Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What I Want From the "Chayas" and "Deborahs" Talking About Orthodox Judaism in the Media



I am a Chassidic woman. And I love going to Mikva. Oh, and I also hate going to Mikva. 
Can all the "Chayas" and "Deborahs" get together and talk about that

What I Want From the "Chayas" and "Deborahs" Talking About Orthodox Judaism in the Media 


Yesterday, the Orthodox Jewish community proved it was just dying for some good PR. 

Chaya Kurtz, a not-so-well-known author, wrote an article on a not-so-well-known site about, well, the certainly not-so-well-known side of being an Orthodox Jewess. It was packed with attitude and confidence— a positive tell-all about how being a Chassidic woman is, in fact, nothing like the quiet or oppressed women that Oprah, Dr. Phil and seemingly all of mainstream media wants people to believe is real. With lines like "We have been happily shagging for a millennia" and referring to her black-hatted and black-suited husband as "hot," she struck a chord with the Orthodox community who, within the hour, turned her into a mini-celebrity for becoming a voice that is finally showing the world that we're not imprisoned, not unhappy and not...so weird. In short, Chaya's article said simply: We have great sex. Mikva is a spa. Being orthodox is cool, man. 

Speaking out from the other end of the spectrum is Deborah Feldman, famous for her book "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots" in which she exposes the ills and shackles of the Chassidic community from which she ultimately freed herself. Feldman has become a strong voice in the "unpious" community, sharing the details of her own marriage to a Chassidic man, and attacking the myriads of Jewish law and thought that she says caused her tremendous pain and suffering. Feldman's attack put simply: Chassidim have sex just to reproduce. Laws of Mikvah are a violation. Women are victims that don't know any better. Being Chassidic is oppressive. 

Although much can be said about the tremendous differences in Chaya and Deborah's communities and backgrounds, the debate exploded. Deborah responded to Chaya's article via comment, with a detailed, harsh attack on Chaya personally, her choices, her community. A blood-boiling, determined vendetta against everything Chaya proudly represented, telling her in conclusion "Please refrain from making claims on behalf of Hasidic women you have never met and know nothing about."

Ouch. 

What is going on and will there be an end to this circular back-and-forth? 

You see, where Chaya may be whitewashing, Feldman is also painting her own negative veneer. At the same time, where Feldman addresses real issues, Chaya comes across naive. Chaya's issue is that she's so happy with her life that she's glossing over potential issues. Deborah's issue is that she's incapable of understanding how someone wouldn't have these issues. 

Both of these attitudes are dangerous. Being proud and happy with our Chassidic lot to the point of denial is a crime to those among us that may feel aspects of Judaism causes them discomfort or pain. And being outspoken about stories of oppression and abuse in the religious community and insisting that Jewish law itself is inhumane is a crime to those who genuinely and proudly and consciously ascribe to the lifestyle.

There are plenty of proud Orthodox Jewish women who know that Chaya ignored the complexities and ultimate humaneness inherent in issues in our community related to marriage, sex and Mikvah.  Let's talk about me...


I grew up religious. I am darn proud of being a Chassidic Chabad woman. I feel respected, and empowered. I love my husband, whom I chose to marry without a single dose of pressure. I have never felt disrespected or oppressed by the laws mandating our intimate life. And yet, I know that Mikvah is a pain in the you-know-what sometimes. And I know that our community puts severe and harmful pressure on girls to marry. And I know that our lifestyle doesn't honor the colorful personality types and ambitions of all my amazing girlfriends. I know that my community is living in the dark ages when it comes to understanding homosexuality. I know this...and more

The thing is, I'm not so insecure that I worship a "Chaya" who loves her beautiful, simple Chassidic life. And I'm also not so fragile that I'll break because Deborah Feldman thinks that my underwear being checked by a Rabbi is a violation of my privacy. I represent the masses that are not being addressed—Orthodox and/or Chassidic women who can have a mature discussion on both the beauty and the ills of our lifestyle. 

So what about me? I am proud of my Chassidic life, but am also interested in and open to discussing areas that need reform. Get this: love going to Mikva. Oh, and I also hate going to Mikva. This duality exists, probably far more than the extremes these two beautiful women feel they represent. 


Can all the "Chayas" and "Deborahs" get together and talk about that

The Orthodox world might feel empowered to hear a Chassidic women get all riled up in defense of her weird but beautiful life, but is our fleeting feeling of "You go girl!" really important to the conversation? What our tiny little majority is learning is that—lo and behold!—we're interesting to the outside world! People want to know what we have, and what we don't. They want to understand (and yes praise and ridicule) our ever-so-private life. Wow, look at all those laws. Does Mikvah work?  Do we have passionate sex? Is that allowed? Is it okay for us to speak our mind? Even to our husbands? Can we make choices about reproduction? THIS. IS. INTERESTING. STUFF. PEOPLE. Especially in an age where the world is finally seeing that resolving women's issues is central to a healthy and just society. 


But how are we aiding the conversation and educating those within and without our community that want and need to hear more? As long as massive statements on both ends are blanketing the entire topic, who is benefiting? 

It's the responsibility of both the happy/proud and the pained/disturbed Jewish woman to find a way to have this conversation with respect, a genuine desire to undersand, and most importantly, and end to whitewashing and die-hard conclusiveness. We need to speak, but not just from personal, but our collective experience. 

Deborah, are you capable of speaking not only from pain, but from heart and mind, to for a moment consider truths in Chassidic Jewish life? That perhaps not every Chassidic woman is blindly obedient to an oppressive regime? And Chaya, do you think you can put aside your sincere pride just for a moment, to consider that the same Jewish lifestyle you adore can often feel burdensome to some? That perhaps we need to recognize cultural and community flaws?


Now that you've spoken up, how will you both lead the camps you represent to approach these vital issues with intellectual and emotional honesty? 

Both the "Chaya" and the 'Deborah" experience represent truths and thereby deserve to have a voice. And that is the way we need to approach this conversation. This is what I will be working towards in my own responsibility as a writer. Until we generate an honest conversation devoid of all sensationalism, we'll all just keep spinning our wheels. Either our proud-Chassidic or our anti-Chassidic, but certainly loud-and-powerful, womanly wheels.  And if we can actually get somewhere—if we can grow up and stop being either defensive and out to prove or attacking and out to prove—we might just be able to capitalize on this great conversation. 











43 LadyMama voices:

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Love you Mimi! You said exactly how I feel.
-Esti

mushkie said... [Reply to comment]

Your articles never fail to impress me. Such a well balanced mind set and a brilliant woman. Thank you for keeping it real.

Shira said... [Reply to comment]

now THIS i can share. great article, mimi. your balance is inspiring. keep it up. get the conversation going. i hope this article goes viral.

MusyaH said... [Reply to comment]

Reading your article, it's clear that you feel passionately about your hasidic way of life. I'm assuming you are able to be so passionate about Judaism because you were educated to see the beauty in it's laws and to recognize the myriad of ways that it enriches your life. And it struck me that Deborah, and girls like her, growing up in Williamsburg, New Square, and Monroe, were not taught to love hasidic teachings and Jewish laws, rather, they were taught to fear and obey. This is one of the key differences between the Chabad community, and communities like Satmar, Bobov, Ger, Spinka, Vizhnits, etc. There is more contributing to Deborah's anger and frustration than the monthly mikveh visit that all religious jewish women dutifully comply with. We're talking about curfews for women, denial of an education that will provide them with a future, shaving their heads, not being allowed to date and control their own reproduction, being confined to role of homemakers and babymakers, as well as the coercive measures taken to insure compliance to these traditions.
In my mind, there is no ambiguity as to whether these practices are abusive to women or not. Chabad women are not subject to this and cannot even begin to relate to a life of that sort. Comparing our lives as Hasidic women to theirs is doing them a sever injustice. Yes, we can talk about our love-hate relationship with mikveh, and with wig-wearing, and that's important. But the issues facing women in the aforementioned haredi communities are far more serious and cannot be lumped into the same pot. We need to take a good hard look at these practices and listen closely to what these women have to say, because it sounds like they are really hurting. For real.

rlpmom said... [Reply to comment]

Well said. I was mulling this over as I poured olive oil into my olives (not quite sure why on this custom though I usually do research the reasons). Overall observant life is positive, upbeat and fulfilling. And there are the things that are a drag, the pressures, etc. And I started thinking that any lifestyle has these issues. For the most part my Judaism stems from my love for Hashem, and my understanding of His Torah, and the same way I do things for my husband even though it makes no sense (leave out the black pepper ;)) I do things for G-d that I don't always understand. Every society has its pressures for people to conform, do things against their nature etc. The ills that plague the Jewish community usually are an abuse of power by those that lead and do not show on the respect that Torah affords all humanity. I hope this enlightens and noone minds my little rant. I always enjoy your posts.... Thanks.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Agreed! I'm glad you wrote what you did - you helped clarify what I was struggling with when I read through Chaya's article and was left unimpressed yet not sure why. Thanks for writing so clearly and intelligently! Yasher koach!

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

@MusyaH

Why do you assume that most Hareidi women feel like Deborah Feldman but don't have the courage to break out like she did? If "all" of the women, or even a large percentage felt like that, don't you think there would be more than 1 or 2 people "dropping out?" I think she represents a very tiny minority.

Hannah said... [Reply to comment]

Bravo!

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

bs'd
Yasher Koach to one and all--and I ask myself what are the lessons learned- maaseh l'poal?

Chinuch,Chassidus, Chinuch! Is there a chance that women leaders in each community could begin developing a series of specially modeled shiurim/(maybe even Midrashot) in each community that cater to women's issues al pi Chabad Chassidus-love together with the Yiras Shamayim? (ie. that relate the positive and "realistic" approaches to Jewish/Chassidic life)-We have so much to learn from one another-intercommunity shiurim -spreading the wellsprings and sharing the lessons
- B'zchut nashim tzidkaniot.....

Pop Chassid said... [Reply to comment]

Amazing piece. Thank you.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I believe, as has been said, that a lack of love and showing passion of the mitzvotas children leads to the eventual throwing off the yoke. My husband's parents were very open and while the environment was rough, all his siblings are on their parents level or observance or higher. Quiet a feat in our day and age that nearly every single boy from my husband's tragically cut their Pryor. My husband and maybe five others were able.to overcome those temptations, from the unconditional love they received. I myself am a baalas tshuva am aware of the pitfalls.
The biggest mistake for women maybe not being open enough with teen girls about sexuality, esp as they approach marriageable.age.
While discretion is necessary, so is being open about what awaits. I have awhile to decide the appropriate way, but studying about this natural and beautiful part of marriage needs.to he introduced before the girl is dating

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Emes. I bemoan the loss of that certain female "je ne sais quoi" in both Chaya and Deborah's writing. So feminism has freed us to the point where we've mastered the male polemic. Chaya and Deborah: Turn around and face each other. The world that you blog to will not "save" you. Men will not save women. You will save each other. Women will redeem women. And Jewish women: we will define ourselves, as long as we proclaim ourselves as just that: 1. Jewish and 2.Women. The definition will follow the example and not vice versa. By talking to each other in that uniquely female tone, that deep full-throated, soft, calm, soothing, dignified, graceful, respectful tone that doesn't change, vary, go up and down with the vagaries of the stock market, our hormones, or fortunes, but remembers that ultimately - there is no future without us, we will bring revolution. Ironically. Not all messages are best conveyed via blog post.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Yes, I totally agree. This needed to be said.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I am the 'happy/proud AND the pained /disturbed' Jewish woman. Trust me, I've personally seen it all. People who know me know exactly what I'm talking about because my story was talked about. It was one of those stories that made the headlines and opened community wide conversations. And over a decade later it hasn't ended because many places I go I am not simply me but am seen as the perspective that people hold of my story and that precedes me. I do not speak for anyone but myself and I do not claim that my thoughts represent anyone or anything else. I am sharing my experience, and my thoughts, that's it.

I've experienced the oppressed Jewish woman as well as the liberated one. The independent informidable Jewish woman, and the woman who has had every form of dignity and security ripped from under her feet as if she were a leaf being thrown from the tree into a stormy unforgiving and vicious sea. I've felt the absolute joys of growing up in a large extended Chassidic family, as well as the indescribably pain when things went wrong. and I've been on the receiving end of a handful of well-meaning but absolutely destructive Rabbis.

I was also raised with the greatest love and respect for our people. I was educated to appreciate the unparalleled meaning in our traditions. I was raised to proudly hold the link that is mine in the chain of our precious Jewish heritage. And there is no Rabbi and no community dysfunction that can ever take that away. I have heard perspectives from all sides of the spectrum. I have seen much negativity and also the greatest of good.

I am proud of our people that after a holocaust fought with their very lives for our country. I am proud of our people who build hospitality programs the world over for the sick and who deliver food to hungry families every single week. I am not naive in any sense but I know that there is something holding us together. And most of the time I like to think that it is the women. We are the strength and the fortitude. And notice, it's the women, the Deborahs and the Chayas who are writing the books and the articles and to that I say Kol Hakavod! We need more of that. We need more conversation. We need more people advocating for themselves and for their lives.

I don't care if you are Chassidic or Orthodox, Secular or Reform. I honestly don't care what sect you want to belong to because what I've seen is that when things go down sometimes there are Rabbis from a multitude of communities involved. The issues that are being discussed at the moment I believe are not exclusive of one sect or another. Yes, many problems are stronger and more apparent in some communities over others. I believe the problem is not about my sect of Judaism being better than yours but about how we treat women across the board. Change definitely needs to happen across the board. Men need to be standing up for the women in their lives by protecting their wives, daughters, and sisters. And women need to have a voice. To feel empowered to stop this. This pain and hurt has got to stop!!

It's time we woke up. Listened to what others were saying.
It's high time we put the human being before the values we preach.
It's high time we make sure that we are protecting people before we protect an ideal- is that not Judaism?

There is a Jewish mother and father who raised every single one of the Rabbi's in our communities. Many who are part of this discussion today are raising their own families. (continued)

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

(continuation)
Are you doing everything in your power to raise your sons who will be the future Rabbis and husbands in our communities to be sensitive, caring, kind, and thoughtful men? Are you raising them to respect the women they come in contact with? Do you demand that respect from them?

Some Rabbis today may be outspoken and controlling and I believe there are also many women in our communities who agree with their husband's perspectives. And that may be because they haven't felt the wrath of the pain inflicted when things don't turn out right. Many, many in our communities are suffering. And it needs to be stopped. From within.

Our structured community like anything in life is beautiful until things go wrong. The issue is: when things do go wrong, how do we deal? What is our response to the Agunah issue? What is our response to divorce and custody issues? What is our response to older singles in our community? What is our response to our brothers and sisters who choose to live less religiously then we are living? How are we responding? With compassion, respect, and love or with ostracism, harshness and cutting them out of our lives?

Throughout history there have been times when communities were entrenched in dysfunction.
Yet it is the truths in Judaism that continued to live on.
As a people we have come far yet there is much to be done.
I applaud every single person who is part of this discussion and this wave of necessary change.

Baruch Pelta said... [Reply to comment]

I'm all in favor of more nuanced, honest, and full portraits of the haredi world. I think it's the responsibility of sociologists (to explain the community to interested outsiders in the context of fundamentalisms generally) and haredim (to save themselves from being mevatel daas to the status quo, and therefore allowing the problems to flourish).

I don't see that as Deborah Feldman's responsibility though. Rather, I think, in your haste to stake out the "middle path," your post creates a false equivalence between Chaya and Deborah.

The big problem with Chaya's post was that she was claiming to speak for Hasidim generally, when clearly, the norms in her Habad community aren't exactly reminiscent of what goes on in Hasidic communities generally.

So what did Deborah Feldman do? Did she say the entire Hasidic community is evil, horrible, and every aspect of your religion demonic? No. She responded with her own experiences, with the knowledge of the Hasidic community she'd been a part of. She didn't say she was speaking for all Hasidim. She merely pointed out that Chaya's experiences -- as a baalas teshuva who got a fine education and then joined up with Chabad -- aren't representative of what goes on in the broader Hasidic world. That's no "crime" (Collective experience is indeed important, but so is individual experience.).

Sara Leibowitz said... [Reply to comment]

@Anonymous

I just came across your blog through a facebook link. I read a comment by someone who said that they do things for their husband because they’re husband asks. He has reason for it or doesn’t; like "adding oil to the olives" or "leave out the black pepper" but the point is that the wife listens. Even though she doesn’t understand the reason for why she is doing the specific custom she still listens. When a wife listens to her husband AND VISE VERSA... that’s what brings g-d into your home. Its not what you are doing necessarily its HOW you are doing it. G-d would rather you get along than keep a custom properly. That’s what brings g-d into your home and blessing into your home. Carrying out each other’s requests, both him and her equally. Compromising and getting along is way more important in g-d's eyes than doing a mitzva. My husband was telling me that in the ketuba is says that a man must honor his wife before his parents. But in the Tora it says that a person who honors his parents lives a long life and will be rich. This shows us the importance of honoring your spouse and getting along. Imagine the blessing that comes into your home by honoring each other... way more than just a long and prosperous life.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I am probably the only non Jewish woman responding to this issue but ever since I read Deborah Feldman's book I have been fascinated by the fact that not only did she leave the lifestyle but she had the nerve to write about it. I come from NY and have lived in NJ for 30 years. I live in the town next to Lakewood, which is currently discovered that they have one of the worst school systems in the state and the main problem stems from the large Hasidic community that lives there. They have 22 different private schools, and bussing their students to all of these different schools (especially since the boys and girls must travel on separate busses)has cost the town more money than any other part of the budget. There are other problems but a light has been shone on the special treatment these schools have received.

Deborah Feldman's book points out the biggest problem for the children raised in her community but especially for the girls: having to HIDE their interest in the outside world. Hiding books, sneaking off to libraries, not being able to ask "Why?" or "Why not?" without being told it is against G-d just to ask much less get a straight answer. There is a point where she wears jeans, eats pork etc. and realizes that she is neither sick nor dead. That the rest of the world is not being punished for what they are doing so why is it so important? Waiting until your 20's to find out about the outside world is a form of torture. The elders know that once a woman (and man) are locked into a marriage, children etc. they have less chance of leaving so it is forced on them at as early an age as possible. Marriage and children always limit someones choices, but at least they are adults and know what they are giving up at the time, even if they don't like it later on.

taradawes said... [Reply to comment]

I think it's interesting that all of the people who are voicing their anger/displeasure whatever at Deborah Feldman seem to be women in the Chabad community not in the Satmar community which is the community that she is coming from. They are completely different, not all Jews can be lumped together and this goes for the Hassidic communities as well.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Lady Mamale, thank you, thank you, thank you.

I am totally a Hareidi Chaya, and yet see how many of those around me struggle with areas that are difficult for them or challenge them. These are okay. Its okay to be challenged by life and the lifestyles we choose. Its a part of life and our growth process. We recognize that life is a place to grow and realize our potential, not sit back and be comfortably stagnant. Facing challenges within our religion, whatever religion or sect, is really a given, where ever we fall religiously. We choose our lifestyles. Truly it is always a choice. We are not trapped and forced and we can choose to stay or leave our communities.

Mamale, lets keep up the intelligent discourse. It is sourly lacking these days!

Thank you
lisa

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

"And I know that our lifestyle doesn't honor the colorful personality types and ambitions of all my amazing girlfriends." I live in the same community as you do and I see the exact opposite happening: colorful personalities, ambitious young women, young female entrepreneurs.. and their families, husbands and communities being proud of these women's accomplishment. Where else do you have so many talented young women than in Chabad? Our girls are encouraged to be independent thinkers and to cultivate their talents!
In terms of Feldman's response to another Hasidic women's joyful experience as a Hasidic women, here's a comment to Feldman's on her Facebook page:
You wrote this concerning another Hasidic woman's experience in the Hasidic world: "Ummm, it’s a little TMI... So good for you, but your assertion is completely irrelevant and subjective." What makes your experience more relevant or objective than hers? You wrote a memoir, not a research-based book. Memoirs are subjective in nature. You're intelligent enough to know that your story dont represent all Hasidic women's experiences. Can you not allow her her happiness?

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

"And I know that our lifestyle doesn't honor the colorful personality types and ambitions of all my amazing girlfriends." I live in the same community as you do and I see the exact opposite happening: colorful personalities, ambitious young women, young female entrepreneurs.. and their families, husbands and communities being proud of these women's accomplishment. Where else do you have so many talented young women than in Chabad? Our girls are encouraged to be independent thinkers and to cultivate their talents!
In terms of Feldman's response to another Hasidic women's joyful experience as a Hasidic women, here's a comment to Feldman's on her Facebook page:
You wrote this concerning another Hasidic woman's experience in the Hasidic world: "Ummm, it’s a little TMI... So good for you, but your assertion is completely irrelevant and subjective." What makes your experience more relevant or objective than hers? You wrote a memoir, not a research-based book. Memoirs are subjective in nature. You're intelligent enough to know that your story dont represent all Hasidic women's experiences. Can you not allow her her happiness?

Princess Lea said... [Reply to comment]

What the world fails to realize that the laws of Taharas HaMishpacha is applicable to ALL observant Jews, not just the "hasids." People who look just like everybody else keep these laws. It's not just about chassidim.

Why is no one mentioning THAT?

Additionally, while they may be technically the same, there is a BIG difference between Lubavitch and the rest of the chassidishe sects. It's not like Satmar and Chabad live identical lifestyles. Whenever the media bashes chassidus, Luvabitch is the only one who leaps to chassidus' defense, but that is because they have no problem with secular media. Unlike other sects.

Devorah Feldman grew up in a dysfunctional home, which wrought the most damage. Although, according to some new information, she took quite a few liberties-

http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/short_takes/unorthodox_facts

We shouldn't have to get defensive.

When I was in college I knew the way to an easy A was "playing the freak," ie, "playing the Jew card." Devorah is doing the same thing to get noticed. We just have to behave really well to prove the world otherwise.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you. I mostly agree, though both would benefit from less reactive and more studied responses.

Also, I believe the word you are looking for is 'duality', not duplicity, which is closer to being two-faced.

Thank you.

Batsheva said... [Reply to comment]

beautifully written Mimi!! Well done, love reading your stuff.
couldn't agree more with everything

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

You can't compare the life of a Chabad Chassidic woman to the life of a Chassidic woman from Bobov, New Square, Satmar,etc. They have no connection to anything secular, media or choices with regard to marriage. They are not allowed to even attend college if they are single unless its online,etc. As high school girls they are forbidden to have access to internet, television, wearing makeup, magazines (secular) etc and if they are "caught" they will be suspended from their Bais Yaakov or similar Charedi/very orthodox institutions They are already on the marriage scene at 18-on a registry to find a match-have little choice about this and the girls are very nervous if they are too picky or if the guy doesn't like her (she has been extreme dieting most probably since 13 to be a size 2 for these dates)The family stresses the girl and if she is "lucky" she will be married by 19/20 the latest and the community will be eyeing if she is not pregnant asap-by the time the girl is 21 she most probably has a couple of kids-not so easy to pick up and run-especially if you don't have the education or family support. In Chabad-the community supports the girls to be educated, cultured in a mainstream setting. I don't believe the Chabad Hassidim ladies have to shave their heads either. The Chabad Ladies are treated more respectfully by their husbands and they have more contact with outside society, people etc. I would like to hear from ladies (other than Deborah Feldman) from non Chabad Hassidic sects.

Rachel said... [Reply to comment]

Great article, Mimi!!!! I love how astute you are in your observations and your use of self in reflecting.

When I think about Deborah and Chaya, I feel that they represent the two extremes in my head when in comes to my feelings about being a religous woman.

Sometimes I love going to the Mikvah and feel like it's most spiritual experience I've ever had. Other times not so much. Sometimes I like having personal space and not being touched due to Niddah. Other times I cry out of feeling lonely or frustrated that I can't get a hug. Sometimes I think my husband is the hottest guy ever and I can't stop staring at him. Sometimes- like when he's lying on the couch snoring- not so much. Sometimes I love being Tznius and knowing that only my husband has a backstage pass. Other times I ask myself what the big deal is, and want so badly to just walk around in public in nothing.

Duality doesn't equal contradiction. Deborah and Chaya are two individuals who hang on the opposite extremes. I don't think Deborah's story is the norm- not that that makes Deborah's pain any less or an incentive for us to appreciate our own choices. But I also don't think Chaya is the norm either.

But they also aren't so different. One checked out because she wanted choices, the other checked in because she wanted fewer. One thing for sure that they have in common--- they both have garnered attention by talking about their sex lives.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

You state things as if they are fact, and since most things in life are not black and white, you must admit your conclusions might not be correct. When I see children/teens/adults who have to hide their interests, can’t get straight answers, and the like, I do not blame the elders or orthodox judais,, I blame the parents. A fundamental jewish concept concerning child rearing is to raise each child according the their unique essence and potential. Some girls enjoy the security of the sheltered community, they are more than happy to follow a less exposed path, get married, have kids, and that’s that. That girl should be taught home ec, how to handle a budget, children’s health, how to have a healthy and loving relationship with their husband and so on. Other girls are more curious, maybe more intellectual or artistic, there are many ways to allow them to develop that part of their personality while still adhering to the laws of orthodox jews. Between secular books, special classes, college, travel, these girls can learn so much about what life has to offer and it can be their choice. They can be completely orthodox and whatever else they want to be, as my closest friends are; all orthodox, a doctor, and lawyer, an artist, a fashion designer, a writer ,a nurse. This is the job of the parents. To help their children reach their highest personal and unique potential. I think we can both agree that like in almost every community across the globe you’ll find fantastic parents and lousy parents. I believe its that simple.
Now to the Lakewood issue, although im pretty sure im wasting my words explaining this, im going to give it a shot. Lakewood is basically made up of two groups. The orthodox jewish group, and the secular group. The secular group is for the most part made up of children of illegal immigrants, children whose parents are financially supported by the government ie wic, governments housing etc.., basically people who are not contributing to the school system financially. At the same time they are in school and benefiting from all the other educational services. Most (not all) the of the jewish group are property owners, who pay very high property taxes which directly feeds into the school system. But at the same time do not attend public school. So the orthodox community pays for the schooling of the secular children. At the same time we pay thousands and thousands of dollars for private school. I don’t think its too much to ask from the township to cover the cost of bussing considering that there is no real form of public transportation. Now you may say “well, its your choice to go to private school, why should you be assisted in any way, use the public school system.” I would suggest that you never say such a thing within earshot of anyone from the board of ed. If come September you have the tens of thousands of children, now in private school, registering for public school all hell would break loose. Simply because the school system cant physically handle it. It is a theory ive heard many times before; let the government give the community education vouchers, the amount it would cost to have a child in public school should be returned to the parents to use for private education. Then the board of ed. Could wash their hands of any responsibilities. For some reason this has never actualized. I would venture to guess, and this is just a guess, that the cost of bussing is well worth the silence of the community. Think about it. And honestly now, do u want us in your classroom? Do you want your childrens being friends with us? Do u want to socialize with us as PTA? Something else to think about…

Linnaea said... [Reply to comment]

A structured life is not for everybody. Some of us are free spirits and find no spirituality in following rules, only a prison. Thirty years ago, I wanted to be a singer and was horrified to have people tell me women couldn't sing in public. I left at 16 and never looked back, and now I'm happily secular and a singer/actress. Why would God give someone a beautiful voice only to prohibit them from using it in front of half the population? I could never do the mikvah thing, and early on, I realized I didn't want to be married. What's wrong with being older and single if a person is happy, which I am? The notion of being told when I can and cannot hug someone is downright offensive, as is the notion that I cannot dress the way I want to. Why does it seem like Orthodoxy is about creating clones--everyone does the same thing, marries, has kids, chooses an "acceptable" profession, etc. That leaves us creatives out in the cold. I still consider myself spiritual, but my spirituality comes from the creative process and immersing myself in the performing arts.

Gayle said... [Reply to comment]

After reading the article by Chaya my first thought was - sounds wonderful but I don't think that applies across the board of Chassidic women. For that matter of all women. It is wonderful that her world is so positive - but not everyone is in the same situation or has the same choices. In general Chabad Chassidic women have more opportunity to live a more well rounded life - not so with many other sects.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I would like to set the record straight.

Chabad is Chasidic in nature and law.

What I mean by that is, the original mission statement by the chabad Rebbes, was and always will be to live a life that goes beyond living a happy basic, to strive to always improve how we act religiously, that means, no TV, always dress Tznius covering all areas needed coverage, Shaitel even in the summer, men to have beards untouched and daven with minyan and have shiurim everyday, couples to practice all seperations for a minimum of 12 days, studying english in school and college is frowned upon unless going for a livelihood after marriage.

So are we that different than satmer? Yes, in chabad there is freedom in the tznius style of dress and seperation of the sexes and the language spoken. But Chabad is supposed to be closer to satmer then to bnei akiva. Unfortunately the younger generation has been a little more lax in keeping the laws and standards, but I'm sure so have the younger generation of satmer, so please everyone stop trying to make it sound like chabad isn't chasidic. We just have stress different areas, but still have to live "lifnim mshuras hadin" to a higher standard.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

You would be surprised at what I do know. First, I was responding to Deborah Feldman's book which told HER story of having to hide books, sneak off to libraries, and keep her opinions to herself. According to her, any breach in her accepted conduct would lead to a break in G-ds law with some punishment to ensue. As for Lakewood, I attended all private schools myself in NYC (Catholic) and sent my own teenagers to Catholic HS in NJ (after having paid enourmous taxes in Northern NJ) I also received a stipend payment from the state to reimburseme me far having to drive them to school each day because there were not enough children in our are to make it worthwhile to send a bus to pick them up. I know all about the demographics of the other children in the Lakewood school system and their impact on the budget. My argument with the Hassidic community is that their religious requirements of separate schools and separate busses add to the number of busses needed and the extra cost to provide them. On any weekday morning during the school year there are 450 busses all over Lakewood slowing traffic and burning gas. Why is it necessary for there to be 22 different Jewish schools in one town? I know the children attending private schools takes the burden off of the public system, but, using Feldman's book as a starting point, are the Jewish kids getting a good education? Is the system monitored by the state to make sure? The Lakewood story became a major headline when it was noted that they had one of the worst graduation rates in the state. What is the graduation rates of the private High Schools?

As for your other questions, I don't know because it is your culture that segregates itself from us. Since reading the book, when I see many Orthodox in the shopping areas near here (Costco, Home Depot all in Lakewood) I now wonder what they think. Are they more afraid of us polluting their religious thinking? In the public schools neither the parents nor students are allowed to decide who sits next to them or stays in the class. I chose private schools for my children because I wanted them educated above the level the public schools offered and I wanted them with other children who felt the same.

Raizel said... [Reply to comment]

Mim, beautiful and well written article. Literally took the words from my mouth. What we need, and how you write and speak, is to be HONEST and REAL about the successes AND failures/challenges that exist in our communities. That is the only way we will ever be able to make a real change. You rock, my friend.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Just to address one issue you mentioned. - I live in Maryland and recently found out that the average cost of educating a standard child through the public school in Maryland is over $16,000 dollars per year. Sixteen thousand. By us going to private schools and even spending a thousand dollars a kid in bussing - the state of NJ is saving a lot, *a lot* more money.... something to think about - how much higher your state taxes would be...

Daniela said... [Reply to comment]

@Anonymous
In response to the Anon. comments- When you say that you sent your kids to private school so they could receive a better education, I totally hear you. But bear in mind that we feel exactly the same way. Our children's Jewish education is *super* important, and we want our kids to have the best. So there need to be 22 Jewish schools in Lakewood because a single school may not be right for each kid. We're doing our kids a favor by giving educational options.

I also take issue with the notion that the "elders" force people into marriage as a mechanism for keeping young people hostage. That is so not how it happens. I haven't read Feldman's book, but I don't think her experience is the norm. In past generations, getting married young was totally normal. Waiting until you are in your older 20s- mid 30s is pretty recent. I'm pretty sure if you took a poll of Orthodox women and asked them about the dating/marriage experience, most will agree that the only trauma involved is when you're on a horrible date and don't know how to end it.

Fashion-isha said... [Reply to comment]

@Anonymous I'd like to reply to Anonymous who lives near Lakewood. I am an orthodox Jewish woman who lives in Lakewood and yes we do need 22 different schools. As a matter of fact there is a shortage of schools with about 100 children per year not getting accepted. With approx 9,000 Orthodox families in Lakewood, each averaging 5 children per family...you do the math. The education in the private schools far exceeds the Lakewood public schools and the low graduation rate is not talking about the private schools. PS the bus situation is just as annoying to me but it is necessary. And as far as the cost...we pay the same taxes as you do without using the school system, so at least we get bussing for our money. As far as the culture self segragating, you are correct and this is an area that I take issue with because it just makes us looks strange. We are human beings, mothers and wives with many of the same issues as you and I personally always try to be friendly, smile and talk to people in my local Home Depot. As a matter of fact one of my pursuits in life and in blogging is to get the message out there that Orthodox Jewish women are not freaks nor are we oppressed, but we have the capacity to live beautiful lives...not based on what Chasidic sect we belong to, but based on our outlook on life the glasses we choose to see our lives through. Do we choose to appreciate the beauty and acknowledge the difficulities or do we choose to be miserable about the negatives and bash the whole lifestyle? It's each woman's individual choice of attitude.
xo
Sharon
www.fashion-isha.com

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I agree with the savings every town makes when a child goes to private school. The town I used to live in paid 11000 for each child they sent to the public high school in another town (we were too small to have our own). At least 10 kids per year went to private hs. I just meant that it would make sense (from an outsiders point of view) to combine some of the 22 private schools to save on the bussing. From reading the comments on this page I am learning that there are many types of Hassidic communities and MAYBE the schools represent different types. On the outside we don't know these things.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

read this on deborah feldman's page, a comment by Joshie Berger about Lady Mama: "her whole fair n balanced shtick falls flat after her setup is so biased, this lame attempt at being neutral is even more enraging in some ways"

Der Shygetz said... [Reply to comment]

There is nothing to compare. Deborah Feldman was outed as a liar by someone who really has an axe to grind and who truly hates the Jewish community.

"I know that my community is living in the dark ages when it comes to understanding homosexuality."

No. The Rebbe had it right but as he was not a practicing scientist he did not say what had to be said. Homosexuality is a disease. It needs to be eradicated the way Tay-Sachs was eradicated - through determination of genetic factors and preventing those factors from coming together. It brings only suffering and grief, and it is about as normal as sticking fingers in electrical sockets to get a buzz. Its sufferers need to come out from behind this alternative lifestyle nonsense, admit that they are ill, and lobby governments and the UN for research into proper treatment (not JONAH or other such nonsense).

Rose said... [Reply to comment]

@Anonymous
Anonymous, where do you take your information from? Chassidic single girls are not allowed to go to college unless it's online? What about Touro College's Brooklyn campus, which is teeming with chassidic girls and women, single and married?
Oh and btw, since someone mentioned that Satmar women have different experiences, I'd like to go on record as a Satmar woman who has attended a secular undergrad college and is currently in a Master's Program -- and guess what! I'm still living in Williamsburg and nobody has ostracized me or my kids.

Mimi Hecht said... [Reply to comment]

@Anonymous

Can you link me to the page, comments? Can't seem to find it!

Rivka Leiner said... [Reply to comment]

I said to Chaya "You go girl" even though I knew mentioning Devorah was kicking a hornet's nest.
I do not think that she whitewashed. I believe the FFB community has been a bit grey washed, if I can coin a term. Those of us BTs, even though it is 30 years for me, have seen the ugly, manipulative side of womens issues. That choice is called choice only when you make the right choice. That the choice to ask a shailah on BC and childbirth issues is ridiculed even among some observant. Many young women who are born in or new to Torah haven't the breadth of watching society for 40 years and how their attitudes where formed to influence their choices.
While Chaya may exude simplistic enthusiasm, it is real, not a media encouraged hatchet job fueled by book royalties and tv appearances.
Deborah has very little and erroneous information on halacha and a huge platform to spread it from. I do give her some slack because she comes from a community where women learning Torah is so discouraged (and even our community is tainted with this sin or we would not see it in others). Yes, people do have these issues when strange ideas enter our communities by birth or by error. Heaven help us when major concessions to non Jewish outlooks are considered the balance between mindless hatred and misinformation on one side and OTOH simplistic joy in choosing a Torah lifestyle.

Der Shygetz said... [Reply to comment]

BSD Mimi i know it is an old post but I just saw a link back to it..a quick reread suggested to me that perhaps it should be the Mimis and not the (starry-eyed) Chayas or the (lying) Deborahs who talk to the media about the lives of Torah Jewish women!