A Facebook group campaigning on behalf of a women who’s husband (a synagogue rabbi in Brooklyn) refuses to give her a Get has moved me to think more deeply about the position of women within Orthodoxy. The following are some of my observations.
1. Most frum schools do not teach women how to learn Talmud or Shulchan Oruch (Code of Jewish Law) and Nosai Kailim (commentaries). The result it that we have a forum with female members who whilst obviously highly intelligent and deeply knowledgable in many areas have been kept not just ignorant with regard important matters of their own religion and matters that concern them but also, for the most part, bereft of the skills to even access the primary texts that deal with those matters. Instead they have to rely on men to find the answers.
2. Some of the sections of Shulchan Oruch in Even HaEzer that talk about marriage and divorce (beyond the fact that it is the man who has the exclusive right to give the Get) can be easily interpreted in a manner that seriously, seriously disadvantages the women (for an example of that see how such an interpretation is used to suggest that a man who advocates giving a Get without delay is advocating a position against Halacha). If a woman contemplates divorce she needs to know this (she should probably know and understand it before she gets married). And if her marriage hits the rocks and she goes to a beis din that interprets them in that way she is in trouble.
3. The frum community has many male chauvinists in it who are virulently against any form of feminism and are invested in keeping the status quo. It needs to be made clear the feminism is not, at its heart, anti-Torah. It is only anti-gender inequality and anti-men controlling women. If some people think a male controlled sociaty is a fundamental tenet of Torah then that tells you all you need to know about that person.
4. It would be wise for ladies to understand how their sons are (husbands have been) taught in Yeshiva with regards attitudes towards women. This would prepare them to combat it and perhaps to also try and use their influence to stop it.
5. The Halachic prenup, which ensures a financial penalty against men who tarry in giving a Get, is a major step forward to protect women in the Orthodox community. It is no different to selling your chometz, so that you don’t actually have to destroy all that is in your home before Passover, or, to go even earlier in Judaism, to the pruzbul, which allows a creditor to collect debts even after the Shmita year. It uses an innovative Halachic mechanism to make fundamental changes in the status quo so that an untenable situation in Judaism is not perpetuated. The prenup must get more exposure until is becomes a formality at ALL Jewish weddings everywhere. Yet some find reasons to oppose its use and many weddings within the frum community still take place without it.
6. Amazingly, in many Orthodox communities women still do not have the right to vote for who represents them on the local Vaad HaKohol.
All this amounts to the realization that changes, mainly of attitude and culture, are needed. When women protest they have much more power, even within Orthodoxy, than one may realize. The status of women within Orthodoxy will ultimately change when women force that change. No doubt they will find plenty of men as allies along the way. This Facebook group gives me real hope that there are women within the community who will lead the way and see to it that this changes occurs. My daughters will be better off for it and so will Judaism — if it is to remain relevant to the average educated person as we move further into the 21st century this change is vital.
Ultimately the long-term answer to these really important issues (as it is to diverse verity of other issues as well) is: be informed and critically education, education, education. Because knowledge is power, and with power comes the ability to create change for the better.