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The women bringing down Orthodoxy

She's fed up with a blame game that she says targets women's wish to pray or learn Torah or escape bad marriages

For the first time in years, I’m free of a war that I’ve waged for someone else. A war that never subsided, that always was there. That affected everything I did. Everywhere I went. I constantly sought allies I could recruit to my cause. Every day that passed I felt like a failure. Every time I again met defeat, I raged at the injustice. And at my helplessness.

Last week we won the final battle: the certificate of divorce we had been fighting for. After nearly 20 years since asking, this woman whom I have battled for, raged for, ached for, is completely free.

And today another “chained” woman, an aguna, received her divorce after being long denied by her husband, a man who had her followed and accused her of being a ‘rebellious wife’ in order to strip her of her rights. She was photographed getting into a car with a man. This enabled the court to declare her an unfit wife. But she was permitted to stay in his home as a maid. If she left she would forfeit her right to custody of her children. In order to obtain her divorce she gave up nearly everything.

This is the reality for Orthodox women in 5776/2016. And yet, if you listen to the shouting of some mainstream Orthodox rabbis, it is the women and girls who are responsible for denigrating orthodoxy. It is the women who threaten the future of Torah Judaism.

In this past year alone,

  • We were told that women learning Talmud is a dangerous thing, because women are only permitted to learn in order to ‘instill faith into their hearts’. But now, we are told, it is clear that women who want to learn Torah are simply motivated by feminist ideals, rendering their learning anathema to the mesorah.
  • We were instructed that women who seek leadership positions in their communities are hostile feminists with unkosher motives.
  • It was clarified that, while not ‘ideal’, Yoatzot Halacha are ‘acceptable’ because whether we like it or not, women just don’t feel comfortable bringing their undergarments to men for examination. We must provide them with solutions, and at least these women, the Yoatzot (unlike the ones mentioned above), are acting “L’Shem Shamayim”, for the sake of heaven. Yet, even rabbis who support Yoatzot question the motives of women who want a fuller involvement in Jewish leadership beyond the family purity laws of Taharat Hamishpacha. Interestingly, men who want to be rabbis never seem to be accused of selfish motivations…
  • This year, we were told that the rabbis who understand the crucial need to solve the ‘Agunah Crisis’, which leaves women in a state of limbo, and who make every effort to free women who have been abandoned by every other Beit Din, are illegitimate, “pasul“. They are not to be listened to, their decisions are INVALID. And yet, those who invalidate them offer no other solutions for these women.
  • Horrifically, we watch as a sordid, vile saga continues to unfold surrounding a woman who was denied a get for years and eventually was given an annulment by a reputable religious court. We read the letters from rabbis calling one another traitors and ‘evil men’. We watch in disbelief as some rabbis declare her to still be married and her future children bastards. The obsession with condemning and harassing the woman who was given the ruling juxtaposed against the total lack of condemnation of the man who could end it once and for all by giving her a divorce is a sick and twisted perversion. It is painful.

When the best chance a woman has of gaining her freedom from a recalcitrant husband is by making her plight public,

When women are dying of modesty and being erased from the world lest they cause a man to sin,

When a man is married to a second wife while his first wife remains chained,

When rabbis who perform conversions abuse the women converting under their tutelage,

When rabbis who give counsel are sleeping with the women who come to them,

When rabbis who have been accused of abuse and inappropriate behavior with boys are still respected and allowed to teach,

When the chief rabbis of Israel are indicted for crimes,

All you can muster the courage to do is write endlessly about how women are destroying Judaism?

Take a look at the list above.

WHO is destroying Judaism?

Those who seek to immerse themselves in it, to live it, to teach it?

Or those who won’t relinquish any control, grasping the reins of our religion even as they run us off a cliff?

The state of Orthodox Judaism is crumbling, and it is because of women — but it is not their ‘foreign desires’, their shunning of tradition, or their unkosher aspirations, rather it is their lack of options, opportunity, and respect for their true needs that is causing the schism.

And the louder you shout about how we are shaking the foundations, the deeper you forge the cracks.

About the Author
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a writer and an activist. Cofounder of chochmatnashim.org She loves her people enough to call out the nonsense. See her work at skjaskoll.com
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