25 December 2011

Putting Women in the Picture

For the Kavod of Torah .... Putting Women in the Picture

An ultra-Orthodox man suspected of cursing and spitting at a religious woman in the central Israeli town of Beit Shemesh last week, was arrested Saturday night. According to the indictment, a number of men assaulted Alisa Coleman, who was helping girls onto a school bus to the religious-Zionist "Orot Banot" elementary school for girls. According to her attackers she was immodestly dressed......

"When God said 'it is not good for man to be alone' and made him a helpmeet, this is not what He intended," said Adina Bar-Shalom, daughter of Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

This is not the right behavior of frum men ... This 'acting out' is juvenile and irresponsible. This behavior gives credence and support to Mrs Horowitz's concern about the influence on young boys. "They are taught that they are lords who sit in the front. And they learn from this that it is possible to relate to women as though they are garbage. But where have they themselves come from? Didn't women give birth to them?"

Kol HaKavod Yocheved Horowitz

The following are quotes and selected portions of a Haaretz article titled, "The Original Israeli Rosa Parks," about why she [Mrs Horowitz] placed herself in the front of a Mehadrin bus. It's a long article and exceptional for Haaretz. I only hope that PM Binyamin Netanyahu gets to read this, and thus understands that the other female who thought she was emulating Rosa Parks actually resorted to provocation and nastiness and in her actions behaved as an ignorant fraud.

From her own words, Mrs Horowitz:

"I've done this so people won't say the Torah commands the scorning and humiliation of women."

"We're talking about an idea, a concept. About the fact that women are not marionettes. They have a body, a soul, a spirit. They have feelings. And a man is supposed to respect a woman more than his own body. The Rambam says something that is the basis of all peace in the home: 'He should honor her more than his own body, and love her like his own body,'"

"That people tell a woman to go to the back of the bus and repeat this like a mantra - 'Women to the back' - is outrageous..."

"What do you mean by 'men's area'? A geographical area?" she wondered. "What is mehadrin? Are you talking about an etrog, a lulav?" she queried, referring to two of the principal symbols used during the festival of Sukkot. "Nowhere in rabbinical law does it say that it is forbidden to sit behind a woman, not in the Shulchan Arukh and not in the Yoreh De'ah [two classical compilations of Jewish law]. What is written in the Torah and in rabbinical law is that it is forbidden to humiliate sons and daughters of Israel."

"And she adds: "I became a feminist when I witnessed the oppression of women."

"People cite all kinds of statements from the sages, and in that way cover their wickedness and hatred for women. And that is the worst of all, because women have not studied those things. And they don't know what is correct and what isn't."

Horowitz is a tall woman of 51 with comely features. Her personality combines a rare openness with stricter observance of rabbinical law than many "regular" ultra-Orthodox people. In ultra-Orthodox society, which is accustomed to labeling and cataloging people according to their social and religious affiliation and pedigree, most probably they would attribute her difference to the fact that she is European-born.

Horowitz was born in France, the daughter of a devout ultra-Orthodox family. Her father was a French-born rabbi; her mother was a teacher at an ultra-Orthodox seminary for girls in England. She grew up in a small ultra-Orthodox bubble of a few families that gathered around the yeshiva which her father headed in a small town some 60 kilometers from Paris. It was a Lithuanian yeshiva established in the Novardok tradition, known for its strictness. But the community's girls studied in a relatively lenient atmosphere.

"We studied everything. Alongside sacred studies and lessons about modesty we studied French and mathematics. History. All around was open nature and forest. It was a wonderful childhood and my girlfriends and I were like sisters,"
she reminisces.

When she was 13 her beloved father died, and her family immigrated to Israel. She was sent to the Rabbi Wolf seminary in Bnei Brak, but did not acclimate to the society of the Israeli girls there. After a year, she transferred to the Beit Yaakov seminary in Manchester.

Horowitz: "We mainly had Jewish studies: Torah, Prophets, morality, worldview and prayer. We loved it, because we had wonderful teachers. There were girls from Denmark, Russia, Belgium, France and of course England, and I tutored some of them because they had come from homes where they hadn't done Jewish studies.

"We were taught mostly by rabbis, and the director was a Gur Hasid. They instilled in us the idea that a woman has to be subordinate to a man and be a good wife. This was strong brainwashing, and it had an influence on me."

Horowitz married at the age of 17, in an arranged match with a boy from the extreme wing of Neturei Karta - an extreme Hasidic sect known for its opposition to Zionism. She has four children, all of whom were educated at Yiddish-speaking institutions. About a decade ago, she and her husband divorced, and she subsequently remarried.

Over the years Horowitz has worked as a lactation counselor for the women of Mea She'arim. She dismisses those who say that seating women in the rear of bus is designed to make it easier for them to nurse modestly: "Anyone who is nursing [already] knows to go to the back. She does this quietly. But I don't think that women tend to nurse on the bus. Usually there are screaming babies on a bus. In any case, that isn't a reason to put the women in the back like sheep and cattle. You have to rely on women's intelligence and their common sense."

"In ultra-Orthodox society, it's customary to think that woman are not worthy of being leaders," ... "But it's a fact," she goes on, referring to the Bible, "that Judith did a brave deed when she went out on Hanukkah to the military camp to kill the Syrian general Holofernes and saved the Jewish people. And Deborah was a judge. It wasn't customary for women to hold public positions then. So why did these women become leaders? Because there wasn't anyone else of stature. In Deborah's case, it never occurred to the wise men to choose a man as a judge in her place simply because he was a man. Also on the issue of separation, it can be said that if there isn't anyone else who will protest, then I am protesting."

"She says she is especially concerned about the influence of gender segregation on young boys. 'They are taught that they are lords who sit in the front. And they learn from this that it is possible to relate to women as though they are garbage. But where have they themselves come from? Didn't women give birth to them?'"

"I am acting because I can't stand to see other women humiliated," ... They have been educated to exist with their eyes closed and I say that where there isn't a man, try to be a woman," smiling, as she paraphrases Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers ).

"I don't, heaven forbid, have any interest in provocation. But I hope that what happened today will happen every day. At first, one woman will sit in the front of the bus and then a second one will join her and then a third will come. That gradually everything will return to normal, and that people will learn to relate to women."

Please read the full article in Haaretz, which they deserve a 'thank you' for being fair in reporting.


The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Views on Women Today,
by Susan Handelman, Ph.D.

Selected portions from Dr Handelman's essay:

The Rebbe saw within the stirrings of the Women's Movement a deep spiritual inner dimension and strong redemptive energies.

There are many forms of knowledge, and there is a certain dimension of understanding one gains only through an insider's position, and through having known one's subject "face to face." This is particularly true in relation to a "Rebbe," a figure who functions on many levels -- not just as a thinker, writer, teacher, rabbi or public leader, but also as an intimate, personal counselor. So I hope to add a personal perspective to the literature about the Lubavitcher Rebbe's relation to women's issues. While it is quite clear to me that the Rebbe understood and sympathized deeply with the yearnings and aspirations of women on many levels, it is important to first portray briefly here the larger theological-metaphysical framework in which he perceived their strivings, and their place in his over-all vision of Jewish history, the mission of the Jewish people and redemption.

"In an oft-quoted passage from a talk on Jewish education for women given in 1990, the Rebbe reinterprets the basic talmudic and halachic sources regarding women's Torah study, draws out the practical implications, exhorts women to increase their study and teaching, and asks for the community at large to support this endeavor. He further asks: why has this increase in Torah learning for women occurred specifically in the recent era?

On the one hand, the Rebbe answers, there is the traditional idea that each generation further from the Divine revelation at Sinai is on a "lower" level; and so there is an increasingly greater need to bolster it. Nevertheless, he continues, the result has been a great good, an increase in Torah study; and this increase in Torah study by women he emphatically describes as one of the "positive innovations of the later generations." 3/

Kabbalistic and chassidic teachings have a special understanding of the role of the feminine in the Era of Redemption and the World-to-Come. Then, say the classical sources, all the "feminine" aspects of the world will emerge from their concealment and diminution in the unredeemed world and rise to the highest stature. 5/

The Rebbe: Unity is more true than diversity; the real truth is the interdependence of all things into a unity, the Unity of G-d. The multiplicity of creation is no contradiction to the Unity of G-d; indeed this multiplicity comes from His Unity, as Chassidut explains at length.

The Rebbe has pointed out that science is approaching the same realization, so to speak. He explains that it was once thought that every natural force was an independent power, that the substance of every being was composed of many different elements. With the growth and progress of science, however, man is coming more and more to realize that this multiplicity and separation of elements is something external-merely the manner in which parts combine, the way they are broken down or expanded. Science has more and reduced the number of essential elements until it has come to the realization that the essence of the existence of the world consists in the unification of two aspects: "quality and quantity," or "energy and mass"; everything is a unity of these two aspects. What science does not yet realize or admit is that this unity is from G-d and is an aspect of His unity.

Women and Holiness

The Rebbe made a very interesting distinction between the kinds of kedushah, "holiness," the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs respectively brought into the world. The Matriarchs of Israel brought a different kind of kedushah into the world than did the Patriarchs, he maintained. The Patriarchs could draw into the world a "holiness" that would remain in the physical object after the mitzvah they performed was fulfilled -- but only in that part of the physical which had a connection to the Patriarchs themselves. For example, the mitzvah of circumcision which Abraham was commanded, drew kedusha into the body that fulfilled the mitzvah but not into the world outside. However, through Sarah, the first Matriarch, kedusha was drawn into a part of the world outside of her, and this power she bequeathed to all Jewish women. [Chayei Sarah (Gen. 23-25:18), 12/]

The Rebbe points out that the reason why this great reward is given to all Jewish women in all times, till the coming of the Messiah and after (and not just to the women of that one generation [who left Egypt and contended with the Golden Calf]) is because the power to withstand such a great test which even the men could not endure comes from an innate superior trait that all Jewish women in all ages possess.

3/ "Al Devar Chiyuv Neshei Yisrael B'Chinukh u-veLimmud ha-Torah 5750 [1990]." Sefer haSichot, Vol. 2 (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Kehot, 1992), pp. 455-459.

5/ That is the deeper meaning of the famous verse from Proverbs (12:4), "A woman of valor is the crown of her husband" and from the prophet Jeremiah (31:21), "the woman will encircle the man." The crown, symbolizing the highest kabbalistic sefira (divine attribute) of Keter, sits on top of and encircles the head. Similarly, in the prophecy of Jeremiah, "the woman encircling the man," signifies the highest level of divine revelation, in the mode of a "circle" (makkif). In a circle, all points are also equidistant from the center, as opposed to the hierarchical structure of a line. A circle also symbolizes what encompasses and can't be contained and delimited. There are hints to this in the wedding ceremony where the bride indeed encircles the groom, and in the language of the wedding blessings. See further the chassidic discourse of R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his Torah Ohr, end of Parshat Vayigash, and his commentary on the Siddur and the wedding blessings for the relation of male and female in the messianic era and World-to-Come.

12/ Likkutei Sichot, Vol. 5, pp. 336-353.

Another mention:

The Rebbe would often vigorously end his public discourses with the words "u-lematah me-assarah tefachim, b'karov mamash!" ("Below ten handbreadths, soon and really!"). In other words, to bring all the wishes for good for the Jewish people, for redemption, for tikkun of the world -- to bring this all down from abstract concepts and spiritual ideas to "below ten handbreadths." "Ten handbreadths" is the halachic measurement for a "private domain" on Shabbat, but more to the point, a reference to the rabbinic saying that "the shechinah (divine presence) never descended below ten handbreadths." [15/ Talmud, Sukkah 5a]

In other words, bring this all completely down to earth, to the ground, to our collective and individual literal, historical, physical, daily, mundane existence. And this, too, I believe, is what he tried to do in putting women "into the picture" of Jewish life, not just in theory, but pragmatically and actually -- "soon and really"!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was light years ahead


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