It’s hard to use any soft or diplomatic language to describe the continuing gender apartheid issue in Israel, so won’t even bother. This is a vile perversion of Judaism, it’s possibly the most disgusting and shameful thing that I have seen done in the name of my people and the fact that it seems to be continuing, and even spreading, causes me a huge amount of despair.
A couple of things happened this week to make me feel like this. One was another attack in Beit Shemesh, this time a woman who was apparently “immodestly dressed” was chased, har her tires slashed and her car windows smashed in, was covered in bleach, had a rock thrown at her head and was possibly about to be set on fire before the police and her combat-soldier brother showed up. But even this didn’t affect me quite as much as the other story…
A crowd of ultra-Orthodox men jumped on 27-year-old Natali Mashiah’s car in the Haredi Ramat Beit Shemet Bet neighborhood, she said. Members of the crowd smashed her car windows and punctured her four tires before spilling bleach on the inside of her car, said the Beit Shemesh resident, adding that she believed the men were going to set her on fire. As she fled the car, she said she was hit on the head by a rock thrown from very close range.
Pretty terrible, right? So what was worse? Well, remember the Fogels? That family of settlers who were massacred in their homes by the young gentlemen who figured that stabbing a baby in its crib is a guaranteed ticket to heaven?
See, mainstream Modern Orthodox yeshiva Machon Meir, in a weekly parasha bulletin called B’Ahava Uv’Emunah (In Love and Faith) distributed widely to Modern Orthodox (not Haredi/ultra-orthodox!) synagogues across Israel, had a memorial event for the Fogel family and because of their policy of not showing women in photos, they blurred-out the Fogel mother in the advertisement.
And that’s not even the worst part! After receiving a lot of criticism for the photo, here was Machon Meir’s apology (emphasis mine):
The bulletin ‘In love and faith’ is a biblical bulletin that is distributed and read in synagogues. For this reason, the bulletin’s policy is to refrain from publishing pictures of women. The publishing of the advertisement in this way was an error and did not mean to cause any harm. The Institute apologized to the family and the apology was accepted by the family with complete understanding.
So they are not apologising for blurring her and not apologising for the policy of not publishing pictures of women in a publication because it is circulated in synagogues, the apology is for having run the advertisement at all. I am normally quite good at writing down my thoughts, but I actually do not have any words to express my disgust with this.
Allison Kaplan Sommer has provided some responses from various rabbis in her Forward blog. Thankfully, most expressed disapproval, although there was one prominent rabbi who said that blurring her was “respecting her” and the publication had been looking after her “honour”. One of them made this point, which I particularly agree with:
What in the world is mainstream Orthodox Judaism coming to when the face of a woman (a murder victim, for G-d’s sake!) is blurred out so as to not stir the base urges of religious men who might find her visage too erotic to withstand?! And how ironic is it that the name of the flyer is B’Ahava U’B’emunah’ (In Love and in Belief), when by all indications, those who pubish it seem to lack both?!
A Halachic refutation of the whole gender apartheid movement has been given by Rabbi Dov Linzer in the New York Times.
What is behind these deeply disturbing events? We are told that they arise from a religious concern about modesty, that women must be covered and sequestered so that men do not have improper sexual thoughts. It seems, then, that a religious tenet that begins with men’s sexual thoughts ends with men controlling women’s bodies.
This is not a problem unique to Judaism. But the Talmud, the basis for Jewish law, offers a perhaps surprising answer: It places the responsibility for controlling men’s licentious thoughts about women squarely on the men.
Put more plainly, the Talmud says: It’s your problem, sir; not hers.
As he points out, the whole premise that women need to cover up so that men don’t get too excited is equivalent to the rapist’s defence that “she was asking for it”. It is a man’s job to control whatever urges he may have, it is definitely not a woman’s job to keep herself away from men so as to avoid any possibility of causing them to have “unpure thoughts”. Yet that exact attitude permeates Orthodox Judaism and seems to be growing stronger.
More on this later, but I want to say that I am typing this at 11:20pm on a Friday night (i.e. well and truly into Shabbat) and I went out last week and decided not to ask for no bacon on my burger. These are small things, but I would not have done them a month ago. I’m totally disgusted at the religious establishment right now and that’s driven me personally away from religion for the moment. To my knowledge, none of the orthodox establishment in Australia spoke out against either of those stories; there was one article in the AJN this week that even mentioned the issue and it condemned the violence but defended segregated buses. For shame.