What exactly do you want- those who oppose the advancement of women in Judaism?

I am wondering what it is they want exactly- those who oppose the advancement of women in Judaism. I am trying to understand where exactly they think things are going to end up.

The constant restraining hand, the ‘that’s far enough’ held against women in Orthodox Judaism is going to backfire.

We are educated, modern, professional. We are doctors, lawyers, professors, consultants. Our opinions are respected and sought out- both professionally and personally. We add tremendous value to the world and to society. (Lest you think this does not apply to the Charedi camp where women work but are not necessarily in these professions- how long do think you can tell them to go out and work and support the family, be in the public eye and advance- but only so far?)

But, when it comes to spiritual and religious matters, we are relegated to ‘behind the mechitza’, depending on the community our photos aren’t shown, and when it comes to our most personal matters we are expected to ask a man… because women can’t ‘pasken’.

Recognizing the serious repercussions on women and family life, the significant discomfort that women feel having to discuss their most intimate matters with a man, the Yoetzet Halacha was created. And the results are incredible, not only have questions to Rabbanim not reduced, but the amount of calls to Yoetzot asking questions are dozens nightly- which proves that there was a very real unanswered need. These calls are many times the length of the calls that the Rabbanim receive because women are getting real advice from those they are comfortable talking to. They are learning and sharing as only can be done woman to woman.

“BUT WAIT”, they were told.

‘You can’t pasken. Yes, you know the answers. Yes, you know the laws. Yes, you learned the materials inside and out- more in depth than most ‘Rabbis’, but, well, you are female and it’s not been done before (at least not in the box we have created- and dammit it makes us uncomfortable!) and so you must ask a man for his stamp of approval.’

And now, the Maharats- ‘Orthodox women spiritual leaders and halakhic authorities who are experts in Jewish law, Talmud, Bible, Jewish Thought’, have graduated. And the fire and brimstone has ensued.

And I’d like to know why. What is so very threatening about a woman who knows what’s what and is able to confidently tell those who come to her for advice what they can or should do? What is the issue here?

And if you want to tell me it is against Halacha, be prepared to back it up.

But lets step out of the halacha argument for a moment. You want to talk about the continuity of the Jewish ‘mesorah’? The way things have always been done?

I’ll do one better.

Let’s discuss the continuity of the Jewish people.

How long do you think the Jewish people will last, will continue to thrive and grow, if you hold half of them back? How strong will our nation be if you tell the majority they can only go so far? If you ignore their real needs? How long do you think we will accept the limitations you place because of your fear of ‘slippery slopes’ and other nonsense?

This is not about that awful unkosher word ‘feminism’ nor are we looking to replace men. This is about natural adjustments to a changing world. This is about listening to the voice of your people. Just as Bnot Tzlafchad were not derided as ‘feminists’ by Gd for petitioning for their rights to an inheritance, just as the time came for Sarah Schenirer to fight for girls to learn, just as the Torah laws of Ribit (interest), selling Chametz, and Heter Mechira for Shmitta were adjusted to fit the times, so to must the traditions pertaining to women. I do ask in all sincerity why it is that only the laws effecting women seem to be the ones that are sacrosanct. Especially since there are no specific laws saying women cannot be spiritual leaders, please recall Devorah the judge and prophetess.

We are talking about women who respect, love and honor Torah. We are talking about those who CHOOSE to live within and uphold the restrictions that Judaism provides. They are not looking to change Torah –only to be a part of it. You cannot prevent this anymore than you can stop time- and you shouldn’t want to.

Education for girls was rejected as heresy but is now mainstream.
Yoetzot Halacha were given great resistance and are now highly regarded.
And both only add honor, prestige and depth to the Jewish people.

So, I ask again. What exactly is your aim here? Who are you ‘protecting’ and who are you ‘protecting’ it from?

I ask that you take a sincere and hard look at your motivations and goals. And instead of the knee-jerk scorn that we ‘want to be men’ (ridiculous) or the patronizing claim that women are princesses (which has no relevance here)… listen and think.

Think how to make things work within Halacha… it is often times more flexible than people.

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