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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goldman goes on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goldman concludes:

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

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

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

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

Wikipedia says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


An unspoken dream is like an unopened letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Boudoir Photography Becoming Popular Among Orthodox Married Women

Considering that most media coverage regarding orthodox Jewish women tends to focus on restrictive modesty guidelines, it was refreshing to read about a surprising new trend among younger married orthodox women – boudoir glamour photos.

Apparently, in certain orthodox communities in Israel and the US, Jewish women are catching onto a trend that has grown popular among secular brides and wives – taking lingerie photos for their spouses to celebrate marriage, anniversaries, or birthdays.

An article in The Guardian reports that boudoir photography is making inroads among orthodox women because “there is room within the sphere of religious Jewish life for a personal connection to the erotic, as long as it is handled with care.

The article goes on to say that boudoir photography speaks to religious women, because unlike the stark and often crass nature of pornography, boudoir photography is all about softness and suggestion. While Jewish women adopt strict dress codes for public consumption, no such restrictions apply between a woman and her husband. As long as the photos are taken by a female photographer and are only for the viewing pleasure of her spouse, there is technically nothing objectionable in taking such photos.

Interestingly, the article interviews and mentions several female photographers, as well as female stylists, hair, and makeup artists who all work to make sure the model ends up with pictures that make her feel beautiful and sexy.

A has purchased today’s boudoir session as an eighth anniversary gift for her husband. The photos will be presented to him in an album and remain private between the two of them. The shoot, which begins with hair and makeup by Cassy Avraham, a fellow religious woman in Jerusalem, lasts three hours. A poses in six-inch black stilettos, a number of lacy nightdresses, and even one of her husband’s unbuttoned dress shirts. But while she thinks he will be delighted by the photos, she says she wouldn’t want anyone in her community to know about the experience. It’s simply too private.

Boudoir photography has opened up a new avenue for creative women to explore their interests in ways that have never before been available within the frum community. Apparently, it’s a lucrative field as well.

Chaya Eckstein, a religious boudoir photographer based in Flatbush, Brooklyn, charges $650 for a photo shoot. The price includes a lingerie consultation beforehand and a 10×10 album of images. Most of Chaya’s clients wouldn’t want their friends and neighbors to know that they have booked boudoir photo sessions with her. She told The Guardian that she understands her clients’ concerns about keeping their sessions with her private.

Religious communities are small, tight-knit, and fertile grounds for gossip. Many Orthodox women view boudoir photography as a form of gross sexualization. She [Chaya] knows that when her four young children get older and enter religious schools, there is a good chance they will be teased over her profession.

But Eckstein loves her work, and she shrugs off the backlash. “I like to be different,” she says. “I am trying to raise my kids to have a mind of their own, as well. I want them to choose a path in life that is between them and Hashem [God], and when it comes to my photography it’s the same.”

The end of the article quotes both Chaya Eckstein and another boudoir photographer from Israel, Rebecca Sigala. Both women shared their observation that a religious woman’s experience taking photos that celebrate her sexuality can be liberating. Eckstein said,

“For frum women, it can be extremely difficult to perceive themselves as beautiful. They’re always having babies, or their friends are having babies and they can’t, and they feel their bodies are somehow damaged,” she says. “But everyone is beautiful in their own way, and by the end of the shoot, they can see themselves differently.”

Sigala, who also reported being criticized for her work, said that the more religious her clients are, the more freeing the sessions can be:

“There are a lot of misconceptions within the religious community, and there are women who feel trapped by those misconceptions,” she says. “This can open their eyes to realizing that can be a religious, modest, beautiful daughter of Hashem and still do something like this.”

I wonder how religious husbands feel about their wives taking boudoir photos? Are the women booking sessions on their own initiative, or at the request of their husbands? Have any of the husbands been angry or expressed discomfort upon receiving the photos? Are there women who go back for multiple photo shoots? How do the women find out about the boudoir photography services (especially if they don’t have internet)? Have they asked their rabbis for permission to take these photos, or are they going rogue and taking the pictures without asking a shaila?

Questions abound, but one thing is certain – every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Just like bootlegging and underground speakeasy joints abounded during the prohibition era, so too underground methods of expressing beauty, sexuality, and physicality are going to bubble up for women during the hyper-tznius era.

A woman’s body can’t be contained – our sexuality and sensuality are intrinsic parts of who we are. Living in a larger secular world where the feminine form is on constant display – sometimes as an art form to worship and other times as an object to degrade – one thing is clear – telling Jewish women to cover up in a society where women are celebrated for exposing themselves is futile. Where there is a will, there is a way – and some religious women seem to have found their way.

The Worth of a Woman

I just got finished reading an excellent article in Haaretz by Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt entitled, “The Dating Shame: Orthodox Obsession With Externals Has Reached Epidemic Proportions.” The article is written by a young married woman reflecting on her current role as “matchmaker,” now that she has achieved the holy grail of marriage. She sees herself reflected in the eyes of the many hopeful and vulnerable single women in her community who now see her as a possible conduit to their own future marriages.

She knows their pain and even, dare I say, desperation, because she was recently one of them. She knows the uncertainty, the impatience of waiting to be called by a matchmaker for even one introductory date, the starvation diets, the exorbitant amounts of money spent on clothing and salon visits, the agonizing decision over whether or not to undergo cosmetic surgery in order to attract a man. It’s a man’s market out there, which is always bad news for a woman.

Mrs. Chizhik-Goldschmidt references another thought provoking Time magazine article that discusses the current state of dating within two different fundamentalist religious groups, Mormons and Orthodox Jews.  The similarities between both are, quite frankly, anything but religious. In “What Two Religions Tell Us About the Modern Dating Crisis,” Jon Birgir explores what happens when there is a shortage of marriageable aged men in ultra-religious societies that normally emphasize modesty, kindness, and religious values as primary qualities looked for when choosing a mate.

What happens in such societies when there is a man shortage, is that the men are able to set the standards for most desirable qualities in a partner. Not surprisingly, in such circumstances, the most sought after items appear to be looks and money. The Time article subtitle reads, “Believe it or not, the rise in Mormon breast implants and $100,000 Jewish dowries can explain why you’re alone on Friday night.”

It’s not an accident that the new mesorah for yeshivish orthodox families is that most young men learn Torah full time, while their wives are expected to work, and oh yeah, bring a large dowry to the marriage both in terms of initial start-up money (wedding expenses, housing, furnishings, etc.) and a commitment from her parents to pay towards monthly living expenses for an extended time period.

The richer the girl’s family is, the best “quality” of husband they can afford to buy her. If a girl’s family is poor, by golly, she’d better be pretty. If she is neither rich, nor pretty, she’d better be smart and command a large future earning potential – who am I kidding? The only things that matter in today’s orthodox market are rich or pretty, preferably both, but if she’s rich she can most likely afford to become pretty too. The smart, reasonably attractive, poor girls don’t stand much of a chance in the yeshivish shidduch scene. Unless they have yichus. Yichus is a commodity that orthodox grooms and their families still value. An impressive family tree could potentially snag a young man who is looking to advance himself in the Torah world by hitching a ride on a Talmudical star in his wife’s family.

Mrs. Chizhik-Goldschmidt reiterates the huge irony that women in the orthodox world are disappearing from the public eye, like precious diamonds that must be concealed to hide their worth, while at the same time increasingly being objectified and judged on their physical appearance the same way women are judged in the secular world. It’s a tightrope orthodox women walk every day – balancing between modesty standards on one side and secular standards of beauty on the other – orthodox men expect us to excel at both to win them and keep them.

Next time you are tempted to complain upon seeing an unmarried or married woman tottering in heels a bit too high, makeup a bit too heavy, a wig a bit too long, or a skirt that just grazes the knee of acceptability, don’t point a finger at her. Let’s all point our fingers squarely where they belong – at ourselves – for telling our women that our value is in our physical presentation and our financial ability to make a good one. Are we any better than secular society when our own standards are such that looks and money make up the sum of a bas yisroel’s worth?

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.