Michael J. Salamon

Gender Separation Follies

All the talk and physical forcefulness of those who agitate their desire for gender separation on buses, the light train, separate shopping times in supermarkets, even separate sidewalks all of which is being aggressively advocated among certain limited charedi groups led me to think about the Talmud Ketuboth.  In the first chapter there is a discussion as to how one should dance before a bride at her wedding.  “Rabbi Aha took the bride on his shoulder and danced with her. The Rabbis asked him: May we do the same? He answered: If the bride be on your shoulder like a beam, you may; otherwise not. Rabbi Samuel ben Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Jonathan: One may gaze upon the face of the bride all the seven days of the wedding festival, so as to make her husband more desirous of her. But the law is not in accord with this.”  Rabbinic caveats aside, it is clear that there were some great Talmudists who had little difficulty accepting interaction with women. Nevertheless, the push to gain a separate and unequal division between the genders is justified as necessary by these advocates allegedly to maintain their spirituality and holiness.

            The attempt to expand this religious belief system of exclusion and separation of women has begun to permeate even the health and mental health fields. There is a push for hospital units to be segregated by sex and even among mental health therapists there are some now who are boisterous in their belief that only males should treat males and only females may treat females. The lack of professionalism that advocates this approach is overshadowed only by the immature response to those who question their assertions that treating someone of the same sex can lead to serious problems of indiscretion. Nowhere in the literature is there any indication that this is fact. Further, the ethical and legal restrictions placed on the professional provider along with the intense training that most health and mental health care workers receive more than adequately addresses this issue. If these facts are considered insufficient, the question of treating someone of the opposite sex was asked and answered of religious leaders’ decades ago and found not to be of concern. Still the devotion to attempting to pressure all to follow rigid beliefs that this is wrong takes on the demeanor of a school yard argument –“My Rabbi knows more than yours and he says men should treat men” or “He says women should not be allowed into the supermarket when we shop.”

All of this striving for a higher level of religiosity seems pointless when one looks at the available research and anecdotal reports which combined indicate that rates of physical and sexual abuse are the same in all communities regardless of level of religious belief. Rates of substance abuse are also the same in all communities except that according to one study those in the more religious communities may be abusing significantly more dangerous substances. Similarly rates of business fraud, tax evasion and general cheating are also quite similar across virtually all communities. I am not convinced of this but some have even gone so far as to state that business fraud and tax evasion may actually be worse in the more religious communities. If nothing else, the hypocrisy of attempting to control others religiosity when rationalizing and ignoring one’s own transgressions is blatant.

Basic human interaction requires a fair amount of respect and discretion. There is little of that here. The issue for these separatists seems to be one where they believe that individuals cannot abide by the moral code on their own and need others to create an environment with rigid parameters that others will enforce; the others, of course, being the separatists and their modesty patrols exclusively.

 In his voluminous book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker argues convincingly that violence throughout the world has steadily decreased in the last two centuries primarily because basic freedoms have increased. No wonder that the separatists increase violence, they diminish freedoms. There are some who equate these rigid Jewish separatists with the Taliban suggesting that if they are not contained within a few years all of Israel will be just like Afghanistan. I see it differently. The charedi separatists are a marginal group with a bullying agenda. Israel is too vibrant a society to allow itself to be bullied. Their time has come and will, with g-d’s help, soon pass.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."