Posted by Rabbi Zev Farber
Several months ago, a guest speaker visited our synagogue for a talk on current events in the Middle East. I enjoyed the talk and after services I asked my wife what she thought. She responded: “Did you notice that the speaker never once turned his face towards the women’s section? He had his face turned away from us the entire time, as if we weren’t even there.”
I had to admit that I had not noticed this. Why didn’t this man, a modern person speaking about Israel, turn towards the women? He was a secular Jew, so it could not have been due to “extreme piety” of the ignoring-women variety. I am sure that there is no other speaking venue where he would distinguish between men and women in this way.
Perhaps the placement of the podium in the room had something to do with it. Like most (not all) Orthodox shuls, our podium is situated in the men’s section, so naturally, the speaker faced the men. A slight angling of the body is all it would have taken for the speaker to face the women as well, but my guess is that he absorbed the subconscious message of the building’s logistics: “The people in the main section—the one opposite the podium—are the important ones. Face them.”
Watching the Flintstones with my children one day, it struck me that our synagogues have an uncanny resemblance to lodge no. 26 of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, where Fred and Barney go to have a men’s night out. I say this in jest, but it is illustrative. The men of the LOWB wear a special garb, they have a special code and gestures which they use, and there are no women. Although our synagogues are a step advanced from the Stone Age lodge—we let our women watch—the resemblances are worth noting; only the men have the special garb, only the men know the secret handshake, and when the Grand Poobah speaks, his podium faces only men.
To be fair, the synagogue I attend is quite modern and sensitive to women’s issues, and our rabbi is overwhelmingly so. In addition, the architectural plans for the new building include a fifty-fifty split with a podium in the middle. However, I think the anecdote is illustrative of the pernicious message which is unconsciously and unintentionally being sent to the women and girls in our community: “You are not really here.”
Of course, the placement of the podium is only one way—albeit an obvious one—that Orthodox synagogues communicate to their participants that women are not really in the room. This message is also communicated by access to the holiest and most central feature of the synagogue, the Torah scroll, which is removed from the ark, inevitably by a man, during Shabbat morning services. The Torah is then handed to the man leading the services and carried around so everybody can touch it and kiss it… well, not everybody.
It is true that in some Orthodox synagogues the Torah is either passed to a woman to carry through the women’s section or is carried through the women’s section by the man leading the services. However, in most Orthodox synagogues the Torah is carried only through the men’s section; the message being that access to the Torah is only for participants in the prayer services, not for onlookers. Some synagogues that are sensitive to the problem decide on the awkward solution of carrying the Torah slowly near the meḥitza (barrier). The women can then scramble to the meḥitza and vie for access in Darwinian fashion.
Traditional garb is another way Orthodox synagogues send the message that the men are the real participants. Men’s ritual accoutrements, special prayer shawls around their shoulders or over their heads, and leather straps and boxes on their heads and arms, are significant ritually and spiritually. Needless to say, the average Orthodox woman does not wear tzitzit or t’fillin and has no ritual equivalent of her own.
Other ways the second-class position of women in the synagogue is communicated are even more complex, as they appear hardwired into the halakhic system and changing or tinkering with them would be more than a little problematic for the halakhically observant.
Firstly, for the prayer service to start, or at least for certain special prayers to be said, there needs to be a minyan (a prayer quorum) of ten men; women do not count. Without ten men services cannot be held, but services can run from beginning to end without even one woman present. This, of course, is in compliance with the halakhic rulings found in the Talmud; nevertheless, it is hardly surprising that women generally show up late, if at all.
Secondly, women do not lead anything; not just the special minyan prayers (devarim she-be-qedusha) but activities that are not minyan-related at all, such as misheberakhs for the US government or the State of Israel, opening the ark to take out the Torah, or reciting birkot ha-shaḥar.
Modern Orthodoxy is in a bind when it comes to women in the synagogue. In a world where gender roles are constantly shifting, it becomes rather difficult for a religious group that is both modern and Orthodox to navigate the many tensions that exist between traditional practices and modern egalitarian values. Sometimes these tensions express themselves around halakhic issues: women leading devarim she-be-qedusha, wearing t’fillin, counting for a minyan, or participating in the Torah-reading ceremony. Other times the issues appear more sociological: bringing the Torah through the women’s section, women holding or carrying the Torah, placement of the podium, or women speaking from the podium.
The halakhic issues require textual analysis and remain extremely divisive and I am not suggesting here that Orthodox communities should make radical breaks with halakha. Rather my aim here is the underlying message that our synagogues are sending to women. We all want to remain true to halakha and create a synagogue environment where men and women thrive, but I fear that without addressing the underlying message of women not really being in the room, instead of creating a home for all Jews, we are creating a men’s club.
In my opinion, wherever one falls out on the halakhic issues—and the spectrum is wide—none of our synagogues really want to be sending the message that women are only spectators. Therefore, I strongly suggest that we take a close look at the messages the structure and culture of our synagogues are sending to women. If the overwhelming message is LOWB-like, what changes can be made, commensurate with the halakhic views of the rabbi and the culture of the institution, to make women feel like they are part of the services and not just watching? Can the podium be placed more centrally? Can the Torah be brought to the women’s side? Can a woman carry it? Can she hold it after g’lilah? Is the meḥitza too tall or difficult to see through? Is there anything at all that a woman can lead or recite out loud during services so that a woman’s voice can be heard as part of the prayer experience?
It is my hope that every synagogue will take this message to heart and think constructively about how to create an Orthodox synagogue experience loyal to halakha and welcoming of women; where women feel like participants instead of spectators. In her famous essay, “Notes Toward Finding the Right Question,” Cynthia Ozick wrote: “My own synagogue is the only place in the world where I am not named ‘Jew’.” I am sure that no Modern Orthodox rabbi or synagogue wants to send this message, and yet unconsciously—but systemically—we do. For the sake of our women, our girls and the health of our communities, the message needs to change.
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May 8, 2012 | 8:19 pm
Posted by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
The Orthodox Social Justice organization, Uri L’Tzedek has been in the news recently regarding a settlement they helped win from a Jewish company accused of mistreating its workers and forcing them, against the law, to work 70-80 weeks. I was not part of the lawsuit so I would like highlight a program of Uri L’Tzedek which I am involved in: Tav HaYosher - the “Ethical Seal”. I would especially like to point out its Torah true roots and how it is integral to the Orthodox world of halacha and practice.
I first found out about something like an “Ethical Seal” when I was in Israel eight years ago on the fast day of Shiva’a Asar B’Tamuz, and I went to a modern Orthodox program sponsored by Bema’aglei Tzedek, a social action organization, which was rolling out their Tav Chevrati - social justice seal. The Bema’aglei Tzedek program had several prominent rabbis speaking, and ended with a huge, separate seating mincha minyan. It blew me away to experience exactly what the prophets would love for us to do on a fast day: learn about what Torah has to say about a just society, and plan to implement that Torah. And in fact, that is what the Israeli Tav Chevrati - Social Justice Seal - of Bema’aglei Tzedek does and what the American Tav HaYosher - the Ethical Seal - of Uri L’Tzedek does. Both of them are seals that restaurants can voluntarily get, which ensures that they are following the laws of the land - dina d’malchuta dina - in how they are treating their workers.
The Israeli seal is more complicated, but the Uri L’Tzedek (American) Ethical Seal is simple: restaurants have to demonstrate to volunteer mashgichim and mashgichot (supervisors) that they are paying their workers for their time worked (at minimum wage or wages agreed upon), that they are giving their workers the breaks they are legally mandated, and that the safety conditions in the restaurant meets code. The Tav is only given to restaurants that have rabbinical supervision to their kashrut, so as not to confuse people who may see a Hebrew label and think the restaurant is kosher, which it is not, unless the food follows halachic standards of kashrut.
The Tav, “Ethical Seal” is not a political, social engineering seal, but, rather one that just verifies that the restaurant bearing it conforms to American law. I do not expect the mashgiach for the kashrut, who may be checking for bugs, or salting the meat or making sure that every ingredient has the right label, to be able to verify what the workers are doing and whether they are being paid and treated according to US law. Unfortunately, overworked and understaffed enforcement arms of the government are not able to police restaurants either for these matters. An extremely high percentage of restaurants do not conform with the law - and luckily, the kosher ones have the opportunity of verifying that they are following Jewish law by following the law of the land.
The Tav HaYosher was born from Orthodox activists in Israel, inspired by Israel and the words of the prophet King David, who asked Hashem to guide him in the “circles of righteousness.” These are people who were energized by the rigor of the halachic life and decided that halacha and Torah could give them the power to change society and to make sure the world of the Nevi’im (prophets) were not just nice Haftaras, but were real, living Torah, Torat chayim. They had, and continue to have, as their guides some of the greatest Torah luminaries, such as Rav Yuval Cherlow and Rav Beni Lau, recognized rashei Yeshiva and gedolim.
Both the Israeli and the American “Tav”s - seals - are careful not to call themselves a “hachsher” or a “hashgacha” which might challenge the importance of ritual kashrut. (See the article by Rabbi Avi Shafran in Dialogue , Winter 5772.) To the contrary, the Tav is coming to re-enforce the amazing strides we have made over the past half century in ensuring that “kosher” really means halachically kosher, by restricting itself only to kosher certified restaurants. But they wisely do not get involved in which hashgacha is good and which bad.
I am writing this on the 32nd day (lamed beit, or lev) of the Omer - as we think about the “lev” - the heart - of the Jewish people. Embedded in the heart of the Jewish people are the words of God and God’s prophets, along with the generations of great rabbis who ask us to seek justice and follow the laws of the lands in which we live. I ask each and everyone of us: if we go into a restaurant in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Boston, Seattle, Teaneck, etc. - over 100 restaurants across America, and over 350 locations in Israel - please ask for the Tav! If they have never heard of it, contact Uri L’Tzedek and tell them to reach out to that establishment. Having the Tav means the restaurant is following our Torah true tradition of justice and following the law. If you eat in a kosher Tav restaurant, you are not only fulfilling the ritual of kashrut, you are fulfilling the ethical laws of caring for your fellow human being and living a just life.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
April 26, 2012 | 9:32 am
Posted by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
Here is my Facebook Status Update:
Wishing Israel a happy 64th! I pray that one day the entire world – and the Palestinian people as well – will celebrate with us this great moment in history, when a nation was reborn and millions returned to a safe homeland. Israel is a such a blessing to the world and its neighbors – and even to the Palestinians! – and one day everyone will find a way of living in peace with that blessing rather than trying to fight it! Grateful to all who fought for Israel, gave their lives for the Jewish state, and who tragically were killed in acts of violence against our State. Israel comes in peace to all mankind, and is willing to do so much for peace. There are some exciting new models for that peace – surprisingly advanced by the Right in Israeli politics – and I am confident that if we begin to think outside the box, all will benefit – including the Palestinian people. Please world, learn to love this beautiful country, and may year 65 be one of peace and security for this precious land, for the Homeland of the Jewish People, and for the entire world.
I think most people reading this blog will agree with that greeting.
Here is something a bit more controversial, but I hope it is food for thought and provokes some good Yom Ha’atzma’ut conversation. It is from a letter I wrote to John Sakakini, who is the Program Coordinator for the General Delegation of the PLO to the United States. I do not have favorable views of the PLO, but John personally was very nice when I met him, and he is my best link to Prime Minister Fayyad – whom the PLO doesn’t really like. So for now, I am trying to connect with Salam Fayyad via John. I will certainly update folks if anything comes of this, and specifically if I can find out any information about the student textbooks that are still viciously anti-Semitic. For the complete letter, well, contact John Sakakini.
On this day of Israel Independence, I just wanted to ask you to send a message to our Palestinian brothers and sisters:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Jews, Muslims and Christians, Israelis and Palestinians:
As the Jewish people celebrates Yom Ha’atzmaut, 64 years to the establishment of an independent Jewish state, we need to remember that our moral right to return to sovereignty in our homeland came at the expense of many of the local Arabs living in the area…How I wish the State of Israel could have started with the blessings of her Arab neighbors! With the appreciation of how a Jewish national presence in the midst of Dar Al-Islam could contribute greatly to Arabs a Jews alike. However, it is time to look forward: Time at accept that Palestinian national aspirations and Jewish national aspirations can come together in harmony and partnership. Frankly, I think the Jews and Palestinians are linked in a common destiny, and rather than fighting each other, we have to look out for each other and help each other achieve our goals. We deeply love the same land, we yearn the same freedoms and we are both clever and sophisticated. I pray to God that on this day of celebrating Israel’s independence, Jews and Palestinians can recommit themselves to working together to help each other achieve statehood – even if that means in the same place, on the same land. Our goals are not mutually exclusive. No! Our goals are complementary and can strengthen each other – the is room for everyone … Hand in hand let us walk together in history… to a day when both our peoples can celebrate together and can inspire the world towards peace and accommodating the dreams of national fulfillment that we all have…”
Feel free to beat me up – verbally, that is – and give me musar, but remember today is a day of celebration and joy: we said Hallel in my shul – with a brachia – and not tachanun. So let’s celebrate together having a State that allows the Jewish people to continue on, to be a light onto the nations.
Moadim l’simcha l’geula shleima – Times of Happiness, yearning for full redemption,
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
April 5, 2012 | 11:09 pm
Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
“One is obligated to see themselves on the Seder night as if they are actually now leaving Egypt.” -Maimonides
“The child at the Seder asks: “Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we eat leavened or unleavened bread but on this night only unleavened. On all other nights we eat regular vegetables but on this night bitter herbs….”” -The Talmud
If the Passover Seder meal is one of remembering that God redeemed the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery, why not do precisely that? Read the Biblical account of the Exodus (which we do not); ask about slavery and freedom, divinely brought plagues and miracles, nationhood and history. Why all the questions about why this night is different?
Children live in the present, their questions straight forward; they observe and ask, observe and ask. According to some Jewish sources we do strange actions at the Seder meal, like dipping our food, drinking many cups of wine and delaying the meal, precisely so that the children will notice and ask: “Why is this night different?”
“When your child shall ask you: “What is all of this ritual?” Then you shall answer them, “With a strong hand did God take us out of Egypt.”” -Exodus 13:14
God did not take “us” out of Egypt, God took our ancestors out, and that was over 3500 years ago.
The past is long gone, yet always at hand. Only the present is real, yet always a product of our past. The Passover Seder is paradoxical, a meal of recalling the 3500 year old Exodus, an experience very much lived in the present: “Why is this night different?” It is the child, who always lives in the present from whom we must learn this.
One hundred years ago Sigmund Freud and his circle of psychoanalysts discovered that though we live in the present, we do so almost entirely conditioned by experiences we have had, and ways we have lived, in the past. The past can not really be integrated or changed through remembering what is past; it must be experienced and understood in the powerful present. The past is formative but, as a memory, impotent. The present integrates our past. The here and now is colored by our past but much more powerful. Thus the present can lead us to insights about the past and about whom we are, more so that remembering and analyzing past experience.
The Passover Seder is like the process of psychotherapy. Its function is to understand, to clarify, to integrate the exodus of the past in our present lives, yet this can only be accomplished in any real way, though living in the present.
We do not ask: Why did we leave Egypt? How did we leave? What did it mean to leave Egypt? Why did God think it so important that the Jews be enslaved and redeemed? Such would only be an intellectual process of remembering the past.
Instead it is the child who asks: Why are we dipping twice now? Why are we reclining now when we eat? Why the flat unleavened bread?
Children know how to be in the present. All they have is now. On Passover we must all be children. Living the past in the fully present we must leave Egypt in our lives now -a gift from the past.
March 30, 2012 | 11:40 am
Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
“Great Wealth” and Mega Millions – A Kavannah Before Buying A Lottery Ticket: Rabbi Barry Gelman
A Kavannah Before Buying A Lottery Ticket:
I will be using the traditional Shabbat Hagadol drasha to speak on the topic of: Jews and Money.
I decided to speak on this topic long before the Mega Millions frenzy started.
I have long been fascinated with the idea that part and parcel of the promise of redemption is great wealth.
Here are the verses from Bereishit
יג) וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה
יד) וְגַם אֶת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲבֹדוּ דָּן אָנֹכִי וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יֵצְאוּ בִּרְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל
13 And He said unto Abram: ‘Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
I can’t help but think of the coincidental relationship between the lottery drawing this week and the “great wealth” that the Jews took with them from Egypt.
Maybe this shabbat is called Shabbat Hagdol the Great Shabbat in anticipation of the “Great Wealth” – “ִּ”רְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל”that the Jewish people would amass.
The promise of wealth even makes its way into the text of the Haggadah suggesting that in order to properly fulfill the MItzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim (retelling the Exodus story) one must discuss this aspect of the events.
בָּרוּךְ שׁוֹמֵר הַבְטָחָתוֹ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרוּךְ הוּא. שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא חִשַּׁב אֶת הַקֵּץ, לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּמַה שֶּׁאָמַר לְאַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ בִּבְרִית בֵּין הַבְּתָרִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם, יָדֹע תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם, וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה. וְגַם אֶת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲבֹדוּ דָּן אָנֹכִי וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יֵצְאוּ בִּרְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל.
Blessed is He who keeps His promise to Israel, blessed be He!For the Holy One, blessed be He, calculated the end [of the bondage], in order to do as He had said to our father Abraham at the “Covenant between the Portions,” as it is said: “And He said to Abraham, `You shall know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and make them suffer, for four hundred years. But I shall also judge the nation whom they shall serve, and after that they will come out with great wealth.’”
This is an interesting point to discuss at your seder table – why must we talk about the great wealth gained by the Jewish people as part of retelling the story?
A related issue is the use and misuse of wealth.
That same wealth that the Jewish people took with them from Egypt was then used to build the Golden Calf. This represents the profanation of money. (more on this at the Drasha)
The Golden Calf represents the danger of wealth itself being worshipped and viewed as an end in itself. (It can actually get worse. For example, when wealth becomes the determining factor of value in a society – more on this in the Drasha (from Rav Nachman of Breslov) as well)
On the other hand Rabbi Soloveitchik talks about of “Redeeming The Economy”. (See Festivals of Freedom pg. 168 – 172)
In a similar vain, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks defines tzedek as social or distributive justice.
Here are some of his words: “The Judaic vision aims at a society in which there is equal access to dignity and hope. Unlike socialism it believes in the free market, private property and minimal government intervention. Unlike capitalism it believes that the free market, without periodic re-distributions, creates inequalities that are ultimately unsustainable because they deprive some individuals of independence and hope.”
Before buying that ticket ask yourself: How can I make sure that this wealth (hopefully you will win) will be redeemed?
BTW – It’s actually a good question to ask even if you do not buy a ticket.
March 30, 2012 | 9:59 am
Posted by Rabbi Zev Farber
There has been much talk about Yitta Halberstam’s Jewish Press article about the crisis of shidduch dating. That such a crisis exists is nothing new, as psychologist Michael J. Salamon makes eminently clear. What is new about Halberstam’s article is the suggestion that women would get more dates if they made themselves more attractive through make-up or even surgery.
There has been an outpouring of indignation towards Halberstam’s suggestion; most recently, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote a strong reply (more aptly, a rebuke), arguing that we need to teach men to look below the surface rather than teach women to redo theirs. Although I am in overall agreement with Boteach about the importance of combating the objectification of women plaguing our society (both frum and secular), as I wrote about in an earlier post, I am afraid that he misses a core problem with Halberstam’s piece – and the world of shidduch dating that it represents. Speaking as an outsider who has never shidduch dated, I will offer my tentative thoughts.
I believe that the problem lies not in frum-women’s looks or in frum-men’s shallowness, but in the system of shidduch dating itself and the yeshivish world’s approach to interaction between the sexes. To explain: The core idea behind shidduch dating is that since men and women in the yeshivish world do not meet or socialize in any informal way, they require some assistance in meeting potential partners when they decide that they want to get married. In some cases people are set up by friends or family who know of a suitable member of the opposite sex, but the number of possibilities offered in this pool of potential mates is rather slim. Hence, many people use a shadchan or shadchanit (matchmaker) to get dates.
Here is the rub: How does one explain to one’s shadchan what it is one is looking for? When a shadchan (or anyone else for that matter) asks a man what it is he is looking for in a potential mate, the man will inevitably begin to make a check-list. Let’s assume that the list does not, in fact, begin with looks but with the intangibles: the man may say he wants a woman who is kind, intelligent and with a good sense of humor. This is not much of a help for narrowing down options; my guess is that there are not a lot of self-described “mean, dense and humorless” women for the shadchanit to cross off her list. These personality traits are too intangible.
Looks, on the other hand, can be quantified. A man can say that he wants a woman who is young, thin, blond and busty. Now we have the potential for a checklist: age can be specified, bodies have weight, hair and eyes have color, dresses have sizes. Since the man has never met any of these women and cannot possibly meet all of them, he does the shadchan a favor by being specific and designing his dream girl on paper.
This check-listing has been perfected over the years. Now many men automatically fill in requests for 19-year-old women, even if the men themselves are 30, and size 2 for preferred dress size, even if the men themselves are less than “fit.” Most men, of course, have no idea about women’s dress sizes; nevertheless, most young men do have mothers and said mothers can help their sons weed out the undesirables. Some checklists have even become “sophisticated” enough to include the potential bride’s mother’s dress size – a sort of insurance policy for the future.
This commoditization is very disturbing and the practical question of what to do about it inspired Halberstam’s controversial piece. Halberstam believes that there is nothing to do about this commoditization; it is just the way men are. Hence, for a woman to succeed in the shidduch dating world, Halberstam claims, she needs to be as physically attractive as possible. This means make-up and nice clothing in the best of cases, and Botox®, tummy tucks and plastic surgery in the more difficult ones. To this, Boteach responds that the men can be changed. What is needed, Boteach claims, is to teach the frum men to stop commoditizing the women. “Tell the Yeshiva students that the Torah they are learning is supposed to actually change their hearts,” he writes.
Let me offer an alternative analysis. Of course, Halberstam is right that dating is primarily about attraction. And, of course, Boteach is right that the commoditization of women in the frum world reflects the basest form of disrespect towards women. But here is where I disagree: unlike Halberstam, I don’t think that this bizarre check-listing phenomenon is the natural way men – frum or secular – relate to women. And unlike Boteach, I don’t think this commoditization is the fault of frum men simply giving in to misogynistic impulses. Put another way: I do not think that frum men are more looks-focused than men in general; this check-list mentality is unnatural, even for them. In my opinion, the checklist mentality is actually the (virtually) inevitable consequence of the shidduch-dating system and results from a fundamental misunderstanding of attraction.
It is true that attraction is extraordinarily tied to looks, perhaps even more so for men than women. What is not true is that a person’s looks can be objectively quantified with some sort of “attractiveness quotient.” What attracts people to each other is often hard to discern; even for the couple themselves it may be mostly subconscious. There are physical characteristics; there is body language; there is rapport; there are personality traits.
Each person is an amalgamation of traits and each person is attracted to a certain overall blend of traits in a potential mate. I would venture to guess that most people could not actually articulate what it is about a person that attracts them such that this person would be distinguishable from hundreds of others that seem to fit that description, but don’t actually attract them. A person’s conscious mind is just the tip of the iceberg and a person’s subconscious is little understood – even by him- or herself.
By attempting to select dates for a man based on a checklist of criteria provided by him, the shidduch system forces the man to quantify the unquantifiable. Inevitably, the process of quantifying commoditizes that which one is quantifying, in this case women. It is my belief that if these same men had get-togethers with women from their community, and the two groups were able to meet each other and get to know each other, the men and women who were attracted to one another would begin to gravitate towards each other and nature would take its course.
To take Halberstam’s vignette as an illustration: She speaks about a get-together she attended with single young women and the mothers of single young men. Halberstam was shocked that these girls were not dressed-to-kill to impress the mothers. Didn’t they know that looks mattered? My guess is that of course they knew, and if the get-together had included the young men they would have dressed differently. What they did not know was how to be attractive to said young men’s mothers. I assume the young women intuited, as most of us do, that attracting a mate requires the mate to be there. Since inevitably the mother will not find the girl “attractive,” the most she can do is to compare her feature by feature with her son’s checklist. It is an unfair test and an irrelevant one, since the checklist is most probably wrong and artificial.
Sadly, this checklist culture feeds on itself. The lists get more and more specific and the women become only the sum of their parts. As Boteach says correctly – and this cannot be emphasized enough – such a culture leads to women developing depression and eating disorders, with a significant percentage dying, literally, from anorexia or bulimia.
To be fair, Halberstam is not only speaking from the place of a concerned elder. In the article, Halberstam describes her own memories of feeling dissatisfied with her looks when she was younger to such an extent that she took “some cosmetic steps that changed [her] life: a diet, hair-straightening, and most significant of all: a ‘nose job’.” She writes that doing so gave her “newfound confidence.” I am sorry she had confidence issues when she was younger and I believe that she had every right to diet, change her hair and even her nose if she felt a yearning to do so. These are personal decisions and they may very well have been the right ones for her, considering the emotional issues she describes that were eroding her self-esteem.
However, if a woman is not suffering confidence issues, it would seem to me to be more than a little ethically problematic to cause her to suffer them by telling her that she will never get married without an hourglass figure and a button nose. To quote Boteach: “I have never even heard it suggested by the most superficial relationship expert that we should take young women for plastic surgery in order to attract a husband.” The reason Boteach has never heard this suggested is because it is false. It is the commoditizing tendency of shidduch dating that creates the twisted impression of its truth. Even the horrifically commoditizing reality TV show Bridalplasty begins with the premise that all twelve women competing for the plastic surgery are already getting married regardless. Can it really be that the world of yeshivish men has dropped to even below the standards of the basest of reality TV shows? I cannot believe that. It is not the men; it is the shidduch system.
In short, I agree that there is a crisis in the shidduch-dating world and that the commoditization of women has reached such an extreme that one kind-hearted frum plastic surgeon is now offering pro bono plastic surgery for Orthodox Jewish singles. For my part, I do not believe the crisis can be solved either by surgically creating a race of frum Barbie-dolls or by telling men that only inner beauty counts and not attraction. The crisis is caused by shidduch dating itself and the culture of check-listing endemic to it. Men and women will be attracted to each other for a mix of physical, emotional and intellectual reasons. What they need most is the opportunity to meet and sort it out on their own. Perhaps a new model of frum dating is in order.
Zev Farber, Atlanta
March 21, 2012 | 11:00 am
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
Within Jewish circles, we often comment (complain) that the Amerian Muslim community does not speak out against anti-Jewish acts of terror that are committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. In light of this, I thought it was worthwhile to share the follwing statement that came out this morning from the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC):
Earlier this morning, French authorities identified the suspect believed to have killed seven people in France over the past 10 days, including three children. The alleged shooter has been identified as Mohammed Merah by French media outlets. He is a self-proclaimed al-Qaeda member and has had a long criminal and extremist record, including an arrest for possible terrorist-related activities in Afghanistan. “MPAC condemns these attacks in the strongest terms possible and is relieved that this criminal is no longer able to cause fear on the streets of France,” said Salam Al-Marayati, MPAC President. “We offer our condolences to the families victimized by this horrific act and call upon the people of France to come together and not allow their national resilience to be impacted by these acts of terror.”
The victims of the 10-day killing spree include at least three French Muslim paratroopers and four French Jews, three of whom were children ages 7 and younger. All seven victims were shot at very close range and directly to the head. The fact that this tragedy took place in a religious institution and targeted children is even more disturbing. The sanctity of life and religious institutions is paramount in the principles espoused by the Quran.
French Muslim and Palestinian leaders have condemned the terrorist acts.
“These acts are in total contradiction with the foundations of this religion,” said Mohammed Moussaoui, President of the French Council of Muslim Faith. “France’s Muslims are offended by this claim of belonging to this religion.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said, “It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life.”
Also intertesting is the following from the Voice of America whose final paragraphs are:
At Beth Hanna (in Paris) Rabbi Azimov is focusing on healing. “We have a special tradition that says that when bad things happen, you have to add on kindness and goodness and prayer,” he said, “we have a belief that when you have light, darkness disappears.”
Muslim and Jewish leaders are organizing a remembrance march for the Toulouse victims in Paris on Sunday. They say the march makes no sense unless it is done jointly.
Read the rest here.
March 20, 2012 | 1:14 pm
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
When a candidate runs as a devoutly religious person, what kinds of public positions does he or she take? In the political contest playing out in presently, the foreign policy positions of the devoutly religious are hawkish, and their social policy positions are conservative. The devoutly religious politician is anti-abortion, anti-contraception, and anti-feminism. The same general pattern (with shades of difference) holds true among devoutly religious politicians in many other countries, regardless of which one of the world’s major religions is being practiced there.
Is this the only voice that the devoutly religious can bring to the political sphere? We know that it isn’t. When Isaiah brought his voice to the political sphere for example, he spoke neither of God’s demand that we utilize military force to uproot idolaters, nor of the need to insure that our womenfolk are properly chaste. He spoke instead about how the widows and orphans can’t get justice, how small landowners are being forced off their land by the larger, more powerful owners, and how the elite political class is too self-absorbed in material pleasure to care or even know. He spoke of the urgent need to fill the world with knowledge of God so that warfare would become obsolete. He cautioned against reflexively seeking military solutions to all threats, emphasizing that the nation’s security will ultimately be determined by its pursuit of social righteousness and its consciousness of God.
There is no shortage, tragically, of evils in today’s world. Every devoutly religious person is undoubtedly moved by and concerned about the fact that 15 million American children live in poverty, that 40 % of minority students nationally aren’t graduating high school. Every devoutly religious person can’t help but be horrified at the rape and killing of women and children in the Congo or at the starvation in Southern Sudan, or by the carnage created by the drug wars just south of our border - drug wars funded by drug consumption here at home. Wouldn’t it be inspiring if these issues were the ones most that were central to the platforms of our devoutly religious politicians? Which is not at all to say that the defense of our homeland, the thwarting of terrorism and the promotion of a sexual ethic that honors sacred relationships, are not vitally important issues as well. But they occupy just a portion of what the religious person sees when he looks out at the world and the people who live inhabit it.
I am a devoutly religious person. And I believe that our deepest religious values should inform our political views. And I am befuddled and disturbed by the fact that our leaders who wear their religion on their sleeves, exhaust their passions on our military challenges abroad and birth-control pills at home. The world awaits the expression of America’s deep historical religious passions for justice, compassion, and peace for all humankind.