Second-Class Citizens

I’ve always been mystified by those who maintain that Orthodox women are oppressed. (The problem seems to be, more often than not, that they’ve never actually met an Orthodox woman.) But I’ve found the solution: everyone would understand the honor accorded to women in the Orthodox community if only we could bring them all to Yerushalayim. Why? Because of the death notices.

We learn from the Torah that a deceased person must be buried on the day of his death – in other words, his body must not be left unburied overnight. In Yerushalayim, the chevra kadisha is especially careful about this mitzvah, and when someone dies, people go out in the streets with megaphones to announce the time of the funeral, because this is still the quickest, most reliable way to inform the city of a death. The other method of notifying the public of a funeral is the large, black-and-white posters found all over Jerusalem. They look like this:

photo borrowed from jewishmom.com. thanks!

Most death notices contain a short eulogy of the deceased, describing their notable character traits and admirable accomplishments. For example, the notice above, for Rabbanit Rachel Fisher a”h, describes her as having spent all her days doing kindness and good deeds, increasing and spreading Torah in Israel, and particularly notes that she met all trials and tribulations with a smile. It refers to her as The Great, Humble, and Righteous Rabbanit.

I was struck by one particular death notice this week, informing the public of the passing of one Rabbanit Sofer a”h. There were several posters, each with a different heading. One said “Aishes Chayil Mi Yimtza” – who can find a woman of valor? Another said, “Nafla Ateres Rosheinu” – the crown of our head has fallen. A third said, “Oy! Meh Haya Lonu?” (This is hard to translate – literally it means “Oy, what has happened to us?” but it has a connotation of “God, how could you have done this to us?”)

Now show that poster – which was undoubtedly produced by a man – to the most liberal, feminist, egalitarian person you can find, and ask whether women are second-class citizens in the Orthodox world.

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5 comments on “Second-Class Citizens

  1. Sarah says:

    The last time I was in Israel, I got lost in a chareidi neighborhood. It was about ninety-five degrees and I was, as always, wearing long sleeves and a long skirt, so I was eager to find the right direction and get on my way again. But it was right before Shabat, and only some men were out on the street. The men would not stop to help me and give me directions. I had to wander around until some women finally came out.

    I think some segments of Orthodoxy have major problems with how they treat women. And yes, I have met Orthodox women.

    • LM says:

      I’m sorry you had such a negative experience. While it’s possible that the unfriendliness you encountered was the result of a pervasive attitude towards women, it’s also possible that these particular men were in a hurry, or that these were just a few rude individuals. I don’t mean to belittle your experience; at the same time, I would urge you not to make broad judgments based on anecdotal evidence.

      • Sarah says:

        You realize some Orthodox men won’t speak to women on the street as a matter of course, right? This is a practice some communities espouse, not just something I am assuming about them. Of course, I would not judge every Orthodox person based on that. And I don’t think Orthodoxy in general is demeaning to women, extremists notwithstanding. But when you see the ideas in certain communities, it is not so mystifying why people could get the impression that women are less important.

        Shabat shalom!

      • LM says:

        Of course, I am aware that such practices exist. What I meant to convey was this: it may not be the case that the men you encountered were refusing to speak to you on principle.
        I do not personally endorse extreme practices like the one you mention, but we should realize that they are coming from a place of modesty and dignity, not rudeness or a dislike of women.

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