I spent the first year of my observant life in tears - drawn to the power of truth in the Torah and in living a God-centered life, and repelled by the constant reminder that my status as a woman defined and confined nearly every aspect of my Jewish experience.
Over the years, I made a kind of uneasy peace with my role as a Jewish woman. I know well that we, as a community, are not where we are meant to be regarding equal dignity for men and women. And there are still too many times when I am struck by the lack of derech eretz, of respectful human behavior, towards women by my community.
Lately, the list of indignities against women in the Orthodox community seems, against all logic, to be escalating. More and more aspects of women's behavior are being categorized, in certain circles, as immodest and thereby newly forbidden. I thought about listing all the recent examples here, but I decided not to put any energy into cataloging the insanity.
There's also a tremendous backlash against the Women of the Wall, a group of women who are seeking "the right for Jewish women from Israel and around the world to conduct prayer services, read from a Torah scroll while wearing prayer shawls, and sing out loud at the Western Wall." Their goals are not mine. Nevertheless, I am horrified by the way their detractors speak of them.
In the comments section of a recent Times of Israel blog post where the blogger expresses her inability to understand why some Orthodox women are not content with our traditional role, one woman calling herself Orthodox commented:
I daven in an "orthodox" shul following certain practices such as having a mechitzah. I was raised to view the mechitzah as "evil" and making women "second class" and in fact discovered that the opposite was so: I found a sisterhood where each woman was valued on her own merits versus the Reform "I'm Mrs. Doctor" where your merit is what a macher your husband is.....I found far more respect for women in my "orthodox" shul than I'd ever encountered in the neighborhood Reform temple, where women were derided, joked about and made to feel unimportant. Now, WoW doesn't want an "egalitarian" section -- they want orthodox practices ended altogether; the Kotel should be open at all times to their style of prayer service and the separation of men and women ended--because THEY don't like it. Well, I DO like it. And I want to KEEP that tradition. So who are these creepy once-a-month-media-circus-pretenders to come to the Kotel where the majority of Jews are "orthodox" of one stripe of another and have their temper tantrum in the name of "equality." That's not equality--that's oppression when you force the majority of people to adopt your prayer style over their objections.To which I replied:
You have exactly illustrated the precise thing of which so many critics of Women of the Wall are guilty. You claim to indisputably know their motivations and you judge and malign their intentions. You call them "creepy once-a-month-media-circus-pretenders" and refer to their attempt to secure what they believe is their right as Jews a "temper tantrum in the name of 'equality.'" This is not talk befitting an Orthodox woman. You disagree, fine. But where's your derech eretz?So far, in the cholent pot, we have:
- The ongoing small and large indignities that I and other Jewish women (some, not all) feel occasionally - but most acutely in synagogue-based interactions.
- The escalation of strictures meant to keep women out of the "public" (code for male) eye.
- The backlash against Women of the Wall.
Why is all this anti-woman nonsense escalating davka now?
In a book that forever changed my view of the tension between men and women in Judaism, Devorah Heshelis assures us of the Torah’s promise that gender equity and the balance between masculine and feminine spiritual energy will ultimately be restored.
As we approach geula and the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people, the dominant masculine spiritual energy, knowing its days are numbered, is thrashing around and whacking everything in its path with its death throes.
That's why I'm suddenly assuming the duck and cover a whole lot more.
POSTSCRIPT: A few thoughtful readers have pointed out that my use of the phrase "duck and cover" implies that I have chosen to take a passive approach to the increasing chauvinism in the Orthodox community. I'm happy to have the chance to correct that impression. What I meant was that I'm noticing more anti-women nonsense flying around. I understand that Hashem gave me, personally, a combination of sensitivity to these issues and a particular set of resources with which to address them. This post is an example of my approach.