Sunday, February 26, 2006

Damned if we do and damned if we don’t—my conclusion

 Here's the whole series, if you're interested in reading any of it:

"Taping" time

Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox (part one)

Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox (part two)

Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox (part three)

Damned if we do and damned if we don’t (part one)—the anecdotal evidence

Damned if we do and damned if we don’t (part two)—the textual evidence


Single male Orthodox Jewish bloggers blogging under their real names admit in print that one of the reasons why they hope to get married is for the sex. Would a single Orthodox Jewish female blogging under her real name dare to say that she’s horny, or would such a public admission leave her vulnerable to charges of being a slut? One has only to read some of the comments to the earliest posts by the extremely anonymous Nice Jewish Girl to realize that there are Jewish guys out there who are shocked to learn that women even have sexual fantasies and desires.

It’s been this way for thousands of years. “Boys will be boys,” the old saying goes. Guys are forgiven for “sewing wild oats.” But tradition would condemn the woman who even looks at a man. One need only read the law of the Trial by “Ordeal” of a wife accused of adultery ("sotah") cited in the previous post, for proof: Notice the glaring absence of any similar ordeal for a husband suspected of cheating on his wife. One need only read the story of Yehudah and Tamar, also cited in the previous post, for further proof: Tamar was nearly burned alive by Yehudah for committing the same sex act that Yehudah had committed, indicating that our Biblical ancestors thought that it was perfectly acceptable to seek a prostitute, but not to be one.


The arguments against kol isha, a woman’s (singing) voice—that is, the prohibition against a woman singing in the presence of a man—do not apply equally to kol ish, a man’s (singing) voice.

Go to Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu’s website and tell me that Matisyahu’s voice can’t be as sexually provocative for women as some say that Neshama Carlebach’s voice is for men.

Go to the video of the Jewish rock group Blue Fringe singing “Flipping Out” and listen to the young women scream at the guys in Blue Fringe just as my generation screamed at the Beatles.

Jewish men are not prohibited from singing in the presence of Jewish women.

And yet, do not the same reactions occur?

But there’s a big difference between Matisyahu singing about loving Hashem with all his heart, soul and might, and still, simply because Hashem gave him that kind of a voice, provoking interesting reactions in my imagination, and a guy like Michael Bolton managing to appeal to the prurient interests of both sexes by singing “Simply Irresistible” while standing in front of a line of scantily-clad women performing what I can only describe as a “bump and grind” routine.

There’s an equal difference between Madonna prancing around the stage in her underwear and Neshama Carlebach singing religious music. Yes, some would say that Neshama’s voice is sexually suggestive, but if she intended to provoke that kind of reaction, she certainly wouldn’t be singing the hymn Adon Olam. As with Matisyahu, that’s just the kind of voice that Hashem gave her.

The problem is that the halachah of ervah (matters of sexuality, or nakedness) makes no distinction between Madonna and Neshama, between deliberate sexual provocation and something that just happens, where women are involved.

If my reading of Rabbi Jachter’s explanation of rabbinic rulings is correct, then, in terms of halachah (Jewish religious law), there is, at best, a debate among the rabbis as to whether there is any difference whatsoever between a choir of teenaged yeshiva girls singing divrei kodesh (holy words) and a Jewish Tina-Turner-wannabe singing “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Both are equally “ervah,” and both are equally forbidden to men.


In those communities that observe such stringencies, a man will cross the street to avoid a woman, whether her top covers her collarbone and elbows and her skirt covers eighty percent of her legs, or whether she’s dressed like a hooker.


When it comes to issues of “ervah,” sexuality, halachah does not necessarily concern itself with what kind of music a woman is singing, or how modestly a woman dresses. What, when, where, why, and how are totally irrelevant. The only thing that matters is “who.” What matters is that a woman is a woman, and, in terms of the laws of ervah, every woman is automatically a michshol, a stumbling block, tempting men to sin.


We women are damned—condemned—if we do, and condemned in equal measure if we don’t.


It’s a classic, folks.

Every Jewish woman is an Eishet Chayil, a Woman of Valor, part of the bedrock of the Jewish community.

But every Jewish woman is also—believe me, if I could find a nice way to say this, I would—a potential isha zonah, a potential prostitute.

If you don’t wish to take my word for it, read this excerpt from 1. Berachos 24a, courtesy of Rabbi Gil Student (these quotes from here):
“. . . Rav Sheshes said: Why did the Torah count outer ornaments with inner ornaments? To tell you that anyone who looks at the small finger of a woman is as if he looked at the obscene place. . . .”


I ask you this: Isn’t the halachic attitude toward men a bit infantilizing? The assumption seems to be that adult men have limited self-control and that only their “mommies” can keep them in line. Why should it be assumed that men can’t walk on the same side of the street as women, or inquire as to their wellbeing, or greet them after services, or listen to them raise their voices in song—even if the words are from sacred music, such as z’mirot, and/or sacred texts, such as the Torah—without losing control of themselves sexually? Why does halachah, Jewish law, operate on the assumption that “boys”, even when adults, “will” continue to “be” like “boys”, needing someone else to take responsibility for ensuring that they behave properly?

Women get turned on and sexually distracted by men, too. (For the life of me, I can’t understand why some men think that males have a monopoly on “sex on the brain.”) But we just do what adults are supposed to do—we deal with it. We accept responsibility for our own behavior, rather than complaining that men should shut up and stay away from us so as not to turn us on. Why shouldn’t we expect the same of men?

Or perhaps I should phrase the question this way: Why don’t the rabbis expect the same of men?

As the anonymous blogger said, “I wondered why G-d would give me a mitzvah [commandment] that was wholly dependent on someone else. Tznius [modesty] didn’t make me a better person. It just made sure that men didn’t become worse people and I couldn’t think of a single mitzvah like that which applied to men.”


The rabbis said it themselves: I’m supposed to pray every day thanking Hashemsheh-asani ki-r’tsono, Who made me according to His will.”

Then they turned around and made halachic rulings that, essentially, treat me as if “my body [were] an act of sin waiting to happen,” simply because I am as Hashem made me.

That, ladies and gentleman, in considerably more than a nutshell, is why I, personally, cannot accept the prohibition against “kol isha”: It’s part of a package of halachic interpretations and rabbinically-sanctioned behavior patterns, that, fundamentally, treat women as sinners, at worst, and/or as stumbling blocks leading to sin, at best, no matter what we do or don’t do, just because we’re women.

I won’t be blamed for being female.

Baruch sheh-asani isha—Praised is [the One] Who made me a woman.

Labels:

26 Comments:

Blogger Jack Steiner said...

Makes sense to me.

Sun Feb 26, 09:35:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Stacey said...

This is but one of the plethora of reasons that I have disdain for Orthodox Judaism and would never practice that form of Judaism.

Sun Feb 26, 10:37:00 PM 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

I can't do justice to this issue in a short comment - but I think you are confusing two separate things. One, men react differently to visual stimuli than women do, and may be led to an "issur", which is not the case with women. That said, it certainly does not mean that women do not have sexual urges - the halacha of a MAN'S obligation to sexually satisfy a woman and the frequency of relations (the halacha of "ona") attests to this.

I think that you are taking the halacha's REALISTIC view of the differences between men and women's sexual response much too personally. Yes, it means that women have to dress modestly in order to be sensitive to men's needs. But there is an equal responsibility on the men's part to be sensitive to the woman's sexual needs too. (explore the laws regarding "ona").

Mon Feb 27, 07:41:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Naomi Chana said...

Well, shoot. I did want a good excuse to start blogging at Baraita again, but... hmmmm. This may be All Your Fault, Shira.

The short version of my response is that the instantiation and (often) expansion of certain unfortunate rabbinic opinions which effectively excluded women from public and ritual Judaism is not the main reason why I am Conservative, but it is the main reason why I'm distinctively not Orthodox. And I think that actually says more about contemporary Orthodox Judaism than it does about me.

Mon Feb 27, 03:43:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Jack, I'm happy to know that this makes sense to you.

Stacey, obviously, I, too, find this particular aspect of the Orthodox perspective quite troubling, but I prefer to be a bit more respectful in my approach. Since I'm interested in a civil discussion, the word "disdain" is not one of my favorite terms. That said, I, too, have a myriad of reasons for finding it hard to imagine myself becoming Orthodox.

Mon Feb 27, 11:18:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Westbankmama, I understand that men tend to be more visually-oriented in their sexual reactions. I also understand that that can create problems specific to men, since halachah (Jewish law) forbids men from, er, literally taking things into their own hands. Oy. There's really no delicate way to explain this issur (prohibition): According to Jewish law, a man may not "waste semen" by getting sexual release in any way other than in intercourse. Since the prohibition is specifically against wasting semen, there's no corresponding prohibition against a woman taking matters into her own hands. So it's doubly problematic for a man to get turned on, because he's very often not in a position to be able to do anything to relieve the urge.

That said, I still assert that far too much responsibility for controlling a man's sexual urges is put on women. I have no objections to dressing modestly. But I do have a problem with what seems to me to be an attitude that dressing modestly isn't enough. When I was growing up, I learned an old saying: "Children should be seen, not heard." Jewish tradition seems to take this one step farther, positing that women should be neither seen nor heard. Do I take the prohibition against kol isha too personally? Speaking as a former synagogue choir singer, a baalat koreh (Torah reader/changer), and a baalat haftarah (Prophetic Readings chanter), I find it quite impossible not to take being silenced personally.

Tue Feb 28, 12:37:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Naomi Chana, I'm delighted to be the excuse that starts you blogging again. :)

Once upon a time, I used to be a frequently baalat tefillah (prayer leader), a role that I know you also cherish. So I'm really looking forward to reading your post on Orthodox attitudes concerning women.

Tue Feb 28, 12:51:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Er, that was supposed to be Torah reader/chanter.

Tue Feb 28, 12:54:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"Frequently" should have been "frequent." Two spelling errors--that's a sure sign that it's past my bedtime. Laila tov, good night.

Tue Feb 28, 01:01:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Noam S said...

with all due respect, here goes. I just finished reading a lecture by Rav Ronnie Ziegler regarding RYBS's Lonely Man of faith available here: http://vbm-torah.org/archive/rav/rav20b.htm

The salient point is that when approaching halacha or philosophy, one has a frame of reference. One can choose a frame reference that one believes in God and halacha, and then look at Halacha from that point of view. One can also choose a frame of reference of modern day morality/equality/culture and then look at halacha from that point of view. Obviously, if you take the outside point of view, you condemn yourself to apologetics, trying to make the halacha conform to a foreign point of view.

Whether halacha has to/should/can conform to the innate moral/ethical feelings of people has been addressed(I blogged about it, refering to an article in Tradition a ways back), and the tension between what seems 'right' in our present day outlook and what halacha prescribes is not likely to dissapear or be explained away. If you think about it, cultural ideas of equality change with time. If one belives that halacha is relatively unchanging, then certainly halacha is not going to mesh with every culture at every time. On the other hand, changing halacha every time cultural attitudes change dilutes the Divine nature of halacha, and basically makes halacha subservient to culture.

On the other hand, Orthodoxy believes that halacha can and does change, within parameters, but only with good reason, based on precedent. So, while halacha is not going to automatically reflect popular opinion, there is some lee-way in halacha, and the opinions you are quoting regarding women do not reflect all of orthodoxy. If you read R. Eliezer Berkovitz (Jewish Women in Time and Torah) or R Henkin(Equality Lost) or other more non-Chareidi authorities, you will see that there is tremendous respect for women, and the attitudes you are citing are from the right wing minority(possible coupled with an inclination on your part look for the worst case scenario, rather than the most liberal orthodox views). There are orthodox views(a minority to be sure, but present) that kol isha only applies to the songs of prostitutes. We are obliged to make a bracha when we see a beautiful person(not from a sexual point of view, just from admiration of the beauty of God's work). How can one make that bracha if one never looks at women? Obviously, some poskim(decisors) have tipped the balance away from making that bracha, into turning women into objects. However, that is not the monolithic attitude of the gemara. Far from it.

I think your conclusions are based on generalizations and stereotypes, along with selective culling of sources. Obviously, one can find many people who practice the viewpoints you have written. However, the title of your post should then be "why I am not Chareidi". Orthodoxy includes a lot more than just the Chareidi. However, whether you are orthodox or not should not depend on resolving a conflict on a particular point of halacha. While it is true that Judaism is more a religion of action rather than one of belief, the belief in the primacy of halacha over culture allows one to be orthodox in practice, even if inside one is conflicted on the details.

Tue Feb 28, 10:12:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon #2 here again...

Dilbert, your words would carry a lot more weight if those who shared your viewpoint collectively stood up and took back the reputation of Orthodox Judaism. Instead, too many OJs remain silent in the face of the "race to the right wing" that Shira refers to.

The "slow" evolution and change you speak of seems absent in comparison to the rapidity at which restrictions and limitations are being added: look at the changes in customs at weddings in the past generation, moving from mixed seating at chuppah in the past to separate seating at meals now.

I think I can very easily understand the frustration of the "Orthodox left", being on the "Conservative right" -- a shomer shabbat (no electricity or phone), shomer kashrut (dairy out, but that's all), egalitarian CJ. It's difficult to find places where there are enough "fellow travelers", and even harder to explain "yes, I'm Conservative, but no, I won't [drive on shabbat] [eat treyf out] [work on 2nd day chag]". But unless I stake out my place, and demand my movement do more than just pay lip service to me, I'm being hypocritical.

Tue Feb 28, 11:24:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Noam S said...

anon #2- The issue of who speaks up in orthodoxy is a troubling one. Unfortunately, many rabbis and scholars are not willing to confront the right wing. On the other hand, there are many that do(each in their own way, I am not lumping them together), for example R, Saul Berman, R. Henkin, R./Dr. Jeffrey Woolf(check out his blog, my obiter dicta), R. David Silver, and others.

Tue Feb 28, 12:21:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Noam S said...

In addition, there is a large block or thinking intellectual modern orthodox types in Israel, typically products of Hesder Yeshivot and the like.

Tue Feb 28, 02:58:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Dilbert, thank you for being a voice of reason.

"One can choose a frame reference that one believes in God and halacha, and then look at Halacha from that point of view. One can also choose a frame of reference of modern day morality/equality/culture and then look at halacha from that point of view."

The problem that I have is that believing in G-d and halacha requires a leap of faith, and faith is a quality in which I'm sorely lacking.

"the opinions you are quoting regarding women do not reflect all of orthodoxy. . . . the attitudes you are citing are from the right wing minority(possible coupled with an inclination on your part look for the worst case scenario, rather than the most liberal orthodox views)."

Guilty as charged on both counts. I tend, by nature, to be a "cockeyed pessimist," and, as such, I am definitely inclined to look for the worst case scenario, no matter what the situation and/or issue may be. With regard to your assertion that "the attitudes you are citing are from the right wing minority," not only are you right, but you're ironically so. It occurred to me, in thinking about your assertion, that almost all of the people I quoted in Damned if we do and damned if we don’t (part one)—the anecdotal evidence discussing negative attitudes toward women in the Orthodox world were discussing their disapproval of those attitudes.

"I think your conclusions are based on generalizations and stereotypes, along with selective culling of sources. . . ." Guilty as charged, again. (Oy, this is gettin' embarrassing, already.)

"the title of your post should then be "why I am not Chareidi"." Dilbert, you're about 90% right. Here's the 10% that's problematic for me: "While it is true that Judaism is more a religion of action rather than one of belief, the belief in the primacy of halacha over culture allows one to be orthodox in practice . . ." If I believed, period, then being orthodox in practice might not be so much of an issue for me. A little faith goes a long way, but little faith doesn't get one very far at all along the path to "The Path."

Tue Feb 28, 10:42:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon # 2, may I assume that you're the Anon # 2 from my Holier than thou?: How I ruined my own Shabbos. (So, nu, pick a name, already!) You said, "The "slow" evolution and change you speak of seems absent in comparison to the rapidity at which restrictions and limitations are being added: look at the changes in customs at weddings in the past generation, moving from mixed seating at chuppah in the past to separate seating at meals now.

I think I can very easily understand the frustration of the "Orthodox left", being on the "Conservative right"

Oy, you can say that again. The slippery slope that seems to be taking the Conservative Movement to the left seems to be taking the Orthodox community to the right. This can be problematic for those who don't wish to go along for the ride.

For lack of a better description, I myself seem to be traditional egalitarian Conservative in terms of ritual but Reconstructionist in terms of theology and halachah. I'm probably more observant than all but, at most, half a dozen people in my general age range in my shul, but my haskafah/religious point of view (and that of my husband) is probably the most radical in my entire congregation. In terms of my place within the Conservative Movement, I don't even know whether that makes me left-wing Conservative or right-wing Conservative.

Tue Feb 28, 11:16:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Dilbert, one of these days, I'm going to have to do some serious catching up on some serious reading, as I do wish to hear from the more modern rabbinical and scholarly authorities among the Orthodox. I'll have to check out some of the fine folks on your "recommended reading" list.

Tue Feb 28, 11:22:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Noam S said...

Having said what I did, I wouldn't worry about what label you are carrying and where you are on the spectrum of Jewish belief. The fact that you go to shul, daven, learn, and discuss these issues is more important than saying you are orthdox, reform, or conservative. dirshu Hashem- we are supposed to seek out Hashem, and that is what you are doing.

Wed Mar 01, 08:51:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

-->Tznius [modesty] didn’t make me a better person

Really?? Think about that for a moment. Not in the theoretical sense but in a realistic one. Now, maybe it did not have an impact on you specifically but I don't think it is hard understand that in general it has a positive effect. Like it or not, how one dresses can change how one acts/where one goes/what one does etc.

Wed Mar 01, 12:25:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

G, that's what happens when you join a conversation in the middle. Here's a larger chunk of that quote from Damned if we do and damned if we don’t (part one)—the anecdotal evidence:

"Voices from Our Side of the Curtain
Wednesday, April 13, 2005

“The F-Word”
“Don’t get me wrong. I think Tznius [modesty] is the best thing in the world for body image and woman’s sense of self-esteem. Except every teacher told me that the reason I had to wear long sleeves and skirts was because I didn’t want to cause inappropriate desires in a man. Because my body was a ticking time bomb, just waiting to explode and lead some man astray. Face it, my body was an act of sin waiting to happen."

If we're taught that a mitzvah is for *our* benefit, that's *one* thing, but if we're taught that it's exclusively for *someone else's* benefit, that's another thing entirely. That's what the writer of that post was trying to point out.

Personally, I've told my husband that my own approach to clothing gets interpreted one way by one crowd and another way by another. Among some non-Orthodox folks, I've always been considered a prude. But lately, I've taken to joking that maybe I've always been just naturally tzanua (modest). I make it a point to buy tops that, shall we say, don't reveal anything interesting when I bend forward. I prefer skirts that cover my knees, and I haven't bought anything without at least short sleeves (other than bathing suits) since I was in my twenties. I just feel more comfortable not "advertising." I have no problem with a reasonable degree of tzniut (modesty) such as might be practiced by a Modern Orthodox Jewish woman. (I will admit, though, that the bathing suit problem is one that I've always politely ignored.)

Thu Mar 02, 01:00:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Dilbert, thanks for the encouraging words.

Thu Mar 02, 01:42:00 AM 2006  
Blogger AmHistorian said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Sun Mar 05, 02:56:00 PM 2006  
Blogger AmHistorian said...

Fantastic point, especially in regards to how destructive this halakhic perspective is to men. That we cannot be trusted, or even tempted in the least bit (that G-d forbid a woman not wear her sheitl, we will not be able to control our urges...nevermind that we might be in really healthy, fantastic, trusting relationships with our loved ones...but we are apparently far too carnal to even submerge that).

If anything, a little temptation in life (whether it be sexual, emotional, heck even in regards to treif foods) helps re-affirm our strength and dedication to leading the good lives that we choose to live with our significant others, as Jews, etc...

Sun Mar 05, 02:59:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Amy Guth said...

This is wonderful, Shira. Baruch sheh-asani isha, indeed.

(Dilbert, your last point was a good one, too.)

Sun Mar 05, 04:15:00 PM 2006  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I think you know where I stand on this, as I commented about it when you posted in 04.

Unfortunately, we live in a time for Orthodoxy where I don't think any rule will ever be repealed. No matter how the perspective on its reasoning is reinterpreted. We will continue to add, but never subtract.

There is room for "interpretation" of existing rules based on changes in technology, etc. But kol isha is one of those things that I am afraid won't go away.

Mon Mar 06, 12:43:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

AmHistorian, probably one of the more interesting aspects of these laws is that it never seems to have occurred to the rabbis just how bad these laws make *men* look.

AmyRuth, thanks for your kind words.

Mark/PT, you said, "Unfortunately, we live in a time for Orthodoxy where I don't think any rule will ever be repealed." Oy. Let's just say that I'd prefer to think that your old buddy Dilbert, a voice of reason and optimism, is right, rather than you, on this matter.

Tue Mar 07, 01:36:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oops, sorry about mispelling your name, Amy Guth. People mispell my real name all the time, so I know how annoying that can be. I'm obviously up past my bedtime, again. 'Night, all.

Tue Mar 07, 01:39:00 AM 2006  

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