Throwback Thursday – Equal Pay for Equal Work Doesn’t Apply for Day Schools

Today’s Throwback Thursday post is one that I wrote in 2007 about female Jewish day school teachers not getting paid as much as their male counterparts.  I was reminded of this post because of President Barack Obama’s discussion on the gender pay gap during his 2014 State of the Union Address.

I don’t believe that much has changed for female day school teachers since I wrote this post.  Additionally, gender discrimination in hiring practices still exists in our private schools.  For example, in many yeshivas women can be hired as administrative staff, but they cannot be hired as classroom teachers.  As a result, some of the best candidates for limudei chol (secular) subjects are discarded, and there is often a revolving door of male teachers (those willing to take part time low paying afternoon teaching jobs).

I am unfamiliar with the laws for private schools regarding the Equal Pay Act or gender discrimination in hiring.  I know that religious organizations often find legal loopholes to permit practices that wouldn’t be allowed for other employers.  It’s sad that our hard working, educated, frum female teachers still don’t get fair shake when it comes to salaries and job opportunities.

Equal Pay for Equal Work Doesn’t Apply for Day Schools

It was recently brought to my attention that women teachers don’t get the same pay as their male counterparts in many Chicagoland area Jewish day schools. It actually is a matter of policy that a woman, by virtue of her gender, gets paid at least 50% less than a man in the same position. It has long been known that limudei chol (English studies) teachers get paid less than their limudei kodesh (Hebrew studies) counterparts. One can make the argument that since Jewish studies are the most valued, schools want to show kavod to those teachers by having their pay reflect the status and esteem held both for them and a Torah education. I still think that is pushing the envelope, but I can concede on that point.

The point I can’t concede is a man and a woman, both teaching limudei kodesh at the same grade level, both at the school for the same amount of time (or in some cases the woman is there longer) and the man is making almost double what the woman is making! What is the administration’s response when questioned? That if women made a higher salary than their spouse (there are many husbands and wives who both teach) it would cause shalom bayis problems. I say, wouldn’t a higher combined parnassah help shalom bayis? I don’t really believe that men are so sexist they would be upset if their wife made the same or a higher salary! Wouldn’t most men see the larger picture that there was more money for their family to live on? It’s not as if teachers make adequate salaries to begin with – now they have to be victimized by sexism to boot?

Apparently, female teachers have thought of striking in the past, there have been petitions and meetings. Each time the point comes to a crisis, the administration asks them if they really want the children to suffer by refusing to teach – their children included in that number. There is also the threat of a constant stream of seminary girls fresh out of school who would quickly snap up the jobs without complaint. Basically, each teacher who threatened to strike was made to feel that she was replaceable.

The teachers certainly have a lawsuit on their hands, considering the schools are violating the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and many women in similar circumstances have won monetary/backpay damages in addition to appropriate pay raises. CAPS (Chicago Area Partnerships) recently published a report entitled Pathways and Progress: Best Practices to Ensure Fair Compensation. Perhaps the schools should take a look at this report and rethink it’s salary practices.

Burkini Beach Party

Tznius is as much a mechanism to control the way a woman dresses as it is a method to control her behavior.  I once read an article about women petitioning to join the all male Jewish volunteer EMT organization, Hatzolah, from which females are currently banned.  Because the organization refuses to let women volunteer to help out with medical emergencies, particularly labor and delivery calls, some women started up their own volunteer EMT squad called Ezras Nashim.

Many critiques about women serving as emergency first responders pointed to their inability to leave the house quickly due to dress code requirements.  For example one commenter calling himself “shtam a shelpepper” wrote –

“id like to see mrs chanie louie so and so run to her car 3am sheitel gets stuck in door hinge – trips over her shvim kleide and whooopie slips and rips her hose. Back into the house – kids cryin mommy wherecha goin.

blob blob kindelach i just got a ezras nashim call.

helpf mir – ezras us mommy!

22 minutes later mommy gets to the call – way past delivery – in fact we have twins now and they have long been transported to hopsital….by hatzoloh of course.

BH someone can clean up now – oy a broch!

And evevryone lived happily ever rafter!

ok ok thats a little far-fetched , fine take out the torn hose.”

I remembered those sexist comments, using women’s tznius obligations as a means to hinder their participation in public life, upon seeing a Facebook thread about a Lubavitch female trainer running a marathon in her sheitel.wigmarathonThe article and accompanying photo immediately drew several mocking responses not only about the impropriety of wearing a wig during exercise but also criticizing the woman’s skills as a runner and trainer –

“Um, I don’t heel striker, ever – and I can’t imagine how hot it must be to run in a sheital….”

“I can tell you that sweating under a sheital is NOT pleasant on a regular day – given that most people sweat when they run – it must be awful. I still think the pics are only for demonstration purposes, even though they are taken from FB. I’ve taught aerobics classes where young women wore their sheitals, but then they didn’t make a very big effort in the class – and most likely didn’t break out a sweat. Maybe like Zumba….”

“Is it the schnitzel shuffle or the kugel crawl? Or perhaps it’s the rugalach run.”

“They made Zumba assur and running is even worse. Wearing skimpy flimsy dresses and moving your body in public on mixed streets.”

“Running shoes are probably kli gever as well.”

“i don’t think anyone who lets herself be photographed as this one did , truly considers herself hareidi…”

“Beis Yaakov girls do ride bikes; do fast walking and even running. I just wouldn’t the sweat from my karate workout to ruin my sheitl. She just wearing a sheitl to make a statement.Hareidi cool women (me) wear sunglasses and a bandana”

“A lot of the tznius issues raised in the comments here are what I would call “sensitivities.” I would not participate in various activities, not because the rabbis want to control me or because I support subjugating women, but simply because I don’t feel them to be tzanua. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.”

“When all is said and done……it’s being involved in narishkeit”

My reaction was to think of TV personality and proud wig wearer, Wendy Williams.  Wendy has said that she has a “gym wig” for working out. Lots of American women wear weaves, extensions, hair pieces, and wigs.  It’s in fashion right now. They wear them working out too…especially pony tail wigs. There is no need to hate on this woman for her form or imply she isn’t serious about running just because she wears a wig. You could make a similar argument against women running in skirts. Just be proud of her that she’s running!

Haters are gonna hate. The comments about this female orthodox trainer are the same arguments cited above to keep women out of Hatzolah – how will the vibers get out of the house in time to respond to a call? They’ll need to put on their clothes, their stockings, their sheitelach, their makeup – by the time they arrive on the scene the patient will be dead! Keeping frum women down and using the halachot they have to keep as an excuse to do so.

The reactions to the sheitel wearing runner and female EMTs portray an important side consequence of tznius – the clothing women wear serve to restrict their activities which satisfies a greater purpose beyond the surface halacha.  If you are dressed in a certain way, it seems inappropriate to engage in certain activities – such as exercise.  The laws of modesty are enforced and expanded to curtail and control behavior more than just dress.  When women try and work within the system, yet still engage in a variety of outside activities, they get ridiculed or told their actions are dangerous or assur.

It’s so easy to stereotype and judge what an orthodox woman should and shouldn’t be doing; I myself succumbed to this attitude on a recent trip to Florida.  One morning, I stepped outside onto the balcony of my hotel room which had a gorgeous view of the Atlantic Ocean.  As the sun seemed to crystallize in golden fragments across the water, I took out my phone and began taking photos.  Soothed by the promise of a warm day and the sound of the rolling waves, I looked down to the hotel pool beneath me.

What I saw was quite theatrical.  A colorful aquatic display of patterned robes, flowing out like the delicate fins of angelfish, glided through the water.  Bright turbans bobbed like the heads of mysterious deep sea creatures.  Legs, appearing as ghostly white tentacles on top, and ending in a brownish camouflage shade below the knees, trailed behind the colorful bodies, propelling swimmers back and forth between the sides of the human aquarium.

I was fascinated by this scene, and even more intrigued as I realized that I was witnessing a secret ritual of sorts – a group of Chassidic women who had risen with the sun in order to swim in the hotel pool.  At this early hour, there was little risk of men inadvertently witnessing their activity.  How strange and wonderful!  What dedication they must have to their dress code in order to swim fully clothed in turbans, house robes, and stockings!  What commitment they must have to their love of swimming in order to overcome the obstacles to getting in the pool!chasidishwomenGoing back into my room, I looked over the bathing suits I had brought for the trip.  One of the suits was a one piece that I wear with a shirt over it.  That bathing suit is usually reserved for women’s only swim classes or when my family is vacationing in a place far away from other Jews.  This was not one of those places.  The other bathing suit I brought was a “burkini” (burka+bikini) (HT Rachmuna Litzlon).  In Yiddish, this kind of swim dress is known as a “shvimkleid.”burkiniI purchased my burkini online to wear to public pools and water parks.  Ironically, while I feel embarrassed to walk around in my standard one piece bathing suit in public, I also feel somewhat embarrassed to wear my burkini contraption too.  It does draw attention and makes me feel unusual.  Non orthodox people probably presume I am Muslim when I wear it.

Inspired by the women in the pool, I decided to wear my burkini to the beach and pool that day without embarrassment.   I refuse to let tznius clothing hold me back from doing things that I love, and at the same time, why should I compromise my standards of modesty?  I believe that I can be both tznius as well as take part in the activities the world has to offer.

As I swam in the pool, I wondered if another hotel occupant on a balcony above was looking down in confusion at the black porpoise with pale human feet slowly undulating its way under the chlorine blue water.  Perhaps I am already on Youtube.

For a good laugh, take a look at this classic clip about the importance of shvimkleids by Deena Mann.  Deena is a talented amateur impersonator, character actor, and comic.

Recoloring My Picture of Racism

I grew up a minority in my old Chicago neighborhood in East Rogers Park.  “White girl” was a term that I heard often, and not in a friendly way.  Being Jewish made me even more of a minority, although most of my friends looked at my Judaism as a funny quirk – kind of like a female, teenaged, Woody Allen (I wasn’t voted “Funniest Girl” in 8th grade for nothing!).

6th grade was the year I experienced the worst racism.  I was in a class where I was one of the youngest students, because most of the other kids were repeating the year, in some cases for the third time.  One kid turned 15 and quite a few more turned 13 and 14 that year.  I was 11 going on 12.  My hair was a constant subject of fascination and scrutiny, some of the girls coming up and petting my thick brown mane like a longed for puppy and others calling me “greasy” and lifting locks of my hair with their fingers in mock disgust.

“I’m gonna beat your ass after school today, white girl!”

“You better run on home as soon as the bell rings, greasy, or you’re gonna get whooped!”

Those were taunts I often heard that year, and I got clocked from behind more than once hurrying home in the snow, never looking behind me to see who my attackers were.  If it weren’t for my friend and protector, Tanya, a statuesque and kind hearted African American classmate, I probably wouldn’t have made it through that year in one piece.

Being smart was not an asset in 6th grade.  Being street smart and tough was.  I was neither of those things.  I started throwing tests and doing the bare minimum required for projects and homework.  My grades plummeted.  I specifically remember being in the classroom spelling bee, and waiting for a word to come around that I didn’t know.  As each student misspelled their words and sat down, I was left standing with one other very short Assyrian boy who was also teased mercilessly that year.  I purposely threw the competition by misspelling a word that I knew, because I couldn’t bear to be the focus of attention or go on to the school wide spelling bee in the auditorium in front of the entire student body.  Losing didn’t win me any friends, but at least winning didn’t gain me any new enemies.

Starting to go through puberty by the middle of that year didn’t help matters.  Suddenly, sexual harassment entered the picture, when male classmates a few years older than me began openly comparing notes on my stages of development.  I often had to deal with being groped and grabbed as I precariously wound my way through the desk aisles to answer a question on the blackboard or throw something into the garbage can.  I was followed into the girls bathroom and spit on after I refused to admit to a crush on a male classmate.  My new found attention drew the ire of the other girls even more, who felt that a white girl had no business vying for the attentions of the African American and Latino guys.  All I wanted to do was disappear, but the more I tried to hide myself, the more attention I seemed to attract.

At the end of that horrific year, I had gone from a straight A student to a C and D student, but I was still no cooler to the rest of my multiracial classmates than before.  On one of the last days of school, my teacher announced that there was going to be an award presented to the student who achieved the highest scores on the school wide Iowa Test of Basic Skills (a standardized test given to Chicago Public School students in the 1980s).  She proudly announced that one of the winners was in our class.  As per usual, I kept my eyes on my desk and didn’t make eye contact with anyone.  I expected she would call the name of the smart little Assyrian boy, and felt sorry for him.  I hoped he wouldn’t be punished too badly for his achievement after school that day.

To my horror, the teacher called my name!  I looked up and stayed glued to my seat as she held up a small gold cup with my name on it.  I had scored a 10th grade level on the exam, higher than anyone else in the school.   How could this have happened?  I had tried so hard not to stand out!  Everyone urged me to get up and take my award.  I remember making my way through the narrow aisle of desks, red faced and expecting to be tripped on my way to the front.  To my surprise, no one tripped me, and they were clapping.  I took my award, mumbling thanks, and quickly made my way back to my seat, stuffing the trophy in my book bag.

A few days later, my mom got a call from a teacher in the school that ran a gifted program, called Options, for 7th and 8th graders.  She wanted me to be a part of the program.  I wanted a way out of my current class, and knew that I would be in for more of the same bullying if I didn’t join the Options program, and so I accepted the invitation.  In my new class, I was no longer a minority, in fact, the few Jews who were in my school all seemed to be in the Options program with me.  The bullying stopped, and from that point on through high school, I was placed in special programs based on academic achievement.  Although I was still a minority in my neighborhood, my school peers were a much more diverse crowd.  Jewishly, I would remain a minority, but growing up secular, my religion did not play that large of a role in my life, except insofar as parental dating restrictions in high school.

Many years later, during and after college, I joined the Jewish orthodox community, and my world could no longer be described as diverse.  In fact, especially in light of a recent conversation with a cousin, my social interactions today are homogenously restricted to white Ashkenazic Jews.   In the beginning, this was refreshing, as I was so used to being a minority myself, that I got a kick out of finally meeting people who shared my own background and generally looked like me.  Now that the newness has worn off, I see that there is something sad about not retaining the diversity I once had in my friendships.

I always saw myself as someone comfortable moving in many multicultural circles.  I think the bullying I experienced in school was based more on socioeconomic differences than racial differences, because through it all, I always had friends of other races and ethnicities.  To further this conclusion, I had many African American and Latino friends, especially in high school, who were in the same honors and magnet programs as me, and were ostracized by their counterparts in the regular level school.  Somehow, my friends were seen as selling out and betraying their race by being in academic accelerated programs and associating with white students and teachers.  I had discussions with a few about their predicament, and this rejection was confusing and difficult for them.

I haven’t thought about this part of my life for a long time, but my experience came rushing back when I saw this article by an African American Jewish Chassidic man, calling himself Zein Shver, who took a picture with the word “Schvartze” scrawled in black ink across his forehead.    zeinIn the article, he says,

“Shvartze isn’t Yiddish for Black. Shvartze is Yiddish for N-word”

Zein Shver says that in his Crown Heights neighborhood, there is always an undercurrent of racism.

“I’ve heard the word flow like blessings. It drips out of the mouths of young and old alike. It can be stunning sometimes. You’ll be moving along just fine and then the “S-bomb” will come along and just ruin your day, or at the very least your hour and minute. It’s never nice when it’s said. No one ever says “I had a man do my taxes. He’s shvartze.” Nor do they say “my son is playing with the  boys next door, they’re shvartze.”  It’s always “a shvartze stole my bike;” or “if the shvartzes welfare why shouldn’t we.”  So, this common excuse that shvartze merely means black doesn’t play well with me.”

Schvartze, many Jews argue, just means black, so what’s the big deal? I grew up hearing this word used commonly and casually among older family members.  Although it isn’t a commonly used word in my own vocabulary, it never inspired righteous indignation when I heard others use it.  Reading the experience of this Jewish man makes me see things in a different way.  When I joined the Jewish community, I finally felt at home.  These were my people and for once I was part of a majority – I fit in.  However, if I was born with a darker skin color, would I still be accepted?  What is the price of admission into the frum world – Judaism or Judaism and white skin?

PopChassid explains why his skin color means he will never truly feel like he belongs, being a Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jewish mix with decidedly Middle Eastern features.   Growing up, he was teasingly called a terrorist by his fellow light skinned Jewish classmates.  He was told that he wasn’t white, and even his very Judaism was called into question because of his darker skin shade.  He was made to feel he had more in common with Muslims than with Jews.  All because of the pigment of his complexion.

In Israel, a country supposedly proud of having Jews of every race and ethnicity as citizens, Ethiopian Jews are commonly called, “kushi” (a derogatory Hebrew term for black people).   One Ethiopian boy was once even kicked out of a Bnei Brak mikvah by a mikvah employee –

The worker verbally attacked him, saying “don’t come in, you stink, you’re a stinking kushi”. When the teen refused to back down, the man took hold of him and punched him in the face.”

In another recent incident, an Israeli blood bank refused to accept the blood of MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, along with other Israelis who were born in Ethiopia.  Israel has a blanket policy not to accept blood donations from Ethiopian Jews.  Malynnda Littky writes,

In 1996, there were public demonstrations in reaction to the revelation that Magen David Adom was destroying blood donated by Israelis who were born, or who had lived for a significant period, in Ethiopia. A commission, headed by former Israeli President Yitzhak Navon, reviewed the procedures that were then in place. That commission recommended that the MDA stop dumping blood based on ethnic criteria and proposed instead strict guidelines for careful, pint-by-pint screening of blood donations from Ethiopian Jews and other high-risk groups.”

To me, the legacy of the creation of the State of Israel after the Holocaust is that every Jew will have a safe refuge and homeland.  Every Jew, no matter what their skin color or country of origin, will belong.  I’d like to be able to say that even in America, every Jewish community is a welcoming haven that includes and accepts Jews of every stripe and color into the fold.  Is this welcome reserved only for Ashkenazic Jews with Aryan features?  Is this the legacy we’ve fought for?

As someone who has experienced discrimination, I am ashamed if I have participated in this type of subcultural racism.  Upon awareness, I hope to do better in the future.

Cutting Our Losses and Saving Ourselves

A book review of ‘Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood,’ by Leah Vincent.

The internet has been buzzing for quite some time about Leah Vincent’s recently released memoir.   Born into a Yeshivish Orthodox community, her book chronicles her journey from her beginnings as a religious rabbi’s daughter to a secular Harvard graduate.  The road to Ms. Vincent’s salvation was a bumpy one, summarized by the The Wall Street Journal in these words:

“At age 15, Leah Vincent was preparing for marriage. At 16, she wrote forbidden letters to a male friend questioning her ultraorthodox Jewish faith. At 17, she was banished by her parents and left to fend for herself in New York City. By 19, Ms. Vincent had overdosed, swallowing a half-bottle of aspirin after mutilating herself with a rusty razor. And by 21 she had tried to establish herself as a Craigslist prostitute.”

The book chronicles Ms. Vincent’s shocking and often heartbreaking story of survival that some religious readers might find off putting.  However, this unflinching revelation of her truth is what makes her book so raw and courageous.

With the rash of ex-Orthodox memoires being published, it has become de rigueur for naysayers to refute negative claims made against the frum families or communities castigated.  A few months ago I wrote a post about an interview with Leah Vincent on the Katie Couric show.  Since Ms. Vincent’s book release, that post has been getting renewed activity, and a debate of sorts has been taking place in the comments over the validity of the claims in her book.

Before reading Ms. Vincent’s book, I was curious about her version of events or if there was another side to her story.   After reading the book, I no longer feel the need to know.  Of course, her family and their supporters will see things differently.  That’s not really the point.  To me, the important thing is that this is how Ms. Vincent experienced her life.  This book is about her perceptions and truths; no one else’s.  That doesn’t mean her family didn’t experience their own pain and struggles in their relationship with her, it just means that this book is Ms. Vincent’s platform to share her struggles.  It’s not about anyone else.

The main lesson I walked away with is that every person needs to be their own savior.  There is no gallant knight riding in on his noble steed to save us.  In Elle Magazine, Ms. Vincent says,

“I think the idea is still in my brain today…” Vincent observed, “I think it’s in a lot of women’s brains—that the men in their lives can save them on some level. But now I have a much larger idea that lives alongside that one, that I can save myself and that I have saved myself.”

The lesson may seem obvious, but it really isn’t.  For many women, it is deeply ingrained into our psyche that our success or failure rests with finding a good man.  Even in the secular world, this is an unspoken truth.  Our lives are not fully complete unless we achieve that ultimate validation – a man willing to commit and link his life with our own.  How much more so in the religious world where men are the ultimate authorities?  Where marriage and motherhood are the essence of a woman’s purpose?

This type of adoration, devotion, and blind trust can have disastrous consequences when directed towards the wrong men.  The wrong men don’t only come from the secular world.  Time and time again, Ms. Vincent put her trust and hopes for the future in the wrong men.  Arguably, one might argue that it all began with putting trust in her father – trust that he would show her unconditional and uncompromising love.  Trust that he would make parenting decisions based on the bond they shared and not on the advice of third party rabbis.  The abandonment she experienced from her family had a strong impact on the relationships she chose to engage in following her estrangement.

After reading her book, I don’t need to verify facts and versions of Ms. Vincent’s story.  Nor do I need to sit in righteous judgment of her actions or those of her parents.   For me, this book isn’t about taking sides or corroborating evidence.  This book is about triumphing over mistakes, not letting our past determine our future, and having confidence that we can ultimately be our own heroes.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Have you ever heard the breakup line, “It’s not you, it’s me?”  If you were on the receiving end of such a speech, you clung to that sentiment with every fiber of your being.  If you were on the giving end, even as you said the words, you were simultaneously thinking, “It most certainly IS you!”

When I hear apologetics about strict tznius rules for women, that’s the line I think of.  With every new chumra that’s adopted, the party line by men is always, “It’s not you, it’s me.  We are the problem – men are animals!”  In this way, women are subconsciously shamed into rising above the animalistic nature of men, and guilted into adopting a puritanical attitude toward their own sexuality and its outward expression.  In reality, the underlying sentiment is, “It IS you!  Your sexuality is too dangerous to be unleashed, and we must contain it!”

Upon reading marketing materials for tznius observance such as the one below (Hat Tip Frum Satire), it seems obvious that the assumption is that women have a teiva to wear provocative clothing.  Apparently, without these reminders, women would soon be leaving the house dressed in Fredricks of Hollywood’s finest.modestDress is not the only area where women’s provocative nature needs reigning in.  We see that certain activities like exercise and dance can get women too excited.  Some say women shouldn’t perform the immodest act of driving a car, which fosters too much independence and leaves them susceptible to driving off to engage in pritzus.  Also, women should not participate in traditionally male only fields of service, such as the IDF army, since their virtue might be compromised in the barracks or on the field of battle.  Running for political office is also not an acceptable endeavor, as that would necessitate women publicly campaigning for election and also challenge the self control of the men under their elected leadership.  Likewise, they can’t volunteer for orthodox organizations like Hatzalah, because it would lead to socializing and extra marital affairs if female EMTs were on the crew.

These are just a few examples of curtailing women’s behavior and participation in society because of the fear of their untamed sexuality.  The first two instances directly imply that women, if left to their own devices, can go off the rails.  In the last threee examples, the culpability of women is unspoken.  The men are made out to be natural aggressors with women as their potential victims.  However, it takes two to tango.

I’ve often thought that a husband’s requirement to perform his marital duties proves this point too.  If men are so sex crazed, surely they wouldn’t need to be halachically compelled to perform their marital duties?  The only way I can see this logically making sense is a Sister Wives scenario, where a polygamous man with many wives might pick certain favorites and neglect the others.  In that case, he would need to be reminded about his obligation to pay attention to each wife, and have guidelines set down for how frequently he visits each one.

However, if we are talking about a monogamous marriage in which a husband only has one partner, wouldn’t it go without saying that he would want to do his duty?  In fact, Talmud, Eruvin 100b, does say that a husband can’t force his wife into relations, which would seem the more common scenario for our supposedly sex-obsessed men.  However, there seem to be many more halachos that dictate a man’s obligation not to neglect his sex starved wife.  The Talmud seems to indicate that women are more in need of physical affection than men are.

The Mishneh Torah, Sefer Kedushah, Issurei Biah Chapter 21:13 says that if an audacious woman initiates relations with her husband, the resulting children will be rebellious, sinful, and remain in suffering exile.  That this situation merits discussion, indicates that wives initiating sex is a fairly common circumstance that should be thwarted.  Once again, there is an acknowledgement of women’s sexual aggressiveness, and a warning to not fall prey to it.

Socially and historically, it’s well known that even the most powerful men have been brought down by beautiful women.  Feminine sex appeal is a strong weapon that some women know how to use to their full advantage.  Our sages knew of that danger, and put safeguards into place, such as yichud and shomer negiah, to avoid falling to temptation.

I remember a story about an elderly rabbi who was sitting in his study.  All day, people from the town would come to his home to ask him shailas. Usually, the rabbi’s wife would answer the door and show them into his study.  If a woman came with a question for the rabbi, his wife would accompany her and stay in the study while the rabbi answered her question.

One day, the rabbi’s wife was out shopping.  An old woman came to the rabbi’s house with a kashrut shaila and knocked on the front door.  No one answered, but the door was open and she went inside.  She had been to the rabbi’s house many times before and knew the way to his study.  Unannounced, she opened the door to his office, stepped inside, and closed the door.  Immediately, the old rabbi jumped up, ran to the window, and hurled himself out into the garden.

The startled woman ran outside to the yard to see if the rabbi was ok.

“What happened?” she cried. “Why did you jump out of the window?”

As the rabbi brushed off the leaves and twigs from his clothing he replied, “Because a man and a woman are not permitted to be alone in a closed room together!”

“But, rabbi, you and I are over 80 years old!” the old woman laughed. “What possible trouble could we get into?”

The rabbi said, “The yezter hora can make a young man of me and a young woman of you!”

This is one of the few stories I’ve heard where culpability is attributed to both the man and the woman.  Most prohibitions and parables involve discussing lack of control and forwardness on the parts of men.  The exception to this is when non Jewish women are discussed.  However, by necessity, that same lack of control must be present in Jewish women for there to be any real danger.

If Jewish women were really considered the paragons of virtue purported by the platitudes, there would be no need for yichud or a hyper focus on tznius clothing.  Women would naturally dress and behave appropriately and ensure that no sexual improprieties ever occurred.

The reality is that rabbis realize the female sexual urge matches that of the male, and possibly even surpasses it in some cases.  Women’s sexuality is governed by the use of the “it’s not you, it’s me” reverse psychology.  By telling women that their natural instinct is to be modest and have a lower libido than their male counterparts, women will strive to live up to this desired societal ideal.  It’s brilliant, when you think about it.