The word “enable” means to give someone the authority and/or the means to do something. The term has come up recently and it deserves to be addressed.
Is enabling a good thing? If we are enabling someone to do something healthy and productive, then of course it is. We can enable others to eat right, exercise, learn a new skill, take up a good hobby, and more. But it can also go wrong. If we are enabling someone to do something wrong or harmful, then of course it’s a bad thing.
In his writing about addictions, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski z”tl writes about the bad kind of enabling. There are people, usually friends or relatives of the addicted person, who do things that allow that person to continue the addictive behavior with no consequences. One example is when people might pay off the debts of a gambling addict without any insistence on the addict getting help. This bad kind of enabling is insidious because it often comes in the guise of helping. The enablers think that they’re helping the addict when in fact, they’re making things worse.
The issue of enabling has come up regarding two major issues in the Jewish community that are gaining attention on social media- gett-refusal and erasing of women.
In the past, if a man refused to give his wife a gett, then the Beit Din would issue a Seruv against him. Shuls would not be allowed to let him in and communities would have to shun him. But in recent times, there have been many instances in which shuls and communities do not follow this. They allow the gett refuser into the shul and community just like everyone else. In at least some cases, they claim that they’re trying to help, perhaps by “mediating.” But not only is this in violation of the Beit Din’s ruling, it’s NOT helping. As long as the gett refuser can continue on his merry way with no consequences, these shuls and communities are enabling him.
Regarding the issue of erasing women, enabling is more subtle. Not surprising considering that the whole issue is more subtle. That makes it even more dangerous. Most people who enable this aren’t even realizing what they’re doing. But whenever we allow the erasing of women without saying something, we’re enabling it. When we purchase publications that won’t use photos of women, we’re enabling it. When we get an ad for a store that uses photos of boys but not of girls and we buy at that store, we’re enabling it. When we get a fundraising ad with both male and female honorees but only photos of the men and we donate to the group, we’re enabling it. When we get an ad for an event that features men and women as speakers but that only has photos of the men and not the women and we go to that event, we’re enabling it.
There are people from the publications who insist that it’s about parnassah and their target audience is in that community that doesn’t want photos of women. To me, this is a valid excuse, but it’s an excuse nonetheless. By going along with this policy, they’re enabling it. I would suggest to them that instead of just catering to it, they just stop using photos of any people at all. No photos of men or women. Of course, that will generate a response that shows the hypocrisy of the policy
I do admit that the issue of enabling gett refusers is a tricky one. We need to make sure we have solid information. But one thing to remember is that GETT-REFUSAL IS ABUSE. Period. Even if the wife was the abuser and the husband was the victim (yes, that does happen), once the husband refuses to give a gett, he goes from victim to abuser. As a family, a community, and a nation, we are not supposed to tolerate abuse.
With erasing women, it may be subtle but it’s easy to spot if you know to look for it and it’s much easier to stop enabling. No one needs to be a writer or speaker or activist to do this. It’s not difficult to cancel subscriptions (and write a brief letter as to why). It’s not difficult to shop at stores whose ads are actually GOOD (either they use male and female models or just the merchandise with no people at all). It’s not difficult to write briefly to the organizations that won’t use photos of women and explain why they’re not getting a donation.
Both gett-refusal and erasing women are harmful and dangerous to our family, our community, and our nation. Enabling them only makes them worse. If we stop enabling, maybe we can salvage things. At a minimum, we can be part of the solution. That’s where I want to be.