Sunday, September 19, 2010

Gender roles in Orthodoxy: Anatomy is destiny?

Start here, and follow the links, especially the one to "Who's on first: On raising a Jew."

Now to take up Miami Al's challenge concerning my question here about women leading Ashrei:
Miami Al said...

. . .

Two issues. Is the prayer an obligation of men in the minyan, if so, it needs to be led by someone obligated, a man having obtained his majority.

If the prayer is not obligated, there is flexibility in the issue.

To suggest that boys have "higher status" than women is just a meaningless statement, there isn't a status involved. Boys will grow up to be men, and therefore have the obligations. So certain parts of the service get used as an opportunity to teach the boys to be used to communal prayer.

Nothing magically happens on one's 13th birthday. Using the time before that to train [boys] is not treating women as children, it's accepting that we as a community have an obligation to teach the next generation [of prayer leaders].

While Partnership Minyanim can do all the adult self indulgence they want within the bounds of Halacha, there is a reason that they appeal to the single and DINK [dual-income, no-kids] families in NYC only, they simply aren't of practical interest to families with children.

Or, bluntly, for completely practical reasons, it is more important for the Jewish world to cultivate an interest in a 10 year old boy wanting to be an active involved Jewish adult than there is in appeasing your interest in filling your empty nestor days with an interest in learning this stuff.

Impractical Halachot have a short lifespan, practical ones last a long time. Practical/Impractical in this case is based on it's ability to transmit itself, so people have to get enough out of it to maintain it
it can't interfere in retention rates or birth rates.
I've talked about a number of aspects of parenting a young child and of parenting a young child with special needs, but not even in this post did I talk about the social isolation of parenting a baby, then a toddler, then a young child. Maybe my experience was atypical, since our son was borderline hyperactive and "blessed" with delays in developing age-appropriate social skills. But I find it impossible to believe that I'm the only mother who's ever been in this position.
[ ¶ ]

We moved to our current neighborhood when our son was just over a year and a half old, which probably didn't help--perhaps my experience would have been better if the other mothers in the neighborhood had known us and our son from birth. But, that said, it isn't every mother who sits on a park bench with other mothers for hours almost every good-weather day for over a year and somehow never manages to become a part of the "gang." My son and I were almost never invited to other toddler's homes for "playdates," nor were any other toddler's mothers interested in visiting us. Once my son developed enough "seichel" (common sense) not to run into the street or get his head clobbered by a swing, I started to bring a book to the park, because it seemed a waste of time for me to try to socialize with women who were clearly intent on excluding me from their circle of friends.

[ ¶ ]
My son and I were even politely "disinvited" from returning to a Jewish playgroup after our first visit because he persisted in running into the host's kitchen and opening her refrigerator. Even then, I couldn't blame the other mothers from banning us, but that certainly didn't make me feel any better.

Now picture me in an Orthodox community in the same predicament.
Our neighborhood has no eruv, which is true of some other smaller Jewish communities, as well, and therefore, we wouldn't have been allowed to carry anything or to push a stroller in a public place on Shabbat/Sabbath. (There are also Orthodox communities in which the very idea of an eruv is rejected--the rules against carrying anything or pushing a stroller in a public place on Shabbat applies in those communities, too.) So, while my husband disappeared every Shabbat for several hours to attend morning and afternoon/evening services at synagogue, I would have had to stay home alone with a hard-to-handle heck-raiser. After all, how long can one leave a house with a two-year-old without a diaper pack? That same problem would have limited whom I could have visited and who could have visited me.
In the dead of winter, even when my kid was old enough to walk there and didn't need diapers anymore, we couldn't have gone to the local fast-food restaurant with the indoor playground.
In the heat of summer, even when my kid didn't need diapers anymore, he would not have been allowed to push or pull any of his toys or ride any of his "riding toys" or his tricycle to the playground and/or back.
So I would have spent hours of Shabbat home alone with a "high-maintenance" kid who was far too young to participate in a discussion of the Parshat HaShavuah/Torah reading of the week.
Here's my challenge to you, Miami Al, and to all of my readers: How high a price should women be expected to pay in social isolation to ensure the survival of Judaism? Aren't we, too, entitled to some adult company and conversation? When do we mothers get a Shabbat?


Blogger Miami Al said...

If you interact with people in Orthodox communities, amongst the core of very involved men, the men are more involved than the women. However, when you get to the less interested outskirts, it is usually the wives that hold them in the community.

So while I appreciate your issues with your child, I fail to see the relevancy. There isn't a push of women leaving Orthodoxy, men are FAR more likely to leave. I'm sure that there are individually depressed women, but it isn't at a critical level.

How much are women expected to sacrifice for Jewish continuity?

As much as necessary to maximize the observant community. From a communal standpoint, the approach that maximizes communal size will win. Most of your issues are really on the theoretical side, not in practice.

Orthodoxy can survive just fine with or without Shira.

Orthodoxy cannot survive without 20-something women producing children.

Therefore, the focus is on the latter, not the former.

Sun Sep 19, 07:30:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I'm not ignoring you, I'm just hoping to read some other responses first.

Mon Sep 20, 12:01:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Blogger ate my comment, so I'm going to summarize and say that most large O communities with young families have an eruv, and even where the man has the custom not to take advantage of the eruv, it is very common for the wife to do so.

Mon Sep 20, 01:46:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

We still have two Orthodox synagogues within walking distance--there used to be three--but the community hasn't been able to afford to maintain an eruv. I will certainly grant you that the presence of an eruv prevents many problems, and I wish that every Jewish community had one.

Mon Sep 20, 04:26:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Miami Al said...

If you want to have small children, live in an Orthodox community, and go out on Shabbat, you live in a community with an Eruv. There is a solution, the community needs to supply one.

I'm not really understanding your issue. So Orthodoxy is evil because if you live in an area without an Eruv, life is inconvenient, so the solution is to stop observing Shabbat and carry without an Eruv?

I'm not understanding why the issue isn't "build an Eruv" or "move somewhere with an Eruv," but okay.

Mon Sep 20, 05:06:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

To be honest, I wasn't observant enough until recently to be truly bothered by the lack of an eruv in our neighborhood. Now, I'm not too happy about the fact that I'm violating Shabbos just by carrying my cane (in case of need). When we're ready to move, we'll be careful to choose a neighborhood with an eruv.

Mon Sep 20, 05:29:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Miami Al said...

Hence my not getting your problem. The issue of Carrying isn't some evil thing concocted by Orthodoxy, it's straight from the Mishnah. Orthodox Jews observe it (or are supposed to), but Orthodox Jews build Eruvim.

Conservative Jews are supposed to observe it as well, but they don't. And they don't build Eruvim.

Oh, and your "community" is filled with jerks that treated you badly when you had a small child, and now treat you badly when you don't have a small child.

I fail to see how ANY of your problems are the fault of Orthodox Jews, Orthodoxy, etc.

Eruvim solve problems. Orthodox Jews build them. Conservative Jews do not.

You are blaming the wrong people. Orthodox Jews build them for their neighborhoods. I understand you are mad that they didn't build one for you, I just don't understand why you think that is reasonable.

I don't understand why you think everyone is obligated to do everything for you.

I think you would find a better fit, community wise, if you looked for ways to contribute instead of figuring out what they do for you.

To answer your question: "Imagine I was Orthodox." Easy, you'd have moved to a community with small children, an eruv, etc. You would have had community support when you had a small child. When you pulled him out of Yeshiva to deal with his special needs, you'd have gotten sympathy for it. In short, it would have been absolutely nothing like the life you chose instead. Now, if you choose to be an Orthodox Observant Jew and join your current synagogue and neighborhood, well that would suck, but that would be stupid.

Mon Sep 20, 07:32:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

I think Miami Al is being too hard on Shira, and painting too rosy a picture of O communities in general. I know numerous women who feel that they can almost never get to shul because of childcare issues. I've personally observed that the Orthodox community is immensely supportive as long as you have an 'approved problem' - death of a family member, recognized illness such as cancer, etc., while being unwilling to support people with other sorts of problems (children going OTD, single/divorced mothers, special needs children who have to go to public school, etc.).

The communal eruv is a great benefit, but along with many other benefits it contributes to the problem that it is very expensive to be Orthodox. Day school tuitions are the biggest problem, but the very eruv that makes life convenient contributes to higher prices for real estate, as does the need to live within walking distance of a synagogue.

Shira, you are more than welcome to join an O community, but do so with your eyes open, knowing that tradeoffs exist within that community as within every other one. And that the community is made up of people. not tzadikim.

Tue Sep 21, 09:56:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry, thanks for your words of support.

One of my regular commenters, who has recently developed a preference for clarifying points of halachah by e-mail rather than by posting comments, made the same observation about the eruv raising the price of real estate, telling me that some friends of his/hers live outside of the eruv because they can't afford the housing inside of it. That's sad.

I think you're probably right about people with "non-approved" problems not getting a lot of support from the Orthodox community. Judging by what I've read from the "pens" of Orthodox parents of children with special needs, there really isn't enough support--either educationally or socially/communally--for these kids and their families. Our son was refused admission to a Conservative day school because of his inability to sit still, and I assume that he would have been refused admission to an Orthodox one for the same reason. I don't imagine that the "yeshiva reject" and his parents would have fared much better in an Orthodox community than in our Conservative one. No one wants a "vildte kindt" (wild child) running around his/her/their kitchen.

" . . . tradeoffs exist within that community as within every other one." My husband and I are still quite undecided regarding our current affiliation. What we would gain in community by becoming Orthodox, we would lose in freedom of both action and ideology. My readers may be surprised to know that my husband is complaining that, if we became Orthodox, *he* wouldn't be allowed to lead services anymore--because he refuses to thank G-d for not making him a non-Jew and for not making him a woman, and substitutes the Conservative version, "who has made me Yisrael (a Jew)" and "who has made me b'tzalmo (in His image)." It's not just a matter of us never traveling on Shabbat/Sabbath again, except on foot, or of me never being allowed to lead Barchu again--ideology is also a big deal for both of us.

Tue Sep 21, 12:17:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

My previous comment should have said, "My husband and I are still quite undecided regarding our *future* affiliation."

Tue Sep 21, 12:29:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Most Orthodox shuls divide Shacharit services among 3 people:
One reads from birkot hashachar until just before yishtabach/shochain ad. One leads from there until the end of the Torah reading. The final reader does the rest of the service. So at most, your husband would be unwilling to serve as shaliach tzibbur for 1/3 of the service.

It is certainly possible that if he makes a big deal out of refusing to do those brachot, he may not be invited to do the other parts either. That would be highly shul dependent.

Tue Sep 21, 12:56:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

You're not talking about becoming "orthodox". Rather, you're talking about moving to a community with a significant observant jewish population and joining an orthodox synagogue. The two are not the same, and based on all you've written over the years, you will never be "Orthodox".

Were you to join an orthodox congregation, I have no doubt you will continue to find a multitude of issues about which to vent.

Tue Sep 21, 01:22:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

FYI, women in any kind of family don't get a Shabbat. Unless it's the kind of family where hubby takes the kids away for a day (whether to shul or elsewhere).

Tue Sep 21, 02:19:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous rivkayael said...

Tzipporah is right as always.

Tue Sep 21, 03:07:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"Most Orthodox shuls divide Shacharit services among 3 people:
One reads from birkot hashachar until just before yishtabach/shochain ad. One leads from there until the end of the Torah reading. The final reader does the rest of the service."

Larry, that's true, but, as you said, my husband's ideological issues may cause him to be considered disqualified for leading the later parts of the service, as well.

TOTJ Steve, right you are--We would be what some people call "Orthoprax," persons who follow Orthodox practices but don't necessarily accept Orthodox beliefs.

"Were you to join an orthodox congregation, I have no doubt you will continue to find a multitude of issues about which to vent." Probably, but at least they'd be different issues. :)

"women in any kind of family don't get a Shabbat."

One could make a case for that, Tzippora, as RivkaYael said. :(

Tue Sep 21, 03:27:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

It is pretty uncommon for people to discuss theology in public in O communities. A lot depends on what you say and when you say it "I don't like saying the shelo asani blessings" is probably fine by most people.

"The shelo asani blessings reflect the racist and sexist environment in which chazal lived. If they were alive today they wouldn't formulate them that way, but since they aren't I'm going to reformulate the brachot for them. Anybody who objects has much less excuse for being racist and sexist than chazal did." is going to produce considerably more tzuris (trouble).

As far as 'where' goes - even the second comment may not cause long term trouble around the right shabbat tables. Saying it during a shiur about tefilla held by the rabbi in shul may have more consequences.

In spite of everything, in many (even most) Orthodox shuls the majority of congregants are not on alert 24 x 7 waiting to pounce on any statement with a faint whiff of kefira and immediately put whoever said it into cherem (excommunicate them).

Tue Sep 21, 04:08:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

So as long as neither of us dukes it out with the rabbi in public, we'll probably be "safe." :)

Tue Sep 21, 05:00:00 PM 2010  

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