Is Silence Enough?

Both the RCA (in a Facebook post) and the OU (in an email shared to a Facebook group by its recipient) have shared their opinions that their actions speak louder than words. Because these rabbinic organizations do not engage in the practice of excluding women’s images from their publications, dayenu.

When I think about other forms of abuse, and yes, attempting to eliminate 50% of the population from the public sphere is abuse, is it enough to stay silent? Even if I myself am not an abuser, does that absolve me from speaking up when I know that others are being harmed?

The Jewish community often cites this poignant quote from Protestant pastor Martin Niemoller, an outspoken activist against Hitler who spent seven years in a Nazi concentration camp –

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Kowtowing to extremists never ends well. Although remaining silent and uncritical might seem like the more diplomatic solution – as long as we aren’t part of their group or one of their targets, let them continue their madness until the movement fizzles itself out – this is a naive belief. The other naive belief is that because we, as Jews, have historically been victimized, we can never be the victimizers. It’s all well and good to read Pastor Niemoller’s words while nodding out heads and saying, “Yes! You didn’t speak up for us and in the end they came for you too!” However, are we capable of taking his lesson further to understand that we are also included in his admonition to speak up for others who have no voice – yes, even victims are responsible to speak up for their fellow humans wherever possible.

Wasn’t it only just over a year ago that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate put out a “blacklist” that rejected the conversions of foreign liberal rabbis – 77 of them from the United States, with 40% of that number being RCA members? Were there a few rabbis excluded because of individual scandal associated with them, yes. However, it was disturbing to see a possible push by the haredi Israeli Chief Rabbinate to discredit American modern orthodox rabbinic leaders. Point being, the move from the right to exclude and erase won’t end with women.

Silence on the part of witnesses is an essential element needed for criminals to get away with their crimes. Secrecy is another essential element. Harboring fugitives to help them evade confrontation and punishment also makes one culpable in their crimes. Both the RCA and OU have historically been proud “old boy networks.” Oh to be a fly on the wall of some their formal and informal meetings where the men can speak freely.

Unlike us women, I have no doubt that the members of these organizations know exactly who is behind the movement to erase women. There are probably a few proponents within the ranks of the RCA and OU themselves who support and encourage such an attitude. However, their names will never be given up – members will continue to close ranks and remain silent in support of their right wing comrades – even if they personally disagree.

Silence equals acquiescence. It means that while you wouldn’t do a certain thing yourself, you are willing to stand by and let someone else do it. It means that you have absolved yourself of responsibility toward your fellow Jew.

They have taken our voices, now they have taken our faces. Ladies, there are no knights in shining armor coming to save us. The time has come for us to save ourselves.

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8 thoughts on “Is Silence Enough?

  1. But the women accept this hirarchy.They were brought up in a sphere of inequality.God is above us, the Rabbi is above us, and the Godol hador is above the rest…
    We have special rights for Cohanim, for Levyim, for jewdeaics and for descendeds of David Hamelech.

    About the Jewish leaders, they do not see it as speaking for men, they only act according to ara tradition.

  2. “Ladies, there are no knights in shining armor coming to save us. The time has come for us to save ourselves.”

    Thank you Sharon for reminding me of the two biggest life lessons I learned at college and my first job.

    First – At college my best friend was male. At a beer-drinking party an old buddy appeared, zeroed in on me, and drunkenly backed me into a corner. As I fought him off, I called out to my friend for help. He looked over and said ” When a guy has a friend that is male and a friend that is female, the male friend will always trump the female.” My friend turned away and I hit the other guy in a sensitive male place and saved myself.

    Second – I progressed in my first job from an office with a pool of women to my own office but often went back to hang out for coffee. My place was taken by a returning employee that had worked there before and everyone but me knew her. After I had just met her she gratuitously told me in front of the others how much she disliked me. I went back to my office. In a few minutes she showed up and said “They all think I have come to apologize but I will never like you.”

    You learn more from your adversaries than you do your friends so I am grateful to have learned that men will always stick with other men.
    I also am grateful to have learned that another woman can hate you for no apparent reason when they don’t even know you. That certainly explains a lot about the last Presidential election.

    As women we need to come together now and throw off any female instincts for quick instinctive animosity against other women which is some kind of leftover ancient impulse when women competed for men to attain their position in society.

    We women need to respect and support each other now more than ever. We can’t depend on men to defend us or look out for us.

  3. @Georgvon1
    I feel your frustration and see your comments as sarcasm fed by the observation of unjustice. I very much can relate to it. I would like to add: what will happen if Judaism DOESN’T move into the direction to give the “one half” the rights they deserve? It is not about becoming a rabbi as a female but simply being allowed to make your own decisions (even if this would in the end include becoming a leading figure in your community). I understand much of Halacha not as coming from G’d but seen and decided through the lenses of male rabbis. We have to reflect on this. The Gemara is full about discussion ABOUT women but not WITH women, and that’s how it is – not only in Yeshivot – to the very day. It will kill us and our precious heritage if we don’t change, because more and more women will feel excluded, neglected and patronized. This development is not to stop, even if some of our groups try very hard to incarcerate a whole population to not being exposed to “wordly stussim”. And I agree, also the middle field has definitely to speak out – otherwise it will not be legitimate in the future anymore, we will not believe the rabbis and men of our communities who cared so little about us women.

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