This week I had what I like to call a “Mi Kiamcho Yisroel Moment.” It came upon me as I was reading through a new book called “The Girls Who Went Away.” As you probably already guessed this book is no sefer. Its not put out by Artscroll or Feldheim. In fact it’s the kind of story the frum press wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, but nevertheless, reading it has given me a gevaldige hizuk in a strange sort of back handed way.
“Girls” is an an exquisitely researched journalistic account of the life stories of thousands of women who fell pregnant during their teens, and in the years before Roe v. Wade were coaxed or even coerced to give up their newborn offspring for adoption. The book details the trauma these girls, in some cases they were as young as fourteen, endured. Most of these girls were sent away from home because back in the fifties and sixties the shame of having a pregnant teenager around the house was to great for the family to endure. Then after a stay in a home for unwed mothers, where the girls were at times forced to adopt assumed names to “protect’ their anonymity, the girls were sent to the hospital alone and then forced to relinquish their babies who they were not even encouraged to cuddle, “so they wouldn’t grow attached,’ the social workers told them. After that experience, which of course was not to be mentioned, the girls were expected to reintegrate into society, to finish school, get married and start life on the proper footing. Needless to say more than a few had a tough time. Some fell into depression, others used drugs and alcohol to numb their psychic pain. In some cases the mothers reunited with their offspring after decades of separation; in others not.
Now the subtext of the books author is fairly obvious. Look how far we’ve evolved as a society. We now permit open access to contraception, sex education, legal abortion on demand. No longer do women have to endure this kind of suffering. We’ve solved it, but of course we know this isn’t true. If the Torah has one enduring message—of course is has many, it is that unregulated sex, sex without commitment leads to pain and in some cases (like the Sotah) to death. Our Torah is a Torah of life. Vechai bahem, is the message of our mitzos and as such the Torah erects a high fence, topped with barbed wire around the sexual drive. A dress code to minimize unwanted attractions, separation of the sexes in education, in prayer, for casual socializing, all of these are designed to eliminate the tragic scenarios described in ‘The Girls who Went Away.”
Sometimes it seems that we go off the deep end, expecting our girls to cover their elbows, knees, and toes, banning popular literature and music but all this is to protect that which Judaism designates as most sacred—an undisturbed clean relationship between husband and wife, a couple who stand under the Huppah, virgins both without the skeletons of a hundred failed relationships rattling around in their brains.
If there was any one reason why I chose to adopt an ultra orthodox lifestyle it was this. To live in a society where there were no cocktail parties, not even the “kosher “ cocktail parties (sans drinks) called kiddushes and simchas that occur regularly in certain circles where the separation between the sexes is disregarded. I wanted to raise my kids in an atmosphere that was free from the lewd sexuality that permeates the media, without Bratz dolls and Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce and Brittany Spears.
This is how we protect our families, through these fences which sometimes seem anachronistic and excessively high. And we’re succeeding. Every virginal Bais Yaakov girl that standing under the Huppa is a walking miracle and there are many, so many in fact that we don’t seem to take a deep breath and whisper a prayer of thanks to the Almighty whose protection made this possible.
I wouldn’t tell all of you to click onto Amazon and order the Girls who Went Away, but sometimes looking outside, observing how the other half live, or fail to live can give us some much needed perspective on just how lucky we are.
Now what does this have to do with Beyond BT? Nothing; none of the cases histories detailed in the book were about Jewish women but, wait, that is exactly the point. None of these women were Jewish, and certainly not Torah observant.
Originally Published April 7, 2008