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.

Is this seat taken?

In 2014, the RCA formed a committee to review its conversion processes in the wake of the Freundel scandal. The panel was comprised of 6 men and 5 women, with two of the women being converts. When the committee’s 22 page report to improve the RCA’s Geirus Protocol Standards came out this summer, The Jewish Week quoted RCA executive vice president Rabbi Mark Dratch as saying that the report marked the beginning of a new era –

“This is the first time the stakeholders themselves are deeply involved in the process,” he said, referring to the converts on the committee as well as the 835 Jews by choice and conversion candidates who were surveyed. “We learned the most from looking at this through their eyes.””

What in the heck happened between July and November?

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

New era!

New era who?

New era is nowhere-a to be found when it comes to recognizing women in clergy positions by the RCA.

Just when we thought modern orthodox rabbis were ready to give female stakeholders a seat at the table in shaping future policies, we have been told there are none available for those with an XX chromosome.

Not having women involved in their decision-making process to ban women from any position or title resembling that of a rabbi was neither modern nor orthodox. In fact, people are coming forward with stories from the ultra-orthodox camps discussing the esteemed spiritual leadership roles women have in some right wing communities, functioning in almost every way as rabbis, except without the title.

Current Maharat student and blogger, Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez, succinctly introduced herself in her blog post, My Maharat Life

“….I am passionate about working in diverse Jewish communities and in helping people engage their Judaism. I am an Orthodox Jew (without any modifiers). I am no less an Orthodox woman or a Jewish communal leader because of my desire to combine them.

I cannot speak for any of my colleagues at Yeshivat Maharat, or any other institution training Orthodox women for leadership positions. I can only speak for myself. And for me, being at Yeshivat Maharat makes it possible to live my dreams while also being true to who I am.

This is my Maharat life.

I heard my call and I am here. Hineni.”

Why wasn’t a person like Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez contacted for input? Even if women don’t have an official vote at the RCA table, isn’t the future role of women within modern orthodoxy worth at least as much time and effort spent on the Geirus Protocol Standards?

Shouldn’t there have been a committee made up of say, 6 men and 5 women, two of the women being Maharats, to give their perspectives? Shouldn’t at least 835 Jewish women who belong to modern orthodox synagogues led by RCA rabbis have been surveyed for their opinions?  Shouldn’t the process have resulted in an extensive report of at least 22 pages?

I think many of us are waiting for a time when there can be direct communication between rabbis making communal policies and the stakeholders those policies affect.  There seems to be a caricature in place of the feminist as a smug, man-hating, self-important, pompous, yet ignorant woman.  If women currently employed as orthodox clergy, studying to receive a form of ordination, or women who simply believe that their sisters should be allowed to achieve their potential would have the ability to speak directly with rabbinic decision makers, the stereotypes would fall away.

Face to face, people are just people, each as individual as their own fingerprints. With direct communication, the fear that leads to derision, dismissal, or even hatred has a chance to disintegrate.  Both sides can work together to forge a path that can take everyone where they want to go with the common goal of staying true to themselves and to the halachic blueprint provided by the Torah.

That will truly be the mark of a new era.

HarediFem – The Rise of the Challah Bake

One might think that while modern orthodox feminists are fighting for the right to don tefillin and tallisim, pray with a Torah at the Kotel, come up with creative solutions to free agunot, or receive smicha equivalency degrees, women from right wing orthodox sectors are shaking their heads and refusing to participate in progress.

On the contrary, American haredi women find themselves in an unusual position these days. At levels surpassing modern orthodox women, haredi women are now socialized to be the sole or primary breadwinners of their households. Young haredi men are expected to learn full time in kollel until either parental support dries up or their own dwindling resources demand that they look for work. Young women, on the other hand, are encouraged to get an education and find a profession that will support a growing family, indefinitely if possible.

In other words, haredi women control the purse strings in a way that even most modern orthodox women don’t. For the most part, both spouses in modern orthodox homes are college educated. In keeping with overall American statistics, most women make less money than men, especially when taking into consideration that many modern orthodox women gravitate toward traditionally female dominated professions that typically pay less money (teaching, social work, nursing, speech therapy, physical therapy, etc).

In the haredi world, similar career paths mean that even though women are often the primary bread winners (perhaps with heavy subsidization from parents), they still aren’t making big bucks. Even so, one of the complaints feminists had in the 1970s was the financial chains that husbands use to control wives in marriage. If that’s the case, it would seem logical that same would work in reverse. If women control the cash flow and the allocation of funds, wouldn’t that give them control over their husbands? Additionally, if a large source of communal tzedaka money is coming from households where women are the earners, wouldn’t that give women greater control within the community at large? Doesn’t money talk?

In my mind, I can picture teachers of older girls exhorting them not to hold their financial advantage over their future husbands. Everything they earn is for the family and it’s only through Hashem’s kindness that they have the ability to earn salaries, a privilege that can be taken away at any moment if a wife becomes haughty, stingy, or controlling concerning her paycheck. Additionally, the true provider will always be her husband, because it is only in the merit of his learning that she even has a job and can bring home a salary. So, even though she is the one who works, her husband is still the main breadwinner.

However, it would be nearly impossible for haredi women to go to college, work at internships, and enter the workforce without having some exposure to feminist ideas. A common response to feminist concepts seems to be derision; a derision that stems from defensiveness. After all, if you look at some of the main objections feminism has regarding male dominated cultures, fundamentalist religion carries all the markers of perceived misogyny, including orthodox Judaism. For orthodox women who never thought of themselves as oppressed, and in fact, might think of themselves as having an elevated status in their world, having other women slap the “oppressed” label on them is galling and offensive.

Hence, the rise of HarediFem, or haredi feminism. While not all women engaging in haredi female empowerment consider themselves to be either haredi or feminists, I am referring to women who attempt to expand their voice and control in the orthodox world within the parameters of activities approved for women. We are seeing a greater public display of the three mitzvot thought to be unique for women – candle lighting, taking challah, and tznius. The focus on doing women’s mitzot is a way to flex female muscles to positively change the world for the better.

Actually, the three special mitzvot for women are candle lighting, taking challah, and taharas hamishpacha, but out of modesty, we are unlikely to see full page advertisements asking women to do a few extra bedikas on behalf of klal yisroel, or to make sure to bring in at least one shailah to a rabbi this month in the merit of the tragedies happening in Israel. Therefore, the mitzvah of modesty is raised to a place of prominence in terms of public discussion and display along with challah baking and candlelighting.

For example, cutting wigs shorter to prevent further tragedies such as the Har Nof massacre

sheitelsImplying that wearing tznius maternity clothing can prevent miscarriage, stillbirth, or other tragedies that can occur with mother or infant-

maternityWomen shaping the future of their community by attending a community wide meeting about current and new standards of modesty for women –

tznius meetingA contest for little girls to dress modestly in the merit of defending Eretz Yisroel

ice creamCommunity wide challah baking events for women and girls to share the experience of helping to create “the gift of Shabbos” –

challah bakeDisplaying car magnets advertising the power of candle lighting as a way to fight terrorism –

candles fightAdditionally, there are always lectures for women on topics such as parenting, how to create and maintain shalom bayis in the home, the power of prayer, how women can hasten the arrival of Moshiach, etc. There are also community wide women’s tehillim sessions during community crises; the power of many voices thought to have more sway than one in seeking a reversal of bad fortune. Women’s fundraising events happen on a frequent basis as well, with several gatherings happening every week in larger communities. All of these activities provide an active social outlet for women, giving a sense of both camaraderie and the empowerment that comes with the belief of doing something that can produce positive change.

Although these activities don’t culturally conform to secular feminist ideas of empowerment, nor to the ideals of feminist progress for many modern orthodox women, many haredi women feel differently. I have heard haredi women wax poetic about how powerful the prayers of women can be. I have heard haredi women speak about the sense of fulfillment they have in their roles as Jewish wives, mothers, daughters, friends, and spiritual beings. They don’t feel powerless, left out, or under the control of the men in their lives. Some truly feel that a position of public leadership is beneath them, as their honor is to be private, much like the Ark of the Covenant was hidden inside the Holy of Holies.

Every woman’s idea of empowerment is different, and every woman’s struggle is different, which is why there has been a backlash forming against “white feminism” from women of color (misogynoir), and even more recently, an accusation that the Suffragette history has been white-washed, forgetting the contributions of women of all races to achieving the vote. There has been push back against the idea that the problems of privileged white upper class women represent the problems of all women.

This also extends into the idea that privileges enjoyed by women in different cultures might not be considered privileges by the women in surrounding dominant cultures, who are quick to condemn those foreign ideas as being sexist.

I feel as if the modern orthodox feminist culture borrows largely from white feminism. The movement doesn’t always take into consideration that the cultural differences of our haredi counterparts might have more to do with different ideas of empowerment. What might make a modern orthodox woman feel dis-empowered, might be a prime example of feminist achievement to a haredi woman.

We can talk about what we do and don’t want for ourselves, but when do the lines of discrimination and racism get crossed when we demand that other Jewish women want the same things we do? We all come from different places, travel different roads, and have different outlooks on life. If a woman says she is happy with her lot, who am I to tell her otherwise?

Don’t Men Get Insulted?

helplessI often wonder if men get tired of being underestimated when I see generalizations made about women being objects of lust and men being unable or unwilling to control their temptations. I recently wrote about this general attitude having gone so far, that a Hasidic rabbi has declared that he will no longer meet with women, even with their husbands present. He is urging other orthodox rabbis not to meet with women anymore either, lest they succumb to their baser urges.

On occasion, when discussing the topic of sex segregation, men will acknowledge that it is often difficult not to have sexual feelings around women. My teenage sons will shake their heads and say, “Mom, you have no idea how teenage boys think.”

That is true, but at the same time, older men, like my husband and friends closer to my own age, will say that controlling your thoughts and actions is something that isn’t automatically present upon puberty. Self-control is something that is learned and honed over time with maturity and experience in socializing with members of the opposite sex. The more exposure a man has to interacting with women in school, in the workplace, or in social groups – the less sensitive he will become to sexual triggers and the more he will be able to compartmentalize between his sexual feelings for his wife or future wife against his platonic feelings for a classmate, teacher, family friend, or coworker.

I think that if I were a man, I would feel highly insulted at being categorized as a pervert with an ever roving eye unable to control my insatiable sexual appetite – so much so that I was at constant risk of being swept away by anything in a skirt.

Someone shared an article by a blogger who decries general society’s portrayal of women being dangerous husband-stealing femme fatales and men being helpless against their sexual urges, in an article entitled, “Husbands, Nannies, and the Culture of Dangerous Women and Helpless Men.” The author writes:

When we teach boys and men that they are powerless against their sexual desires, when we teach them that they are not responsible for their actions if a woman is dressed in a way he finds arousing, when we write articles about “protecting” our husbands from all those slutty nannies out there, WE ALL ******* LOSE.

Every last one of us.

Men lose because we paint them with the brush of being weak and having no self-control. They get to live in a culture that expects them to **** up. One where they are expected to ruin their marriages, to not be capable of concentrating at work or school, all due to being in close physical proximity to a vagina.

And women lose. We lose because the burden of saving these men from themselves falls on our shoulders. If we aren’t sexy enough, we will lose our husbands to someone sexier, because they can’t help it. If we are too sexy, we are just asking to be disrespected because men can’t control themselves.

In orthodox Jewish culture, sexy is a four letter word that isn’t even appropriate for the bedroom – words like holy and sanctity of marriage and shechinah (divine presence) are more apropos. However, the concept of being ready and willing (a rebellious wife who refuses her husband is called a moredet and can be divorced without her ketubah settlement), is definitely in play. A Jewish wife is accountable for keeping her husband’s sexual needs satisfied, especially since he can’t even satisfy his own needs without violating halachah.

Therefore, both the burden of dressing and behaving modestly in public, but also satisfying the insatiable lust of our men in private, is put upon women. In short, their lack of control is our problem on the street and at home.

This attitude can’t be healthy. It just hasn’t been my experience that all men are uncontrollable sex fiends. Maybe I just haven’t met the right men, or maybe I’m not attractive enough to have that problem, but experience dictates that men can control themselves when they are taught appropriate behavior at a young age and throughout adolescence. Have I met a pervert or two in my day? Yep. But out of all the men I’ve come into contact with, including family, friends, classmates, coworkers, etc., the statistics ain’t bad! I just don’t think it’s fair to say that men can’t control themselves and shouldn’t even try – mostly it’s not fair to the men!

Don’t you guys ever get insulted?

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?