via Getty images
Last time I checked, making sure that you were able to put food on the table to feed your children wasn’t feminist, it was parenting. Working long hours for low wages because you weren’t permitted to earn educational degrees wasn’t feminist, it was surviving. In a system where men are encouraged to learn in lieu of working while their many children are not properly nourished, it is a problem that needs solving, not a model to be touted or emulated.
While I sincerely believe that Rabbi Avi Shafran had the best of intentions in his article “How Ultra-Orthodoxy Is Most Feminist Faith,” what he depicts as a thing of beauty, including personal sacrifice, selflessness, and other virtuous character traits, overlooks a systemic problem, that of an increasing population living below the poverty line. While Arab poverty has been decreasing, haredi poverty is on the rise.
There are two areas that need to be addressed by Rabbi Shafran’s piece.
The relatively new trend of most men learning without any sort of income, as opposed to an elite cadre of men.
The need for feminism or empowerment to be value driven.
Ruth Colian, head of the new party. // Tomer Appelbaum/Haaretz
The first-ever Israeli political party dedicated to ultra-Orthodox women, was unveiled Monday.
Heading the party, called “B’Zhutan: Haredi Women Making Change” is Ruth Colian, 33, a veteran social activist and feminist who declared that this was a “historic” step in a mission to “guarantee representation in the Knesset for ultra-Orthodox women.”
At a Tel Aviv press conference, looking determined but nervous, Colian made the announcement flanked by two other young women who had accepted invitations to run on her list in the upcoming elections - Noa Erez and Keren Muzan.
She said that her party’s goal was to represent “all women” particularly the underprivileged and single mothers who “have suffered at the hands of politicians who have run for office again and again promising to help and make their lives better and nothing changed” and who live on meager paychecks and face empty refrigerators, and those who suffered from domestic abuse or are struggling against the religious establishment.
“There are many walls of fear for Haredi women within their communities. They have nowhere to turn in the Knesset.”
As examples of the failure of the current male representation in the ultra-Orthodox parties to represent the interests of women in their community, Colian noted the absence of ultra-Orthodox male MKs in Knesset sessions on breast cancer, despite the fact that the disease is twice as likely to strike Haredi women. A major part of the problem, she says, is the inability to raise public awareness for early detection because the topic is considered “immodest.”
When asked at a JOFA panel about the status of women in Israel and what can be done to protect women’s basic rights, I replied that I would first make it illegal for a political party that has no women on its list to run for the Knesset. Thankfully, I’m not alone in this sentiment. In fact, a new movement is beginning to form of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox women fighting against the exclusion of women from religious political parties.
Esti Shoshan, a haredi journalist, recently started a Facebook page called Lo nivharot, lo boharot, which means “If we can’t be elected, we are not voting.” As of this writing, the group has over 800 likes — perhaps not the stuff of a Steve Jobs fan page, but signs of movement nonetheless. And it comes at a particularly significant time in the development of religious politics. The legality of religious parties of Shas and United Torah Judaism is currently being debated by the Elections Council, under the leadership of Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein, based on a petition filed by a coalition of seven organizations led by Jerusalem city council member Laura Wharton contesting the systemic exclusion of women from party lists.
“The sad situation of women’s under-representation in the Knesset, is imminent,” the petition states, adding that, “an absurd situation has been created in which the country subsidizes bodies that discriminate against women.”