Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Culture Warriors

Ever since the issue of Women at the Wall presented itself for the upteenth time on December 4, 2009 I started connecting the dots between that and other issues that gnaw at the religious sensitivities of the haredi community whether in Israel or abroad. A series of issues have presented themselves that all share in common one thing: the haredi revulsion and rejection of western values, preferring to live in the dark ages as their Muslim cousins have chosen. Issues like the parking lot open on Shabbat in Jerusalem, Intel conducting business on Shabbat, gays living openly and proudly in Israeli society, the spitting on Greek and Armenian Orthodox priests in Jerusalem by haredi pedestrians, women shoved violently into the back of the bus on certain lines and non-recognition of any conversion other than the corrupted brand of the haredi rabbinic leadership.

The issue for me is no longer who is right and who is wrong. The issue isn’t why there isn’t more tolerance, the issue is why have the haredi community reduced themselves to the level of their Muslim neighbors who are still living in the dark ages.

Interestingly, Muslim and haredi men tend towards misogyny and treating their women like inferiors. It’s at moments like this that I am deeply ashamed of certain segments of my people. “Blessed are you the Lord for not having made me a woman”, chanted every morning by orthodox men. Not very flattering you may wonder? But wait. This was anticipated by our enlightened brothers and has been explained away in very placating words by Aish, Chabad and other tuchas licking groups seeking to ingratiate themselves to the non-religious with the hope of a fast conversion. BS. They are misogynists - and it isn’t surprising. Consider repeating the same prayer day in and day out over centuries. The message certainly does seep in through the natural process of osmosis. Couple that with other proscribed behavior of women by the community such as separate seating at social events, limiting the voice and political power of women within the kehilla, curtail women’s ability to serve in ritual capacities such as mohel, shochet and mashgiach (a few eked in through the back door recently) and you have the subliminal message reaching fruition in the minds of men that women are inferior. It isn’t surprising then that haredim have no compunctions about kicking them to the back of the bus. Americans did that to blacks under the Jim Crow laws.

These are some of the reasons why I find the women of the wall conflagration so interesting. Personally I find it very distasteful to see a woman in a tallit. It does nothing for them (or to me) and rarely does it ever compliment their clothing or enhance their figure. Having said that I respect their right to wear a tallit on the streets of Israel, the streets of Yerushalayim and at the kotel. For some reason the haredi community has a flawed notion that their brand of Judaism is the authentic one, the real thing, and everything else is ersatz. Not true. I’ve said it many times before – we are all authentic Jews. Any Jew identifying with the fate of the Jewish people is authentic regardless of level of shemirat mitzvoth; whether you wear a gartel or go bear headed (nezach yisrael lo yishaker). The wall belongs to the Jewish people. It is a national monument, holy and ought to be accessible to all Jews to pray in any way that they find appropriate. The argument put forth by the haredi community that it is offensive to see women in a tallit and that it offends “public sensitivities” is specious. Have the haredi community ever considered the fact that their appearance is offensive to much of the public in the streets of Israel and the United States? Should they be prohibited from walking the streets of Tel Aviv or visiting the museums and other cultural centers? Have they forgotten the Nuremberg laws of 1935?

Six months ago I had Shabbat dinner at he home of traditional Jews who happened to have befriended the local Armenian priest who happened to be invited to his first Shabbat meal. During the course of the meal he related that he studied in Jerusalem. I asked him how he liked it, but to my chagrin had few kind words to say. He made a point of telling me that he had been spit at on numerous occasions by haredi Jews. I didn’t believe him and challenged him politely at the Shabbat table. My wife reminded me that we were guests and that I was quickly approaching the line of good and bad manners. Until I read about the spitting at the Greek Orthodox in the Jerusalem Post several weeks ago I never would have imagined that my people were capable of this. Boy was I ever wrong. Once we were on the receiving end. Have we forgotten so quickly? Have we learned nothing since the 1935 Nuremberg laws? Apparently not …because our fervently religious spiritual brothers, claiming to be following in the steps of Avraham Avenu see fit to spit in the face of other human beings walking the streets of Yerushalayim. L’on heganu?