For all the talk from Rabbi Aaron Lopiansky and Rabbi Elya Brudny at the 2019 Agudah Convention about respecting women, there is a fundamental disrespect that they are failing to see. It is so basic, it is agonizing to listen to them talk about anything regarding women.
The first is in the question itself. An individual who works for Mishpacha magazine, Rabbi Sruli Besser, asked a question to the rabbis, saying that there is increasing push-back on the practice of omitting women. Now, let’s guesstimate that at least half of those arguments come from women. (I mean, probably… scientifically it would be 100%. Of course, there are exceptions…) The questioner redefines the protests (or asks if the issue should be lumped with) the “feminist agenda.” And once you decide to call complaints by or on behalf of women “the feminist agenda,” it means you don’t have to listen to women’s words. No need to consider what women are saying. No need to reconsider your own view of the world and your religious practice. You can just dismiss them all in one fell swoop.
And that is disrespectful.
In fact, it is downright infantilizing.
When full-fledged, adult members of your own community tell you something is bothersome, disturbing, offensive, and harmful, you need to take their words seriously. If, you respect them.
Similarly, one of the rabbis discusses a situation in which a woman has a certain propensity for learning Torah. And in that case, one would need to carefully consider her motivations. Leaving aside the deep unfairness of such a statement (men do not need screening for proper motivation as a prerequisite for learning), it also communicates a distinct lack of respect for the words of women. If a woman says I want to learn Torah, it probably means she wants to learn Torah. It is disrespectful to women (and to the Torah) to automatically assume she has some other sinister desire that she simply cannot fully communicate to others.
It is puzzling to me that a community such as the Haredi community, which places such a high value on the learning of Torah and its wisdom, would wonder why a woman would want to learn. Is the Torah not beautiful? Is its study not intrinsically rewarding? If Torah study were torn away from the hands of these men, would they not be heartbroken?
It is downright cruel to take Torah away from people who want to learn it.
I fumed as I listened to much of this recording. I cried when I heard the part about learning Torah.
I teach preschool. Humans so new to this world, that they don’t yet know all the intricacies of how to exist and communicate in a world outside of their families. And so, we teach them. We teach them to use their words instead of grabbing, hitting, or looking forlornly at a peer. And, just as often we teach them to listen to each other: “Your friend is talking to you. Stop what you are doing so you can listen to their words.” It is basic human decency, and we expect from our youngest girls and boys equally. And when we teach it to them, they learn it.
If a 2-year-old can do it, then, I believe, Haredi men can too.