Much Vexation about Representation

Here’s what I want to know: Why do Hareidim need their own political parties? And not just one, but two separate political parties—one for Sephardim, one for Ashkenazim—to represent the larger Hareidi public in Israel and protect the interests of their specific communities. Shouldn’t they be able to trust the other non-Hareidi Orthodox MKs to raise the issues pertaining to religious Jews in Israel and to vote accordingly on bills that will directly affect them, their families and friends?

Now, obviously, these are rhetorical questions. Of course Hareidim need their own political parties. They have very specific needs and sensitivities, and because we live in a (mostly) democratic country, everyone gets political representation, no matter one’s color, creed, or gender. Unless, of course, you are a Hareidi woman.

Just as I would never expect a non-Hareidi, Orthodox MK to be able to accurately and wholeheartedly represent the Hareidi community, just because they are religious Jews, I cannot comprehend how anyone expects the all-male members of Shas and UTJ to bring to attention or resolve the very real and specific needs of the female members of their communities. Chevy Weiss, in her recent post–“Haredi women’s place: Not in the political arena”–claims that while the Hareidi women have their fingers on the pulse of their communities, while the men are busy learning and teaching Torah, it is nevertheless not the place of a woman to stand up and speak out. They must leave that part to the menfolk.

But why? And this time, the question is not rhetorical. I am genuinely curious and concerned. To me, this would be like the state telling the Hareidi community, “The political arena is no place for a pious Jew. Stay in the beis medrash, and let the Modern Orthodox MKs take care of everything. Since they’re so steeped in secular culture already, all the spiritual dangers of the political arena won’t affect them as acutely.” Would anyone ever agree to such an arrangement? Of course not. But that’s exactly what they are demanding of Hareidi women. Yet when it comes to issues like women’s health and work conditions and salaries for Hareidi women, Shas and UTJ have very little to say. In fact, according to one of the founders of the “No Representation, No Vote” campaign, MKs from these parties did not even bother to show up to Knesset hearings on these issues.

Surely, as politicians, and members of a minority group at that, these men understand that there is no one better to present the pressing issues of a community than those who are directly affected by said issues. One would think expanding your political party to include all members of the society you wish to represent, would be a welcome idea. And considering among Hareidim women outnumber men in the workplace 2 to 1, it is fairly clear that there is nothing against halacha, or even the Haredi lifestyle, for a woman to appear in public. So why not in the Knesset?

I do not wish to attribute sinister intentions or cast aspersions on my fellow Jews. Unfortunately, the intense opposition that has been shown to the “No Representation, No Vote” campaign seems to indicate that there is no good reason to bar women from having a voice in the Hareidi political parties. At best, it’s just the same, old, tired circling of the wagons the moment something even has the slightest scent of  “change.” Even if it means they will lose numbers. Even if it means the problems within their own communities will remain unsolved. It’s the political equivalent of, “We don’t do that, because that’s what Reform does.” And at worst, it’s a bid to keep the power with the powerful. A final attempt at salvaging what’s left of a social hierarchy that has been teetering on the brink of collapse since the first time the word “suffrage” was painted on a placard, and paraded before a sequence of sneering faces.

It may be time these men learn it is unwise to bite the hand that feeds them.

About the Author
Bahtya Minkin is a full-time mother of four, originally from Lakewood, NJ, now living in Beit El. In her ample spare time she enjoys crocheting, reading, and arguing with strangers on Facebook.
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