The Difficulties of Reconciling Feminism with Orthodoxy

I was raised in an egalitarian culture and graduated from Barnard College, a women’s liberal arts college.

I am now integrated into the Orthodox world where the synagogue, an important center of Jewish life, has a strict separation of roles and the yeshiva offers the boys a significantly different curriculum than the girls.

.Do you know that I am unable to help my ten year old son with his mishna and gemora homework. Part of me thinks this is completely absurd. How can we continue to deny an entire gender access to our culture’s core knowledge? (How many women do you know who are proficient in the Shita Mekubetzes, the Ketzos, Rabbi Akiva Eger–even at a JOFA convention? I wouldn’t expect to find more than a handful, if that many). But then the other half of me is humble.

I’m a mother of boys–six of them. This is how they’ve been doing it since the beginning of time, and they are the greatest men (yes they were all men) who ever walked the face of the earth, Moses, Jeremiah, the Tanaim the Amoraim, the Vilna Gaon, all the way to the Piazeczna Rebbe. So who am I to suggest that its all wrong (at an alanon meeting I heard someone say something similar about the writings of Bill W. so kal vahomer, how much more does this apply to our sages)? But even so, the feminism is still stuck in my bone marrow and at times it is hard for me to live inside of this.

Anybody with any thoughts, feelings or insights on this subjects?

51 comments on “The Difficulties of Reconciling Feminism with Orthodoxy

  1. I think that it is evident from the dawn of the Jewish People that the Avos and Imahos set a role model that a Jewish father/husband and wife/mother have complementary and spiritually equal roles both in the community and in raising a family.

    The feminist movement, while championing the eradication of all gender based roles, has obviously raised a critique of the traditional family, and not coincidentally,the Orthodox family, which has led to various and different reactions from LW MO and its championing of Women’s Prayer Groups and women as the equivalent of rabbis to highly educated and observant MO and Charedi women who embrace a variety of functions and have an amazing concern for all Chesed related issues while showing an abolute disdain for power issues. I am not sure that being able to teach a son Talmud and Rishonim is as important a value as setting a Hashkafic tone within the house, being a Baalas Chesed , great spouse and mother. As far as saying Kaddish, there are different Minhagim in different communities.

  2. Charlie, (48) wrote ”

    “Gary #47

    I have even been in shuls where women say kaddish when there is no man saying kaddish.”
    There actually may be a halachic problem with women wearing tefillin. CYLOR.”

    I mentioned “unison” because on the one day that I was in that shul, there were both men and women saying Kaddish. I am sure that if there were no male mourners, women would have said Kaddish on their own.

    I related what I heard about women and tefillin in a general conversation, not a matter of practical halachah. I have seen varying opinions cited on the internet about this matter, and I agree, one should consult one’s halachic advisor for resolution.

  3. I find that the Rabbi and Rebbetzin of my own shul are amazing role models in terms of being frum Jews in 21st century America. Like Charlie Hall in comment #48, the Rabbi admits that his wife has a higher income than he does (she is the director of medical ultrasound at a clinic). Yet she still takes pride in the shul like an old-fashioned rebbetzin, worrying about whether there are chairs and if the shul is clean. It’s also obvious that their mutual respect for each other has nothing to do with the size of each other’s paychecks.

    I myself would not don tallit or tefillin because my kavanah in doing so would not be to serve HaShem; it would be to show off that I am “as good as a man.” I know that I myself would be doing this for all the wrong reasons. Other women might in donning tallit and/or tefillin have the correct kavanos, but I know myself well enough to understand that I don’t.

    That leads me to more interesting questions on this subject. If women are now working rather than staying all day in the home, and men are voluntarily taking on more of the home responsibilities, are we required by halacha to take on more religious responsibilities? For instance, are we women required to be “koveya ittim,” setting aside time for Torah learning, as long as we are not tied to those very demanding first priority home and child responsibilities?

  4. Judy #32 and #35,

    I have the same requirement to separate the challah as you do! I never do it because the local bakery’s bread is much better than anything either I or my wife can bake. My wife and I of us really do split the cooking about equally. I am a pretty good cook, she is an absolutely amazing cook.

    Judy #35,

    My wife also has a higher income than I do.

    Belle #40,

    In most of the shuls in my neighborhood the men’s section and the women’s section are equally nice. In one of them you would not be able to tell the difference except by the sign out in the lobby.

    Judy #43,

    I’ve met an OU mashgichah, and also a mashgichah who works for a respected local kashrut vaad. I think Star-K also hires mashgichot.

    Judy #45,

    I’ve seen a documented case of a woman saying kaddish for a parent from over 400 years ago in Europe. I also asked the shila about whether synthetics are kosher for a talit and the answer was “yes, according to most opinions you make a bracha on a talit as long as the tzitzit are kosher no matter what the beged is made of”.

    Gary #47m

    I have even been in shuls where women say kaddish when there is no man saying kaddish. And converts (male or female) also can say kaddish for parents even though there is strictly speaking no halachic obligation to do so. About once a year I see a woman wearing tefillin on her side of the mechitzah in one shul in my nbhd (which happens to be the one I usually go to for Shacharit) and there are one or two women (out of a membership of over 600 families) who wear a talit to shul on Shabat. There actually may be a halachic problem with women wearing tefillin. CYLOR.

  5. Dear Squarepeg and Judy,

    There are orthodox synagogues where women say kaddish in unison with the men, each from his or her side of the mechitzah. If that is not the practice in your synagogue, it is certainly fitting for your children to say it on your behalf. I only have one living uncle, and I don’t know if he actually says kaddish on yahrzeits, or has hired anyone to do so. Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to say kaddish for all four grandparents and selected uncles, besides saying it for my parents. It may be a rash assumption, but I suspect that I will soon be the only one of many descendants who knows the yahrzeits of these individuals.

    Unfortunately, women who wear invalid tallitot are not alone; many males, whether members of the clergy or otherwise, also wear them.

    I have heard that women are not prohibited from wearing a tallit or tefillin, but that doing so does not give them any rights, privileges or obligations of men. I am not personally aware of any orthodox shul where women do wear these items on their side of the mechitzah.

  6. squarepeg613, I think we’re on the same wavelength here. I totally agree with your frustration about the fact that “Jew” actually refers only to a male Jew, leaving out Jewish women. For example, a man feels a certain comfort following the loss of a parent when he says Kaddish for eleven months, knowing that his parent’s neshama is getting an aliya in Gan Eden. But what kind of comfort do bereaved daughters have? The best we can do is to hire a stranger to say Kaddish, hoping that the great mitzvah of supporting a poor Torah scholar helps the neshama of the woman’s parent get an aliya.

    Yes, I know that in Sefer Rus the women tell Naomi that Rus is better to her than seven sons, and that having a daughter who is Shomer Mitzvot is far preferable to an irreligious son who mumbles his way through the prayer services before going back to eat treif. But this has had a powerful impact in Jewish culture: there are legends about men who were saved from death because they had to find a minyan to say Kaddish for a deceased parent. It’s not a small thing, and women are left out of it completely.

    I was one of two daughters, no sons, so there was no one to say Kaddish for my parents. What is extremely interesting is that my sons who learn in Yeshiva make an effort to daven from the amud on their grandparents’ Yahrzeits. Since fortunately among the Yeshiva boys there are usually none who need to say Kaddish, my sons explained to me that the person who davens from the amud has to say Kaddish at those points in the service. So it winds up that there is a family member to say Kaddish for my deceased parents after all. However, it still is a man’s prerogative, not a woman’s. It’s the grandsons who are taking it on themselves as a way to memorialize their grandparents, not the granddaughters.

    Regarding the hilchos of tallitot, I humbly once again state that I know very little. I do remember once that my husband said that artificial materials such as polyester or rayon are not kosher for a tallit beged: it must be a natural material such as wool, silk, cotton or linen, and it cannot mix linen and wool (sha’atnez). For the most accurate details of hilchos tallitot, please consult a rav or the Shulchan Oruch.

    I only made the initial reference to women wearing invalid tallitot because of the powerful image of women feeling more validated as Jews when they perform men’s mitzvot, even if it’s only symbolic. Jewish men wrap themselves in kosher tallitot because they want to do G-d’s will. But then why do Jewish woman run to wear pasul tallit?

  7. Judy, thanks for bringing up the example of the Yo’atzot and the Mashgichot. Here in Israel there are also To’anot Rabbaniot, who, if I understand correctly, help women through the Beit Din system, especially in the case of divorce. These breakthroughs are important less because they confer status on the women who hold the titles, but mainly because they provide much-needed services to women — whose needs were not being met as well previously.

  8. Forgive me for commenting again, I can never resist putting in my two shekels (I suppose the other posters will grouse that by the end of a couple of lengthy rants it seems more like two kikar).

    I wanted to mention first about Yoatzot Halachah (hope I am getting the spelling right), which is celebrating a tenth anniversary, there are now a number of Yoatzot Halachah helping women with their halachic queries especially in the area of niddah and women’s health. Another interesting development is that the O-K Laboratories led by Rabbi Don Levy (one of the most respected kosher supervising agencies) actually opened up training for women mashgichot, giving the women who signed up for the course hands-on experience in such topics as kosher inspecting a factory, kashering a commercial kitchen and bug-checking vegetables.

    All this helps educated, smart Jewish women to utilize their brainpower. But once again, we get back to the idea that it’s only what men do that’s valued; i.e. if a woman is officially a Mashgichah or a Yoetzet Halachah, she’s got an important job, but without the official title and the training, what she’s doing is not really so important.

  9. What I find very interesting is the recent explosion in “women-for-women” entertainment in the frum world. Rachel Factor, the Japanese Jewish singer and dancer, is presenting her third autobiographical installment, “Becoming Rich,” (following her first two successful productions, “JAP” and “Not Even Normal”). Robin Garbose’s film, “A Light for Greytowers” was shown in a number of frum neighborhoods. Then there’s the women’s group in Efrat, Israel that presents original musicals to raise money for tzedakah, such as “Noah: Ride the Wave!” A few girls’ high schools such as BY-BP and Machon produce original plays each year that are attended by literally thousands of women. This new trend is wonderful in that it allows women to use their singing, dancing and acting talents in a totally kosher way. I do remember years ago when first becoming a BT, how a local rabbi talked about the problem he had, having to explain to a young woman who wanted to become frum how she could no longer consider singing and dancing. Even longtime feminists would approve…after all, it’s women’s empowerment, isn’t it? And the fact that it’s women for women, wearing tzniusdig costumes, removes any concerns about the exploitation of women’s bodies for men’s amusement.

  10. Judy, if you find out more about the Kashrut of Tallitot, I would be interested to know. In my son’s junior high school they recently learned to tie Tzitit. But I didn’t know there were any requirements for the Beged.

    In your example about the father of five who remarried, I think it actually demonstrates that having a wife/mother in the family is vital.

    I think Simchat Bat ceremonies are great, and I think they do make a positive statement. I’ve never been into making up new blessings, but we got around that at my daughter’s Simchat Bat 15 years ago. We had a religious, meaningful ceremony. You may be sure I enjoyed it more than any of my sons’ four Britot! ;-)

    Belle, your example about Mikva’ot made me smile. So true!

    I actually did not grow up reading Torah, since the shuls we belonged to mostly didn’t allow women to do so. It always bothered me, though, and as an adult I pursued these opportunities. No one taught me feminism; it just made intuitive sense to me.

    I think Judaism also identifies “valued” with “male”. I grew up learning what an observant Jew does: Shabbat, Kashrut, holidays, 3x a day davening (including minyan, Tallit and Tefillin and Torah reading when relevant), learning Torah, blessings before and after meals, etc. Rarely did people say “male Jew” if they meant only men; rather they just said “Jew”. It never really occurred to me that “Jew” didn’t include me. See Judy’s comment #32 for more examples of women’s marginalization.

  11. Personally, I think a lot of our underlying feminist issues (and I include myself here) stems from our growing up with the mainstream feminist identification of “ideal” or “valued” with “male.” Therefore whatever is male is valued (aliyos is shul, minyan), whereas what is female is denigrated (covering the hair, taking care of children). [There was a stream of feminism, however, more ‘radical,’ that exalted the feminine (Our Bodies Ourselves, etc). However this stream didn’t really catch on.] It is important to remind ourselves that this was not a Jewish approach at all but an American response to true oppression and patronizing of women by the American culture.
    I remember someone once telling me when I asked why is the men’s section of shul so much nicer than the woman’s: did you ever see a mikvah where the men’s section is nicer than the woman’s? Since the mikvah is primarily the woman’s mitzvah, the building is primarily set up for women’s use and enjoyment; since shul is primarily a men’s mitzvah, the opposite.

    I do agree, however, that if one grew up laining from the Torah and learning gemora, etc., it would be very difficult to just give it up, even if one understood in theory why it is so. I think this is our challenge as baalei teshuva, and no one except for Hashem really knows our struggles.

  12. It is difficult to measure whether someone’s contribution is properly valued. I remember hearing about a mother of five young children who died of cancer, lo aleinu. The father remarried several years later. Does the fact that it was so “easy” in a sense to replace the Mommy mean that a mother’s contribution to the family is not valuable?

    There is also a popular saying that someone who has seven sons will go straight to Gan Eden. I know a woman who had six sons then a daughter and then twin girls. Is the seventh child, being a girl instead of a boy, less valuable because her birth was responsible for taking away her mother’s automatic Gan Eden? Do we need to create elaborate Simchat Bat and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies to demonstrate that a daughter is no less valued than her brothers?

    I am the first person to admit that I am far from being an expert on the halachos whether a tallis is kosher or pasul. I do know that my husband is very careful when he purchases the beged for a tallis to buy from a reputable source, and that he later puts in the tzitzis himself using string also purchased from a reputable source. The silk prayer shawls that are used in photo-ops are carelessly worn and thrown around without any concern as should befit tashmishei kedushah, objects used for holy ritual purposes.

  13. I’m not sure why you would be surprised that a Reform rabbi is either unaware or uncaring about halachah. The Reform movement itself does not claim fealty to or knowledge of halachah.

    I also wonder how it is that we gauge whether someone’s contributions/role, be that person male or female, is appreciated. Is that something that comes from within a family or from somewhere else and how is it exhibited?

  14. Judy, I completely agree with you that when women are valued, it is all too often for “outside” accomplishments like earning money or achieving status, and not so much for “inside” accomplishments like building a Jewish family.

    What do you mean about the Tallitot being nonkosher? What is necessary besides Kosher Tzitzit?

    I learned to daven and read Torah from my father. I have read and led davening at a women’s Tefilla, but mostly I did it at a Conservative shul. I have taught a few other women to read, the first one being a close friend back when we were both in college. Now 23 years later, I am teaching her daughter for her Bat Mitzvah! It is quite a privilege.

  15. To squarepeg613: I’m very impressed that you used to publicly lead the davening and read from the Torah. Was this in a Modern Orthodox or a Conservative shul, or was it a special Women’s Minyan? How did you learn the trop (special tune for Torah reading)? Did you take classes or was it through private tutoring?

    My beef is really with anyone, male or female, who treats donning tallis and tefillin like a joke for a photo op (which probably includes a lot of nonobservant Bar Mitzvah boys and their male relatives). I only mentioned women because of pictures I’ve seen of Reform women rabbis, each with the obligatory silk “prayer shawl” (a completely pasul tallis) draped on her shoulders. Now these women are rabbis, they presumably should know the difference between a kosher tallis and a pasul one. If they do know the difference, why are they proudly draping themselves in pasul taleisim? If they don’t know the difference, why were they given semichah?

    Squarepeg613, I am saddened that just as Jewish women are starting to win more respect for their traditional role, that role is in danger of disappearing. For example, very few Jewish women nowadays (except for maybe Chabad rebbetzins on shlichus in remote areas) actually still soak and salt chickens themselves. Not that I’m looking to go back to the days when pious housewives spent hours flicking and kasheiring before every Yom Tov. However, in terms of valuing what women do, it seems that moms now are valued like men by the size of the paychecks they receive (regretfully necessary to pay for yeshiva tuition, rent and food). Our work in the home building the home is never valued enough except in extraordinary circumstances (for example, caring for disabled relatives or preemie newborns or special-needs children).

  16. Judy, I know plenty of women who wear a Tallit, and some Tefillin as well. I don’t know any woman who does it to show off for a picture.

    I liked the rest of your examples! They expressed what I felt too.

  17. I think its important to distinguish between that which is halachically mandated, that which is an established custom and that which is neither.
    There is nothing which prohibits a man from cleaning up on leil seder. I stay up cleaning at least as long as my wife, mother, morher-in-law and daughters. (They usually stay up later the night before). Nonetheless, a couple may feel that it is in their best interest to have the husband a little better rested for davening and allow the wife to sleep later on yom tov morning. That’s a personal decision.

    My point is that while halacha mandates differing roles for men and women, there are plenty of areas where an objective observer may find the men’s role more difficult or trying and there are plenty of areas where the halachah allows us to define our own roles.

  18. I completely agree with squarepeg13’s comment that a woman’s role isn’t valued as much as a man’s. It used to bother me greatly that a man can consult halachos in the Shulchan Aruch as to when he is exempted from some religious duty due to illness (donning tefillin, for example), whereas there is nothing in the Shulchan Aruch about when a woman is considered too sick to perform her household duties (do we get off from preparing supper for the family if we have a fever of 102 degrees? how about 103?).

    Also, while I hear about women who want to be counted in a minyan, I never hear about men who want to participate in separating the dough from challah. I also am bothered like squarepeg613 by statements that use the word “Jew” to refer to a male not a female. Think of the English translation of the title of Kitov’s famous book: in Hebrew it’s Ish UBeito, which is literally A Man and His House; in English, the title becomes, “The Jew and His Home.” Finally, I am saddened that we do not make brochos on many women’s mitzvos, such as teaching Torah to our children or preparing the festive seudos for Shabbos.

  19. Men and women have different unfairnesses in life. Yes, my husband gets up at 5:40 AM in order to make it to Shacharis on a freezing cold morning while I continue sleeping. However, I’m the one up at 3 AM on Layl Seder putting away the food and cleaning off the table while he’s already snoring. Each gender could say it has things worse than the other. Men accuse women of being “golddiggers” while women point to what is known as the “feminization of poverty.” Women scream through the pain of childbirth but men go to shul morning and night. Then there are women who claim they want the privilege of tallis and tefillin, but who don these items only to show off when the cameras are clicking.

  20. To me, the term “unfairness” in relation to Jewish observance refers to an unwarranted disparity.

    Dealing with disparity and making the best of the situation, until it can be resolved, are not mutually exclusive. For example, someone could continue to pray in a synagogue that he or she generally likes while working with the rabbi to make prayers more enjoyable for all. The effort may not be successful, and unltimately the requestor may accept the status quo or move to a different synagogue.

    If the exchanges about the situation are constructive and respectful, the positive aspects of the relationship will endure, regardless of the outcome.

  21. I wonder if the people hung up on unfairness get more accomplished, or those who just deal with the situation as it is, as best they can.

  22. Good question, Mark. Probably a little of both, but I think the difference in the value placed by society on each role bothers me more than the difference in roles itself. I do miss Torah reading and leading davening,though. It is frustrating when the Torah reader is not up to par and I know I could do a much better job. Fortunately it isn’t a regular occurrence. I really liked reading Torah. I liked the whole “pulchan”, the ritual. I miss it.

    Anyway, it would probably bother me less if my role were publicly valued as much as a man’s role. Countless times I’ve read statements like, “a Jew davens three times a day”, but I have never seen “a Jew takes care of her children so that her husband can daven three times a day”.

  23. David Linn,

    Count me in as one who envies the fact that I have to get up to go to shul early every morning while my wife can stay in bed — and my regular minyan is at 8, not 6!

    (Yes, I technically could fulfil my obligation by praying at home. But prayer is best done in shul, with a minyan. The fact that the arguments in favor of praying in shul with a minyan apply equally to women is worthy of a separate post.)

    Another less common example is the assembly line aliyot on Simchat Torah. In many shuls the rabbi gives a shiur for the women while the men are doing the entirely unnecessary practice of giving everyone an aliyah. I get plenty of aliyot during the year and would rather attend a shiur! For the past few years I’ve actually left the shul on ST and headed to a special Torah leining at a nearby retirement community for the elderly residents who can’t make it to shul.

  24. Squarepeg613 asked, “Are you implying that my Kavannah is off if I can have these feelings? Or did I misunderstand your meaning?”

    I know I’m distracted by all kinds of things in shul, but feel that in principle I could concentrate better on the task at hand. That’s not so easy, but it’s something to work towards. If the distractions won’t go away, what can we do but get around them?

  25. I wonder if there are any men out there who feel that they are the ones being discriminated against.
    When I was in USY (the conservative movement’s youth group), I remember seeing a teenage girl wearing a tallis. I asked her if she also wore tefillin, she replied “Nah, that’s a hassle.” Are there men out there who see their spouses or sisters snuggled warmly under the covers at 6am on a frigid winter morning and think it’s unfair that only they need to get up and go to shul?

  26. Squarepeg, are you bothered by the fact that men and women’s roles are different or by the fact that the women’s role seems to be less valued or important.

    If the gender roles were different but equal, would that sit well with you or are you looking that everybody should have the same exact roles.

  27. Mark, the two choices you presented seem the same to me. Can you explain or elaborate?

    Bob, yes of course I am aware of the dynamics of the situation in shul beyond davening and trying to connect to Hashem. After all, I did go to shul. I didn’t just stay home and daven by myself. Davening in shul is a communal experience. If I hear a Torah reading and I don’t see or hear as well as I would on the other side of the Mehitzah — yes, that is frustrating. And yes, I do feel in such situations that the men don’t care that women don’t see and hear as well. Are you implying that my Kavannah is off if I can have these feelings? Or did I misunderstand your meaning?

  28. I also had a lot of difficulties years ago with what I perceived were big inconsistencies with Orthodox Judaism, feminist ideals and the supposed gender inequalities. I have since come to the realization that dignity for women does not mean being a male clone. As one woman rightly put it, “We’re not imitation men.” I find it very significant that both feminists and Orthodox Jewish men are the only groups which cry out against billboards and advertisements that shamelessly objectify women’s bodies in order to sell products. Both of my two married sons treat their wives with great respect, and they help out at home as much as possible. And I find that the mechitzah creates a “protected space” for me in which I can pray safely in a corner of the shul without being ogled by (or worse, fondled by) men while I am busy concentrating on praying to G-d. Basically, it all boils down to R E S P E C T.

  29. Squarepeg, is it the inequality or the fact that the role of men seems superior in Orthodoxy?

  30. Anxious Ima, I applaud you for doing your best to raise six wonderful boys, who will BSD grow up to appreciate intelligent and hardworking Jewish women. Don’t forget that there are baal teshuvah men out there who also can’t help out their sons with homework. Even my FFB husband had a problem past Grade Six with our boys: he could do Chumash and Mishnayos, but once the boys got to their advanced sugyos with Tosfos, he was lost. Fortunately, there are resources available today that weren’t around even a short time ago: terrific English-language Mishnayos and the new ArtScroll English translation of Shas.

    As for text learning for women, those in the NYC area can take classes at Drisha, which offers advanced classes for women. If being a responsible Ima leaves you with little time and less money, try bartering for tutoring. You offer to tutor a teenage boy in advanced math in exchange for the young man tutoring your sons in Gemara. Speak to the boys’ rebbes about your problem. Nowadays there are many more single mothers who need outside help to assist their sons with homework, and your sons’ rebbes may have good practical advice to help you through this situation.

  31. squarepeg613,

    If you’re in Shul davening to HaShem, do you need to think whatsoever about the men and their appreciation or the lack of it?

  32. Nathan, you are absolutely right and raise an important issue — one that my husband and I have extensive experience with. Children need to be supervised and raised. Someone has to do this. It is probably simpler and more efficient to define ahead of time who does what — the father davens in shul and the mother tries to daven however she can but mainly is with the kids.

    The theory is ok. What’s hard is the reality of living it. There are women who don’t see the inequality and there are women who see it but it doesn’t bother them. I see the inequality and it does bother me. The theory hardly touches the feelings. At most Orthodox shuls, the women can’t see and hear as well as the men. But this doesn’t seem to bother the men any — I get the message that I am irrelevant in shul and that my experience is not important. And that is only one example of inequality that bothers me. The inequality pervades Orthodoxy and I haven’t yet seen too many convincing explanations of it.

  33. Anxious Ima,

    Some of the aspects of Orthodox life you describe are NOT essential to being Orthodox. The Day Schools in my neighborhood are co-ed and offer boys and girls identical homework. We don’t deny women access to our culture’s core knowledge and in nine hours I will be attending my regular gemara shiur along with several women who are regulars. And several synagogues in my neighborhood have women scholars speak to the congregation in a regular basis.

    Rov Soloveitchik did think that denying women “access to our culture’s core knowledge” was wrong. And he did something about it. The problem is that not everyone followed him.

    Square Peg,

    Who is watching the children? The youth group leaders, of course!

  34. Dear Square Peg,

    If both men and women are in the synagogue praying, then who is watching the children?

    Leaving unsupervised children in the synagogue basement or front yard or back yard is a mistake, because young children can get in trouble even or bother people even in those places. I speak from experience when I say this.


  35. A woman can be a person yet not exalt feminist values over Torah values (whichever flavor). But it’s not so easy to cast off a mindset that has always seemed natural and just.

  36. Hadassah, when you say “My boys would theoretically learn with me (I am bringing them up to understand women are people too)” do you mean to say that those who have a different approach to this than you do do not view women as people?

  37. Anxious Ima, thank you for writing this. I was raised observant Conservative and am becoming Orthodox because I don’t see the Conservative model being sustainable. But I don’t like being Orthodox. I have always been feminist, since well before I knew the word. It just seems intuitively right to me. The gender inequality in Orthodoxy really sticks in my craw. Inequality in learning is only one of many examples of inequality. They bother me very much. I feel like I have to resign myself to tolerating this inequality in Orthodoxy, rather than feeling like I am embracing beliefs I support. It is hard and not very satisfying.

  38. May I live to see the day when authentic Orthodox Judaism becomes the one and only -ISM for all Jews.

    No more: Feminism, Chauvinism, Communism, Socialism, Capitalism, atheism, Pantheism, Liberalism, Conservatism, Hedonism, anti-Semitism, nationalism, etc, etc, etc.

  39. Feminism is part of the value system of the Western World, not our Torah community.There is no need to reconcile feminism with Judaism; feeling a need to do so implies a recognition (Has v’Shalom)of Western societies values as the norm to be guided by.

  40. While Hadassah’s (#6) sons attend school in a community where girls are not learning gemara, they should be proud to have any qualified family member who can help them. If that family member is their mother or any other woman who learned gemara in some other setting, neither the staff of the school nor the students (who reflect the attitudes of the staff) should put the young men or their relatives down.
    In these times of scarce financial and human resources, the school should allocate chavrusah’s, paid or voluntary tutors, and the like to those who don’t have relatives who are qualified to help.
    The situation that Hadassah describes indicates that the school needs to review its techniques in managing communal and financial affairs.

  41. of course , whether your mastery of such texts is either unadvisable OR acceptable— it will depend on what segment of orthodoxy you are aligned. it would be unfair if baalei teshuva are led to believe that only the haredi opinion on the issue matters,,,,

  42. I too struggle with this, as I have been a single mom to boys being educated in a black hat yeshiva. I learned Gemara and mishna as a teen so I know HOW to learn. My boys would theoretically learn with me (I am bringing them up to understnad women are people too) but when rebbe were to ask who they learn with, they would be too embarrassed to say their mother (obviously). I had the school set them up chavrusas, but it is something tough to accept.

  43. Anxious Ima,

    Classmates can get together with your boys to help one another understand Mishnah and Gemara homework. It’s traditional for yeshiva students to pair off to study and review material.

    If tutoring is also necessary, older yeshiva students and kollel members may be available locally.

  44. Your question is not so much “how can Orthodox Judaism be correct when it violates some of my level of perception of rightness.” It is more “How can I live with my Orthodox Jewish-directed life when it violates some of my level of perception of rightness.”

    In Secular Humanism, the underlying assumption of all ethics is the subjugation of self to the greater good [society/planet]. It is usually easy to follow this path if one has the will, because each case of subjugation is judged personally: If one comes to the logical conclusion that a particular action benefits the greater good, even at the expense of the self, then that is the correct path to follow. You have judged the ethics of teh situation, and you have followed them. They are YOUR ethics.

    In the Torah world, the underlying assumption is the subjugation of self to Creator. It is difficult to do this when we don’t understand all the whys and wherefores that underlie each expected action. We can’t make our own judgements of the framework, only within the framework. Sure, if we delve into Toras Hanistar, we can better understand how each mitzvah accomplishes its tikkun. But Toras Hanistar is hard, and easily leads one astray, because it defines the themes behind the activities, not the actual activities.

    So, it is hard to understand the entirety of our roles within the clear-but-powerful lens of Emes — as elements of the universe, as humans, as Jews, as light unto the nations, as members of either sex, and indeed as individuals. But Torah — Emes — does define these things for us, and we have to follow them as best we can.

    Some will label this an apologist’s entry. “Don’t ask questions, even if it seems wrong.” That’s not true. We must strive to understand as best we can, and question in order to improve that understanding. but most of all, we must *DO*, whether we understand or not. By DOING, we accomplish so much. We don’t even understand how much.

    And so, with questions like these, we say NAASEH VINISHMAH, agree to follow the derech haemes, and along the way try to understand why. Some of the answers will seems complete. Others will not. We will always try to get better answers. But we will keep DOING whether we have a very fulfilling answer, an unsatisfying answer, or even no answer at all. We are our own korbonos.

  45. Anxious Ima, I’m a fellow Barnard graduate, but I went there religious, as I became religious when I was 14. Keep questioning, keep trying to understand, and try to find out what you are permitted do, within the parameters of halacha. It seems like there may be things that are halachically permissible that you may be choosing not to do because of the frum societal norms in the community in which you live. When I became religious, no one told me I had to check my brain at the door.

    If not doing something feels “absurd” to you, and the halacha doesn’t forbid it, why make yourself anxious about having the feelings you have?

  46. As silly as it may seem, teenage boys/men of all nations instinctively feel a need prove their manhood somehow. In primitive and unenlightened societies [which is most of them] this “proof” may be accomplished by stupid, dangerous and an pointless stunts like: shoplifting, vandalism, arson, dueling, unprotected sex, beating up someone, smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, taking illegal drugs or even raping or killing someone.

    We Jews have a uniquely constructive way for our young men to prove themselves: religious scholarship, especially the difficult texts of the Talmud. A young yeshivah man need not feel that he must prove his manhood by dangerous stunts, because he has already proven that through proficiency in religious scholarship.

    When girls study Talmud, this is no longer true.

    American women have their own gyms that men are not allowed to join and their own colleges that men are not allowed to attend and their own reduced-rent apartment buildings in Manhattan that men are not allowed to live in.

    Men also need to have a space that is uniquely their own; not only a physical space, but a psychological or spiritual space. For Jewish men, that space consists of advanced Torah studies.

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