Thursday, September 18, 2008

For those who think female leaders are immodest

Here's a post by Ezzie asking whether it's immodest for women to be in high-profile public positions.

And here's my response (copied from my own comment):

" . . . this way of thinking concerning women contributes greatly to keeping borderliners like me from becoming baalot t'shuvah[*].

Everything we women do is immodest. Our leadership is immodest. Our clothing is immodest. Our singing voices are immodest. Does the Orthodox community ever say this sort of thing about *men?!* I think it's very telling that the Talmud devotes an entire tractate (?) to Nashim, Women, as if we were just another subject--or object--for men to discuss, and not sister human beings.

To be blunt, this kind of discussion makes my blood boil. I'm sufficiently older than you to have grown up during the era of the Civil Rights movement. Will Orthodox men act like the racist police of that era and beat up women who dare to refuse to sit in the back of the bus? Will they spray bleach in the eyes of teenaged girls who dare to wear loose pants and short-sleeved shirts in the "wrong" neighborhood? Oh, sorry, I forgot--the modesty mobs have already done both. My nieces in Jerusalem could be the next victims.

I'm not a michshol [**], I'm a person, and I won't be part of any movement that won't treat me as one.
9/18/2008 11:08:00 AM

*"Returnees" to Orthodox Judaism
** A stumbling block (leading to sin)

18 Comments:

Blogger Eliyahu said...

"Everything we women do is immodest." thank g_d, who made it so!!

Thu Sep 18, 11:32:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Eliyahu, given the point of this post, I'm not sure whether I should consider your comment a compliment. Sigh. Never mind.

Thu Sep 18, 11:54:00 PM 2008  
Blogger BZ said...

Given that much of the content of Seder Nashim is not specifically about women, my hypothesis is that it is named after its first significant word (the same way Bereishit, Shemot, etc., are named).

Thu Sep 18, 11:59:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

BZ, that's what I get for not being a Talmud scholar. Thanks for the information.

Fri Sep 19, 12:06:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Eliyahu said...

ok, oy, there are certain fundamentalist tribes within our confederation that know it all. while they have much to admire about them, they would throw me out in short order, so i generally ignore them. it seems too much a task to try and reform them (so to speak).

Fri Sep 19, 09:33:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the problem, OTF -- you've confused observance with orthodoxy. To be Orthodox, whether as a BT or FFB, is to accept Torah mi'Sinai and all that flows from it, as the Orthodox understand and accept it. From that perspective, certain aspects may offend your (our) modern sensibilities, but its not a menu-style program, you don't pick and choose -- its a package deal, and you have to take the whole package, including the parts you might find offensive. You buy the whole philosophy.

In your current space (as I perceive it as a regular reader of OTF-AT) you are admirably (perhaps obsessively) concerned with observance, and seem to equate that with Orthodoxy. As I'm sure you realize (although the Movement has never been good in conveying the message), observance is actually expected of Conservative jews. While the nature of some observance has been modified within CJ -- some might say liberalized -- observance is still obligatory. There's just no means to enforce it; resulting in folks with any meaningful level of observance being a minority in most C congregations. But significantly, CJ theology/theologies is/are distinct from Orthodoxy, but generally allow you to move beyond the issues you find so frustrating if not down-right offensive.
Now, we can have a different conversation about what I believe to be the huge number of members of MO congregations who are there because of the community and the observance level and learning, but are by no means orthodox in theology. They just avoid the conversation, sort of a "don't ask, don't tell" approach.

Steve

Fri Sep 19, 10:12:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Eliyahu, thanks for addressing the subject. I'll grant you that bringing reform to the Orthodox is not likely to happen any time soon. :) (I haven't completely lost my sense of humor--sorry about my mini-rant response to your first comment.)

Steve, I think you're the first commenter who's ever addressed me as OTF, which, speaking of confused, did mix me up a tad--I prefer to be called Shira on my blog (and others).

" . . . its not a menu-style program, you don't pick and choose -- its a package deal, and you have to take the whole package, including the parts you might find offensive. You buy the whole philosophy."

True--and now you know why I'm not Orthodox. (I'm pretty sure I had this same conversation with Mark/PsychoToddler and/or Noam/Dilbert a while back. If I could remember in which post's comments this discussion took place, I'd link to it.)

" . . . you are admirably (perhaps obsessively) concerned with observance, and seem to equate that with Orthodoxy."

Guilty as charged.

" . . . within CJ . . . observance is still obligatory. There's just no means to enforce it; resulting in folks with any meaningful level of observance being a minority in most C congregations."

Tell me about it. :( I've complained in the past that I don't know whether I'm a left-wing or right-wing Conservative Jew because, while my theology is significantly to the left of that of most members of my local synagogue (the result of our many years of membership in a dual-affiliated Conservative/Reconstructionist synagogue), my level of observance is to the right of all but a handful of our 70-some members. It drives me absolutely nuts that some of our members have taken to bringing their cell phones to synagogue on Shabbat. We're not even allowed to *carry* a cell phone on the Sabbath, much less leave it turned on to ring during services--and leave the sanctuary and answer it!

Um, where was I before I so rudely interrupted myself to kvetch? Oh, yes:

"But significantly, CJ theology/theologies is/are distinct from Orthodoxy, but generally allow you to move beyond the issues you find so frustrating if not down-right offensive."

Right you are again--and that's why I'm still Conservative.

"Now, we can have a different conversation about what I believe to be the huge number of members of MO congregations who are there because of the community and the observance level and learning, but are by no means orthodox in theology. They just avoid the conversation, sort of a "don't ask, don't tell" approach."

I'm not sure that that's necessarily a separate conversation. If I ever end up Orthodox, that'll be why.

Fri Sep 19, 11:13:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shira -- Sorry about the "OTF"; while writing my previous comment, I could not remember your preferred form of address. No offense was intended.

>>True--and now you know why I'm not Orthodox. (I'm pretty sure I had this same conversation with Mark/PsychoToddler and/or Noam/Dilbert a while back. If I could remember in which post's comments this discussion took place, I'd link to it.)<<

I think we had this conversation previously, as well, but I couldn't locate the post.

I struggle with the theological/doctrinal issues far more than the observance, although my family is slowly becoming more observant, or at least more consistent in how we observe. But as the father of teen daughters, each of whom is being profoundly influenced religiously by CJ institutions, I know I would be uncomfortable in most CJ shuls outside of the Philly/NY/Boston orbit. But I would not subject my daughters, both of whom can leyn and lead services, to sitting behind a mehitza.
Unfortunately, only its gets more complicated than that.

Which is why CJ is the most difficult movement to belong to, if you belong for philosophical reasons. Although I grew up in CJ shul, I didn't appreciate this until it was explained to me by a friend, the child of a former senior macher at JTS, who chose an MO shul over the unique CJ congregation in his neighborhood (unique because of the large number of observant families).

Fri Sep 19, 12:45:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

I didn't respond to the comment there because I think it totally misunderstood and misrepresented everything the post was about, flipping it almost entirely on its head.

Fri Sep 19, 02:01:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steve, no problem. I'm too old to Jewschool, too. :)

"I think we had this conversation previously, as well, but I couldn't locate the post." Search my blog. I found references to Noam's and Mark's comments when I did a search for "package." Yours appeared in a search of my Word archives, under the post named "Neither here nor there."

" . . . I would not subject my daughters, both of whom can leyn and lead services, to sitting behind a mehitza."

As I've frequently said to my husband and friends, it's not so much sitting behind the mechitzah that's the problem, it's what *doesn't* go with that. I have no desire to give up leyning and leading services, not to mention chanting haftarot (not to mention chanting, period--anyone who's read my blog for more than two weeks knows how I feel about the rule against men hearing the voice of a woman singing).

" . . . CJ is the most difficult movement to belong to . . . " I'm not sure we agree on the reason for that, but being a Conservative Jew does have its disadvantages. Being some semblance of observant in a community that's largely noticeably less observant is rather isolating. Yet giving up my freedom to disagree with the rabbis in public and giving up my freedom to participate fully in public worship would be very high sacrifices to make to feel part of an observant community.

Fri Sep 19, 03:12:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sorry, Ezzie, but I found the fundamental question upsetting. From my own personal perspective as a 21st-century woman and non-Orthodox Jew, the very idea that one would question the appropriateness of a woman holding a high-profile position just because she's a woman is every bit as offensive as would be the question of whether blacks should sit in the back of the bus just because they're black. I don't think it's any more--or less--immodest for a woman to be, say, the president of the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies than it is for the man who currently holds that position. My point is that what's an acceptable paid or volunteer position for a man should be an acceptable paid or volunteer position for a woman. From my perspective, the very premise that it might be immodest for a woman, but not a man, to hold a high-profile position indicates that the rabbis consider woman permanent second-class citizens--with no hope of promotion.

Fri Sep 19, 03:36:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ezzie, sorry about getting up on a soapbox and ranting. It's just that we're coming from completely different angles. As an Orthodox Jew, you look at the rabbis' rulings first and at the situation second (or, at least, that's my perception). As a Conservative Jew, I do the opposite, trying to understand the situation first, then seeing what insight the rabbis' writings can offer. I know that you're trying to carve out a reasonable compromise within the options available, trying to preserve both halachah (Jewish religious law) and a woman's dignity.

Fri Sep 19, 04:03:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

" . . . within CJ . . . observance is still obligatory.

It is in Reconstructionism, too, but the contents of the observance are left up to each individual community to decide on and enforce.

Which doesn't really work.

Fri Sep 19, 05:16:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

For what it's worth Tzipporah, it doesn't really work in the Conservative Jewish community either. Which is why I keep having this conversation (with Mark, Noam, Steve . . . ). Sigh.

Sat Sep 20, 09:15:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ezzie, I've reread your post carefully, and I must admit that we probably agree more than was my original impression. Sorry about the rant. As I said, it's just that the question of whether it's immodest for a woman to be in a high-profile position bothered me, in that such a question wouldn't be asked of a man.

Sun Sep 21, 03:50:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Respectfully, since you aren't orthodox, it's not really your issue, nor do you have a say. Being orthodox isn't about a level of observance, I was just as observant when I was at JTS (and identifying as conservo) as I am now that I identify as orthodox.

It's a mindset, and a process. It's a belief system that says "yes, we look at the poskim and the halacha, not the situation." Either you buy the whole system, or you don't. You don't, and that's fine, but you can't get mad that there is a system in place.

Note that I happen to fundamentally disagree with the notion that a woman can't have a leadership position, in fact, our shul (an out of town Ortho shul) has a woman president. My rabbi (a talmid chacham in his own right) was ok with it, so it's fine with me. But there is considerable weight on the other side, and it can't simply be discounted with "why is this even a question." It is a question. And, quite frankly, it's better that if you can't, or won't, accept the viability of these questions, that you not become orthodox, rather than bang your head against them.

Incidentally, it was the lack of any commitment to precedent and tradition that made me leave the conservative movement.

Mon Sep 22, 12:02:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

JDub, you said, "Being orthodox isn't about a level of observance . . . It's a mindset, and a process. It's a belief system that says "yes, we look at the poskim and the halacha, not the situation." Either you buy the whole system, or you don't. You don't, and that's fine, but you can't get mad that there is a system in place."

"it's better that if you can't, or won't, accept the viability of these questions, that you not become orthodox, rather than bang your head against them."

JDub, the more I encounter questions of this type, the more I realize that you (and Too Old to Jewschool Steve, and sometime commenter The Rabbi's Husband) are right--in matters of principle, I really am a Conservative Jew. The "lack of any commitment to precedent and tradition" is a serious issue, but not enough of one to make me willing to surrender my freedom of thought and my freedom to make my own decisions, which is how I, personally, would experience a switch to the Orthodox camp. What I see as the Orthodox way is simply not the way that I, personally, form opinions on issues: I don't wish to filter my every thought, and even my thought process--my freedom to ask whether something should be a question in the first place--and my every decision through the eyes of others. I don't see myself ever becoming a baalat t'shuvah. Thank you, JDub, and all of my commenters, for helping me clarify my position.

Tue Sep 23, 08:16:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I wasn't planning to write one, but, given my previous comment, a follow-up post seems to be called for.

Tue Sep 23, 06:35:00 PM 2008  

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