Few things amuse me as much as someone telling me my ‘place’.
Admittedly, in the past it was a painful experience; one full of frustration, anger, and sadness. I recall soon after moving here, sharing my dream of becoming Minister of the Environment with a Charedi rebbetzin. She told me it was not our ‘place’, that Jewish women had other jobs to do and that being in the public eye was not one of them.
So, you can imagine my joy last week upon hearing that thousands of Charedi women were demanding the right to have female representation in the Knesset or they will refuse to vote.
And I smiled- and even laughed- through the interview where a man sputtered indignantly, repeating the same tired lines about a woman’s place while tarring the woman who sat beside him as not a ‘real’ Charedi. For real charedi women would not ask for female political representation.
That interview, and my reaction to it, immediately brought to mind the famous story of Rabbi Akiva laughing as he watched foxes roam through the smoldering ruins of the Temple. How could he laugh at such a time? What could be amusing about the ashes of our hopes and dreams, our connection with the Almighty? Rabbi Akiva stated that he laughed because the burning of the Temple fulfilled a prophecy; and therefore he concluded, the prophecy that the Temple would be rebuilt and never destroyed again would also be fulfilled. Thus, seeing the promises unfold before him, he was filled with joy.
I felt, watching this interview, that I too was watching prophecy unfold. Based on a prophecy in Yirmiyahu, we are taught that one of the signs of the Redemption is that women and the female perspective will be respected and considered equal –if not above –men and the masculine perspective. While this particular man was far from respectful, he was clearly the fox in this analogy.
We are also taught that just as the redemption from Egypt was due to righteous women, so too will the final Redemption be brought about by ‘righteous women’. There are those who claim that in order to a be righteous woman, one has to be in ‘her place’. I, however, submit that the very fact that these two predictions are made for the same time period effectively negates such a view.
Clearly, the ‘place’ of a Jewish woman has been a fluid thing throughout history. It has been well established that there is no ‘issur’ or prohibition in the Torah against a woman holding public office. On the contrary, we have role models of women who did an extraordinary job at making decisions for the nation. This is well known and needs no repeating here. The arguments against Charedi women holding office are quite frankly, ludicrous.
If a charedi woman’s place was once the home, it certainly is no longer. Charedi women are the breadwinners, the homemakers, the educators, the ones who live with the results of political shifts in child allowance, school subsidies, dental care and education requirements. The Rabbinic establishment themselves created this situation by declaring an entire population of men unemployable. In addition, the lack of separation between religion and state means that these women who have such responsibility in the home and at work have very little say in the communal rules and rulings.
Charedi women are very clearly stating that they want a say and they want women who know how they feel and what they need to represent them.
As Chevy Weiss points out in an essay entitled Haredi women’s place: Not in the Knesset, Charedi women are overworked and underheard. Ironically, despite her insistence that a charedi woman’s place is not in the Knesset, her piece is an extremely compelling argument for that very thing! As she states, it is the women who know the issues, the problems, the injustices within their communities. It is they who feel it acutely and can find solutions for them.
Enough of this silliness. Charedi women have borne the burden of decisions made for them, not by them. They have lived with the consequences of these decisions with little representation other than that granted to the wives of Rabbis.
The women seeking female representation seek not glory but justice. They seek not honor, but a voice. They seek not for themselves but for the future of a culture they want to see thrive.
We should be embracing and supporting the women seeking representation- even if they may stand for things we do not.
For no one may decide where someone’s ‘place’ is … or where it is not.