Put down those mats everyone. Now yoga is bad.
Well, not bad, but maybe not the magic cure it has long been touted as either — at least according to two new articles.
A recent piece in the New York Times magazine outlines the health risks associated with yoga. While completely hyperbolic — one guy’s “yoga” injury comes from sitting on his knees for hours a day — we still learn that yoga can cause some serious problems and should not be the exercise of choice for everybody.
And over at New York Magazine an interview with yoga reformer David Regelin reveals that we have been doing things all wrong. We rush through poses while listening to Bjork, as the strong parts of our bodies get stronger and the weak ones get weaker. Meanwhile, teachers “have had, you know, hip replacements and knee surgery,” he says. “But they’re not going to put that out there. If you’re the fast-food industry, you don’t say, ‘I’m obese, eat my food.’”
In short, the combination of sloppy teaching and the fact that most of us can’t help but push too hard on the mat — you can take the yogi out of the competition, but can’t take the competition out of the yogi — has led to a fair share of damaged muscles and joints. This backlash is hardly surprising in a news culture obsessed with the all that is counterintuitive and shocking. (How broccoli can kill you, tonight at 8!) Honestly, I am surprised it took this long.
But these pieces got me thinking.
Update, January 18, 11:27 a.m.: The High Court today ruled that the committee that appoints religious judges must have women on it, and that women’s representation on this and other committees must be sealed with legislation. Until the issue of women’s exclusion is fixed, the committee is not allowed to appoint dayanim, or religious judges.
While the Israeli public has been getting rightfully agitated about the exclusion of women from public spaces, there are other gender-segregated locations in Israel that are barely noticed but have far-reaching implications for all women. The Committee to Appoint of Rabbinical Judges (dayanim) is, for the first time in more than a decade (since women’s groups started protesting the issue), is an exclusively male panel. Yet the government is wringing its hands, as the coalition remains hostage, once again, to the entrenched sexism of religious parties.
The rabbinical courts are one of the most fiercely gender-segregated institutions in Israel. Women are not only forbidden from being judges — a viciously anti-democratic regulation that might go unnoticed save for the fact that every single marriage and divorce in Israel needs the approval of rabbinical judges — they are also prevented from taking administrative roles in managing the system. And the absence of women on the Committee to Appoint Dayanim is clearly a matter of convention and control rather than of religious law.
Women can and should take on at the very least ancillary role in the rabbinical courts, but it’s been an uphill battle.
Having a child fall victim to sexual assault is every parent’s worst nightmare.
In the picturesque Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot, a network of alleged pedophiles has been exposed in recent months.The difficulties of relying on children’s testimony, and the initial reluctance of the ultra-Orthodox community to cooperate with officials has made the justice process difficult and painfully slow. If all of the allegations are to be believed, there are more than 20 perpetrators guilty of horrific crimes against more than 100 children, some of them young toddlers. And many of the alleged molesters are still freely walking the streets, in full view of their accusers and their parents.
Parents in Nachlaot — a mixed neighborhood with residents who range from secular to ultra-Orthodox are losing patience with the police and the justice system. Some worry that if the process does not move faster, vigilante-style action will be taken against the alleged perpetrators. With the police keeping a tight lid on the identities of key suspects, with gag orders imposed on the media, several bloggers have stepped into the breach to try to warn their neighbors, and report on the atmosphere in the neighborhood.
Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld is equally at home teaching a page of Talmud and showing women how to use a vibrator. Dr. Rosenfeld, 31, who co-authored the book “The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy,” which the Sisterhood weighed in on here, is also an Orthodox Jew, and her expertise in sex education is aimed at an Orthodox audience. The book, which the Jerusalem resident wrote with sex therapist David Ribner of Bar-Ilan University, explores the most intimate topics with no restraint, topics such as female orgasm, masturbation, and varieties of sexual positions. She spoke recently with The Sisterhood.
Elana: Sztokman: Why did you decide to write this book?
Jennie Rosenfeld: My work at The Tzelem Project, which I cofounded in 2005 with Koby Frances in order to address sexual education in the Orthodox community, convinced me of the need for such a book. … Running training conferences for chatan and kallah [grooms- and brides-to-be] teachers and rabbis, hearing the questions that were asked, I saw the need first-hand: Seeing the outpouring of people that came to our conferences, wanting to learn from medical and mental health professionals so that they could do a better job at preparing their students, seeing the way that often the teachers don’t know anything about sex beyond their own experiences, and speaking to young couples who simply weren’t given enough information or accurate information about how to begin their sexual relationship. This was the real tragedy for me.
What were the greatest challenges in writing about sex for the Orthodox community?
Soon after Debbie Friedman died about a year ago — her first yartzheit is later this month — I heard about the version of “Shalom Aleichem” she penned and shared, but never had a chance to record.
Now, I love the “original” tune with which many of us are familiar. I used to sing it to my youngest child to soothe her when she was an infant and toddler, holding her and stroking her back as I rocked in my mother’s rocking chair. She loved it and would request it by name, as soon as she was old enough to say the words.
Nonetheless, Debbie’s “Shalom Aleichem” has come to be our family’s new tune.
My son, who had a special relationship with Debbie, returned from her memorial service about a month after she died (I was just starting to pierce the fog of grief at that point, and couldn’t bear to go) with it to share with our family. Over the next few weeks, he taught it to us as we sat down to Shabbat dinner.
We have sung it ever since, and we share it with everyone we can.
By now, you’ve probably never seen the video of Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset Member Anastasia Michaeli throwing water in the face of Raleb Majadele, an Arab-Israeli member of the Labor party. But you probably haven’t seen Noy Alooshe’s artful remix of it:
Meanwhile, comedians Yochai Sponder and Manny Malka, have gotten 400,000 views on their “The Shiksa Song” on YouTube. It’s a send up of the religious cultural wars in Israel and features some scantily clad Brazilian dancers.
The Israeli Health Ministry has decided to delay implementing proposed restrictions on home births.
The “Shit Girls Say” videos, which The Sisterhood’s Elissa Strauss weighed in on here, have been an online phenomenon with spin-offs including “Shit Guys Say” and the most spot-on, “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls. “ (Nuggets include: “Jews were slaves, too; you don’t hear us complaining about it all the time” and “you guys can do so much with your hair” and “not to sound racist, but…”)
As I watched this video for the fourth time, I realized that someone should make a video called “Shit White Jews Say To Black Jews.” It would include statements like:
“Where should I put my dirty dish?”
“Are you someone’s nanny?”
I thought it was just me, but when I asked other Jews of Color, they told me they’ve heard things such as:
This was a big week for the Knowles-Carter family. First, as you have likely heard, Beyoncé gave birth to a baby girl named Blue Ivy. Second, for those of us pushing for more open and honest discussion about the reproductive process, new daddy Jay-Z became a hero.
Like many musicians before him — check out Slate’s round-up of post-natal hits — Jay-Z released a song about his child. Entitled “Glory,” the single begins with the rush of euphoria felt by the new parents. “The most amazing feeling I feel/Words can’t describe the feeling, for real/ Baby I paint the sky blue/ My greatest creation was you, you: Glory.”
But then Jay-Z moves to a darker place. “Last time the miscarriage was so tragic/We was afraid you’d disappear, but nah, baby, you magic/So there you have it, shit happens.” With those lines, Jay-Z adds more to the miscarriage conversation than anyone else in recent memory. Here he is, explaining out loud, in verse, the pain and fear that miscarriages bring. And in a rap song! Among the many tropes associated with the genre, fomenting dialogue about reproductive issues is not one of them.
William Kolbrener has a compelling new essay in the Forward about the culture of silence between men and women in his Haredi Jerusalem neighborhood. In it, he notes the deep disrespect for women and girls to which it leads, as illustrated by the arrogant way a man clucks his tongue at Kolbrener’s daughter and her friend as he waves them to the back of the bus. It is also glaringly clear in the abuse hurled by multiple men at young girls in Beit Shemesh, including Na’ama Margolese, as they have endeavored to do nothing more than walk to school.
But there is another point missing from all of the discussion of the new vigilance on modesty and the backlash against it. The extreme focus on distancing from women turns them into sexual objects. There is something perverse about the obsession with female dress of these “guardians of modest,” and I don’t mean perverse just in the sociological sense. These men are so focused on sublimating their own sexual impulses that they see women only as sexual objects, whose images and very personhood must be contained to the point of invisibility.
And it is internalized all too quickly by too many religious women.
Pressure against the Pu’ah to abstain from holding a conference for men only on fertility and Jewish law seems to be working. As of this morning, 9 out of 10 Israeli doctors scheduled to speak had withdrawn. In addition, the Ethics Board of the Physicians’ Union announced that from now on doctors will not be allowed to participate in medical events or conferences in which women are excluded, either as speakers or patients. This is an enormous victory by any social activism standards.
A roundtable of 30 social justice organizations convened by the New Israel Fund over the past few months to address the exclusion of women seems to be largely responsible for this success. Dr. Hanna Kehat, founder of the religious women’s forum Kolech, brought the Pu’ah conference to the attention of the other members of the roundtable — and several member organizations helped activate pressure. (Full disclosure: I also sit on the roundtable, representing The Center for Women’s Justice. Everything reported here is with permission).
Lili Ben Ami and Limor Levy Osemi, of the Lobby for Equality Between the Sexes, have been particularly influential in achieving the support of the physicians’ Ethics’ Board, and have been speaking to doctors, Knesset members and members of the media. Mickey Gitzin, director of Be Free Israel, which promotes civil equality, has also been encouraging doctors not to cave into Haredi pressure.
It is worth noting that for the the majority of my childhood and adolescence, I did not have a vagina. I had what my mother referred to as “front of me. ” (as in,”You shouldn’t wear underwear to sleep so you can air out the front of you.”) I spent a lot of time being confused about what “the front of me” was, how it worked, what it could do. Clarification around what my lady parts were was something I brought to myself, but it was accompanied by fear and shame. It was not the introduction to living in a body that I would wish for a girl, or anyone, for that matter.
Matthue Roth’s piece, ‘The C-Word,’ was published recently on Kveller, and it has kept my brain addled ever since. First, there’s the issue of the word cunt, which Roth hopes his “baby proto-feminist girl” will use. It’s not just that the word makes me want to hide under the bed; for me, it has always been a word I associate with violence and misogyny. While there are words and institutions that as feminists we can reclaim, “cunt” seems entirely too far gone for me.
Ultimately, teaching your kids to use the correct words to refer to their body and bodily functions is something that every parent should do, regardless of the gender identity of the parent. We need feminist men (like Roth, who owns the label) to do this because of the power that men hold in society, and this especially needs to be modeled inside religious communities. My concern is that whenever a man does this, he’s regaled as being the best father and the best human being ever, instead of doing what he should be doing. The standard for parenting remains incredibly low for men, and impossibly high for women.
Who can blame the women of Beit Shemesh for wanting to cut loose? Times have been tough: They’ve been in crisis mode since the opening of school and ultra-Orthodox extremists began harassing the girls at the Orot Banot school. Not to mention the ongoing issues of increased gender segregation on buses, separate sidewalks in parts of town and harassment in the streets of Haredi areas if their dress is deemed insufficiently modest.
And ever since the story of the harassment of school girl Na’ama Margolese hit Israeli television, they’ve also had to cope with the glare of the media spotlight on their community.
So with the goal of generating positive energy and showing the world that they are unbowed in the face of religious extremism, a group of Beit Shemesh women, primarily from the Modern Orthodox community, began a campaign on Facebook to create a female “flash mob” in their community. On the morning January 6, 250 women came together in the center of town to dance joyously in unison to the triumphant upbeat lyrics of “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen.
Jennifer Bleyer’s recent Sisterhood piece about the unexpected pleasures of her so-called “mama furlough” reminds me how much I have enjoyed my annual week, alone in my house, when my husband takes our kids camping.
I recently took the next step toward remembering who I used to be. For the first time in nearly 18 years of parenting, I took a pleasure trip — by myself.
My New York Torah study group, which has been meeting for about 15 years but I joined just this year, has a sister group in Jerusalem. There is a joint annual retreat to focus, in depth, on whatever we are studying, which this year is the work of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. When it became clear that the retreat would be in Israel, I thought the answer was simple. I wouldn’t go. For so many reasons.
Financial, for one. We are preparing for Girlchik’s bat mitzvah, and putting away each available shekel to finance what I hope will be a lovely afternoon party.
There is also the serious challenge of being visually impaired.
Pornhub.com wants Melissa Rivers to star in an adult film, and the XXX site believes it would be the first-ever adult film to feature “a sexy Jewish American Princess,” TMZ reports. Apparently Pornhub missed Complex.com’s list of the “50 Hottest Jewish Women,” which featured its share of adult actresses.
Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, of West Virginia, tells Forbes that she doesn’t think being nice is a feminine weakness, and that it can actually help you get ahead.
Two prominent Haredi women are boldly, and publicly, speaking out against ultra-Orthodox extremists, who advocate extreme gender segregation, and who, in recent days, have rioted against police in Beit Shemesh and protested in Jerusalem the “exclusion of Haredim” by donning yellow stars and concentration camp uniforms.
Ruth Lichtenstein, publisher of New York’s Haredi daily Hamodia on Wednesday wrote and signed a strongly worded editorial titled “It’s Time To Act.” In it, she describes coincidentally visiting Jerusalem during the protest, and being horrified by “pre-meditated cynicism, the fringe group to which he [a father who dressed his son to look like the boy with the yellow star and upraised arms in an iconic photo from the Warsaw Ghetto] belongs has desecrated an iconic symbol for their own ends.”
She goes on to warn against the serious dangers of dismissing these protesters as crazy people, writing:
Imagine a medical conference dedicated to women’s bodies in which no women are allowed to speak or even sit in the audience. No, this is not a Victorian novel or the back room of an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club. This is Israel 2012.
For the fourth year in a row, Pu’ah, a publicly funded organization dealing with gynecology, fertility and Jewish law, or halacha, is set to hold their annual medical conference on January 11 in a setting completely devoid of actual women.
Women are excluded as conference presenters on fertility, medicine, or Jewish law, and barred from even sitting in the crowd. Over the past three years, Kolech has written petitions, gone to the media, and turned to medical professionals asking them not to participate “This year, for the first time, people are taking an interest, and maybe something will happen,” Kolech’s founder, Hanna Kehat, said.
About a month ago, I was nursing my son in the waiting room at the pediatrician’s office. A young girl who looked to be about 10 or 11 noticed a pair of little feet sticking out from under my blue floral nursing cover and innocently asked me what I was doing, and I responded that I was feeding my baby. Her eyes widened incredulously as she asked, “How do you feed a baby without a bottle?” Now, her mother was right there, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 8.5 months that I’ve been a parent, it’s that “backseat parenting” is just not cool, so I quickly mumbled something about asking her (mortified looking) mother and left it at that.
The incident got me thinking. I felt sad for that little girl that nobody had thought to explain to her one of life’s most beautiful biological processes; I also felt dejected about the prospects of raising this country’s appallingly low breastfeeding rates.
Whenever these kinds of conversations come up, someone inevitably remarks that feeding babies is about choice, and we should not shame mothers who choose to bottle-feed. I agree. The problem is: How often does it truly come down to choice — and not a “cultural booby trap”?
Equality for Jewish women is not a 20th century invention. A siddur, or prayerbook, from the year 1471 contains an alternative text to the much abhorred “shelo asani isha” blessing that thanks God for “not making me a woman,” a text that is not only misogynistic in content but assumes that the person holding the prayerbook is male. In this 15th century book, the text reads, “Baruch she’asani isha v’lo ish,” “Thank God for making me a woman and not a man.”
According to Professor David Kramer, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the “siddur was produced by the scribe and rabbi Abraham Farissol for a groom to give to his bride in 1471.” Farissol lived in Italy from 1451–1525. The siddur, housed in JTS’ library archives, can be viewed here.
This is a significant discovery for several reasons.
Tracey Gold played a significant role in my childhood. I found most of “Growing Pains” terribly boring and annoying, but Carol Seaver, the fictional family’s perfectly nerdy teenage daughter, fascinated me. When I saw pictures of an emaciated Gold on the cover of magazines in the supermarket, I thought they seemed completely incongruous with Carol’s sensibilities. I was terrified by her skinny arms and protruding clavicle. (At one point in 1992, Gold reportedly weighed 80 lbs.) But I didn’t understand what was happening to her — until many years later, when it was happening to women in my family and several of my friends.
If you tune in to Lifetime (you know, the so-called network for women) every Friday night at the peculiar hour of 11 p.m., you can see Gold again, older and earnest, in a new reality show called “Starving Secrets.” Each week, Gold goes on a mission to “help others battle their own eating disorders and to get them the treatment they need to save their lives.”
The opening sequence of the show is a litany of the emaciated, wasted bodies of folks with eating disorders. I feel like I’m about to watch a Holocaust documentary.
There she went, waving over her father’s shoulder. My husband pushed a loaded luggage cart outside the departure level sidewalk at JFK with one hand and carried our daughter with the other. I stood beside the car blowing kisses and watching her shout, “Bye, Mama!” until they were swallowed by the automatic doors and had disappeared into the terminal. Then, alone at the wheel, I had a Ferris Bueller moment:
When my husband suggested taking our 2-year-old daughter to Los Angeles for nine days, where he had to travel for work and his parents had offered to take care of her, the prospect seemed bizarre. I hadn’t been apart from her for more than a couple days since she was born, and in those cases, it was she who stayed home with my parents as my husband and I ventured off for a quick weekend away. I thought about going along for the trip, but entering my eighth month of pregnancy, the thought of a cross-country flight seemed as appealing as hiking the Andes in six-inch heels.
So I agreed. I was still a bit tepid about the idea, but was warming up to it as their day of departure approached. Then it came. And it was glorious.