There Are No Perfect Families

“WHO THE HELL ASKED YOU?”

That’s my initial response to the barrage of stories and blog posts second guessing Sarah Palin’s life as a working mother. I’m not defending her here, frankly I don’t care about her. If she ever runs for President, i Might. What I care about is the sense of entitlement that leads people to pass judgment on the lives and families of women they have never met, whose kitchen tables they have never sat at, whose families grow up thousands of miles away from them.

The nomination of Sarah Palin as VP has served as an excuse for a bunch of the usual types to drag out their rhetoric against working mothers.

First up is Mother of the Year, Dr. Laura, who let her own mother’s corpse rot in her apartment for weeks, followed by a whole lot of other folks who think that they get veto power over someone else’s life.

We live in a sick celebrity centered culture, a global gossip village that makes people feel entitled to judge someone else’s personal life, just because they’ve seen her on television. A narcissistic celebrity centered culture lets an overstimulated public project their own egos on famous people, root for them and then destroy them.

It’s part of the Palin phenomenon, but not the whole of it. It’s part of why people feel entitled to judge someone else’s family they never even met, whose living room they never sat in, whose ups and downs they have never been a part of.

The whole of it is gossip. It’s the same old snide whispers and judgementalism masquerading under a self-righteous facade of concern for the traditional family. But they don’t mean a “traditional family”, they mean a perfect family, a family where nothing ever goes wrong, where no one ever has sex before marriage and mistakes are never made. But I’ve got news for you, that family doesn’t exist.

Every family has things wrong. Yes even the traditional families. Even the ones with white tableclothes and perfect family photographs. Perfect families try to maintain the illusion so they won’t be judged. And that’s where we get the traditional family, some perfect beacon that’s supposed to uphold that standard we can all be bowed under and gossiped about when we slip.

None of what I’m saying is an open door to do what you like, it’s a realistic assessment of the imperfect family. We all fall down. We all have to try and get up again, as well as we can, which is tough as hell to do in public.

It’s up to the family to make it work. It’s not up to any of us to pass judgement on how they make it work.

Muslim women say veils increase harassment

In Egypt, Some Women Say That Veils Increase Harassment

CAIRO — In a Muslim country where the numbers of women wearing the veil are rising, and so — by most accounts — are incidents of groping and catcalls in the streets, the message in ads circulating anonymously in e-mails here in Egypt is clear:

“A veil to protect, or eyes will molest,” one warns.

The words sit over two illustrations, one comparing a veiled woman, her hair and neck covered in the manner known to Muslims as hijab, to a wrapped candy, untouched and pure.

The other picture shows an unveiled woman, hair flying wildly and hip jutting, next to a candy that has had its wrapper stripped off — and is now covered in flies.

“You can’t stop them, but you can protect yourself,” warns another ad likening men to flies and women to sweets. Bloggers in Egypt have taken to calling such messages the “veil your lollipop” campaign.

No group has asserted responsibility for the online ads, which so far have drawn little attention outside Egyptian blogs. But the campaign comes at a time of converging debate on two keenly felt issues in Egypt: the growing social pressure on Muslim women to veil themselves; and the rising incidence of sexual harassment of women by strangers.

Surprisingly, some Egyptian women say that their veils don’t protect against harassment, as the lollipop ads argue, but fuel it. A survey released this summer supports the view.

“These guys are animals. If they saw a female dog, they would harass it,” Hind Sayed, a 20-year-old sidewalk vendor in Cairo’s Mohandisseen district, said, staring coldly at a knot of male vendors who stood grinning a few feet from her.
ad_icon

In accord with her interpretation of Islamic law, which says women should dress modestly, Sayed wore a flowing black robe and black veil. Together, they covered all but her hands and her pale face with its drawn-on, expressive eyebrows. Despite her attire, Sayed said, she daily endures suggestive comments from male customers and fellow vendors.

“I think a woman who wears hijab can be more provocative to them,” Sayed said. “The more covered up you are, the more interesting you are to them.”

Zuhair Mohammed, a 60-year-old shopper on the same street, said she long ago stopped wearing the traditional Islamic covering, in part for that reason.

“I feel like with the hijab, it makes them wonder, ‘What are you hiding underneath?’ ” Mohammed said.

Mona Eltahawy, a 41-year-old Egyptian social commentator who now lives, unveiled, in the United States, said that as a Muslim woman who wore hijab for nine years and was harassed “countless times” in Egypt, she has concluded that the increase in veiling has somehow contributed to the increase in harassment.

“The more women veil the less men learn to behave as decent and civilized members of society,” Eltahawy wrote in an interview via Facebook. “And the more women are harassed, the more they veil thinking it will ‘protect’ them.”

Female travelers consider Egypt one of the worst countries in the world for harassment on the streets — second only to Afghanistan, where the Taliban forced all women behind the veil and into seclusion in their homes.

And it’s not just women’s perceptions. The United States and Britain both warn female visitors in travel advisories that they may face unwanted attention, or sexual attacks, in Egypt.

When Egyptian lawmakers objected to Britain’s advisory this summer, calling it a slur, Britain responded that more female British tourists were harassed and assaulted, even raped, while in Egypt than in any other country.

A new survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights makes harassment on the streets appear not a risk, but a virtual certainty. According to the center, 98 percent of the foreign women and 83 percent of the Egyptian women surveyed said they had been sexually harassed in the country.

About half of the women, Egyptian and non-Egyptian, said they were harassed every day as they went about the streets. The survey polled 2,020 Egyptian men and women and 109 non-Egyptian women.

Foreign women identified Egyptian policemen and other security officials as the most frequent harassers.

Two-thirds of the Egyptian men surveyed admitted to harassing women, in actions ranging from staring openly at their bodies, shouting explicit comments, touching the women or exposing themselves.

“It makes a woman happy when I call to her. It makes her know she’s attractive,” 20-year-old Alla Aldin Salem said on the sidewalk in Mohandisseen, after going out of earshot of the glaring fellow vendor in hijab.

“The woman herself is the one who makes men harass her,” said Fawzi Tahbet, a 50-year-old man selling kitchenware on another stretch of the sidewalk, under the shade of a tree. “If she’s walking, swinging as she goes, of course it will happen.”

In fact, the survey’s results challenged a stereotype, according to Nehad Komsan, chairwoman of the women’s rights center.

While both men and women surveyed said that short skirts and tight clothes triggered harassment, the survey found that women in hijab were the most frequent targets of unwanted comments and touching on the street.

Among Egyptian women, 72 percent of those who described incidents of harassment said they were veiled at the time.

“It surprised me,” said Komsan, who wears hijab. “It doesn’t matter what you wear.”

Egypt’s most notorious case of harassment occurred last year when two fully veiled Gulf Arab women were surrounded by dozens of men on a street and molested.

Bystanders filmed the episode and posted it on YouTube. It became an embarrassment to Egypt’s government and a spark for the first public debate on sexual harassment in Egypt. A female lawmaker now is pushing legislation that would allow jail sentences for some forms of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Anecdotes told by the women who were surveyed portrayed women choosing to give up jobs and education because of harassment, Komsan said. She presented Egyptian news media with the case of a 14-year-old girl who stopped going to school because of the harassment she suffered on a public bus during the daily trips to school and back. The girl’s father had come to the women’s rights center, seeking help in getting his daughter back to class.

An estimated 80 percent of Egyptian women now wear hijab. Pressure on the remainder to cover up grows every year, as fundamentalism gains influence in Muslim societies worldwide.

“Bravo, you’ve taken the veil,” a popular Egyptian singer croons in one music video, which shows a previously neglectful boyfriend beaming and offering a wedding ring when his formerly uncovered girlfriend dons a head scarf.

Veiling parties laud girls who’ve covered up. Egyptian women who don’t wear hijab say that, more and more, they encounter strangers urging them in the streets, “Sister, you’d be more beautiful if you veiled.”

At the women’s rights center, Komsan recounted a few of the many reasons, in addition to religion, that prompt women to veil: rebellion against a less openly devout older generation; a desire to demonstrate Islamic solidarity; a desire to show oneself a good girl who would make a good wife.

Asked how many women also wore the veil in hopes of protecting against harassment, Komsan smiled. “Most,” she said.

The Whole Damned Shidduch Crisis

Let’s get this straight, there is no Shidduch crisis. There is a crisis in function when it comes to meeting and dating people. The whole name “Shidduch Crisis” alone tells you what’s wrong. It’s not a marriage crisis, it’s a problem centered on shidduchim. Get rid of the Shidduchim and you get rid of the “crisis”.

The whole reason we have a “Shidduch Crisis” is because we’re American Orthodox Jews living under two clumsily grafted together dating systems, one half American, one half Eastern European.

The Shadchan was a great way of bringing together two families for marriage based on social class and money, aka Yiches und Gelt. It worked great so long as the two people had little say in it didn’t care too much who they married. And by great, I mean it worked as badly as any other system for meeting and marrying someone.

But today American Orthodox Jews, at least the ones who can speak English and pay sales tax, actually care about who they marry. They actually want to get to know them and to make sure they can live with them. It’s not just two families making arrangements and working out the down payment. It’s two people, with feelings, personalities and expectations. And the Shidduch System wasn’t built for that at all and grinds to a slow and painful halt.

I’m not advising what to do to fix the “Shidduch Crisis”. I’m advising people not to be stupid. The Shidduch system was never built to do what is being expected of it. The Shidduch system worked and works only when people are minimally selective, when both sides can be reduced to a simple checklist of bank statements and Yichus. But nobody today marries a 200,000 dollar bank account and the great-grandson of the Divrei Something. You marry a human being, a human being you get to know and maybe even love. And there’s no checklist for that.

If every business had to recruit employees by calling a mean old woman in Boro Park or the Five Towns with a jotted down list of names of potential employees who they had to wait months to interview… business would grind to a halt.

Hell even if every business had to recruit employees through professional recruiters, but couldn’t go out and look for employees or put out ads or accept walk ins, business would grind to a halt. And then there would be a “Business Crisis”.

That’s all the “Shidduch Crisis” is, a crisis of function. When a system stops working, you either reform it or throw it out. But that’s not what the Frum world does, because the Frum world continues to insist on treating every bit of Narishkeit that was adopted along the way, every social custom, every tradition from 18th century Poland as Torah Mi’Sinai. American Orthodox Jews want the benefits of the American life while maintaining the customs of the Eastern European life. The resulting compromises produce hypocrisy and dysfunction. Pushed hard enough they produce crisis.

The solution to the “Shidduch Crisis” is not Tefilot or keeping the Mitzvos of whatever, though those all might be helpful, particularly to individuals. The solution to stupidity is to stop being stupid. The Shadchan system cannot be expected to do what we want it to. Not even if every married frum woman in America pitches in. Trying to cover over the resulting misery with talk about Bashert and Everyone has their own Nisoyon, won’t do it either.

Don’t look to me for solutions, but if you must have one, let me give you a Torah answer, that no frum person will accept. Yaakov Avinu met Rachel by a well and kissed her and impressed her by lifting a giant rock. Moshe Rabbeinu met his wife by a well and saved her from a bunch of hooligans. Calev met his wife when she saved his life while he was on a spying mission in her inn. Then there was David Hamelech who won the hand of his wife by bring in the castrated body parts of the king’s dead enemies.

Does that sound daring, romantic, too much like romance novels? We all know Yidden don’t act that way. Except they did and do. Men and women always have and always will remain the same. For better or worse.

The Shidduch system has blip all to do with religion. Every culture has two ways that marriages happen. The social structured way that involves careful family negotiations and have more to do with dowry and the in laws than the couple and the unstructured way that involves men and women meeting and falling for each other, wisely or unwisely. Many more traditional cultures proscribe the unstructred route. The frum world mostly does. Some try to structure it with dances and organized meetings. Back when we were Am Yisrael, before we were “Yidden” and groveled before every ridiculous European and Babylonian Goyische custom we picked up and hugged close to our chests, on Tu Be’av the girls danced in their white dresses waiting for a man to come to them.

No doubt there was a shidduch crisis then too.

Rabbanit Bruria Keren, Anorexia, Alternative Therapy and Women’s Religion

People in power like to believe that power means control. In the Haredi world the absolute supremacy of male leadership and the contempt for women has created the illusion that men are in charge. But when you oppress people, they just find alternate ways of expressing themselves.

Alternative Therapy has become the focal point for “women’s religion” in Haredi Judaism. Women can’t become Rabbis or Sofers or hold any position of religious authority but Alternative Therapy has been a back door to that and allowed women in the Haredi world to function as a cross between spiritual healers and therapists, incorporating Kabbalah, different energy healing programs and alternative therapies.

It’s absolutely no surprise then that one Alternative Therapist in Israel has created her own cult, Rabbanit Bruria Keren of the so-called Women of the Veil

Rabbanit Bruria Keren is functioning as a sort of early female Chassidic Rabbi with ascetic rather than joyful leanings, combining her alternative therapy and organic foods with the one legitimate outlet for Haredi Women and what’s been repeatedly described as a woman’s most important Mitzvah, Tznius. Her followers seem to cover converts and Baal Tesuvahs, many connected to Breslov. (A claim in the comments section says that Bruria Keren is herself a BT but the article states that she is from a Haredi family) Breslov’s splintered factions are spinning off a lot of crazy behavior and converts and BT’s often lack the ability to tell right from wrong in Judaism and embrace extremism as right.

All the bloggers who talk about being rendered speechless by Rabbanit Bruria Keren and her followers are missing the point. The obsessive focus on Tznius in the Haredi world has created a culture of insecurity for women. The followers of Rabbanit Bruria Keren have taken control of Tznius from men by imposing extreme versions of it on themselves. Their security in the righteousness of the Burka comes from the relief that they don’t have to worry that their Tznius is inadequate anymore and the Tznius paranoia was instilled in them by Haredi men in the first place. Converts and BT’s who would have the most boundary issues when adapting to Haredi ideas of Tznius in the first place were the most vulnerable.

Think of what’s going on with the Women of the Veil and Rabbanit Bruria Keren as “Clothing Anorexia”. Anorexics try to attain a perfect standard of thinness that they begin to engage in self-destructive eating behavior. These women are aiming for an impossibly perfect standard of Tznius and are engaging in self-destructive dressing behavior. Only when dressed in a tent can they feel secure in their holiness because they’ve been made to feel that their femininity is something shameful and dirty.

“At first I wore only three skirts and a cape. Then I read that Rabbanit Kanievsky, a well-known figure in the haredi community, covered the upper part of her hand (shoresh kaf hayad) with cloth. I looked at the place my fingers began, and saw that it was indeed very feminine. So I cut off the ends of some socks and wore them on my hand, to cover the part up to my fingers. At first I wore them only outside, because they bothered me at home. Gradually I also began to wear them at home, and now I sleep in them as well as in a high neckline. When one receives light, one receives holiness.”

It’s not too hard to see what’s going on here. The irrational pursuit of Chumras Ad Infinitum, the Tznius obsession and the embrace of mysticism and superstition along with dubious alternative therapies and the subjugation of women has created a tinderbox. Rabbanit Bruria Keren, who is undoubtedly completely sincere, is a symptom rather than the problem.

When you teach women to hate themselves, whether you do it with impossibly thin stick figure models or by obsessively telling women that their body is a vehicle for sin and it’s their fault if they don’t adopt the latest chumra, you are opening the door to the same problem. If you teach people to hate themselves, they will. Promiscuity and the Burka are two sides of the same ugly coin and two extremes meet in the middle for a poisonous kiss.

Women are particularly sensitive to body image. Haredi Judaism has spent too long driving out the female body as if they were exorcising some evil demon. Women’s bodies are wrapped up and women’s faces are banished from magazine covers and ads. So what is the logic in not covering women’s faces outright?

Haredi Judaism has spent so much time trying to force its followers into models of virtue, that like Victorian England, they’ve forgotten the inherent imperfections of people and instead taught them to hate each other and themselves. The Torah accepted human frailty far more than the Haredi world does today. The Torah is full of flawed people, the Gedolim biographies are full of saints.

Now Haredi Judaism has spawned or respawned a Catholic mania of self-mortification through clothing. And calling Rabbanit Bruria Keren names won’t help. Accepting women will. Tznius has its place but modesty and virtue have to exist within a human framework rather than an inhuman one because the Women of the Veil are the end result of the inhuman framework.

Right now Rabbanit Bruira Keren is catering to the fringe, Breslov, converts, BT’s. But this isn’t going away and things on the fringe can become mainstream. There are two kinds of rebellion, one is against the rules and one is an extreme adoption of the rules. Both are destructive and unhealthy but the Haredi world has cherished the latter while smearing the former as Godless. It’s time to return to the good and pleasant ways of the Torah and the ways of Hashem, to love each other rather than hate each other and to go neither to the right nor to the left, not to one extreme and not to another.

Give women a place in religious life beyond lecturing on Tznius, because Rabbanit Bruria Keren is the end result of that.

Is Seeing Titanic Worse Than Eating Pork?

From Tzvi Fishman

Several years ago, I was asked to lecture to a group of yeshiva students from South Africa. When they showed up late, I asked what happened. They explained that they had a few free hours, so they went to see a movie, Titanic.

“The Titanic!” I exclaimed. “Seeing a movie like that is worse than eating pork!”

“Since when does great cinematography override the Torah prohibitions of, ‘You shall not turn after your hearts and after your eyes to lead you astray,’ and ‘You shall guard yourself from every evil thing,’ meaning you should not look at prohibited matters by day and come to impure emissions at night?” (Avodah Zara 20B; Niddah 13A)

“Look, guys,” I told them. “I haven’t seen the movie, but you don’t have to have ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) to know that there is bound to be a pretty girl and a good-looking guy on board. Once the ship hits the iceberg, they have to find some way to consummate their passion before the ship sinks into the cold, unloving ocean. Am I right?”

Now there is a very specific Issur against eating Pork. There is no actual specific Issur DeOraisa against watching a pretty girl. It may be better not to do it, but claiming that it’s better to eat pork than to see pritzus is simply wrong. I realize that Tzvi Fishman is on the Kabbalistic side of things, which means in his world everything revolves around the genitals and controlling seminal emissions. But that’s not what the Torah is concerned with, that’s what some parts of Kabbalah are concerned with.

It’s perfectly possible to warn against pritzus without having to minimize actual Issurim de’oraita. Eating pork is an actual violation. Even if we are to claim that Zera Levatala is an Issur De’Oraita, a movie is not the same thing as an actual violation of the Issur.

How does the great award-winner start? We are back once again underwater. This time, we are following the point of view of the camera as it is moves toward the sunken ship and enters into a porthole. After a few mysterious turns down empty corridors, we enter an eerily undisturbed cabin. We pass by a large canopy bed and move toward a dresser, zooming in to a screen-filling close-up of a framed photograph of – you guessed it – a beautiful naked girl. And this is the movie that almost every Jewish boy in the world, from the age of eight to eighty, has seen who knows how many times.

Picture, it’s a picture. A loose sketch, for goodness sake. And I seriously doubt your average Jewish boy has watched Titanic. I watched it because there was nothing else on and I was bored out of my mind. Yes the actress does briefly pose naked later, but that’s overwhelmed by the fact that she looks like the male lead’s mother and the fact that you’ve been bored senseless by that point by a three hour movie.

That said frum people shouldn’t see it. Is it worse than an Issur De’Oraisa, no it is not. Fishman is clearly trying to repudiate his former life but he’s going to extremes to do it.

Who’s Afraid of Orthodox Women’s Prayer Groups?

For quite a while now, the women’s prayer group debate has gone on and on, mainly with Rabbis writing psaks that have no actual halacha whatsoever to back them up really but like Rav Kook, are primarily concerned that women’s prayer groups are something foreign and that they uproot tradition and open the door to feminism.

The chief argument against women’s prayer groups is that they uproot tradition, the mesorah and der heilige mincha. To cite R. Gil Student’s piece,

R. Meiselman writes, “The fact that we have a mesora, a tradition from each previous generation, to praise and how to praise God, enables us to proceed. Halakha and tradition enable us to engage within prayer. The moment we deviate from these guidelines, our prayer loses its meaning, and more importantly, its justification.” He further writes, “In the area of the halakhot of prayer, minhag has greater power than in other areas of the halakha… For the Rav, minhag bet ha-keneset also had great significance…”

So you mean we can’t just decide to uproot minchag by innovating a new nusach. Which is why major portions of the Jewish world followed their mesorah and is davening Nusach Sefard and is following customs innovated by the Arizal or R. Chaim Vital? Oh wait, that was a giant splintering of minchag and mesorah. In fact we follow a whole load of minchagim that were the product of innovation in the last few centuries. We follow the Zohar which has no revealed mesorah.

Minchag Bet Ha Knesset? Please. Go to your average Chassidische Shteibel and you can see a whole bunch of new minchagim that completely splintered their mesorah.

Take a look at Machon Shilo’s Nusach Eretz Yisrael to see just how far we’ve left those halachic guidelines behind. Oh and remind me how many of us this sukkot slept in a sukkah, something that was viewed as mandatory in the time of the Mishna? Oh right, I forgot, our toesis get cold at night so we can toss Halacha out the door. But when a few women want to daven together, it’s suddenly the end of the freaking world!

Let’s face reality, this objection is completely hollow. Women’s prayer groups don’t innovate nusach and minchag. If they were men, there would be no issue here. If they were boys, there would be no issue here. But boys have the right of chinuch but women even lack that because children are seen to have a religious future while women have none.

The fact of the matter is that in your average shul women sit at the back of the bus, for all their torah tapes rhetoric, they are marginalized when it comes to davening. Is it so wrong for them to want to experience what it’s like being the focus of the davening, instead of the spectators on the outside?

Then there’s the debate over the motivation behind women’s prayer groups. No doubt some of those pushing the women’s prayer groups would like a lot of things that don’t jibe with Orthodoxy. Then again most don’t. And if the motivations of women who want to daven in prayer groups are to be held to account with the worst possible interpretation, then so should those men who reject prayer groups no matter how much they are compromised and conducted within the grounds of halacha.

The Frimers write, “[T]he women engaged in a women’s service were missing out on tefilla be-tsibbur, the recitation of various devarim she-bi-kdusha, and a proper, halakhic Torah reading-available to them only if they attended a regular minyan. Granted, women are exempt from the obligations of public prayer, but the Rav was deeply disturbed that women who had consciously chosen not to stay and pray at home, but rather to participate in a women’s tefilla group, were actively and deliberately opting for the inauthentic in place of the authentic.”

Similarly, R. Meiselman writes, “First and foremost, halakha simply does not allow one to opt for a secondary level of religious performance. We are absolutely obligated to pursue excellence in our divine worship. One who opts for mediocrity in his religious worship is not only a second class citizen, but also has violated basic precepts in Jewish law.”

I’ve seen this gem repeated over and over again a thousand times. Let’s pause to contemplate the absurdity here.

Halacha does not allow one to opt for a secondary level of religious performance… as applied to women who have no obligation in this case anyway and who are routinely kept away from prayers. If women have no such obligation, then imposing an obligation to pray with a men’s minyan is absurd. If women do have such an obligation, then doesn’t that justify Women’s prayer groups in the first place. You can’t toss women out the door and at the same time castigate them for not meeting the obligations they don’t have in the first place.

But first let’s contemplate of authentic and excellence in divine worship. Is it more authentic and more excellent to pray in a way that allows you to raise your voice and feel yourself as an active partner in prayer, rather than an unwanted spectator, muted behind a curtain? Is it more authentic to meet an obligation you don’t have anyway while diminishing the quality of your davening. Is that the best way to achieve excellence in divine worship?

Having denied women an equal part in davening, the argument is that separate but equal won’t fly either. It has to be segregation or it has to be nothing at all. Either stay home or stay behind the curtain. Is that really about concern with authentic divine worship or is that about control?

If women have no role in a men’s minyan and are expected to daven at home, then what is the real objection to their creation of a place where they can daven together?

The problem with control is that it’s elusive. The more you tighten your grip, the less control you really have. When you create a vacuum, something else replaces it. Take a look at Boro Park where some Chassidish groups have cut women out of much of Davening and then note how popular energy healing and similar practices are. Cut off women in Boro Park from Chumash and Tefilah and you get witchcraft, why be surprised over that. Cut off Modern Orthodox women and they’ll find other outlets, non-Jewish ones. Because much as many Rabbis fail to recognize it, there is a hole left in Orthodox Jewish women by alienating them from much of religious life. And that hole will be filled. One way or another.

First Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Ben Zion Uziel on Women’s Rights

It is instructive reading this not only to take notice of the clear common sense that radiations from Rav Benzion Uziel’s words as for the grace and dignity and learning with which his ideas are expressed, a grace and dignity all too often shabbily absent in today’s tawdry proceedings where shrill voices dominate and hateful language is the order of the day from all sides. The words of Rav Ben Zion Uziel are a cool tonic in an overheated room and it is noteworthy that the ideas they express have long ago become all but barred from public discourse in the Haredi world as something foreign and alien.

This is an except of Rabbi Ben Zion Uziel’s complete letter which can be found here

“WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES AND IN INSTITUTIONS OF PUBLIC AND YISHUV LEADERSHIP” Rabbi Ben Zion Uziel, 1920

A. Women’s Right to Vote
This issue became a central controversy in Erets Yisrael,
and the whole Land of Israel rocked with the debate.
Posters and warnings, pamphlets and newspaper articles
appeared anew every morning, absolutely prohibiting
women’s participation in the elections. Some based their
argument on “Torah Law,” some on the need to preserve
the boundaries of modesty and morals, and others on the
wish to ensure the peace of the family home. All leaned
upon the saying “The new is prohibited by Torah (hadash
asur min ha-torah).”

Regarding the first [heading], we find no clear ground to
prohibit this, and it is inconceivable that women should
be denied this personal right. For in these elections we
elevate leaders upon us and empower our representatives
to speak in our name, to organize the matters of our
yishuv, and to levy taxes on our property. The women,
whether directly or indirectly, accept the authority of
these representatives and obey their public and national
directives and laws. How then can one simultaneously
“pull the rope from both ends”: lay upon them the duty
to obey those elected by the people, yet deny them the
right to vote in the elections?
If anyone should tell us that women should be excluded
from the voting public because “their minds are flighty
(da`atan qalot)” (Shabbat 33b and Qiddushin 80b) and
they know not how to choose who is worthy of leading
the people, we reply: Well, then, let us exclude from the
electorate also those men who are “of flighty minds” (and
such are never lacking). However, reality confronts us
clearly with the fact that, both in the past and in our
times, women are equal to men in knowledge and wisdom,
dealing in commerce and trade and conducting all
personal matters in the best possible way. Has it ever been
known that a guardian is appointed to conduct the affairs
of an adult woman, against her will?
The meaning of our Rabbis’ statement, “da`atan qalot,” is
entirely different. Also, the statement “women have no
wisdom except with regard to the spindle” (Yoma 66b), is
only flowery wording intended to circumvent a question
posed by a woman.

But perhaps this should be prohibited because of licentiousness?
But what licentiousness can there be in this,
that each person goes to the poll and enters his voting
slip? If we start considering such activities as licentious,
no creature would be able to survive! Women and men
would be prohibited from walking in the street, or from
entering a shop together; it would be forbidden to negotiate
in commerce with a woman, lest this encourage
closeness and lead to licentiousness. Such ideas have never
been suggested by anyone.

(Editor’s Note: Today they are commonly suggested)

A great innovation was advanced by Rabbi Dr. Ritter2,
who advocates denying suffrage to women because they
are not qahal or edah, and were not counted in the census
of the people of Israel nor subsumed into the genealogical
account of the families of Israel. (His article is not before
me, and I rely on the report by Rabbi Hirschensohn.)
Well, let us assume that they are neither qahal nor edah,
and were counted neither in census nor as “family” or
anything. But are they not creatures, created in the Divine
Image and endowed with intelligence? And do they not have concerns that the representative assembly, or the
committee it will choose, will be dealing with? And will
they not be called upon to obey these bodies regarding
their property as well as the education of their sons and
daughters?
In conclusion: having found not the slightest grounds for
this prohibition, I find that no one has the slightest right
to oppose or to deny the wishes of part of the public on
this matter. Regarding a similar situation, it has been said:
“Even if ninety-nine request imposed distribution, and
only one demands outright competition, that one should
be followed, for his demand is legally right”(Mishnah
Pe’ah 4:1). Over and above this, it has been stated:
“Women were allowed to lay hands [on their sacrifice] for
the sake of giving them a feeling of gratification”
(Hagigah 16b), even though such an act appeared to the
public as prohibited; how much more so in our case,
where there is no aspect of prohibition at all, and where
preventing their participation will be for them insulting
and deceitful. Most certainly, in this case we should grant
them their right.

Logic dictates that in no serious assembly or worthy discus-
sion is there licentiousness. Daily, men meet and
negotiate with women in commercial transactions, and yet all is peace and quiet. Even those inclined to sexual
licentiousness will not contemplate the forbidden while
seriously transacting business. Our rabbis did not say “Do
not engage in much conversation with a woman” (Avot
1:5) except as regards idle, needless chatter; for that sort
of conversation leads to sin, but not so debate over important,
communal issues. Meeting in the same enclosed area
for the sake of public service—which is tantamount to
service of the Divine—does not habituate people to sin
or cause levity; for all Jews, men and women alike, are
holy, and not suspected of violating conventions of modesty
or morality.

(Editor’s note: such an approach would certainly stem the mad tide of paranoia when it comes to constantly suspecting women of immodesty)

Finally, I have seen a newly contrived basis for not giving
women the right to participate in elections (even to
vote)—namely, out of consideration for the prohibition
of flattery, lest a woman insincerely cast her vote for the
individual or party that her husband favors. Sefer Malki Ba-Qodesh wrote correctly that such is not flattery but the
upright nurturing of love. To which I would add: Would
that this would be the case, that every woman would
esteem her husband to the extent of suppressing her will
on account of his. One might even voice this reason in
favor of giving [women] the right to vote, so that a wife
might thereby show love and esteem to her husband, and
peace thereby abound in the house of Israel.

E. Conclusions:
1) A woman has an absolute right of participation in elections
so that she be bound by the collective obligation
to obey the elected officials who govern the nation.
2) A woman may also be elected to public office by the
consent and ordinance of the community.