Sisterhood Blog

Male-Only Voting in Crown Heights Prompts Complaints

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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The Lubavitch Hasidim of Crown Heights voted in new communal leadership yesterday. And by Lubavitch Hasidim, of course, I mean men.

Only men — over age 20 if they’re married or 30 or older if they’re not — are permitted to vote for the new leadership of the Vaad Hakohol (Community Committee), which runs the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council. The CHJCC runs and facilitates access to government programs like food stamps and housing subsidies, and serves as a clearinghouse for the local Jewish community, as well as represents it to government officials.

The voting rules that require the one representative of a local Jewish household to be male means that women who are divorced, widowed or never married have no voice in choosing their communal representatives.

Many aren’t happy about it, according to Lubavitch sources. Some complained about their disenfranchisement in comments under this post on the website COLLIVE.com.

“This is 2010. Why can’t the women vote?????????” wrote someone identified as “Women Vote.” A poster named “Chutzpa” wrote “Women know more about the community then men! Let married women vote!” “Universal Suffrage” wrote “Let women vote!” And “How about Divorcees and widows” wrote “I guess those families have no say in Crown Heights. Talk about women not making good choices. They did not participate in the sin of the golden calf. Throughout history we have seen the great understanding of women…think this is the influence of the dark ages not Torah.”

Because it’s men only, voting for both members of the Vaad Hakohol and the committee of men, known as “the Gaboyim,” who run the internal affairs of 770 Eastern Parkway, the main Lubavitch synagogue, took place Sunday in 770’s basement, a male-only space.

While no one in Crown Heights is arguing for female representation on the Gaboyim, the committee running the Jewish Community Council is a different matter. In addition to running and facilitating access to social services like job training, it also represents Crown Heights’ Lubavitchers to elected officials and serves as a lobby on behalf of the community.

According to the most recent tax records publicly available, in 2008 the CHJCC had an annual income of more than $2.7 million.

Isaac “Zaki” Tamir, 31, was the only outright winner of the 13 candidates running in the Vaad Hakohol election, with 54% of the vote. There will be a runoff election in Crown Heights between three or four other men who came closest to winning a seat on the committee, which is supposed to have between three and seven members.

Tamir (to whom I am related by marriage) is a lawyer who lives with his wife and three children in Crown Heights.

Tamir told The Sisterhood that he hopes to address the issue of divorced, widowed and unmarried women not having representation in the elections when the organization’s bylaws are revised, though he cautioned that he didn’t want to speak about the matter too publicly outside of the community before even taking office.

A senior religious court ruling in April called for Sunday’s special election, as well as for revision of the bylaws after years of ugly fighting between local rabbinic authorities and other community members.

A record 2,064 men (representing the 2,100 households listed in the local phonebook of Jewish families, called The Tzach directory) voted in Sunday’s election, according to this article,. The election was held two days before the community commemorated the 16th yartzheit of the last Lubavitcher rebbe on Tuesday.


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