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:

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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.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

I saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine who is appalled to find out that one of the main sources of business advertisement in Chicago, called Only Ads, has an official policy to only include photos of men.  I never realized that this was an official policy of the publication, but I do remember wondering why my husband’s relative decided to represent herself in her ads resembling a Minecraft avatar.  Now I know.

The reason why discovering this policy is unsettling is that many of the advertisers in this publication, and certainly, many of those on their mailing list, belong to communities where excluding images of women is frowned upon.  In fact, perhaps as a backlash against the growing trend of “female-free” public images in the more ultra-orthodox communities, some organizations and schools pointedly include positive images of women and girls engaging in communal activities or being honored at banquets.

Adults and children alike are bombarded with negative images of women in the general media.  Both women and young girls are visually sexualized in order to sell clothing, music, food, toys, beauty products, you name it.  The answer isn’t to go the polar opposite and hide half of the population away, the answer is to counter those images with positive role models and positive peer models both for the girls and women in the orthodox community, and also for the boys and men who can see their mothers, wives, sisters, teachers, and neighbors achieving success in business, torah learning, chesed, and any other number of positive activities that are part of the real fabric of daily orthodox life.

It goes without saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Whether you are looking for a lawyer, a realtor, a therapist, a dentist, a doctor, a wig stylist, a makeup artist, or any other type of service – seeing the face of the person you might be working with can have an impact on deciding to do business with them.  

A business relationship is similar to a shidduch.  If you are browsing a dating website, how likely would you be to skip over the profiles with no photo, as opposed to the profiles that do have a picture attached?  Likewise, it makes sense to feel that you have more information about the lawyer whose ad features a photo of his face, as opposed to the lawyer whose ad only features her firm’s logo.

This puts 50% of the Only Ads business advertisers at a competitive disadvantage when using the Only Ads platform to reach their desired market, yet I’m willing to bet that female advertisers pay the same rates as their male competitors and counterparts, who are allowed to share more visual information about themselves, thus better engaging the trust of the consumer.

The decision not to include female images for Only Ads is a financial one.  The publication determined that more of its readership doesn’t want images of women, than does want images of women.  I’m not sure how they came by their statistics, but often publications that decide to exclude photos of women from their pages do so for monetary reasons, and not necessarily because they personally hold the conviction that it’s forbidden.  I can’t say whether or not the publishers of Only Ads are personally offended by images of women; the only thing that is certain is that the publication feels it would lose too many eyeballs and advertising dollars if they included female images.

The nice thing about Chicago is that there are other options.  For example, The Chicago Jewish Advertiser (disclaimer – I have no relationship to the publication other than being on their mailing list) provides the same service as Only Ads, and they give fair photo representation to both males and females.

These are a few pages from the Chicago Jewish Advertiser April 2016 issue, as an example –

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cja 6

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cja 8

One of the things that you will notice is that there are still advertisements in the Chicago Jewish Advertiser publicizing women owned businesses that don’t show photos of the business owner herself, nor female models who might logically be photographed showcasing jewelry, clothing, or makeup services.  Again, the decision to include photos or not, even for the advertiser, is a financial one.

On the one hand, a simple black and white, or two color text ad, is cheaper to create and run in print than a multicolored ad with photos.  This is true regardless of the publication you choose to advertise in.  Running an advertisement without a photo could simply be a cost effective way of publicizing your business.

On the other hand, if you are a small business, and you want to use the same ad in all of the local advertising venues, you most likely don’t have the budget to hire an artist to create different ad designs for the same campaign.  You will likely pay to create one advertising layout to run in each publication, and that means creating one ad that conforms to the Only Ads restriction of not showing female images, even if you would otherwise have included photos.  Thus, even in publications that don’t have such restrictions, Chicago area business women are still penalized and limited by the Only Ads “no female photo” requirement if they only have the budget to create one ad.

I think the sense of outrage that some folks expressed on Facebook is a reaction to the growing “scope creep” of ultra-orthodox standards being foisted upon the modern orthodox community.  The only answer for objectors is to patronize businesses and services that have more egalitarian policies, or create new venues where men and women alike can promote their services to the fullest extent.

Simchat Torah Dance Party

It’s that time of year again for orthodox women to become spectators at one of the liveliest holidays of the Jewish year – Simchat Torah.

Yes, it’s time to break out those Torah scrolls and watch the men get their groove on,

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while we cheer them on during the Hakafot.

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To be fair, this is prime male bonding time for the guys, plus a chance for them to show off their moves.

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It’s a great opportunity for the ladies to fan girl out over the men, as they willingly put themselves on display for our entertainment.

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Of course, it would be nice to allow the women to strut their stuff too.

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However, letting the women dance with Torah scrolls would be a perversion of all that is holy, and could lead to the worst of all biblical abominations – mixed dancing.

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Of course, some of us ladies are lucky enough to have a special designated area to play Ring Around the Rosie while Hakafot are going on at the other side of the mechitza.

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The not so lucky among us are relegated to watching from the sidelines and nothing more.

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Even further, some women can only listen to the action going on over at the men’s side from behind a barrier –

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However you will be enjoying Simchat Torah festivities this year, I hope you will find it both fun and meaningful.  It shouldn’t just be a holiday for men and children to enjoy, while the women’s main level of participation is setting up the seuda (holiday meal).  Regardless of how our current orthodox culture has evolved to interpret appropriate female involvement in the festivities,

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and Hashem gave us the Torah too.  As recipients, we are entitled to rejoice in that gift with the dignity and respect we deserve.

Placing a buffer between women and rabbis – is it a good thing?

no womenThe other week I saw an article about a program launched in my community by NILI, the Chicago Institute of Women’s Learning, which is part of the Yeshiva University Torah Mitzion Kollel in Chicago. Last year, NILI started a hotline for women with questions about taharat hamishpacha, the Jewish laws of family purity. The hotline is meant to facilitate more communication between women and local rabbis in the community, both by letting women reach out anonymously if they choose, and also by having another woman speak directly to a rabbi on their behalf. Below are some excerpts from the article explaining the service:

It’s a delicate topic,” [Lynn] Kraft, a kallah teacher who runs the hotline along with three other women, says. “It’s called family purity but it really goes to the laws that govern the husband and wife but affect the entire family…….”

The questions are filtered through the kallah teachers, one of whom is on call six days a week, but are answered by rabbis in the community…….

“A lot of the laws are private,” Kraft says. “Some women find it difficult to ask these questions. Lots of questions come up. But the rabbis are male and the (questioners) are female and they’re talking about a private part of themselves……..”

The hotline, Kraft explains, “is designed to support, not to replace the relationship between users and rabbis. Rabbis in the community are always looking for ways to help women perform mitzvot…..”

“We serve as connectors,” Kraft says. The woman who takes the question goes to the designated rabbi, waits for him to answer, then relays that answer to the questioner. A number of synagogue rabbis, as well as rabbis connected with the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel offered their services. A response should be forthcoming within 12 hours through noon on Friday,” Kraft says……….

“The goal of the hotline, she says, is “to enable the women of our community to embrace and observe the mitzvah of taharat hamishpacha with greater comfort and ease and to serve as connectors between women and community rabbis.”

The service is similar to that offered by Nishmat, an Israeli institution of higher learning for women, through their Golda Koschitzky Women’s Halachic Hotline. While the NILI hotline is staffed by kallah teachers, and the Nishmat hotline is staffed by certified taharas hamishpacha counsellors, called Yoetzet, both services appeal to those who prefer speaking about family purity issues with other women who act as conduits between a woman and a rabbi.

So how do we contrast the above services, which can surely be seen as facilitating greater participation of women in the halachic process, plus making it easier and less embarrassing for women to seek guidance regarding the observance of family purity laws, with last month’s news that a well known Breslover rabbi, Rabbi Shalom Arush, made the decision to stop meeting directly with women for halachic counsel?

Rabbi Arush made his decision in light of recent sex scandals involving other rabbis. The only access women will have to Rabbi Arush will be through their husbands, who can see him on their wife’s behalf, and he is encouraging other rabbis to follow his example.

In response to two high profile cases, one being Rabbi Ezra Sheinberg of Tzfat and another being the leader of the Shuvu Banim Hasidic sect, Rabbi Eliezer Berland, Arutz Sheva reported:

“Rabbi Arush explained that the move is to set a precedent for caution.

“The evil inclination of rabbis is even greater than that of other people,” he said, reflecting a Judaic concept that people with great potential also have greater challenges.

Therefore, he said, he will not see women in person anymore, even if they are accompanied by their husbands.”

Voz Is Neias summarized a video Rabbi Arush made to elaborate on his decision to stop meeting with women,

“In a five minute video, Rabbi Arush said, “How could a rabbi meet with women? He doesn’t get aroused? He doesn’t have desires? Is he so holy that sees a woman the same way he sees a man? The evil inclination of rabbis is even greater than that of regular people. You can’t make the Torah crooked or pervert it. A person cannot rely on himself that he won’t sin, and that’s why he has to put a guard around himself to prevent him from sinning, and put practices into place. And to the women who are turning to rabbis for support, they should know that a rabbi is a tzaddik, but he also has desires.”

Rav Arush continued, “What? Does he [the rabbi] see these women like he sees geese? Is that what he sees that he doesn’t feel anything? That he doesn’t have desires? That he’s so holy, seeing a woman doesn’t affect him? Why does he have to look at her? Is he in shidduchim that he has to see her? What’s the purpose? There is no good reason for this type of behavior.”

He explained that the intention of these rabbis is not evil, but eventually morphs into the potential for sin. “Nobody starts off doing evil. It all starts with mitzvot, but the yetzer hara drives you to evil, telling you, ‘it’s a woman who needs you to be mikarev her, to help her,’ but really, eventually, it’s not l’shem shamayim, it’s in the worst way. Just as it is forbidden for a Rebbetzin to meet with men, so is it forbidden for a rav to meet with women. Even men like Rav Chaim Kanievsky and the Baba Sali who were glued to God in a very high level that we cannot understand, did not engage in this practice.”

In my opinion, instead of attributing the recent indecent acts committed by a few rabbis to personal deviance, Rabbi Arush is instead generalizing that all men can’t control themselves and all women are sex objects that put men at moral risk. By attempting to put a stop to all direct communication between women and their rabbis, he is severely limiting women’s access to halachic guidance. Particularly in the Breslov community, where I would guess that halachic guidance is sought much more frequently on everyday issues than in other more modern communities, this puts women at a severe disadvantage.

What will Rabbi Arush’s female followers do who have no husband? What will single women do who have no father to speak for them? This type of system where women can’t speak directly for themselves can have future ramifications that will set women back tremendously, if not alienate them altogether and cause them to leave the community.

For example, in Saudi Arabia, women are expected to be under the care of a husband or male relative in order to function in society.  Their whereabouts are policed on a daily basis. There are separate entrances in public buildings for men and women, and restaurants are also usually divided into separate sex sections. Intermingling of the sexes among unrelated men and women is a criminal offense, and while charges will be brought against both parties, women often face a harsher punishment. Women are also discouraged from traveling alone or driving a car. This is to discourage too much freedom and independence, and usually a male chaperone will accompany traveling females or act as a chauffeur to get women where they need to go.

Ironically, if you are a woman without a man in your life, you’re screwed.

This is the society that Rabbi Arush’s decision will encourage. It makes women even more dependent on men than ever before. Not only are women in the Breslov community required to seek the aitza (counsel) of a rav for many of the daily decision in their lives, but now they can only do so through another man. If a woman is married, she has easier access to a conduit through her spouse, but if she does not have a husband, she will have to seek the assistance of her male next of kin to speak on her behalf.

The difference between the two described scenarios is that in the case of the female-staffed family purity hotlines, the women of the community are given another alternative to speaking directly with a rabbi. If they choose to speak directly to a rabbi themselves, they are welcome to do so. For those that feel more comfortable speaking about private issues with a woman, they now have that option.

Rabbi Arush’s proposal takes the choice out of a woman’s hands. Not only is she excluded from speaking directly with a rabbi, she must now include a second person in her personal business to relay her situation, and that person must also be a man.

This is a perfect example of every action (women taking a larger role in the halachic process) having an equal and opposite reaction (women being cut out of the process altogether) within the umbrella of orthodox Judaism.

Plugging the dike…is it time to build a new wall again?

This morning I read an article in Haaretz entitled, “Is Orthodox Judaism on the verge of a historic schism?” It talks about the deepening fracture between liberal orthodox Judaism and right wing orthodox Judaism, one of the highlights, of course, being the growing demands of women for greater public and leadership roles within traditional Jewish communities. While there are other issues causing conflict within the many strains of orthodoxy, Prof. Vered Noam of the Hebrew Culture Studies Department at Tel Aviv University summed it up in an article she wrote calling for a change in attitude toward women in religious life:

This article is not a feminist manifesto, and anyone who thinks it’s about arrangements in the synagogue is mistaken,” she wrote…..The subject is the synagogue as an example and women as an example. The reference is to a society in which the tensions between its declared value system and the reality surrounding it and the world of its members’ natural inclinations, have led it on a difficult path of denial, ignoring and strong repression – of both the external and the internal reality. This repression leads to dichotomy, compartmentalization, fakery, double standards and the construction of wall upon wall and partition upon partition… The first ones to be crushed beneath these walls are the women, who in their very being, to their detriment, represent the fault line between the two worlds.

While there are certainly other issues at play, women are the fault line – attitudes toward the advancement, or lack thereof, of women’s roles in orthodoxy determine which side of modernity a community rests upon. Those who oppose women studying gemorah, having a role in shul services, or obtaining an advanced level of Jewish studies culminating in some sort of official title are now pitted against those who maintain that there is room within orthodoxy to expand women’s roles and textual studies without violating halacha. At the core of any argument between orthodox factions is the argument for or against granting women more opportunity and control over their religious education, advancement, and spiritual possibilities.

When I read articles about the debate over women’s roles in the right wing orthodox Jewish media, I am reminded of the fable of The Little Dutch Boy Who Saved Holland. There are several adaptations of this tale, but the general theme is of a young boy who notices a leak in the town dike, and thinking quickly and selflessly, he plugs the hole with his finger and remains in place until the adults of the community can permanently repair the damage. The parable teaches a lesson about self-sacrifice, civic responsibility, and how one small boy can save a town from immeasurable damage by taking a simple action. One small finger can stem the tide of a raging flood, and many fingers together can hold up a crumbling wall against an imminent tidal wave until a more permanent solution can be found to fortify the breaches in the barrier.

Take the example of the rise of the Bais Yaakov movement. Although it took about 14 years from the time the general concept was brought up to the gedolim of Polish Eastern European Jewry in the early 20th Century, the movement to provide Jewish education for girls did eventually take off, to put it mildly:

Leaders of the Orthodox community in Palestine or in Eastern Europe still often preferred that the girls study in alien non-Jewish environments than they be taught traditional Judaism in a school setting. The latter they considered an outright violation of the prescribed women’s role within Judaism. In 1903 at a conference of Polish rabbis held in Cracow, Rabbi Menachem Lando, the Admor of Zvirtche, [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Landau] blamed his colleagues for neglecting the education of Jewish girls and called for the establishment of schools to deal with the problem. His suggestion was almost unanimously opposed.

It took a dedicated and courageous woman named Sarah Schenirer to initiate the change. Influenced by a brief period in Vienna during the First World War when she was exposed to the spirit of German Neo-Orthodoxy, Schenirer founded the Bais Ya’akov movement in Poland in 1917. Beginning with a kindergarten class of twenty-five pupils in Cracow, the movement grew to encompass almost forty thousand girls on the eve of the Second World War, having spread to several continents and established day schools, afternoon schools, teachers’ seminaries, summer camps, youth groups, a monthly journal and a publishing house for textbooks and other educational materials. ” – Studies in Contemporary Jewry: Volume V: Israel: State and Society, 1948-1988, edited by Peter Y. Medding Institute of Contemporary Jewry the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, July 13, 1989, Oxford University Press, USA

It should be noted that Rabbi Landau, in his book Mekiz Nirdamim, came to the conclusion that formalized Jewish education was necessary for girls because of the growing prevalence of trafficking lower class Jewish women for prostitution among Eastern European Jews. Rabbi Landau blamed the lack of education. He proposed an organization to be called Shomer Yisroel that would foster education among women and girls in religious observance and the running of Jewish homes to be subsidized by communal funds. However, rabbis such as Rabbi Akiva Rabinovich of Poltava, editor of Hapeles, opposed Rabbi Landau’s proposal using various arguments, the main one being that teaching one’s daughter Torah is like teaching her tiflut (frivolity or immorality).

Certainly Jewish Polish society probably wasn’t any more immune to societal ills such as prostitution than the rest of early 20th century Polish society. However, it’s most likely safe to assume that, like today, most women exposed to secular society and educational opportunities during Rabbi Landau’s era wouldn’t choose prostitution as their preferred way of life. So was this really the burning reason driving him to propose a women’s educational system? After all, Rabbi Rabinovich’s response that teaching a woman Torah is like teaching her immorality seems a weak response if the alternative is that she becomes a prostitute, as Rabbi Landau feared.

Whatever the arguments made against developing Torah education for women, they were obviously fingers in an ever crumbling dike, springing new holes until finally, Sarah Schenirer helped them to create a new fortification. The Bais Yaakov movement became a new edifice in preserving the future of traditional Judaism by teaching women subjects that would help them to become better wives and mothers in both a practical and spiritual sense, but not venture anywhere near the sacred texts that are the realm of men. The old wall of keeping women illiterate in Hebrew and Jewish studies may have fallen 98 years ago, but the bricks of limitations that the rabbis set forth regarding women’s education have been firmly embedded inside the new structure. Only with those limitations in place could a new wall have been built.

Make no mistake, the development of Bais Yaakov was nothing less than miraculous. In addition to promoting women’s basic literacy skills, the Bais Yaakov movement also provided the most advanced formalized opportunity for women’s education in the history of Judaism (within those texts approved for female study). Additionally, it also instilled a sense of pride and connection to Jewish heritage that has probably kept countless women in the fold who otherwise would have left. However, for some, maybe even for many, today a Bais Yaakov education is no longer enough.

With its inherent limitations, there are women who are looking for further avenues of Jewish education for their daughters and themselves. Women are seeking higher educational opportunities beyond one or two years of post-high school seminary, that will lead to a career path either in addition to or beyond teaching, venturing into the realm of halachic expert and advisory roles.

There is a current phenomenon underway where the disparity levels between the leadership roles frum women are assuming in the secular world compared with the limited leadership roles they can play within their own communities is becoming a distance too great to bridge. Additionally, even voicing a desire for the opportunity to achieve a greater level of involvement or leadership in ritual life or communal institutions is met with suspicion. For example, a man who aspires to be the President of a right wing modern orthodox day school board will be seen as ambitious, while a woman who aspires to the same role will be seen as trying to rock the boat. President of the PTA is her lane, and she should stick to it.

Just as the Bais Yaakov educational movement was an inevitability in the early 20th century, so too is giving expanded Jewish leadership roles to women in the 21st century. Right now, the only movement that seems to have found tentative acceptance is the Yoetzet Halacha movement. Because of its narrow emphasis on women’s health issues and niddah, and its commitment to defer to rabbinic authority on all questions, it is an example of an innovation in female leadership that more centrist and right wing elements of modern orthodoxy are willing to accept. Any further acceptance of an expansion in ritual or advisory roles for women in right wing modern orthodox communities will have to follow this example.

The slippery slope argument isn’t far-fetched. Education and knowledge follow a path leading to the desire for more education and knowledge. The more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Will 21st century women ever be happy to travel paths that ultimately lead to dead ends? The end of the road might get pushed back a bit further each time, but still, for us, there is always an end in sight. The fear of a swelling tide rising up against a 98 year old wall is real, the question is, who will be the engineers involved in building the new fortification?