Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Will all of the understanding moderates please stand up?

As the song goes from decades ago, “when will we ever learn; when will we ever learn?” I always feel like I should be a responsible citizen of the world, Jew, mother and wife, professional, etc. and know what is going on in the world. Our 18 year-old-son, who is definitely a Current Events Junkie, makes sure I know what is happening on our planet in its various corners. The sad part is that inevitably I am depressed and ask myself why I have just subjected myself to yet more stories of abuse, extremism and lack of understanding of what this thing we call humanity is really all about. That’s when the words that so remind us all of Peter. Paul and Mary and so many others of that “can’t we fix this world” era become the ever-present refrain in my head.

So last week in my dutiful attempt to keep up with the news, I read about Sahar Majid, this seemingly lovely and intelligent young Pakistani woman who dared to walk outside of her house in Western clothing and had to deal with the stares and statements of disapproval that greeted her wherever she went. Then there is ten-year-old Nujood Ali, the Yemenite girl who is now known everywhere for having obtained a divorce – AT TEN YEARS OF AGE, in case you missed that little fact. Then there is the case of Israel Meir Kin, who has decided NOT to give his wife a Jewish divorce and then go and marry another woman in this country! Brandeis changes its mind about honoring Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has become an extremist on the other side, being very anti-Moslem. Then to top off my week of recreational reading, I open The Jerusalem Report (my absolutely favorite magazine in the world) to read about the war between Jews who protect a very right wing notion of Israel at all costs and those who have responded as anti-Zionists as well articulated by Tibor Krausz. And of course then there is the entanglement of Ukraine and Russia to address. And so it continues….

This week I think I am returning to my NO NEWS OR MEDIA diet for a bit of a rest. With catching up after Pesach, there won’t be much reading time to worry about anyway I guess.

We as Jews teach that the Second Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam (causeless hatred bringing so much pain to others), though I was just informed that members of our religiously observant Jewish community are ardently teaching that it was destroyed because of basketballs being thrown on Shabbat or Yom Tov (inside an Eruv mind you!)…. Who knew they even played basketball in those times? By the way, there are indeed texts about ball playing, materials of which they are made, engaging in meaningless activity, issues of cleanliness and impurity and such in the Gemara to be fair, but stay with me here…. I totally understand and respect that there are members of our larger religious Jewish community who accept this restriction on Shabbat and Yom Tov as activity that is not appropriate for that day. My point is that the abuses cited here are not appropriate ANY DAY and we should be as passionate and strict about teaching that to ALL of our community members!!

The question I am posing is why is there not absolute outrage unanimously in the Orthodox community about Mr. Kin’s practice of leaving his WIFE as an Agunah – chained woman – while he goes off for a wedding with another woman (and by the way, I want to know -- what was SHE thinking?!?!?!) Why are there not more Moslems publicly decrying the abuses of women that seem to be an accepted part of daily life in many predominately Moslem countries all too often? Why isn’t every RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION and community with leaders who are known to be sex offenders not publicly denouncing them? I am sad when I hear about anyone who is so ANTI-ANY RELIGION as an entire system, because I do believe that religion can and often does bring out the best in us. However, when it does not, there needs to be a clear and serious acknowledgement of this factor and our community leaders, whoever they are, MUST speak out about these challenges to the well-being of all of us collectively!

Interestingly and sadly enough, in each and every one of these cases (and I am sorry, there are too many to just dismiss as an exception), what we see is exercising extreme stringency in one area of law but personal permission granted in other areas. Men who promise their young daughters as wives as a means of a business deal or personal standing, or worse, as happened not long ago, as a way to blackmail a wife who wanted a divorce in the religious Jewish community MUST BE SANCTIONED! Religious leaders have to seriously consider how abuses by the most strictly observant of their groups are directly correlative with those on the left who become so anti-Moslem; anti-Christian, anti-Judaism or anti-Israel and so on.

Here is something to consider. Look back at the examples in this short review. Notice the degree of abuse of women and that this abuse is way too often at the hands of men. Notice the incidences of Rabbis, Priests and other religious leaders (all of whom are male) who have been recently indicted for various abuses of their office, directed at women or children most often. Think about who are the victims of "Honor Killings!"

In this time during which women’s roles are still moving beyond the limits of the glass ceiling, let us hope that our increasing number of women leaders and exemplars will change the tide which has been moving in such a frightening direction. I do believe that women will be the ones very often to gather the moderates and have them advance an agenda of caring and compassion. I already see it. In intergroup dialogue, there are often more women involved. In various groups in Israel where Palestinians and Israelis are working to live together in a more constructive manner, women are ever-present. Most of those who speak out the most about these abuses are in fact women. Further, women are working in amazing ways through NGO's and other means to counteract the harmful results of many of these abuses. Even 10 year-old Nujood Ali has learned to speak up to get her divorce and take charge of the life that controlling men in her world tried to steal!

As we consider the lessons of Pesach and the leaving of Egypt to reclaim our personal freedoms, let’s remember that those freedoms will be protected and defended by the moderates amongst us. Now, let’s all stand up!

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