Mayim Bialik: The Press Blitz

Just in case you missed her guest stint as a Hasidic Jew on Saving Grace last night — or, like me, you’re just too damn Orthodox to own a television* — there’s still plenty of Mayim Bialik love to go around. On the Jewish Wedding Network yesterday, she talked about her first experience going to a mikveh (and name-drops Aryeh Kaplan!). And she collaborates with Allison Josephs, better known as Jew in the City, to disspell some myths about Orthodox Jewish women:

It’s pretty awesome how Bialik is playing with her ’80s iconoclasm, but isn’t allowing herself to be a prisoner of it. And how she’s playing with her religious identity (dammit, I want to see Mayim in Hasidic drag on TV*) without making it as simple as a non-Orthodox person playing an Orthodox one, or an Orthodox person playing a non-Orthodox one.

______
* — but not to watch Buffy. OK, we just don’t have room for one. Caught.

Crossposted at MyJewishLearning.

71 Responses to “Mayim Bialik: The Press Blitz”

  1. Why is someone with a Ph.D. in neuroscience saying “oy, the math!” with regard to counting to 7? Why reinforce negative cultural attitudes about math and about women?


    BZ · July 15th, 2009 at 12:05 pm
  2. BZ – I think she only made the comment about numbers because she has a PhD in Neuroscience and she wanted to sound relatable to the rest of us non-nerds. I think spending years earning a PhD in a science field does far more to break down negative cultural attitudes about women than a silly line in a blog that she said as a joke!


    Chana · July 15th, 2009 at 12:56 pm
  3. And, what about the negative stereotype of the “nagging” Jewish wife/mother calling her “feeble” Jewish husband at the video’s conclusion?


    Jonathan1 · July 15th, 2009 at 1:09 pm
  4. And what did she do to relate to people who don’t know how to read or write?


    BZ · July 15th, 2009 at 2:21 pm
  5. And since when is bottle-feeding a baby part of a woman’s basic biological make-up?


    em · July 15th, 2009 at 3:18 pm
  6. “In traditional Judaism, the synagogue has never been important”.
    If she has a PhD in neuroscience, why is she being an idiot?


    Amit · July 15th, 2009 at 4:18 pm
  7. Oh, and women *are* second class citizens in Traditional Judaism, that’s why they’re equated with slaves and minors.


    Amit · July 15th, 2009 at 4:20 pm
  8. What a great video and article! Why is everyone so negative?

    Jonathan1 – the nagging wife was obviously meant as a joke, just as the “oy, math!” line was. the serious part that it touched on though, was that in most Orthodox homes, the wife is not someone you never hear from but generally a person with plenty of opinions. if anyone saw the movie “Ushpizan”, the wife there is a perfect example.

    BZ – really? what did she do to relate to pple who don’t read or write? huh?

    em – bottle feeding a baby is not part of a woman’s biological make up – breastfeeding is! I just think she was using the bottle to represent feeding a baby its mother’s milk since nursing was probably a bit harder to act out!

    Amit – calling someone an idiot is not really so helpful now is it? and in terms of the line about the synagogue, it’s true, in Orthodox families the home is the center of Jewish life. and if a community only has a limited amount of funds, a mikvah is built before a synagogue is.

    in terms of the mishnah you link to, your logic is a bit off, though i understand your confusion. what the mishnah states here and in several other places is that women, children and slaves are all exempt from various commandments where as men are not. but just because those three groups are NOT like men does not mean that they are automatically LIKE each other.

    it’s a principle in logic. just because A,B,C don’t = D doesn’t mean that A=B=C A, B, C could all be their own unique entities (as they are).


    Zip · July 15th, 2009 at 11:15 pm
  9. It’s nobody’s business but a mother how she feeds her baby. We could all learn a thing or two about staying out of other people’s childcare decisions.


    sarah · July 16th, 2009 at 1:23 am
  10. Zip, your apologetics are nice, but women in the rabbinic world, just like the classical one, are second class citizens. The debate is how we get past that problematic legacy, not how we explain it away.
    And the mikve thing is very nice, but that would make the mikve the center of the community, not the home. Also, it’s not the building that’s important, but a Jewish community with no place of meeting is not a community at all. And Jews who have no part in the palce of meeting are, well, half-Jews.


    Amit · July 16th, 2009 at 2:39 am
  11. Oh, and for your math: if D=full citizen, and A,B,and C /= D then neither A, B or C are full citizens, QED.


    Amit · July 16th, 2009 at 3:18 am
  12. Amit,
    In my experience, Jews who have a monolithic and simplistic view about what traditional judaism is and was – tend to reject in an effort to try to “get past it.” but those who take the time to understand its originality and varied history feel much closer, at the end of the day. Traditional Judaism is not american apologetics like “jew in the city”, nor the Israeli haredim, but traditional judaism is also not a couple of terse lines from a mishnah, or the remains from an archaeologic dig. We have a lot to learn.
    You quote her as saying “the synagogue has never been important” and then call her an idiot for saying it. Thats not fair, you misquoted and took it out of context, she said “In traditional judaism the synagogue has never been an important part of jewish life, the real center and focus of jewish life has always been the home.” Granted she is misleading, by saying “never been an important part of jewish life” she should have said “never been THE important part of jewish life” but it is implied by her following words. Regardless, the important part is her choice of “jewish life” instead of “jewish religion” – Im sure you would agree that the home is the center of jewish life. But even as the center of the Jewish religion, you could argue that systematic prayer does not play as major of role in the Halachic system as is assumed, most of halachah and the mitzvot it defines take place outside of the synagogue.
    As for your insistence that “women *are* second class citizens” – the Torah has a class system and Israelite women and men are in the same class – they are both 3rd class citizens. Cohen 1st class, Levite 2nd Class, Israelite 3rd class. To what extent is this class system in place? I guess we could discuss that. But women are part of the same class as their husbands. As to their differences, men and women have different mitzvot, and halachah defines their roles respectively. As for their role in Jewish life, since Jewish culture spans generations and geography it would be unfair to say there is only one role for women in Jewish life – but I don’t think it is going out on a limb to say it is an equally important one, albeit definitely not the same.

    Anyways, as is quite obvious, she is putting a palatable spin on the role of the women in judaism today, she is not just saying this to please Blossom, she actually believes it herself. So we know one thing, there is room in her judaism for women to play a major and equal role in jewish life. How about yours?


    Saki · July 16th, 2009 at 4:36 am
  13. BZ – really? what did she do to relate to pple who don’t read or write? huh?

    My point was that it’s socially acceptable in the US for otherwise educated people to be “not a math person” and proud of it, and this is treated differently from being unable to read or write.


    BZ · July 16th, 2009 at 8:18 am
  14. Ok, I finally watched the video. Beyond the “whoa! Mayim Bialik!” factor (and yes, I used to watch Blossom too), how is this saying anything beyond the usual “BT” apologetics?


    BZ · July 16th, 2009 at 8:27 am
  15. Zip,

    To paraphrase Freud, there’s no such thing as a joke.

    I should be so lucky as to marry a woman like the wife in “Ushpizan.”

    Why doesn’t the video display a Jewish lady like that, instead of reinforcing the negative “nagging” Jewish female stereotype, which we’re stuck watching in Hollywood movies?


    Jonathan1 · July 16th, 2009 at 8:49 am
  16. It’s nobody’s business but a mother how she feeds her baby. We could all learn a thing or two about staying out of other people’s childcare decisions.

    When you find me advocating the kind of gender essentialism that she does in the video, then you can accuse me of passing judgment on how other people feed their babies. It wasn’t me who said breastfeeding makes women like God.


    em · July 16th, 2009 at 10:53 am
  17. Just to clear things up, “Blossom” is only the VO in the intro. I’m not sure if she subscribes to the content of the video, considering she’s well-know to be an egal Jew.


    B.BarNavi · July 16th, 2009 at 11:21 am
  18. Saki, to claim that the rabbinic class system stops at Cohen/Levi/Israelite and doesn’t extend to the distinctions made with regards to men/women/children/slaves/gerim/non-Jews/disabled/etc. is disingenuous.


    dlevy · July 16th, 2009 at 1:34 pm
  19. What a great video and article!

    I enjoyed it as well. Bravo, Allison!
    It’s worth checking out the many other videos and FAQ’s on Allison’s blog, Jew in the city. *Bookmarked

    Why is everyone so negative?

    It’s how some choose to live their lives. It almost seems as though some feel threatened by how well Allison (the woman who speaks for the length of the video is NOT Mayim Bialek) articulated a Jewish perspective on a range of issues pertaining to women.

    If a video from some previously unknown, non-celebrity can so challenge and shake your beliefs that you need to respond in such a visceral way, perhaps the root of the problem is not the video. As Obama said, it’s time for some Jewish introspection.

    So much anger and dreariness, and against who? A Jewish woman expressing her beliefs? For fruit’s sake, grab an apple, enjoy the summer weather and lighten up a little.


    PurpleMan · July 16th, 2009 at 2:16 pm
  20. “Saki, to claim that the rabbinic class system…”
    Dlevy, I assure you that I am not at all disingenuous. But misquoting wastes time, and its lazy. I didn’t say “Rabbinic class system,” I said “the Torah has a class system.” I said Torah because the Torah does have a class system, Rabbis do not, they are just defining the mitzvot and the roles we play the best they know how. Women were a part of the same class as their husbands in every culture which had a class system, and the Torah’s class system is no exception – its just plain silly to say they are part of another class. If women had different roles and rights from their husbands within that class that does not deem them being part of a different class. Just as it would be silly to say that a Cohen’s son is part of a different class than his father because the law treats him differently as a juvenile. Non-jews are obviously not part of the Torah’s class system, but I do agree that “Geriem” in the role of non-jewish co-religionists play an unofficial or even official 4th class, I even had a paragraph about them but I deleted it because I felt it was off topic. For sure women play a different role than men in human societies, including western egalitarian societies – my point was that their role in jewish life can be “an equally important one, albeit definitely not the same” as the men. Equal and same are two very different things. Again I am not addressing the issue of wether women have always had the same opportunities as men in Jewish life, they have not, and men have not had the same opportunities as women, I am also not going to try to define what their roles have been, because as I mentioned before, jewish life has spanned generations and geography, and those relationships are too complex to get into in a blog comment ( but its a worthy study) sufice it to say that Torah allows for these roles to be dynamic, the woman in the video obviously feels her traditional role as a Jewish women is preferable a non traditional role, and I am sure a lot of women in her role feel the same way. Bottom line, the most important thing is that the Torah allows for a equally fulfilling and equally appreciated roles for both men and women. and it has and it does.

    PS I say all this even while I am not at all interested in the video, I just like the ideas it has brought out.


    Saki · July 16th, 2009 at 10:24 pm
  21. Just to add fuel to the fire….
    Breastfeeding is like smoking, only in reverse, and it’s fine to have an opinion about it. Shame on you for smoking while preggers! And shame on you for not breastfeeding your baby! Same thing. Comparable public health impacts. Just Google Nestle and Africa.

    That being said, there’s a spectrum of opinion no how long BF’ing should go on. Not ‘if’ it should happen.

    Add that to the list of other mother choices I feel fine intervening in: drinking, unhealthy food choices, vaccinations, genital mutilation (all for it with boys, against it for girls), etc.


    Jew Geuvara · July 17th, 2009 at 8:51 am
  22. Saki – you introduced “Torah” into the discussion in your response to Amit’s assertion about “traditional Judaism.” Hence my call of disingenuity. And describing a class system but saying it’s not a class system doesn’t make it not a class system.


    dlevy · July 17th, 2009 at 9:19 am
  23. Why all the negativity? Because there is so much more to the answer than just the same old tried and true apologetics. You just wish with Mayim Bialik giving her little stamp of approval and a wider audience that the face of orthodox judaism could be a little more… progressive.. Clearly that video is made to cater to newcomers to the faith and they deserve to be presented with the truth clearly stated. Allison did slip in that ortho judaism can be ass-backwards by saying (paraphrase) that our role is to rule the roost! and why? just cause we’re built for it and so darned good at it!
    And thus the myths continue to a new generation that gender roles are religious and not just traditional. I know that men can’t birth the babies or breastfeeed them, but they can do EVERYTHING else. Any true feminist would have caught the apologetics though, so I just wonder why… and who sponsors jew in the city? Chabad?


    nehedar · July 17th, 2009 at 3:47 pm
  24. I think she’s an upper west side modern orthodox woman, i don’t think she’s a chabadnik. though i wondered that myself at first. she has a blog at jewinthecity.com


    T · July 17th, 2009 at 4:37 pm
  25. B.BarNavi writes:
    she’s well-know to be an egal Jew.

    This interview (also by Matthue Roth) suggests that may no longer be the case. In regard to leading davening, she says “I haven’t done that for about 2 years. It’s in conflict with some of what I’ve been learning…”

    She also says “But my husband and I have definitely increased our observance over the years, and we’re always trying to grow.” Given that “growing” is a dog whistle to very specific circles, it seems that whether or not she’s (still) “egal” now, she’s bought into the frame that equates egalitarianism with cheeseburgers — something you give up as you “increase observance”.


    BZ · July 17th, 2009 at 5:45 pm
  26. Hers is a trite and overused apologist argument. The “separate spheres” argument should have died mid-20th century, if not in the 19th. No one can judge her for how she chooses to balance her own life, but she dismissed a lot of serious gender equality issues that apply to many women besides herself.


    Hilary · July 18th, 2009 at 1:47 am
  27. Nehedar

    I’m not arguing with you but I thought it would be fun to mention that men actually can breastfeed….it just takes a bunch of work. There have been cases of men breastfeeding, they even did this great segment on it on discovery health a few years back! how neat ya!?


    Trista · July 18th, 2009 at 2:07 am
  28. PM: “*A* Jewish perspective”, but not *THE* Jewish perspective. It just happens to be one of several perspectives that some of us on these comments disagree with.


    B.BarNavi · July 19th, 2009 at 4:15 pm
  29. Agreed. So start your own blog. Oh wait, you have. You have to admit some of those early comments were rather brutal, and it wasn’t all coming from a place of warmth and love.


    PurpleMan · July 19th, 2009 at 4:35 pm
  30. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but as BZ pointed out, Mayim did the egal thing her whole life (up until now), and according to Allison’s (JewintheCity.com) bio, she grew up Conservative, most likely doing the egal thing as well.

    If these women have experienced the world of egal and decided not only to stop but also that they feel empowered and respected in more traditional circles – who are we to tell them that they’re being mistreated?

    Everyone can live their Judaism as they see fit, but surely these women are allowed to their opinions and shouldn’t be called “idiots” and “apologists” just for expressing what Judaism means to them (especially when they’ve seen things from both sides).


    CS · July 20th, 2009 at 1:46 pm
  31. “these women are allowed to their opinions and shouldn’t be called “idiots” and “apologists””

    I agree.
    I just want to point out that while the usage of the word “idiot” refers to someone with a mental intelligence below that of a three year old – and is almost always an insult, the word “apologist” simply means someone who has taken up the task of defending an idea under scrutiny. To refer to some one as an apologists is not inherently an insulting, unless you find the idea they are defending insulting. I don’t find Judaism insulting and therefore I do not find those who take up its defense insulting.


    Saki · July 20th, 2009 at 11:06 pm
  32. dlevy,
    Upon research you will conclude that class systems and gender roles are not the same thing. Again as I said above, class systems have existed prominently within most societies, and gender roles still do. The most important thing is that the Judaism should allow for equally fulfilling and equally appreciated roles for both men and women.


    Saki · July 20th, 2009 at 11:14 pm
  33. Since I used the I-word and the A-word, I would like to defend their (legitimate) uses. I happen to have more of a jewish education than most, and so when I call someone out for misrepresenting a Jewish system of thought (like my comment that women are second-class citizens – and not at all like their husbands, who can be judges and witnesses!!!!) I happen to usually know what I’m talking about.
    In this case, a person with no more credentials than having been raised in a Jewish home sets out to “explain” “the truth” to newcomers. And I say – first be qualified, know your sources, than put your spin on it.
    (And about MB’s quasi-egalitarianism, I think we shouldn’t be big proponents of helicopter parenting. Women in my shul come with small babies, every week.)


    Amit · July 21st, 2009 at 7:04 am
  34. Amit-
    Your continued judgementalism is really quite astounding. You have NO idea how much learning either of these women have done, do you? (And neither of them were raised in observantly Jewish homes from what I’ve seen online.)

    No one is arguing that women aren’t judges or witnesses in the Orthodox circles. Now that could either be because the rabbis were a bunch of misogynists, wrongfully holding women back, OR it could be that traditional Judaism values and respects women immensely but sees them having different roles and contributions to society.

    The word “truth” was used nowhere in the video. It was clearly just this women’s perspective: she lives an Orthodox Jewish life, does not feel mistreated or disrepected by it, and wanted to share her experiences with other people.

    You seem to be very afraid that some woman out there might have her curiousity piqued by this video and give Orthodoxy a closer look. But isn’t everyone entitled to explore Judaism for him or herself and come to his or her own conclusions? You seem to want to do the thinking for all of us.


    CS · July 21st, 2009 at 12:09 pm
  35. CS – The amount of learning done by either woman is irrelevant (from the MB interview above, not much). WHat is relevant is the attempt to refrain from calling a spade a spade with twisted apologetics.
    You want to be a second class citizen? Great. You’re happy with it and want to celebrate it? Great. The responsibilities involved are too great because they interfere with your helicopter parenting? Leave them on the wayside while you appear on TV. But “Orthodoxy” knows that women are second class citizens, and to say otherwise is just a lie. Equal citizens get to testify, and vote, and serve the public in all other capacities. Oh yes, and own property.


    Amit · July 21st, 2009 at 6:33 pm
  36. Saki,

    I don’t know if you were referring to my comment or not but… When I used the term “apologist,” I was not calling her an apologist for Judaism. I was calling her an apologist for a certain idea of gender roles known as “separate spheres,” which I think she is representing. I strongly disagree with it and I don’t think it is necessarily synonomous with Judaism.


    Hilary · July 21st, 2009 at 7:07 pm
  37. Hilary,
    I wasn’t referring to your comment. I quoted CS in my post, and when I gave the definition of “apologist” I was referring to my own positive use of the word to describe “jew in the city” as an apologist for Judaism. As far as your use of the word I understand it was not positive, you feel she is defending a harmful idea mainly “separate spheres”. I think your completely reasonable, and you have tempered your criticism by qualifying that you do not judge her for how she balances her life. My own view on “separate spheres” is that it is an observable fact. I am comfortable with men having their boy’s club and women having their girl’s club. Men and women do exist in very “separate spheres” in all cultures, it is only a question of the degree of that separation within each culture and wether it is harmful or not. The Egalitarian positions within Judaism, which I am by nature drawn to, unfortunately focus on a very limited agenda – moving women into the male religious sphere. I think at the end of the day it is not a positive agenda. For one, it reinforces the assumption that the traditional male role is enviable. The assumption itself is wrong, and is the harmful legacy of a time when role of the women was not at all appreciated. I think it is more important to emphasize the qualities of the traditional role of the women. I think our society is way too enamored by the male traditional role – the money maker and ritual performer. Its so shallow and selfish when compared to caring for children, and making a home. It is more important to me that men should start appreciating the role of the “giver” instead of the “taker” and although I doubt they will be able to fill this role as well as their counterparts, they should be enviable of that ability – and not vise versa. I am not trying to say that women are better than men, just that the women’s traditional role emphasized traits which we as a whole lack, and if we are looking for a model towards a future of equality we should be looking at the giver and not the taker. Of course in our shallow selfish culture the male role is always the best, and egalitarian is synonymous with women filling male roles. Of course if these roles become extreme dogma, or a sterile institution, they can be very dangerous, we need to make sure these roles are not damaging to the people who play them. But these roles are elective, and I am not saying that a husband and wife have to fit some superimposed rigid definition of these roles, that is up to them to maneuver their unique strengths and weaknesses.

    As far as Amit saying he is more educated than most, and calling people that don’t agree with him – liars, idiots, and apologists. I think it is clear he is not comfortable with his position and needs to rely on insults to strengthen them. As far as his demand that women should serve the public in all other capacities, I agree if he means the public, but if he means a boy’s club, I think men should be allowed to pray by themselves – that has nothing to do with being second class citizens. As far as Amit’s quoting a 2000 year old mishnah, and using it as the claim that Orthodox Judaism does not allow women to testify, vote, or own property. The Mishnah is the facts on the ground at that time. If all the Jews in the world today suddenly become born again orthodox, and all move to Israel after hearing that messianic zionist call in their hearts, institute a functional accepted sanhedrin, and establish a police to enforce it’s edicts – let’s talk them – I think they may have a more egalitarian definition of those roles. But until then orthodox women will continue to testify, vote, and own property despite his insistence that they don’t.


    Saki · July 21st, 2009 at 10:55 pm
  38. Amit saying he is more educated than most

    He does seem more educated than most, regarding Judaism.


    Jonathan1 · July 21st, 2009 at 11:25 pm
  39. “He does seem more educated than most, regarding Judaism.”

    In general I find his opinions here and especially on his own blog quite intelligent, and informed. Although he does tend to stay in his safety zone – comparing and contrasting Jews in broad strokes like orthodox, conservative, and reform – instead of dealing with jews as the individuals which they are. But the fact remains that he is using insults under the guise of “calling a spade a spade.” Pointing out your superiority and calling people idiots and liars instead of qualifying your statements, is not being “truthful.” I am sorry to say – and its very “male” – but its bringing an aggressive ego into a conversation that could amount to something, its factionalizing just for the sake of having a fight. Instead of attempting a consensus.


    Saki · July 21st, 2009 at 11:59 pm
  40. Saki writes:
    Of course in our shallow selfish culture the male role is always the best, and egalitarian is synonymous with women filling male roles.

    Actually, no. Egalitarianism also includes men taking active roles in parenting and other historically “female” roles.


    BZ · July 22nd, 2009 at 12:06 am
  41. But the fact remains that he is using insults under the guise of “calling a spade a spade.” Pointing out your superiority and calling people idiots and liars instead of qualifying your statements, is not being “truthful.”

    I too never understood why he does that stuff. But, the dude seems to know his Judaism, at least a lot more than I ever will.


    Jonathan1 · July 22nd, 2009 at 12:30 am
  42. BZ writes:
    “Actually, no. Egalitarianism also includes men taking active roles in parenting and other historically “female” roles.”

    I agree. Thats my point exactly. But this conversation is yet another example of the “egalitarian” conversation being framed only as women should be filling male roles, when egalitarianism is a lot more than that. (includes everybody) and in my opinion women filling male roles is a step down. In fact some of traditional male roles like soldier, moneymaker, priest, politician – I would rather not have men subjected to either. For the time being you may argue that they are needed – but I hope we can move towards farmer, scholar, lover, father in the very near future.


    Saki · July 22nd, 2009 at 12:39 am
  43. I call *ideas* idiotic and false when they are, and this idea, presented under the guise of “the Jewish religion”, really ticks me off.
    Apologetics for “Orthodox” conceptions of women and their place in society are grating and jarring because they are patently false, as any scratch below the surface of what Orthodox women are taught to parrot will reveal. To “judge people as individuals”, I say as an individual, ‘Jew in the city” acts like the individuals congregating outside of Brian’s window. She parrots the party line, and so she should be judged by the party line.
    THe argument is idiotic and patently false, and is not justifiable under any pretense. It is not true to the sources and the Rabbinic world. You can accept the sources, you can argue with the sources, you can reject the sources. You cannot falsify them. It’s insulting. It’s also insulting to reframe the synagogue as “a boy’s club”, which it is not (unless GOd Almighty, who is described as coming to the synagogue, is also a “boy”). It is THE public sphere, and if women should not be there, they should not be out shopping, or voting, either.
    THe fact that ORthodox women do both but are still shut out of the minyan and the shul means that either they are hypocrites, or that the synagogue is not important to them. Both options are very very sad.


    Amit · July 22nd, 2009 at 3:53 am
  44. Amit, I like your style, but your portrayal of observant Orthodox women is in stark contrast to those within my circle of friends, some quite well educated, both in yeshivas and universities. Why is that?


    Dave · July 22nd, 2009 at 6:36 am
  45. And it’s unfair to claim I’m “insulting” someone who is clearly promoting an ideology. You promote an ideology, you open yourself up to attacks. It’s the way of the world: ideologies get attacked. It’s not anything personal.


    Amit · July 22nd, 2009 at 6:56 am
  46. I’m not portraying “observant orthodox women”. I’m presenting the rabbinic worldview on how they *should* be. THat they aren’t is well known, and the apologetics try to explain the discrepancy: how could these well-educated, opinionated and involved individuals be OK with being marginalized in their religious world, and being committed members of a tradition which sees their very being as second class.


    Amit · July 22nd, 2009 at 7:26 am
  47. Perhaps you finally touched on the discrepancy, Amit. JITC was presenting what being an educated, “free” Orthodox Jewish woman is to her – the question she answers is are the “people” sexist, not are the “rabbinic texts” sexist.

    In terms of how to deal with those texts, I think the basic answer is that they are somewhat reflective of their times, but that there is a trust among the Orthodox that the halachic system was set up by God and put in human hands and therefore what happens in each generation is what’s appropriate for that time.

    There are changes made within Orthodoxy and women – Rebbeinu Gershom ended polygamy 1000 years ago, Beis Yakov started almost 100 years ago, and there are Yoatzot Halacha today. I don’t know what’s coming next, but have some patience, and let it progress naturally.

    In the meantime, if there are women who feel respected and appreciated and fulfilled as they are, please don’t, as a man, tell them that they’re “idiots” for feeling what they feel or having the freedom to share those thoughts with others.


    MN · July 22nd, 2009 at 10:46 am
  48. the rabbinic worldview on how they *should* be

    I’m not trying to be overly critical here, but let’s take a look a your logic. You say the Rabbinic worldview is that Jewish women are second class human beings, to be marginalized in most spheres of life, and that this is taught to them.

    Yet, then you say that everyone knows that observant Orthodox Jewish women do not fit this template of how the Rabbinic worldview says they “should” be in the real world.

    So, either 2000+ years of Rabbinic teaching has failed and observant Jewish women just ignore these teachings, or there is something wrong with your analysis.


    Dave · July 22nd, 2009 at 12:07 pm
  49. Saki writes:
    I agree. Thats my point exactly. But this conversation is yet another example of the “egalitarian” conversation being framed only as women should be filling male roles, when egalitarianism is a lot more than that. (includes everybody) and in my opinion women filling male roles is a step down.

    You’re arguing with a straw, uh, person. Can you point to anyone who has said that women and men should be equal in ritual matters but running the home should be the exclusive domain of women?


    BZ · July 22nd, 2009 at 2:08 pm
  50. BZ writes:
    You’re arguing with a straw, uh, person. Can you point to anyone who has said that women and men should be equal in ritual matters but running the home should be the exclusive domain of women”

    And Your arguing with a straw-saki :)
    I’m not saying anybody said that. I’m sure if you asked Amit “should the home be the exclusive domain of women?” He would answer no. Thats not my point, my point is that the egalitarian conversation is always “framed” as it is framed right now the exclusive focus on “women should be filling male roles.” and in the jewish conversation it usually centers around the minyan. I think its short sighted, and on top of that misguided because there really is nothing wrong with men praying together. The Orthodox men and women are sticking to their guns on the Minyan, not because they want to repress women, but because they feel they cannot change it and still remain true to their heritage. But as MN so eloquently put it “but have some patience, and let it progress naturally.”


    Saki · July 22nd, 2009 at 3:01 pm
  51. have some patience, and let it progress naturally

    What would the response be if orthodox people said this about seculars. Yes, they’re misguided, but let’s have some patience and let it progress naturally.

    Saki, I agree with you on many things, but this is the height of condescension. We have bigger problems in this world than micromanaging how some Jews pray. The beauty of 21st century is that – except in Muslim countries – one is being forced to do anything in the realm of spirituality.

    Jews today have the ability to truly personalize their relationship with G-d, not through cultural coercion and force of habit, but by choice. That choice works every which way – secular Jews embracing an observant lifestyle (of which there are several to choose from), and observant Jews taking a step back from the life they’ve known.

    This is why the attacks on Allison are so jarring. “Egal” Jews throwing insults at a Jewish woman expressing her spiritual lifestyle choice? Is she holding someone down by the throat and force-feeding them her “brand” of Judaism? No, but it seems like many of you wish you could do that to her. There is something wrong with that picture, and those of you who make apologies for some of the pathetic, angry rhetoric thrown against this woman need to think about the source of your anger.


    PurpleMan · July 22nd, 2009 at 3:20 pm
  52. And also, believe it or not, some men and women may actually prefer to pray separately -regardless of affiliation – even if an egalitarian service becomes recognized by halachah.


    Saki · July 22nd, 2009 at 3:20 pm
  53. Saki – egalitarian service is recognized by halacha. It may not be the halacha you follow, but halacha is not monolithic.


    dlevy · July 22nd, 2009 at 3:52 pm
  54. It is my understanding that the majority of even the most liberal orthodox rabbi’s still have an issue with the removing the Mechitzah. If I’m wrong i will stand corrected. And while the conservative movement promotes the egal minyan, since we are discussing Jews who self-label as orthodox, I assume they do not consider conservative “halachah” to be halachah. My point was, that even if your tradition will allow for an egal minyan you may prefer not to pray in one. Halachah aside, as far as my own feelings go, I find the minyan to be a staged performance even if well done, and not conducive to honest prayer, and I have been to everything from hareidi, orthodox, conservative, reform, “gay”, and “happy” minyanim. I think one sigh from a jew to his creator is worth more than ten thousand egal minyanim and shteibels combined. The further you get from that the less I like it.


    Saki · July 22nd, 2009 at 4:42 pm
  55. Purple man writes:
    “Saki, I agree with you on many things, but this is the height of condescension.”

    Thats cool, we don’t have to agree. I found MN’s comments eloquent and well stated. I wish I had said them. I don’t think people have to agree with everything other people do, the best I can expect from someone who feels orthodox people are doing something hurtful to themselves is “but have some patience, and let it progress naturally.” I don’t agree with the premise though, I think the need for separate prayer is only natural when men and women have such different needs in many areas. But the part that made me really admire the post was:
    “In the meantime, if there are women who feel respected and appreciated and fulfilled as they are, please don’t, as a man, tell them that they’re “idiots” for feeling what they feel or having the freedom to share those thoughts with others.”


    Saki · July 22nd, 2009 at 4:51 pm
  56. Lots to say about all this, but what I want to say for the moment is that it’s not clear to me how excluding women from witnessing at rabbinic courts (as witnesses for conversions and divorce documents, for example) enhances the role of women in any way. One could argue (though I wouldn’t) that excluding women from counting in a minyan enhances their focus on the home, but the witnessing thing doesn’t make sense from that point of view (you can get someone to hold a baby long enough to sign a document, I promise). It only makes sense as a form of social control.


    Yeilah · July 22nd, 2009 at 5:04 pm
  57. yeilah writes:
    “It only makes sense as a form of social control.”
    Not so, it also makes sense if your opinion of women is that they are ignorant, superstitious and hysterical and cannot be trusted if we are dealing with a testimony in a system of law which allows for the death penalty. If that was the case at that time and the reason, i understand the ruling. But at this time, it is an observable fact that women are not anymore ignorant, superstitious and hysterical than their ignorant, superstitious and hysterical male counterparts. As far as social control, every law is a form of social control – the question is wether it is necessary. What is the benefit? It would be hard to find a jewish leader, across the board, who would try to explain how its necessary for modern women to not have the right to vote, testify, and own property in a modern nation state. And of course men praying together has nothing to do with this.


    Saki · July 22nd, 2009 at 11:28 pm
  58. Saki writes:

    It would be hard to find a jewish leader, across the board, who would try to explain how its necessary for modern women to not have the right to vote, testify, and own property in a modern nation state. And of course men praying together has nothing to do with this.

    But this was in response to Yeilah writing:

    what I want to say for the moment is that it’s not clear to me how excluding women from witnessing at rabbinic courts (as witnesses for conversions and divorce documents, for example) enhances the role of women in any way.

    Saki, you responded to an argument she didn’t make and completely ignored the one she did make.


    em · July 23rd, 2009 at 1:32 am
  59. em,
    how so?


    Saki · July 23rd, 2009 at 1:58 am
  60. em writes:
    “But this was in response to Yeilah writing:”what I want to say for the moment is that it’s not clear to me how excluding women from witnessing at rabbinic courts (as witnesses for conversions and divorce documents, for example) enhances the role of women in any way.”

    no. It was in response to “It only makes sense as a form of social control.” as I quoted.
    but I will try to give a full response to yeilah soon.


    Saki · July 23rd, 2009 at 2:32 am
  61. Okay, but she wrote the bit about social control right after the part I quoted. You took one bit out of context and made it refer to what you wanted it to refer to, not what she was actually referring to.


    em · July 23rd, 2009 at 2:52 am
  62. Yeilah writes:
    “Lots to say about all this, but what I want to say for the moment is that”
    [great, look forward to addressing some of what we spoke about so far]

    ” it’s not clear to me how excluding women from witnessing at rabbinic courts (as witnesses for conversions and divorce documents, for example) enhances the role of women in any way. ”
    [I agree that it is not at all enhancing to women to have their testimony ignored in anyway, and even if a woman's testimony was honored in some regards, their testimony is not taken in all regards. I am not going to defend that, nor would I know how. But it is possible that the torah is a system that when taken as a whole is worthwhile and beneficial to women even while this specific law is clearly not. I have read that Rav Soleveichik pointed to Mishnah Sanhedrin 2:2, where even a king cannot be a witness. Therefore disqualification from being a witness cannot be seen as a form of domination. Instead the Torah is operating beyond our simple set of assumptions.]

    “One could argue (though I wouldn’t) that excluding women from counting in a minyan enhances their focus on the home,”
    [ that's interesting, I had not thought of it that way - and I still don't - sounds circular to me. I am more focused on allowing men and women to electively pray separately without being accused of excepting upon themselves to be second class citizens, and half-jews - by egal-men who assume that because they pray with women that they are better for women than women who pray by themselves.]

    “but the witnessing thing doesn’t make sense from that point of view (you can get someone to hold a baby long enough to sign a document, I promise). ”
    [At this point, I don't think it makes sense from any point of view. Unless its God's point of view, but then the discussion stops there.]

    “It only makes sense as a form of social control.”
    [ every law is a form of social control, I am assuming you mean social control in a negative way, a domination. Ok, now, God's omnipotence aside, and the Rav's apologetics aside as well. It does not have to be seen as simply a form of domination. If it was introduced in this day and age I would agree that it was clearly domination. But as I said, it can also makes sense if your opinion of women is that they are ignorant, superstitious and hysterical and cannot be trusted if we are dealing with a testimony in a system of law which allows for the death penalty. If that was the case at that time and the reason, i understand the ruling. It is not an attempt to dominate women per se, just trying to avoid a travesty of justice and blood on their hands. But in this day and age no one is trying to institute such a law. The Orthodox have no nation state which is policing their acceptance of this law. Orthodox women vote, testify, and own property within the context of their citizenship within whatever state they live in, they do this with their Rabbi and Husband's knowledge. If however as I said before "all the Jews in the world today suddenly become born again orthodox, and all move to Israel after hearing that messianic zionist call in their hearts, institute a functional accepted sanhedrin, and establish a police to enforce it’s edicts - let’s talk them - I think they may have a more egalitarian definition of those roles. But until then orthodox women will continue to testify, vote, and own property." To my knowledge, there is a slow measure of change. Orthodox courts have slowly opened up areas in which a woman's testimony can be taken. And in my experience, a lot of orthodox courts, hold court as arbitrators where they are free to handle the parties unofficial testimonies as they feel justice is served. Im also pretty sure there are orthodox rabbis who care for the well being of men and women equally, and rule accordingly. But you want a full verbal disclosure dumping their tradition? your missing the point, they are ORTHODOX, they are adhering to the accepted and traditional. They are not trying to improve it by looking into the distant past nor the far off future. They like what they got from the previous generation, they change it a little, and they prefer it to your thing. And I would ask Amit not to walk around waving a 2000 year old mishnah and saying orthodox women are 2nd class citizens, and half-jews, and hypocrites and the people who defend them are idiots, parrots, and liars who have opened themselves up to insults for defending an ideology he disagrees with.]


    Saki · July 23rd, 2009 at 5:04 am
  63. em ,
    please explain how I did that?
    I’m not trying to.


    Saki · July 23rd, 2009 at 5:09 am
  64. Saki – I could be waving around the very-current regulations of any Orthodox rabbinical court in the world instead. The rabbis in the mishna were unequivocal about women being second-class, and I’ve heard nobody disagree with that.
    This video – please refer back to it – is not an explanation for how one woman chooses both to respect this demeaning system while remaining her own person. It is an explanation of “the jewish religion”, or “the Orthodox Jewish religion”. This explanation is false. Women are *not* considered to be on a higher spiritual plane than men (unless, again, you’re reading apologetics or satire), they’re considered to be lesser than men. Men cannot be acquired, women can. Men can divorce their wives, women cannot divorce their husbands. Men are full members of the community, women are not.
    Prayer is not isolated from this. It has a meaning as a communal activity, not just as a “boy’s game”. It’s deadly serious, and carries meaning and significance. So do tefillin (the mark of a free man contra slaves and women) and tzitzit (ditto).
    I repeat: saying women can be equal citizens without being part of the praying and obeying community does not make sense. Young Israel shuls do not allow women to be presidents. Orthodox shuls at large do not have women rabbis. It jives with the fact that in these communities women are second class.
    Now, you can say “I understand women are second class and I would like to change that incrementally”. That’s fine. Change comes slowly. But Ms. Video does not say that: she says “I can be an opinionated woman and an equal of men without being part of the community or having any Jewish rights and responsibilities, just by bossing my husband around and having babies”. And I say that any community that would grant membership to someone just by virtue of their anatomy and bossiness has some serious soul-searching to do.
    (And her “women are like God, because God also births and nourishes” claim is nareshkeit too. It’s just as easy to say “Men are like god because they impregnate and inseminate”, or “Soldiers are like god because they kill and destroy”. Nobody is like God, only God.)


    Amit · July 23rd, 2009 at 7:01 am
  65. So, let me get this right, women are second class because they don’t do what men do?

    Why would women want to do what men do?
    Why would women want to act like men do?

    Why would you think that what men do is so special, so interesting, so powerful, that it is only natural to expect women to want it? That’s patent chauvinism, Amit. Just because a man does something doesn’t make it special. It’s people like you who read Gemara through a self-centered lens who place value in what you as a man are told to do, and teach little girls that they should be like men.

    That’s not female liberation. Female liberation is women being free to be women. What you seem to want is for women to be men.


    debby · July 23rd, 2009 at 4:34 pm
  66. Cute, but meaningless.

    Let’s hear an orthodox man talk about how women are equal to men.

    And Debby, I don’t know what you’re smoking, but Amit said nothing about women wanting to do what men do. He points out how they cannot do what men do, under orthodoxy.

    No matter if they want to.

    No choice, no say in the matter.

    Sounds like second-class to me.


    Letov · July 27th, 2009 at 10:41 pm
  67. Why would you think that what men do is so special, so interesting, so powerful, that it is only natural to expect women to want it?
    Becuase, in this case, God said that is is special, interesting and powerful. (To paraphrase you).


    Amit · July 28th, 2009 at 6:36 am
  68. Amit-
    The only oppression that seems to be going on here is you – a MAN (who I’m assuming has never lived as an Orthodox woman)telling Orthodox WOMEN what they should or should not be feeling.

    Textual sources are available to everyone (don’t think that you’re the first person to raise these questions), but experiential living is only something that those EXPERIENCING it can attest to.

    You can tell these women that they’re oppressed and second class citizens all day long, but if they coming back and tell you again and again that they feel honored and respected and happy with their lives, you might have to start to do some listening for a change.


    CS · July 28th, 2009 at 11:11 am
  69. Thank you, CS. I don’t appreciate being told by non-Orthodox people or men how I should feel about my religious life or gender, people who think they know better than i do what oppresses or empowers me. This segment of Jew in the City is vastly oversimplistic and kinda… well, dumb. But the comments on this thread are more upsetting to me than the Youtube video.


    T · July 28th, 2009 at 11:03 pm
  70. Didn’t say antything about how anyone should feel. Cope all you want. It’s fine. Do what you have to do.
    I was saying that the Jew in the City segment was misrepresenting reality. That’s all.


    Amit · July 29th, 2009 at 7:51 am
  71. T-
    I don’t think the Jew in the City segment is meant to be an in depth exploration into the issues. It’s YouTube for crying outloud and I think it’s just a way to get the idea out there that most Orthodox Jewish women are not walking around feeling oppressed.

    Amit-
    Cope all I want? I’m pretty sure that if I look up “condescension” in the dictionary your name will be there.

    If the Jew in the City segment is representing Jew in the City’s reality and most Orthodox women’s reality who are you – as a non-Orthodox male – to tell them what their reality actually is?


    CS · August 26th, 2009 at 9:28 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik