership opportunities that they need, they in turn behave as the men we need– shopping and cooking included. I believe the two work together and every marriage–religious or not– would be improved by giving men the reverence they crave.
    I would also like to add that I consider myself a “strong, educated woman” as you mentioned in your post– I’m pursuing a Ph.D. and and plan to have a career– in addition to caring for my family. I’d also like to say that I’m FAR more content than I ever was when I wasn’t religious. I remember a Rabbi saying to me, when I asked him about Orthodox women being oppressed, “go ask them.” His point was the very one you’re making, Allison, and it’s so wonderful that you can publicize this– most frum women don’t feel like second-class citizens– we share a true partnership with our husbands and we’re truly content– how many Americans today can say that? I think anyone who watched a true Torah marriage from the inside would be nothing short of envious.

  7. Ruchi Koval says:

    Hey Allison,
    This post was awesome. I always say that my 14-year-old (Orthodox) daughter and her friends have never felt deprived in their Judaism. If you would walk into the classroom and say, “How many feel that you’d like to read from the Torah?” not one would need that or even know why you were asking. Why? Because they are full. They are satiated in their Judaism. Their lives are rich with meaning, ritual, and tradition.
    And I just have to say, too, that my Rabbi husband does bedtime almost every night, all the baths, clears and serves on Shabbat while I sit at the table, and I must say that Orthodox Judaism – or, in better terms – the Torah, has given him these values. Thanks again.

  8. How I wish my wife would attend synagogue instead of me. I’d love to spend time at home with the kids in the morning and not have to worry about reciting Shema in time or reviewing the parshah twice with targum.
    I promise, if the law is changed, I’ll never complain. I’d like six weeks off when she has a baby instead of helping her all night with the kids, gettng the others to school in the morning, davening each day with a minyan, and working all day.

  9. Mark-
    I don’t know if there are any groups out there working on finding a way for men to have babies, but until then, maybe we can just appreciate that everyone has their own challenges as well as benefits in what they do!

  10. Great article and video. I’m surprised you never mentioned what is for me the biggest factor:
    There is a difference between “getting to” and “having to”. The man’s role is an obligation. He MUST daven 3 times a day, join minyan, wear tifilin, etc. whether he wants to or not. Biologically speaking, women’ have babies – can you thnk of anything worse than *having* to daven 3 times each day at set times while caring for a baby? etc

  11. Part of the issue with the desire of women wanting to fulfil male synagogue roles is that modern American Judaism has cast asside most mitzvot, so all that is left is synagogue ritual. If you take away from a women mikveh, the bracha on seperating challah, lighting candles, plus lot’s of mitzvot that apply equally to BOTH men and women (Shabbos, kashrus, etc) of course she is going to want to be equal in syangogue, because otherwise there is no mark of Jewish identity.

  12. My issue is that you clearly find meaning in a life like this, but not everyone does. There are other ways to live a halakhic life where women have a more public leadership roles. I am using the word halakhic as opposed to Orthodox (or even Modern Orthodox), as many people would argue that the way I live my life conforms to neither of the latter two labels. But I don’t do something that doesn’t have a well reasoned halakhic opinion behind it.

    I am also not requiring anyone else to find my life religiously fulfilling. I’m simply posing the idea that it isn’t wrong to find a halakhically viable means of not fitting in to the traditional roles.

    • Allison Allison says:

      Thanks for your comment, Terri, but I’m not exactly sure what you’re referring to when you say “many people would argue that the way I live my life conforms to neither of the latter two labels. But I don’t do something that doesn’t have a well reasoned halakhic opinion behind it.”

      I clearly have a public leadership role and am living a halachic life. There are plenty of opportunities for Orthodox women to be teachers and role models without breaking halacha. Also, the word Orthodox is just semantics. In my mind the most important questions are – are you following halacha? is there a mesorah (precedent for doing what you’re doing – which is an important element in halacha) and are you constantly striving and being intellectually honest?

  13. Right. Traditional roles. Which of course are not sexist.

    I suppose there is no place for homosexual people in Orthodox Judaism, but of course it’s nothing homophobic about it, it’s simply how things should be…

    • Thanks for your comment, ami, but there’s nothing sexist about traditional roles if that’s what the woman wants, is there? What I was trying to get at in this post is that most Orthodox women work outside the home and are free to do want they want, but they’re choosing to be wives and mothers too. No one ever said YOU had to do it, but it’s pretty small minded for you to criticize a woman who does want a traditional role.

      Homosexuality is an entirely different topic. Homosexual acts are problematic according to the Torah, it’s true. But Jews are commanded to be compassionate and non-judgmental. It’s a very difficult issue, but you need to understand that there are many Orthodox Jews who both believe that the Torah is true but don’t hate gay people and believe that what goes on in a bedroom is between a person and God.

  14. I value many Jewish traditions because they enrich my life and give me a profound sense of identity, spiritual fulfillment, and a sacred connection with my ancestors. Tradition should be respected as a “filter” of wisdom over time. However, this filter isn’t always perfect, and I feel tradition should still be questioned, just as we should question everything with the miraculous mind God has given us.

    In this context, I cannot accept an aspect of my tradition that denies women the right to pray the same way men pray. For example, some of my female cousins who live in Israel are hurt by the fact that they must pray silently at the Kotel in Jerusalem. All Jews, whether men or women, should have the freedom for their voices to be heard when they pray to God. If we blindly accept traditional teachings that defy our God-endowed logic, we are not acting righteously.

    I enjoy your eloquent, insightful, and contemporary writing.

    • Thanks for your comment, Yaniv. But just to clarify, there are many Orthodox shuls where women pray out loud. What goes on at the Kotel is not a reflection of traditional Jewish law, but rather a more right wing strain of it.

  15. Hi I just wanted to let you know that the link to the video seems to be linking to the wrong video. It brought me to your video on the after life instead of the one on sexism! Though both videos are excellent and so was this post! You have really inspired me into becoming more observant in my faith and I just wanted to thank you!

  16. Lisa Greenspoon says:

    I cannot believe the rationalization here. Judaism as practiced by orthodox jews is prejudicial based on gender and on sexual orientation. I am so completely sick of rationalizing orthodox jews pretending that sexism or homophobia based on your religion is anything other than sexism and homophobia. If I went to a restaurant and was told women could only sit in one section and couldn’t sit closer even if they wanted to JUST because they were women, or white people could only sit in one section, not closer, JUST because they are white, it would be shut down as violating basic civil rights. But because it’s a synagoggue, it’s okay? Why is it that men can step in and perform ALL of women’s obligations if women aren’t available but women can NEVER step in and fulfill men’s obligations in reverse? A man can light the shabbat candles if a woman is not available but a woman can never count toward a miyan if a man isn’t available? How can anyone in the modern world possibly rationalize this kind of blatant violation of basic human rights for one more minute? Every establishment in Canada that violates basic human rights and promotes segregation and inotolerance of different sexual orientations should be shut down. I don’t care how many nice orthodox husbands help with the shopping. I don’t care how many mean secular husband’s don’t help with the kids. One example doesn’t change the institutional sexism and humiliation women feel in orthodox judaism. Just tell your loving, supportive orthodox husband to take his underwear to a female rabbi to make sure the female rabbit deems it okay for him to have sex in his private home with his wife, and let’s see how much longer your ridiculous rules would continue. Honestly, from one jewish woman to another, look in the mirror and take accountability for your actions. How horrible an example you are setting for the youth. Thank goodness the judaism I practice promotes me to teach my children about equality for ALL and thank god they will grow up to be moral human beings who don’t disguise their blatant immorality in the name of G-D.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Lisa. You seem very angry. I’m curious if have you ever practiced Orthodox Judaism before. If you have and you found it to be sexist and homophobic, well then, I certainly would never dream of denying you your experiences. But I am a formally non-Orthodox Jew who thought Orthodox Jews were all sexist and homophobic and when I started to learn more and see it from the inside, things looked different, so I hope you will not deny me *my* experiences.

      Your analogy of the restaurant is not fair. Women want to sit closer and can’t because they’re women – what exactly do they want to sit closer to? Is there a rhyme and reason for different sections in your made up restaurant? Is it discriminatory that girls can’t attend all boys schools and men can’t use the women’s bathroom? Are those forms of discrimination or just acknowledgements that men and women are different in some ways and in some situations they have different needs?

      Judaism believes that men and women are inherently different and therefore have different spiritual needs. I cannot prove this to you that this is true, but then again you can’t prove to me that it’s not true. There are of course exceptions to every rule, but what I’ve found to be true (by and large) in life is that men and women ARE different physically and emotionally and therefore it doesn’t seem strange to me that they’d be different spiritually.

      Why is being obligated in more commandments a good thing? Let’s talk in terms of math problems. One kid is not very good at math and therefore needs to do a lot more problems to catch up to the other kid who is much better at math and doesn’t require as much practice. That’s how I see the differences between men and women. Why are we always lamenting that we can’t be more like the men? How is THAT feminism? Creation went from simple to complex and woman was the last part of creation. Eve was also charged as the one to be an opposing helpmate to Adam. To be the one to tell him how he needed to be fixed. Men are also born with an orlah (a foreskin) which needs to be removed. Why? Because they need more working on naturally than women do.

      We’re told by those (what you call sexist) rabbis that we were redeemed in Egypt due to the righteous women and our final redemption will come from the women. No – we do not have as many mitzvos as men do, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because we’re not good enough for them.

      In terms of my underwear – first off – there are many rabbis that have an anonymous drop off system where the underwear owner and the rabbi never are face to face and the answer is given without knowing who the underwear belongs to. But let’s just be honest an acknowledge that women have male ob-gyns getting up in all of their business all the time and while it’s not always the least awkward thing, it’s done professionally and for a reason. PLUS, there are more and more communities using yoatzot halacha – women trained in niddah matters so we can even opt to show our underwear to a woman.

      In terms of your advice “from one Jewish woman to another” – you are extremely patronizing and rude! I would never dream of telling another woman what to choose. Where is the feminism in condemning one of your sister’s choices?

      Regarding homophobia – there are homophobic Orthodox Jews, unfortunately, but those who are hateful or mean to any person have violated many Torah commandments. The Torah does not condemn the person – only the action. AND it’s not my or anyone else’s business as to how God judges someone else for something they do privately. There is no easy answer for the gay issue in Judaism but I wrote up this response to explain the best way I deal with it. http://jewinthecity.com/2010/04/how-can-you-be-an-orthodox-considering-its-position-on-homosexuality/

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      Just to note a technical difference between your two examples:

      • There is a mitzvah for there to be candles in the house on Shabbos and the woman has priority in performing this mitzvah. If there’s no woman, the house still needs candles, so a man has to do it;

      • A man has a personal obligation to attend minyan; it’s not an obligation per se that a minyan exist. A man can’t tell his son to do it for him because he himself has the responsibility.

      These are altogether different types of mitzvos and the cases are not analogous.

      There’s another matter at play: that of obligation. You know what else is a “men’s mitzvah?” Eating in a succah. But women do it, too! (Voluntarily.) And when it’s really cold out or when traveling where there’s no succah, women generally eat outside the succah (because they can) while men tough it out. That’s no criticism of the women because they’re acting permissibly, but there are halachic differences between someone who is obligated in a matter and someone who is not obligated in a matter. One who is not obligated in a matter cannot perform it on behalf of one who is so obligated. (For example, a minor can say Kiddush for himself but not for an adult.) Women are not obligated in a minyan, therefore they cannot complete a minyan for men who are so obligated.

      So there are real halachic issues at play here. These halachic issues are not predicated on gender but in these example they happen to express themselves through gender.

      • Lisa Greenspoon says:

        With all due respect meant to the Rabbi above, and to Allison who responded, you have simply proven my point further by rationalizing the institutional sexism and homophobia that exist. Allison, you cannot simply say “there is no easy answer to the gay issue in Judaism” and continue without accountability for choosing to participate in an ideology that condemns it. The easy answer is, it’s immoral to belong to a group which is prejudicial to someone due to their sexual orientation. Period. That is the only answer, and in that way, all people who continue to support orthodox Judaism are, in my opinion, and that of many other, acting immorally and setting a terrible example. In the same way that the Torah called for death for infractions of shabbat and other infractions of its words and that is obviously no longer followed since it would be immoral to kill even though the Torah says so, that you will rationalize is subject to interpretation and not meant to be taken literally but the gay issue is literal. I mean COME ON!! And please, please do not make an analogy between ob/gyns who are doctors and medical and necessary for women of all races and colors to see for health and compare them to non-medical rabbis.
        The truth of the matter is for you, I guess if we take you at face, who has chosen that lifestyle all I can ask is how can you possibly willingly associate yourself with a group who’s men wake up and thank G-D every day that they aren’t women and who, in my opinion, subjugate their women in countless ways and are prejudicial against gay people. If you choose to do so, you are as free to make your choice of lifestyle as I am to make mine. But to the countless number of children and women who are trapped with no education, no choices and no future outside of your community, my hope is that the institution, the ideology, will evolve so there is more equality and those trapped people are given the chance to live moral lives where all are treated as equals and have the freedom to choose.
        If a woman feels spiritually fulfilled and doesn’t want to do more (akin to a man) that is her choice. When you take the choice away and tell her she CAN’T, the sexism is there and the basic civil liberties are GONE.

        • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

          Thanks for your comment, Lisa. Did you read my post about homosexuality? First off, there’s no institutionalized homophobia. As I said, there are homophobic individuals, but we are commanded to love, not judge, not embarrass, and be compassionate. What’s institutionalized is that what goes on in your bedroom stays in your bedroom. That’s an traditional Jewish idea for EVERYONE. It applies to single people who are maybe doing things on the side and married people who are maybe doing things on the side and people not observing the laws of family purity perfectly too.

          In terms of saying “there are no easy answers” – that’s not in how I *treat* gay people – that’s in how I struggle to *understand* what God could expect of them. That’s between them and God (if they believe in God) but I still struggle with the fact that I believe God created a basic human desire then forbade acting on it. But here’s the thing, in this world is that there are *many* things with no easy answers. I have no easy answers for the Holocaust, for babies dying and slews of other unjust things that happen everyday. The way that I make sense of that which I can’t understand is to believe that there is more than meets the eye.

          And the foundation for there being more than what we see is a belief in God who gave us the Torah. I frankly don’t understand why people who believe that this book is so flawed or was just written by a bunch of men would bother to keep any parts of it! That’s the world that I came from – we sort of observed somethings as it was convenient to – but what exactly were we holding onto if it was just a bunch of made up stories?

          In terms of killing people for breaking Shabbos: it was basically never acted upon because the amount of things necessary to actually convict someone for Shabbos desecration (or another broken mitzvah) was set up in a way that it would be near impossible to give the death penalty. A court that gave the death penalty once in 70 years was considered a bloody court. So why then are we told it’s *worth* dying for? So we understand the consequence of Shabbos desecration.

          I asked if you were ever Orthodox and you didn’t say “yes,” so I assume that means “no.” The thing about the halachic process is that there is actually a rhyme and reason to how the laws are interpreted. When Mayim Bialik and I first started learning 7 years ago she thought the rabbis just made stuff up. As we delved into the process of how Jewish law works she saw there is a real logic to it all and came to respect it.

          In terms of medical doctors vs. rabbis – first off, rabbis are not examining women, so the underwear thing is one step removed from something that close and personal. But as someone who has been keeping this mitzvah for over 13 years – I assure you that it is handled JUST as professionally and the feeling is very similar to working with a health professional. One cares for your bodily needs, the other for your spiritual needs. The whole thing is a voluntarily process as well. No one is forcing women to do this (unless it’s a weird, rare case which I would be totally against!)

          In terms of the men who thank God for not making them a woman – this was not part of the original set of blessings in the Talmud. It was added later. It’s a BIG discussion how to handle this, but the quick answer is the reason that I’m not bothered by this is because the men in my world don’t walk around *acting* like they hate women, so I assume that the blessing is meant to be taken not at face value. The men that I know act according to the Talmudic teaching which says “A man must love his wife as much as himself and honor her more.” The men that I know (according to my female friends) believe that they’re supposed to sexually satisfy their wives as part of their obligation in being a husband.

          You seem to have a lot of ideas as to what the Orthodox community is like. There are different parts to it, but in my community women go to Ivy League colleges and get masters degrees left and right and learn Talmud on high levels. Check out our Orthodox Jewish All Stars – 5 women from a range of communities (including ultra-Orthodox) who have reached the pinnacle of their careers http://jewinthecity.com/2013/10/announcing-jew-in-the-citys-2013-orthodox-jewish-all-stars/

          Also – I would love to invite you to come for Shabbos and see what I mean up close and personal. I’m not claiming there’s never been a bad Orthodox man out there. Subjugation unfortunately exists everywhere and some men manipulate the Torah to feed their agenda, but I’d love for you to see what our community looks like up close so you can understand us with information and not just stereotypes. 🙂

  17. Lisa Greenspoon says:

    Thank you Allison
    We will just have to agree to disagree. To me it is clear, and to you it is also clear.
    While I appreciate your invitation for shabbat, I must gracefully decline. I wouldn’t accept an invitation to eat in someone’s home who wouldn’t eat in mine. And since I will be eating homemade pepperoni pizza with my wonderful husband, children and friends on Friday night, I suspect you would gracefully decline any invitation from me as well.
    How lucky we are to live in a world where we are able to choose our own paths and live by the morality we define for ourselves. I wish everyone in the world was as lucky.
    All the best to you.
    Lisa.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Well, I’m glad that we have gotten to a point where you can respect that people can choose their own way in life. (That is certainly my approach!) I would just like to note that I have seen your world because I am from there whereas you have not seen my world yet. You could still see things however you want to see them AFTER getting more information, but I believe that the most honest way to form an opinion is when it’s done with knowledge. So if you have a change of heart, the offer remains open!

      (In terms of not eating in someone’s home if they wouldn’t eat in yours – I would eat in your home! I’d just need kosher food. I’m curious if you would eat in a vegan home if you had a vegan friend who wouldn’t eat your non-vegan food!) Btw – I happen to LOVE pepperoni pizza! I actually make fake tref food every night for dinner (with soy products).

  18. My vegan friend would use my dishes, cutlery, pots and pans etc. I would happily make or buy vegan food to accommodate a friend’s dietary restrictions, and I would happily buy or make kosher food to accommodate a guest. If you would eat kosher food on my plates in my home with my cutlery warmed in my oven, etc. then I stand corrected. I do not think this would be the case. It has not been the case in my experience.

    And so you understand, I am incredibly knowledgeable about the orthodox rules and way of life. My sister and her family are orthodox and I have spent well over a decade learning (with rabbis and with her) to try and make peace with her decision to marry a frum man and spend her life as a second class citizen with restricted freedoms, her head covered (which is horrific to me), her body covered, her husband unwilling to comfort her physically after the birth of her babies, sleeping apart from her husband for weeks at a time, her and her husband unwilling to eat in my home or my parents’ home. Her husband unwilling to hug me or dance with me at my wedding (which he almost wouldn’t even come to, talk about judgmental!) and on and on and on. I could list hundreds of examples. Her three daughters thinking they don’t have the right to read from the torah because they are “just girls”. It’s not that they don’t HAVE TO (like their father and brother), it’s that they CAN’T EVEN IF THEY WANT TO!! They spend every Friday and Saturday at that sexist shul and the oldest couldn’t even have a bat mitzvah like my sister did with their father and my father there to watch!! Honestly Allison, to me, it is insane. I don’t want to be rude. I just have to be honest. I’m sorry if you think I’m rude.

    My knowledge is not based on stereotypes, it is based on my experience and my knowledge. I have studied the topic extensively, believe me.

    I have spent time with orthodox rabbis who have been kind enough to allow me to ask questions so they can try to explain/rationalize things to me so that I could try and understand. I studied with female torah groups, rabbis who were willing and attended years of shabbat dinners in her home to try and be supportive. I have spent time with my sister’s in-laws and extended family, many of whom are practicing orthodox. My sister’s life, and the fanatical orthodox ideology and lifestyle, breaks my heart. I see nothing redeeming. Nothing.

    But although I think it is wrong, I do think you are free to make whatever choices make you happy. As am I. As is my sister, which is what I keep telling myself when it feels so confusing. Everyone must choose their own path.

    Learning more and more over the last 12+ years has only strengthened my resolve and my confusion about how anyone could possibly align themselves with what I view as a sexist, fanatical, immoral, nonsensical and oppressive way of life. So with all due respect, please don’t assume I am basing my opinions on stereotypes. I am not. I think I have made my points in the best way I know how, so I won’t write again. Thank you for giving me a forum to do so and best of luck to you.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      That’s very nice that you would accommodate your vegan friend. How about your friend who’s highly sensitive to peanuts? Would you boil your pots and put your oven on self-clean to remove the remnants of the food left over so that she could eat in your home? I believe you would because you seem like a nice person. I would ask a rabbi beforehand (especially if it were for family) if there were any leniencies I could rely on for the sake of Shalom Bayis – peace in the home. Not offending or embarrassing someone is a major Torah value, just as kosher is. I would hope that you could accommodate my needs and I would do my best to ask as little as you as possible.

      In terms of your sister being Orthodox – why didn’t you mention that until now? I was trying to understand if you’ve experienced Orthodoxy up close with all your opinions about it. It’s obviously not the same thing as observing it yourself, but I very much respect that you’ve taken the time to ask questions and study. Good for you!

      But let’s go through your problems point by point:

      1) “spend her life as a second class citizen” – does SHE feel like a second class citizen? does her HUSBAND mistreat her? or does she believe in a system where men and women are considered different and therefore have different spiritual needs? if your sister is trapped in her life, then you should try to free her! but if she’s happy in this life, shouldn’t you respect her decision to live a life that’s meaningful to her? (BTW – i have HEARD of abusive husbands where the wives have no freedom to choose. i am COMPLETELY against such situations.)

      2) “her head covered (which is horrific to me), her body covered” – as a former bikini wearing, daisy duke wearing woman – i ASSURE you that modesty did not come naturally to me. but i wanted to be consistent in my mitzvah observance when I became religious, so i took on modesty – though fashionable modesty – because i saw there was room for it and I wanted to have that part of *me* in the mix. and you know what? it was very meaningful. like when my high school math teacher looked at my chest one day (when I was wearing a cleavage bearing shirt) that grossed me out. but when i covered up, i found that men couldn’t make me feel gross like they had before. and you know what else i love about modesty? the mans’ side of it is that he doesn’t look at other women. it seems like a one-sided mitzvah – only the woman has to cover up? what does the guy do? he guards his eyes so that they’re for his wife’s body only. (think about a formal affair – who wears what? the woman wears the strapless gown, the high slit, the low back, the guy where the tux – covered from neck to ankles. and in terms of looking: who likes to look more? what’s more popular – playgirl or playboy?)

      the halacha targets the women’s desire to show and the men’s desire to look and what you end up having is that she saves her body only for her husband’s eyes because he’s saving his eyes only for her body.

      3) “her husband unwilling to comfort her physically after the birth of her babies, sleeping apart from her husband for weeks at a time” – yes, it’s hard to not touch after you’ve given birth, but it’s also not safe for a woman to get too busy after she’s given birth and hugging can turn into Irish twins! in terms of not touching half the month, let me tell you something – i’m married for over 13 year and when my husband stops being able to touch me, i can ASSURE you there is nothing in the world he wants more. it is an AMAZING thing to be desired by your spouse to intensely after so many years of marriage and the magic is in your spouse becoming forbidden fruit!

      4) “her and her husband unwilling to eat in my home or my parents’ home” – we did this one already – i think there must be compromise – they should find leniencies so that you’re less put out and you should make some accommodations so they’re comfortable

      5) “Her husband unwilling to hug me or dance with me at my wedding (which he almost wouldn’t even come to, talk about judgmental!) and on and on and on” – why should you be upset that your sister’s husband doesn’t want to touch another woman? he hopefully is doing this because he loves and respects her and doesn’t want to get close to any woman other than her. i have no justification for him almost not coming to your wedding. that is troubling.

      Let me make one final point since you’re giving me the last word (which by the way is my favorite word! 😉 As a believing and practicing Orthodox Jew, it’s not that I don’t struggle. My story is that I grew up Conservative, had a wonderful, happy, privileged secular life. But then when I was 8, a girl in the grade above me was murdered by her father (he killed both kids and himself) and suddenly my bubble of happiness burst!

      Why was I alive? What was the point of this all? What would come with me when I too met my end? I came to my loving parents with these questions. My parents who had a plan for everything (school, marriage, saving money, career). I asked them why are we alive and they were speechless. I turned to every other smart person I could find and they too had nothing to offer me.

      I spent 8 years with off and on insomnia and minor panic attacks. Life was good as long as I didn’t “remember.” And then I stumbled upon a modern Orthodox teacher at a Hebrew high class I was in. He was open-minded and educated and treated his wife with respect and he was living with purpose. He had all the secular things I had BUT he also had meaning in his life. And I started learning and exploring and found deep beauty in living a Torah life.

      I don’t know what group your sister’s family is part of. I don’t know if they’re reasonable or unreasonable people or judgmental or nonjudgmental. Some groups are more open-minded then others as are some people. But we’re supposed to be open-minded, compassionate and nonjudgmental. I read from the Torah and led services for years and honestly – it was never meaningful or spiritual for me. My Judaism goes WAY beyond a synagogue. I utter a prayer for thanksgiving every morning when I wake up, before and after every food I eat. I try to act with kinds and generosity. I don’t feel like the men in my life are trying to hold me back. I’m Ivy League educated and my daughters (and sons) will be too one day and my husband supported me when I told him I wanted to quit my job (I was the sole bread winner while he was in law school) to start this site. He believes in my dreams and sacrifices for them.

      And the parts of the Torah that are hard to understand – the binding of Isaac, the view on homosexuality – I struggle with them but I don’t throw the whole thing away. I asked you why you bother to somewhat follow such a flawed book that was written by men. You didn’t respond. I follow it because I believe that I was written by God and that it is true, even as I struggle to understand it all. I have complete choice in my life – it is *I* who choose to stand behind the mechitza because I believe in the philosophy behind it. It is *I* who chooses to dress modestly. And ultimately I don’t want to give up on the Jewish people and I believe that the best way for us to continue (so does the Pew study btw)is to stay true to our Torah even as we struggle with it.

      Thanks for the exchange of ideas!

      • Don’t you think its rude for a man to ignore his sister-in-law? Once they are in the same family by marriage, surely they can interact as a brother and sister would? If I had a sister and she were to marry a man who refused to look at me or touch me, I would think him rude and that he was judging me simply for being a female. I have met (and been subsequently ignored by) Orthodox men, but i assumed that changed when they were your relations.
        I don’t know too much about Orthodox Judaism and its attitude to sexuality, but I’m a bit confused by your insistence that all touching between couples leads to sex. If that was the case in my relationship I would be looking to get away from that man! Certainly I would want a hug after having a baby, or when I’m on my period (because I tend to feel very emotional at that time – how on earth do you cope?), but I would NEVER consent to sex or sexual activity at those times. I’m sure many women would agree… so what’s the problem? Just say no!
        I’m sorry for my total lack of knowledge, but these things baffle me … I would like to understand.
        Also apologies for commenting on such an old post.

        • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

          Ignoring someone is certainly rude, no matter who that person is, but no. In Orthodoxy, a brother-in-law and sister-in-law may certainly not interact as a brother and sister. A man’s sister-in-law is another man’s wife. She’s actually his brother’s wife, which is an additional level of stringency. So, they should be civil and friendly, but I don’t touch my female relatives by marriage.

          A lot of these things are influenced by subculture. The behavior among Modern Orthodox Jews may be very different from that of “Chareidim” and Chasidim, who generally separate the genders to a much fuller extent. So what you see in one family may not be what you would see in another.

          As far as separating at certain times, the issue is not that we’re afraid the couple may lose control and hop into bed. It’s that certain things are inherently intimate. These things are proscribed for their own sake, not just as a preventive measure.

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