Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Okay, A Bit More about the Women Issues and what we are really about…

So, as a continuation of my last blog post, many of these protests that were going on (and still are) in Israel are related to women. Now, I will begin this part of the discussion with the disclaimer that I AM NOT SUGGESTING (nor should anyone) that we are dealing with a situation, which even at its worst, that is anything like the totalitarian religious republics in the region or other spaces and places in history where women were considered property or not rightful human beings with their own rights. Clearly, this is NOT the case in Israel.

For one thing, among many others, this discussion is taking place IN THE OPEN – in the press, on the streets (e.g. note the recent flash mob in Beit Shemesh), in shuls on Shabbat in Divrei Torah, and in so many open forums. To be sure, I have never thought that the addition of histrionics and overstatements that color the discussion add anything to the serious consideration of matters of concern. That being said, my standing question still obtains, namely, whose standards are we worried about maintaining, ours or those of other groups, other cultures, other systems of belief and behavior?

Many are asking and are justifiably concerned about the fact that the situation (that is OUR situation!) has devolved to the point where a self-identified Haredi (one who is trembling with piety) man SPITS at an 8 year old child (not that it matters, but who is herself a member of the religiously defined community), who is then rightfully traumatized by such an action. What will this child, who is herself ritualistically observant and identified as a member of the religious community by any number of identifying markers, now think as she is walking down the street and sees such individuals? Did our larger community do her and others in her generation a gross injustice by consistently and tacitly accepting a devolving situation where the screaming and the diatribes thrown at each other detract from the real issue, namely that:

בצלם אלקים נברא כל אדם

In other words, EVERY HUMAN BEING, MALE AND FEMALE, has been created in the IMAGE OF G-D. Further, we are taught in Bereshit Rabbah, amongst so many other texts, that when we act in such a way as to embarrass another human being, we diminish G-d’s presence in that person, but more importantly, in ourselves for acting in such a misinformed manner. Put simply, one who disrespects and shows disregard for another human being is showing the same disrespect and disregard for G-d, who is the CREATOR of all beings CREATED. Maimonides teaches this as well repeatedly in his Mishneh Torah. I could go on and on citing texts, but this is not really the point.

When this most basic teaching is among other things, familiar to those of us who have some modicum of common sense, one must ask what has gone so terribly wrong that the very women and children that are supposed to be protected and valued by our society are subjected to such abuse and misuse of our Torah laws and way of life.

When teaching the Book of Joshua, I love to ask my students “What went wrong with poor Achan?” Besides being a question with meter and sounding quite pithy, it is really one that concerns the deepest part of our identity – that as a group, invested in each other and supportive of those around us, we must be following the Torah dictum of “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” or

ואהבת לרעך כמוך

So, when we do discuss WHAT WENT WRONG WITH POOR ACHAN, we arrive at the point of community responsibility – the notion that we are supposed to look out for each other and be concerned about each other. How could Achan have hidden the proscribed goods WITHOUT knowledge of his neighbors and those around him? It is for this reason, we are taught in some of our commentaries, that the entirety of the people of Israel was punished by a crushing blow in their next battle.

And here we are today. Who is looking out for our eight year old girls walking to their school appropriately dressed? Who is looking out for the female soldier that is GUARDING AND PROTECTING US when she sits on a bus? Who is looking out for women who want to shop (but cannot because their skirts are not long enough) in the same grocery store they have always shopped in before new neighbors moved into the next community over? Who is looking out for girls that are respectfully observing community standards yet cannot walk through certain neighborhoods without getting attacked?

Further, what are the perpetrators learning if no one is stopping them? What favors are being done for them if there is validation of their actions with no consequences? WHAT WENT WRONG WITH POOR ACHAN? And finally, as an entirely different but not unconnected issue, let us consider where the Tzedakah dollars of those of us who are attacked by those who decide “we are not frum enough” are potentially NOT GOING TO GO ANY LONGER? Now who suffers? This is not helping the situation either.

In Shemot 22: 20 – 23, we read this chilling text that teaches we MUST treat the GER – the stranger properly, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt and we know how it felt. We then read, as this text continues, not to ignore the cry of the widow or the orphan or G-d will make OUR OWN women and children orphans. This text keeps running through my head as I consider these painful and profoundly disappointing events in our present day lives. And I do wonder …. Who IS protecting the children and women vulnerable to such actions within their own community?

No, we are not as bad as other people and groupingss that do not live up to their standards. That being said, we are in need of a major taking of account (a CHESHBON HANEFESH) in terms of our own standards, because we have too many ACHANS running around hurting those we are to protect and value and cherish amongst our own, even an eight year old child who just wants to ride the bus to school!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Let’s Protest ….. Everything: The Israeli Way

Our family just returned from Israel and during the 10 or so days we were there, we found more protests per square mile regarding clearly relevant and important issues and protests that protested the protests than one would be able to imagine. This is the land of protests. We have come through tentifada, the protests regarding needing to better meet the needs of the disabled, protests against the referred - to Occupation (please don’t protest, I am just referencing the name), protests supporting the efforts of TZAHAL, protests regarding the religious control and presence in various communities, protests regarding the lack of religious control and presence in various communities, protests about the economic situation, and oh yes, there is that other issue… you know, the treatment of women.

Should they be visible or invisible? Should they be visible part of the time or all of the time? How long should their sleeves be? While one man spits at a child whose sleeves are not long enough (shame on him and any others like him!) another very Haredi community has now required that their women wear their skirts to the middle of their calves, and NOT full length in…. (yes, you guessed it) PROTEST of the Modern Orthodox and National Religious women who wear long skirts (for me, its just that I like that flowy, hippy style!). Then there are those in Ramat Beit Shemesh who protest any length of skirt and wear their Burkas, in protest! Does anyone else find this as absurd as I do?

Protests abound in support of women being visible on billboards, singing at celebratory events in the army and not having to be relegated to the back of the bus. Then there are other protests for the rights of the Haredi men who are now serving in the army (after many years of efforts that went into making that happen) who should not have to hear the voices of women. Further, now there is a new “potential wall” to protest – the one being discussed that would divide Beit Shemesh, an entirely other discussion.

It really is a wonder anyone has any time to do much of anything else in the course of a normal week here (whatever that might look like). PROTESTING can be a full time involvement in this tiny and VERY VOCAL country! So, I think this can be a good thing. Thank G-d, in this country people can protest and counter-protest and then protest against the counter-protesters and generally everyone gets their word, their street corners, their newspaper and media coverage and of course, this just fuels all of the protests even more. Israel definitely gets credit and praise for this – you know, its called Freedom of Speech!

That being said, I wonder if the core issues are getting lost in the overly plentiful protests as wonderful and important thoughts get lost in too many words. While the raising of voices is to be valued and appreciated, I am concerned that while some are yelling louder and louder for whatever they are protesting, others are getting headaches and just losing their way. What if we all join in one large protest in which we would ask all factions and groupings in Israeli society to treat each other with the respect and regard that they would hope to be treated? Are you listening, Hillel and Akiba? What if we protested protests and promoted dialogue and sitting down to deeply listen to the other and make their cause our concern? So much in our Jewish tradition really encourages us to do just that. I personally think it is the way to go, but I know…. This would definitely lead to another protest!