Israeli beauty queen Doron Matalon is a firm believer that good things can come from bad experiences. As a soldier in December 2011, she was sexually harassed by an ultra-Orthodox man on a Jerusalem bus. Now, as the first runner-up in the recent 64th Miss Israel pageant, she plans to use her newfound fame to help advance the fight for women’s rights in her country.
Amid all the Facebook posts about the heart-rending violence taking place at this moment in Israel and Gaza, this photo of a bomb shelter door in Ashdod leapt out. It says that the bomb shelter is only for men and boys.
We don’t know if there is a separate shelter right next to this one, designated for women and girls. Nevertheless, it is gender segregation at its most outrageous.
It reflects how deeply the notion that men and women must be separated at all costs has taken hold — even in life-threatening situations, such as when the sirens sound the alert that rockets are falling.
There may be a women and girls’ shelter next door. There may not be. My Hebrew isn’t good enough to be able to read all of comments this photo has sparked on Facebook, some of which might shed light on the question, and Bing does a lousy job of translating them.
But even if there is, what if going to the female-only bomb shelter requires women and girls to take a few more steps than if they were allowed in this one? What if that puts them in harms way?
Does Orthodoxy make women girly?
That is the essence, I believe, of Israeli religious feminist Chana Pinchasi’s argument in an opinion piece in Ynet. In lamenting the absence of religious women in positions of public leadership in Israel, Pinchasi asked, “Why don’t we have a Keren Neubach, Shelly Yachimovitch, or Ilana Dayan? Why isn’t there a religious woman with a clear, polished, elaborate and committed ideological voice at the center of the public discourse? I mean the voice of a woman who does not deny her femininity but also does not play with it, and for whom it is not obsequious. The type who is both a mother and professional and has a critical public voice that you may not agree with but you cannot help but respect.”
I have been wondering the same thing. Although, to be fair, judging by Ynet alone, Pinchasi herself has a strong voice, as do Rivka Lubitch and Chana Kehat and a few others. But it seems to me that religious women are socialized into putting ourselves last, into fitting into social expectations, into not being too loud or too disagreeable, and into not really breaking out of the rules too much.
Leah Berkenwald discussed how the reality show “Sister Wives” has joined HBO’s fictional “Big Love” in shining the spotlight on polygamous lifestyles, and in raising interesting questions about our ideas about marriage, monogamy and religion.
Her conclusion? “I came to realize that my problem with “Sister Wives” is not a problem with the family itself (they are actually quite likeable people), nor is it a problem with alternate polyamorous lifestyles. What I do have a problem with is religious fundamentalism and its adherence to biblical notions of marriage and paternalism. And that applies to Jewish fundamentalists as well.”
Probably because because I’m the harried mother of three, but when I watch portrayals of these strictly religious, patriarchal, and fundamentalist Mormons I’m thinking less about the sex and more about the kids. And, of course, I’m thinking about the Jews.
In addition to hard-core religion and patriarchy, when it comes to having children, ultra-Orthodox Jews and the polygamist Mormon fringe have an identical philosophy — they believe that more is more. The difference is that, unlike their Biblical forefathers, even the most Orthodox Jews believe in one wife at a time. Being fruitful and multiplying to one womb per family.
The world has seen some moving mass protests. Anti-war protests, civil rights marches, rallies to release Natan Sharansky from prison. The mass protest has drama, heroism, poignancy and the potential to achieve real results. Consider how Mahatma Gandhi led millions of Indians in protest against British rule through noncompliance. Indian public officials resigned, parents withdrew their children from British schools and participants boycotted British goods. Eventually, around the same time they left Palestine, the British decided to stop colonizing India. They left people to create their own autonomous democracies. These are amazing moments in modern history.
Watching Haredi protests in Israel over the past few days, with the image of hundreds of thousands of black hats creating powerful impressions of solidarity and determination, it is tempting to invoke the nostalgia from those amazing moments. But here, the cause célèbre that the Haredim are rallying around is the right to be free from the Sephardic girls in their midst.