Hillary Clinton has gone where no woman has gone before – the cover of Yated!

hillary yatedYes, that’s really her arm – and her sleeve is threatening to slide above her elbow!

Things are getting more complicated by the minute for the Haredi press.  It was bad enough that the Treasury Department announced new designs earlier this year for several bills that will incorporate women, including Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Ultra-orthodox men will now be forced to carry around pictures of women in their wallets, and even fondle their faces as they attempt to find the proper currency to purchase a Shmiras Einayim sefer from their local Jewish book store – exchanging the forbidden photos with all the shame and excitement of young adolescents swapping issues of old girlie magazines stolen from the corners of their father’s closets.

However, with the looming prospect of the first female American President being elected this November, some of the papers that have historically shunned showing images of women will now have to rethink their policies.

Right now most of those papers have written stories about Hillary Clinton either eschewing a photo all together, or showing loosely related images of her surroundings.

An example is this recent photo of her supporters that appeared in Mishpacha magazine accompanying a story about her strategic DNC acceptance speech:

hillary1(note the signs don’t even have her name on them)

Or another photo from the same publication of her husband Bill Clinton when Hillary finally clinched the nomination as the Democratic Presidential candidate:

hillary2Indeed, if Hillary wins, it will most likely appear as if Bill Clinton has won a 3rd Presidential term in the Haredi press, as his face will likely be switched out for hers wherever possible.

Ari L. Goldman of the Columbia Journalism Review writes that:

In interviews, the editors of four major English-language ultra-Orthodox publications, three of them published in New York and one in Jerusalem, said that they are reevaluating their no-women policy in light of the Clinton candidacy, but would not make any final decisions alone. As with all important decisions, they will take the question to the boards of rabbinical advisors with whom final authority over the publications’ content rests. One of the editors, a rabbi himself, said that a Clinton victory could spell a change in the longstanding no-women policy in his paper and the others. “I think we’re going to have to rethink it,” Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter, the executive editor of Ami Magazine, told me. Not to do so, he said, “would be disrespectful.””

This is a big statement coming from a publication that has a well-known policy not to use any photos of women, and has been accused of cropping women out of photos for its publication.

Goldman goes on to say:

All of the editors said that the practice of not using women’s photographs started with the Israeli papers, which set the standard. Most of them said that the vast majority of their subscribers read other publications with pictures of women, but that they declined to use women’s pictures out of fear of alienating the more observant segment of their readership.

The adoption of this standard has led to some foibles that garnered worldwide media attention.  For example, in an excerpt of Goldman’s CJR piece, OnlySimchas reprints a photo from 2011 when Di Tzeitung, published in Brooklyn, digitally removed then Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, from a picture of the White House situation room on the night of the military operation that assassinated Osama bin Laden:

hillary3Goldman says, “While the editor of Di Tzeitung apologized for manipulating a White House photo, which is a violation of the licensing agreements, Rabbi Frankfurter of Ami defended his stance, saying that cropping is “done routinely by most papers and magazines.

Also shown in the OnlySimchas excerpt is a photo that circulated among Haredi publications that cropped out Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, from a long line of world leaders at the huge rally in Paris after the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists:

hillary4Goldman writes, “But continually cropping out President Hillary Clinton might prove too much even for Rabbi Frankfurter. “We would be locking ourselves out of a lot of opportunities,” he said. “We couldn’t even run photos of the White House Hanukkah party.”

Interestingly, the publishers and editors of two prominent Haredi newspapers with a no-women photo policy are women themselves, Ruth Lichtenstein is the publisher of Hamodia and Shoshana Friedman is the editor of Mishpacha.

Goldman concludes:

Friedman, who at 36 is the youngest of the editors I interviewed, said that being a woman editor who doesn’t run photos of women sometimes puts her in an uncomfortable position. “Every now and then, I get a letter from a reader who asks, ‘Why don’t you run pictures of women? I want my daughter to have role models in life. I want her to see that women can achieve great things.’ ”

Friedman added sadly: “For these women I don’t have a good answer.”

If Clinton is elected President, and the Haredi press does relax its no-women photo policies, It remains to be seen if only she, as Commander in Chief, will be given a special dispensation to be shown in photographs, or if a more liberal policy will be given to all women.  For example, if there is a photo of “President Hillary Clinton” beside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, will Merkel still be cropped out?  Or maybe the Haredi newspapers will alter their policies based on the woman’s religion – choosing not to publish photos of Jewish women, but conceding to publish photos (or partial photos) of non-Jewish women?  For example, if Hillary Clinton is standing beside Ayelet Shaked, Tzipi Livni, or Miri Regev the Jewish politicians would be cut out, but Clinton would remain in some form?  Would a policy like this continue to preserve the modesty and sanctity of the bas Yisroel?

It will be interesting to see what creative solutions they come up with – or which publications might abandon their no-female policies all together, following the lead of the historical Yiddish newspaper, Der Tog, which was published between 1914-1971, and became the first Yiddish newspaper to include female journalists on the editorial staff.

Wikipedia says:

Adella Kean-Sametkin wrote about women’s issues, and Dr. Ida Badanes, about health matters; the popular fiction writer Sarah B. Smith was also a regular contributor over many years.[15] Before making her mark as a poet, Anna Margolin (pseudonym of Rosa Lebensboym) distinguished herself as a reporter and editor for Der Tog, contributing a column, “In der froyen velt” (In the women’s world), under her actual name, and articles about women’s issues under various pseudonyms, including Clara Levin.

Often accompanying stories written by women were photographs of women.  The blog, From the Vault, said,

One page from a May 1952 edition of Der tog that has been cut out in its entirety—“In der velt fun froyen” (“In the World of Women”), a section for female readers, formerly edited by the well-known Yiddish poet Anna Margolin—is studded with photographs of international beauties in the latest bathing costumes and eveningwear. At the bottom is a society snapshot: “a khasene in holivud” (“a wedding in Hollywood”), with the actors Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis “vinshen zikh mazl-tov” (wishing each other mazl-tov) following their wedding ceremony. (Note that the editors misidentify the couple: it is the Reagans in the center and William Holden with wife Brenda Marshall on the outside, not the other way around.)

hillary5From the Vault also shares another photo of the newly elected “Mame fun der velt” (Mother of the World), Chilean First Lady Rosa Markmann (right), on a visit to the just-completed headquarters of the United Nations from that same 1952 issue:

hillary6As a humorous aside, the headline near the photo is “an article by one Sarah Koenig (a past incarnation of today’s NPR broadcaster, alike in name and journalistic rigor?) headlined “Fete froyen zaynen oft gliklekher in leben” (“Fat Women Are Often Happier in Life”). The piece contains such surprising evidence as “Fete froyen zaynen oykh mer religyez geshtimt un hoben lib tsu geyn in shul davnen” (“Fat women are also more religiously inclined and enjoy going to shul to daven”) and “Di statistik hot bavizn, az tsvishen fete menshen bikhlal zenen faran mer gut hartsige, vi tsvishn dine menshen” (“Statistics have shown that among fat people generally, there are more goodhearted people than among those who are thin”), a claim that the writer juxtaposes to the assertion that overweight people’s higher blood pressure necessitates their having a calmer disposition. The piece ends by comforting the reader with the assertion that though the number of plump women is great among Jews, the proportion of overweight Italian women is greater, and anyway, “Iz do zehr fil froyen vos di diklikhkayt past zey, un fete froyen kenen zayn sheyn un reytsnd” (“There are many women whose stoutness suits them, and fat women can be beautiful and alluring”).

My understanding is that Der Tog is the great-grandfather publication of the modern day Alegemeiner Journal.  Though it was founded by businessmen and intellectuals, and not a religious publication, the fact that it was in Yiddish and intended for Jewish audiences means that in the early 20th century, a time when there wasn’t a dearth of American Haredi newspapers being published, odds are the religious community made up a nice portion of its readership.  That probably came to an end in 1953 when laid off Der Tog editor, Dr. Aaron Rosmarin founded Der Yid, and hired a Satmar editor named Uriel Zimmer, which then established Der Yid as the religious and anti-Zionist alternative to Der Tog.

Will Hillary Clinton be the revolutionary figure to finally break past the no-women photograph barrier in Haredi publications?  Will she be a one-time anomaly, an exception to the rule, if her image does get published?  It remains to be seen, both literally and figuratively.

An unspoken dream is like an unopened letter

Many years ago when I was newly married, I woke up from a nightmare. I don’t get nightmares often, but when I do, they stay with me for a time, haunting my waking thoughts as I search to make sense of the frightening visions. I woke that night in a confusion between dream and reality, with tears streaming onto my pillowcase and barely concealed snuffles and sobs, trying not to wake my husband without success.

He asked me what was wrong, and I began to tell him about my dream, thinking that putting it into words outside of my dreamscape would take away the power of the disturbing alternate universe from which I had so recently emerged.

As I began to delve into the details, my husband stopped me.  “No!  Don’t tell me.  An unspoken dream is like an unopened letter.  If you don’t say it out loud, it won’t come true.” Apparently this was an adage that many in the frum community live by, and are deeply superstitious about.  Indeed, he seemed nervous at the prospect that I might say too much, thus bringing ill tidings upon us.  He spent time soothing and reassuring me that it was just a dream and everything was fine, until my little crying hiccups subsided and my eyes no longer ran in salty rivulets down my cheeks.

As I turned over on my damp pillow and heard my husband begin to softly snore, I lay awake and thought again about my nightmare.  I felt unsettled and restless, but I repeated the mantra to myself that it was only a dream.  Eventually I drifted off to sleep.  While the dream continued to haunt me for a few days afterward, not putting it into words eventually helped to eradicate it from my memory, as I have no recollection about the details today.  I have since kept my nightmares to myself, to the same amnesic effect.

It’s interesting to note that the idea of not speaking of dreams, lest they come to pass in real life, is typically only brought up when referring to bad dreams.  Nightmares are the visions that must be kept at bay, by not infusing them with the power of words.

I believe it’s this same theory that prevents us from speaking of real life horrors.  If we don’t name the atrocities, they don’t exist.  Except they do – much in the same way my nightmare affected me in a very real way – even though it remained unrevealed.  Even though I don’t remember the details, I still remember my fear and panic as I woke from that bad dream and struggled to put it into context.  I know the nightmare happened, I remember the trauma, whether I spoke of it or not.

There are some brave people in our world who dare to reveal what we all want to remain hidden.  They refuse to leave the nightmare unspoken, because if these nightmares are allowed to exist in the name of keeping unpleasantries out of the public eye, they grow and flourish like a cancer.  Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is one such champion who refuses to remain silent, if he can save even one child from being harmed by those things that go bump in the night, or even in broad daylight, while the rest of us “keep it sweet” and stay quiet because, “loshon horah,” because, “think of his/her (the abuser’s) family, because, “there are two sides to every story,” because, “it’s embarrassing to talk about such topics,” or because, “it will make a chillul Hashem for the rest of the world to hear of this happening in the Jewish community.”

Yes, especially when it comes to child sexual abuse, there are so many reasons to remain silent, yet that silence is mostly self-serving.  It alleviates us from the responsibility of getting involved.  We tell ourselves the rabbis will handle it, the parents will handle it, maybe even the police (if they are notified) will handle it.  It’s not for us to mish in (butt into someone else’s business).  Yet when all of us have that attitude, it leaves no one to mish in.

Rabbi Horowitz is the perfect example of why a person shouldn’t mish in, after all, look where his mishing in got him? A defamation lawsuit and failed attempt at an order of protection filed against him in the Israeli courts from U.S. convicted Level 3 sex offender, Yona Weinberg!  The lawsuit remains pending.

It all began when Rabbi Horowitz, founder and director of the Center for Jewish Family Life/Project Y.E.S. and founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, discovered Weinberg had moved to the Har Nof area in Jerusalem, and sent out tweets to warn residents of his presence.  Ever since those fateful tweets, Rabbi Horowitz, a child safety advocate who speaks internationally educating parents and children on protecting themselves against predators, has been the subject of a legal campaign by Weinberg to silence him against warning residents of his Har Nof community about his criminal past.

Ironically, the media attention brought on by Weinberg’s own legal campaign has called more attention to his current whereabouts and criminal past than a few tweets ever could.

Rabbi Horowitz recently spoke in Har Nof about child safety, an event that was almost derailed by Weinberg’s attempt to get an order of protection against Horowitz, unsuccessfully arguing that Horowitz would incite community violence against him and his family. Hours after successfully fighting the petition for a restraining order in Israeli court, Rabbi Horowitz was able to give his seminar to an audience of 200 as planned, despite Weinberg’s legal effort to prevent him from coming to his neighborhood.  His speech from August 2 in Har Nof can be seen here.

Lohud featured a timeline of Yona Weinberg’s crimes and whereabouts, giving more background and justification for why Rabbi Horowitz would want the citizens of Har Nof to be aware of Weinberg’s presence –

June 2008: Brooklyn district attorney indicts Yona Weinberg, a 29-year-old licensed social worker and bar mitzvah tutor, on numerous charges including nine misdemeanor counts of second-degree sexual abuse and six of child endangerment.

June 2009:  Weinberg convicted of nine counts for victimizing two boys — seven counts of second-degree sexual abuse and two of child endangerment.

September 2009: Weinberg sentenced to 13 months in jail. At his sentencing, Judge J. Reichbach criticizes the Orthodox Jewish community for supporting Weinberg, noting 90 letters were sent attesting to his character and innocence — and mentioning nothing about the victims.

2010: Weinberg released from jail after serving roughly a year. He returns to his Brooklyn home, where he lives with his wife and young children. Weinberg is designated a Level 3 sex offender (high risk of repeat offense and threat to public safety).

June 2014: Police investigate a complaint Weinberg allegedly groped an 11-year-old boy after they were watching television in Weinberg’s apartment earlier that year. Prosecutors declined to bring charges, according to the Daily News.

August 2014: Weinberg allegedly elbows and slams the same 11-year-old against a coat rack in synagogue after prayer service, hurting the boy’s back. The boy told police that Weinberg pushed him against a bookshelf, threatening further harm if he continued to talk to authorities, the Daily News reported.

September 2014: Police file report about the alleged physical assault. The next day, police go to Weinberg’s Flatbush home to arrest him, according to the Daily News. His wife told police he was not home and referred them to his attorney. Weinberg moves to Israel. Shortly after, his wife and four children join him in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof.

January 2015: News of Weinberg’s presence in Israel appears in the Daily News. After the story, the NYPD notifies the state that Weinberg had moved to Israel. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz of Monsey, child-safety advocate, sends out a tweet to notify Har Nof residents of the presence of a Level 3 sex offender in their community. Tweet says he was as dangerous to children as “a terrorist with a machete.”

June 2015: Horowitz is served papers at his Monsey home, informing him that a summary judgement was issued against him for $55,000 in an Israeli court, stemming from a defamation lawsuit. Horowitz didn’t show up in court, he said, because he didn’t realize he was being sued.

Later that year: Horowitz’s attorney in Israel has judgment set aside. Horowitz is still required to pay some court costs.

July 2016: Weinberg seeks protective order against Horowitz, which would prevent the rabbi from giving a lecture on child safety in his neighborhood, where the rabbi has been lecturing for 13 years. The court denies the request.

November 2016: Trial date scheduled in Israel for defamation charges. Horowitz says he will appear in court to defend himself.”

Horowitz said that he will not be silenced by a bullying sex offender.

“I think this is a test case…,” he told The Journal News/lohud. “I am not giving up.”

Israel does not have a sex offender registry, and as such, some child abuse activists such as Horowitz take it upon themselves to warn residents of predators in their vicinity. “How can you slander a sex offender?” asked Horowitz..”

“Horowitz told The Journal News/lohud that he won’t be intimidated by Weinberg, who used his position as a bar mitzvah tutor to gain access to his victims, who were 12 and 13.

He also sees the fight as part of a larger effort designed to thwart others from exposing sex offenders and warning potential victims of the danger. The Israeli legal maneuverings are key to this tactic, he said…”

“If you care about the personal safety of children, these lawsuits should trouble you deeply. For, make no mistake, if these outrageous lawsuits are permitted to continue, fewer and fewer people will be posting warnings when convicted sex offenders move near you or those you love,” he wrote on his blog, RabbiHorowitz.com.

“Horowitz, who faces thousands of dollars in legal fees, in addition to the threat of a judgement against him, pledged to continue his defense in order to protect families who have a right to know a predator is in their midst….I will fight to the end,” he said.”

I asked Rabbi Horowitz how those of us who also feel this lawsuit is an outrageous and dangerous precedent can financially help him.  He said that the best way to help him is by donating to his efforts to distribute complimentary copies of his Project Y.E.S  Let’s Stay Safe books and give seminars to communities who want to learn how to protect their children from abuse.  The Let’s Stay Safe book has been translated into several languages and been culturally appropriated for various Jewish communities in Israel and the diaspora. Many of these communities are impoverished and so he gives his books away to them for free with no compensation for even basic costs.

Mishing in comes at a price, and it’s a price most of us aren’t willing to pay.  Thank God for those who mish in. Thank God for those who wake and tell what they saw, for those are the ones who will save lives, save worlds.  We can no longer afford to be dreamers, dreaming that if we don’t acknowledge the nightmares, they don’t exist.

Let’s assist Rabbi Horowitz in his important work so that he can continue to share his message to communities around the world.

https://www.youcaring.com/the-child-safety-initiative-of-cfjfl-project-yes-619170

Personal update…how surgery changed my outlook on life

I’ll tell you a secret.  I’m getting old. That’s not much of a secret, but at 46 if you say you’re getting old you will be met with a chorus of “No you’re not!” or “Old? Wait until you’re in your 60s like me, then you’ll know what old feels like!” or “Please, the best years are still ahead of you!”

It may be that my best years are still ahead of me – heck, I certainly hope so. It may be that as I will only be getting older, I don’t fully know what being old feels like.  Be that as it may, I now know what it is to begin being old, to have aches and pains that were never there before, to only be able to burn the candle at one end instead of two, and to contemplate my own mortality and the modest collection of years we are given in this worldly life – knowing that most probably over half of mine are gone.

Of course, one thinks of these things more poignantly from the vantage point of a hospital bed,

hospital pic 2

which is where I happened to be last week having major surgery on my back. However, these feelings have been brewing for a while now, many months before my surgery took place.  You see, I have been training for this surgery for over seven months.  Surgery has been my summer Olympics, and I think I might be up for a medal, but I won’t know for sure until the healing process is further along.

Back in December 2015, when I first learned I was going to need surgery, it hit me that I wasn’t ready.

Although the reason for my surgery was random and probably would have been necessary even had I been in peak physical condition, I had let myself go in every way imaginable, and resultantly, had a myriad of health problems that could complicate my ability to even have the surgery, as well as complicate the possibility of a smooth and complete recovery afterwards.

Yes, I went to the gym halfheartedly going through the motions on various hamster wheel cardio machines, telling myself I was exercising.  Yes, I kind of watched my diet, although I had long started looking the other way when I ate processed foods, salty foods, and sugary snacks.  My food log app hadn’t been updated in months, because I was now doing my own version of “intuitive eating,”  which meant discounting macronutrients and eyeballing portion sizes with funhouse goggles, convincing myself that I really hadn’t eaten twice the amount my body needed. My scale collected dust, as I mentally marked my last known self-recorded weight, and it became frozen for infinity, even if my waistband said otherwise.  As long as I didn’t take a new reading, my weight hadn’t changed.

Surgery necessitates getting your bodily house in order so that you can withstand the grueling toll the procedure will take on your system.  Therefore, many visits to other doctors aside from my surgeon, scans, tests, lab work, and other fun stuff have been a regular part of my schedule throughout 2016.  I met my insurance deductible by February, and let’s just say that if frequent flyer miles were given for every medical bill I have incurred in 2016, I would be preparing to embark on a world tour by the end of the summer. There was a lot of renovation that had to be done before I could go under the knife.

It took an emotional toll, especially as I had fooled myself for the last few years by sticking my head in the sand and believing that I was in shape and healthy. Now I was starting to see myself as a sick person, as a patient, as someone with chronic physical limitations. Every visit to a doctor’s office or hospital confirmed my new invalid identity. To be told through scientific medical evidence, that indeed, I was not healthy, much of the damage incurred through my own neglect, was both humiliating and humbling.  It put me in the driver’s seat of responsibility, and apparently I had crashed the car and caused a major traffic jam.

The good news was that if I chose to go back to driving school and pay my fines (the needles, the awkward and sometimes painful tests and exams, the disbelieving looks from healthcare professionals when I told them that I actually exercised and didn’t live off pizza and cold cuts despite my appearance and lab results, the final surgery itself), I would be given the opportunity to retake the wheel and drive my health to a new and more positive destination. It was within my power to change the course of my destiny.

So I did.

Lest you think this is a story about giving myself a big pat on the back for having lost 30lbs since the beginning of the year, it’s not.  Lest you think this is a story about how I revamped my workouts so that I enjoyed them again and worked my way up to running a complete 10K app three times a week, it’s not.  Lest you think this is a story about how I lowered my blood pressure and overhauled all of my blood labs for the better wowing my doctors, it’s not.  Lest you think this is a story about how I track my calories and weight and blood pressure on a regular basis, it’s not.  Lest you think that this is a story about how I’ve been able to reduce the number of medicines I take and the dosages of those I still take, it’s not. Lest you think that this is a story about how all of these things led to having a smooth surgery with no complications and being released 2 days earlier than expected because of my surprising mobility, it’s not.

I did all those things, and maybe more that I’m not thinking of, but this is a story about perseverance. This is a story about a 46 year old woman setting a goal for herself and sticking to it, despite obstacles and despite self-doubt.  This is a story about how my health scare made me realize the fleeting fragility of life, and how I can’t waste the short time I have left (and yes, even if that’s another 46 years, it’s a short time!) slowly steeping in a toxic brew of negativity and resentment. I love myself too much to resign myself to such a fate.  This is a story about how I realized that I can take back the wheel and drive myself to whatever destination I choose.  The road might be bumpy, I might get lost sometimes, there may be gaper’s delay slowing me down – but as long as I have a vision of where I want to end up, and a constantly updated map of how to get there when obstacles get in the way of my original route, I’ll make it.

Friday Night Mannequin

mannequinDress me up, dress me down

It’s all the same to me.

The rules will change, I can’t keep up;

There’s no more me to be.

One year the fashion is elegant robes,

The next they lack modesty.

So dress me up, clamp me down,

Wheel me out and turn me around.

But first check me over, look a little closer

Are my nails too long, can you see?

Did I clean my navel, am I sure I’m able

To toivel the night my dunk should be?

I’ve been scooped out, brushed out, flushed out, and then rushed out,

Vacated of all uterine matter.

Fourteen little cloths all in a row,

With neither stain, smudge, nor splatter.

Spotless from stem to stern,

As every pure woman should be.

Now dress me up or dress me down

It’s all the same to me.

I think I’m ready to greet the guests,

The soup will soon be burned.

I know they’ll be wondering where I went,

My husband will think he’s been spurned.

It’s not easy navigating city streets

With arms and legs that don’t bend,

Stiffly dodging men in hats,

Wondering if they know where I’ve been.

She walks, she walks, and soon she will talk,

An emergency compelled her to take a quick walk.

An elderly neighbor, a friend who’s in labor, a meal for the needy,

Think fast, girl, be speedy!

Why were you gone, why were you late, why has a damp curl escaped in your plate?

Prop me up, pin me back, back to my chair with a small smack.

Wake up, wake up, take a drink from my cup,

It’s time for benching, I must not give up!

My eyes must stay open, my banter stay witty,

Are my shoes still squishy and my stockings still gritty?

No, I haven’t been swimming, you ask me this, why?

I was caught in a downpour, but I’m perfectly dry.

Perfectly perfect, no tears left to cry.

I can touch any Torah or kiss my own man

Strictly glatt kosher, that’s what I am.

Some wish they could be me, some wish they could free me,

But there are more where I come from coming out of the factory.

It won’t stop, it won’t end;

Be my enemy or be my friend.

Dress me up, dress me down

It’s all the same to me;

I cannot hear your counsel, I am made of clay and putty.

The guests have gone, the stairs are steep,

One step, two step – shush the baby is asleep!

Make no noise, breathe real soft, hope that He has drifted off,

Lay like a thief in a stolen bed, spine like a board, spikes in my head.

Pillow, blanket, lying still as a sack,

Doesn’t fool the hand on my hip, turning me onto my back.

So dress me up, dress me down

It’s all the same to me.

Dolls, they don’t feel lonely;

There’s no more me to be.

What rabbinical yeshivas can learn from a Catholic seminary

Dr Dawn TwitterThe other week I read an article in The Chicago Tribune profiling Dawn Eden Goldstein. Dr. Goldstein is the first woman at the University of St. Mary of the Lake to earn a sacred theology doctorate, a pontifical degree issued under the authority of the Catholic Church.

In a class of 220 men studying to be priests, Goldstein is also the only woman who ever earned this degree at St. Mary since the school’s founding in 1844.  While she won’t be ordained as a priest along with her classmates, per the Catholic Church’s prohibition on women becoming priests, she is now qualified to train future priests.

St. Mary is a co-ed theological school where most students are men.  The Tribune article says, “She is earning the degree, issued by the authority of Pope Francis, at the same time Francis is pushing to raise the profile of women in the Catholic Church, most recently in his 260-page apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” in which he praised some aspects of women’s liberation, though he did not go so far as to say women should be priests.

The article peaked my interest because of Goldstein’s last name.  Of course, many non-Jewish people bear Jewish last names long after any actual Jews remain in their families. Still, here was a trail blazing woman, pulling off a feat in a parallel Catholic realm, that no Orthodox Jewish woman has been able to accomplish as of yet – graduate from a men’s rabbinical college.

As I read through the article, I learned that, indeed, Goldstein had started out in life as a Jew.  Growing up in New Jersey, her family was very active in the Reform movement.  The Tribune writes, “Goldstein became an agnostic in 1981 after a rabbi preparing her for her bat mitzvah told her questions about her Torah portion belonged to scholars, not 13-year-old girls.

However, here is where Goldstein’s story takes a sad turn.  The article goes on to explain that even before her bat mitzvah, her faith had already begun to fray, “At age 5, during her parents’ divorce, she accused a staff member at the synagogue of sexually abusing her — an allegation the rabbi did not believe at the time, and one Goldstein did not pursue. Goldstein said she was abused a second time years later by someone close to her mother, leaving emotional wounds that one day would direct her calling.

After pursuing other interests for many years, including earning a degree in communications, music journalism, blogging about pro-life issues, and being baptized at a Seventh-day Adventist church, Goldstein finally found her home with the Catholic faith in 2006.  She enrolled in a master’s theology program at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C..  However, a priest saw more potential in her and urged her to change her plans and enroll in the St. Mary’s doctorate program.

As Goldstein focused on her studies, she also began writing about societal issues within the Catholic faith.  The Tribune writes, “In 2012, she wrote “My Peace I Give You,” a book about how the lives of the saints could offer hope for abuse victims. As a Catholic, it disturbed her how defensive the church had become regarding the sexual abuse crisis…It’s not enough for the church to simply be in damage control mode,” she said. “We’re not serving our mission as a church if we’re not providing spiritual accompaniment to people who are hurting.

Goldstein is part of a new wave of female scholars helping to build the future of the Catholic Church.  Pope Francis is opening the doors for female theologians to take leadership roles that don’t violate church doctrine.  The Tribune states, “In his most recent papal document, he stated that women could and should help prepare men for the priesthood.

Goldstein says that Pope Francis’ position “…shows a respect for what women have to offer the church, without crossing the line into women’s ordination, which she thinks would be heresy. There have been a number of female theologians that have shown it is possible to be a woman in theology writing on topics of importance to women, yet to not to take this subversive kind of view.

Interestingly, Goldstein’s sister also chose a religious vocation, and is a Reform rabbi in Cincinnati.  “Goldstein’s sister, Jennifer Goldstein Lewis…thinks her sister will be a powerful force in the church and the formation of its clergy.  She is such a thinker,” Lewis said. “She’s going to be a unique voice as she teaches these new priests.

So, what can rabbinical yeshivas learn from this Catholic seminary?  Mainly, that keeping scholars and educators apart on the basis of their gender doesn’t make sense.  For example, I have often heard religiously educated men expounding on the fact that learned women have so much more in-depth knowledge of Navi.  Why not share some of that knowledge with aspiring rabbis?

Furthermore, there are other areas in which women can assist in teaching new rabbis that are even more important than learning religious texts.  Rabbis today aren’t only expected to be experts in gemara.  Yes, gemara might be the bread and butter, so to speak.  However, rabbis today are expected to be social workers, psychologists, fund raisers, mediators, communicators, orators, writers, and a host of other professions all rolled into one.

For example, IT workers today are in high demand for their “hard skills.”  Their programming knowledge is the first requirement to get them an interview.  However, just as important, if not more so, are their “soft skills.”  These kinds of skills can’t be quickly discerned nor quantified.  Do they work well with others?  Are they good problem solvers?  Are they patient and compassionate?  Are they adaptable to change?

In most cases, when a good rabbi gets bad press, it is not because of a deficiency in his gemara kup, but because he is lacking in one or more of those “soft skill” areas.

Of course, men can teach soft skills too. The obvious hole in many rabbinical curriculums these days is the total focus on gemara and lack of preparation to be immersed in the land of the laypeople – people of every gender and age who will seek a connection to their spiritual leader who, up until graduation, spent his days only among immediate family and fellow students and teachers in the beis medrash.

However, Orthodox Jewish women (having either a more advanced secular education, or at least an equal secular education to men depending on the community) have the skills and perspective necessary to educate future rabbinic leaders on a wide variety of subjects that will better prepare them to be 21st century Jewish leaders – not the least of which is to relate to women as teachers, experts, and authority figures (something that most Orthodox boys past elementary school and sometimes earlier don’t have experience with).

Additionally, women would have an opportunity to connect to future rabbinic leaders as advocates for women and children.  How would the rabbinic response to sexual abuse or domestic violence change for the better if women ran workshops that brought in abuse victims, representatives from women’s shelters, or therapists who specialize in treating rape survivors?  Sharing a female perspective directly, instead of indirectly, can have a deeper impact than hearing it second hand from another man.

Incorporating women into the smicha educational landscape, both as scholars and teachers, can go a long way in creating leadership that not only welcomes women’s input into how the future of Orthodox Judaism will develop, but also will create a leadership that considers women’s participation in rabbinic education essential to the process.  Once men realize how much women have to offer in helping to shape the educational curriculum of aspiring rabbis, as well as realizing that when educated women are shut out, they are at risk of seeking other alternatives (such as Goldstein did), they might realize that bringing women into the fold of rabbinic education has been the answer to Orthodox Jewish continuity all along.