Monday, July 28, 2014

A Woman's Lot

Let me first of all establish that I have no complaint against Hashem and His Torah. I am not a feminist – certainly not in any political or sociological sense of the word – and I am very content with the role that He has given me – but there are some societal attitudes I find very disturbing. Let me bring you a couple of examples…

Why am I invited to a Shabbos tisch, with fervent assurances that “it is for women too — you are going to love it!”, only to arrive in the synagogue (a very prominent and respected one, at that) where there is no “it” to love; the women’s section is in complete darkness, no refreshments – not even a bottle of water – are provided, there are not enough chairs available, and the mechitza consists of floor-to-ceiling pegboard, where a few of the infinitesimal peep-holes have been marginally enlarged, so that if I give up the chair I managed to claim for myself, and stand close to the plank, I might press my eye to the aperture and perhaps – or perhaps not – catch a fraction of a glimpse of the proceedings. As for hearing anything – well, it is more a question of eavesdropping. Is this dignified? Is this how you treat invited persons of any gender? This is not a matter of “equality” – it is a matter of common courtesy.

Why am I sitting at a Shabbos Sheva Brochos where the (male) speakers are all pointedly addressing the men’s section, their backs firmly to us women. Since no microphone can be used we need every possible sound wave we can get our way, but the speakers make no effort to be heard by the female guests; yet we are shushed and told to be quiet – so that the men should be able to enjoy themselves unhindered? “Put us in a separate room then!” an irate fellow guest said to me, “We can’t hear a thing, and then we are not even allowed to talk among ourselves.” And I had to agree with her: sitting at a party, unable to follow the “entertainment”, yet not being allowed to talk for long stretches of time feels more like a punishment than a simcha.

And let me stress again: this is not Hashem’s fault…

Isn’t our holy Torah known for its respectful stance towards women, granting us societal rights and human dignity far beyond the norm of the surrounding nations? Where did things go wrong? Is it just a bad case of bad manners? How come certain men think they don’t have to behave respectfully towards women, and that it is okay to send an eight year-old boy around the simcha hall to shush the female guests? When and where did it become acceptable that a child should admonish adults? Not in the Torah MiSinai that I learned from.

The proper segregation of men and women at all religious and/or social occasions is non-negotiable. Aside from the necessity of keeping the men in line, there is tremendous holiness in the separation; it preserves not only the purity of our actions and behavior, but the purity of the very simcha itself - it is not tainted by the giddy rush of impropriety. However, the separation must be done in a manner that ensures the comfort and dignity of both men and women.

As a frum Jewish woman in a frum Jewish community, I often feel that I want to encourage and empower the women around me. The Torah doesn’t treat us like second-class citizens – why should societal conventions do so? My frum sisters who uncomplainingly accept these above, and similar, scenarios – do they do so because to protest would mean being branded as “modern” or “feminist”; or have their brains been so thoroughly washed that they no longer react to - or even perceive - disrespect?

I would make the case that it is because of my uncompromising loyalty to Torah values that I want to see its ideals of championing the dignity of women implemented and perpetuated; it is because I refuse to be “modern” or “feminist” that I insist that the men around me should treat me and my sisters with the consideration and sensitivity that the Torah mandates. All you men – Rabbis as well as laymen – who boast about how much you respect women: let's see you live up to your professed ideals!

And if you do - I'll respect you right back!

Shalom Uv'racha!

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