A Tale of Two Trajectories

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19 b Ellul

What was the most significant moment during the actual disengagement from Gush Katif?

I suggest there was one key scene, seen by all, and commented on by none.

Everyone who watched the evacuation on television, or listened to radio minute-by-minute descriptions was aware that in many communities in Gush Katif the residents & supporters made a last stand in the synagogues. Male soldiers escorted or dragged the men and boys out of the men’s section, and female soldiers took the women and girls out of the ezras nashim. What transpired in the women’s section symbolized a polarization in Israeli society. I would like to sketch my thinking on this, which I have not yet backed up by statistics and other materials, but what I think is indicative of a deep malaise in Jewish society. Let me explain.

Hundreds of girls and and young women who opposed the disengagement (or expulsion, or whichever term one chooses to employ) gathered in the women’s sections or balconies of shuls. Hundreds of female soldiers entered and pulled, dragged, or walked the protestors out. Here you had two groups of young women approximately about the same age. But they are on completely different life trajectories, and those two trajectories met for a few hours during this phase of the pullout. One trajectory leads to a future for the Jewish people, the other trajectory leads away.

Many, or most, of the female soldiers and policewomen have not encountered the Jewish religion up close for many years. In the shuls their opponents embraced them with song and tears and a sense of shared destiny. They sat, arm in arm, in the synagogues of Gush Katif feeling a sense of sanctity mingled with perspiration. The soldiers/police swayed to the songs so unfamiliar to them, pushed in line in order to kiss the Torah scroll. Captain Liat Moskovich, a soldier who took part in the evacuation, was quoted in Haaretz saying that the sanctity of the synagogue and everything that happened in there were the most meaningful moments for her in the operation, and she emerged strengthened from them.

Unfortunately, for many of the women soldiers this was the first time they were in a synagogue, and for quite a number the fact that women pray in a separate section was new to them. The trajectory for the average girl soldier takes her into a society that is increasingly egalitarian and also raunchy. The American army as well as the Israeli IDF have bought into the idea that women should be integrated as fully as possible, even in combat units. This reflects the general erasing of gender differences, the pretence that that these differences are trivial and can be overcome, and that essentialism (i.e. the concept that these differences are essential and crucial) is passe. Marriage for girls on this trajectory is somewhere off in the distant future, after traveling abroad, after university, after career, after living in a few relationsjips. The average age of marriage of secular Israeli women is the late twenties, average number of children 2 point something (I am in the process of clarifying the statistics). The existence of a mehitza and ezras nashim is archaic and unnecessary, given that secular society demands women dress like and be treated like men (note that the egalitarianism usually is a one-way street, with women aspiring to dress like and be like men).

Very sad statistics were published in the lead article of the August issue of the journal of the Israel Medical Association, Harefuah. The authors of the overview, “Unplanned pregnancies among women soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces” found that
the number of out-of-wedlock pregnancies of Israeli girl soldiers aged 18-20 rose 16% from 1997 to 2003. During those years nearly 6000 girls (18-20) reported to the military authorities that they were pregnant, and 4,400 elected to have an abortion and continue to serve in the army. The rest chose to be discharged. The girls are told at basic training that the army will provide them with one abortion, not more, during their service. I don’t want to paint an entire segment of Israelis with a negative brush, and most girl soldiers serve idealistically and seriously. But we can’t ignore these statistics and their implication. The situation for girls in the army is part of the larger problem of widespread abortions in Israel discussed last week in the Jerusalem Post. (The problem is almost non-existent for religious girl soldiers; their trajectory is very different from that of the secular soldiers and closer to that of the religious girls who opt out of the army and do civilian national service.)

In contrast, the religiously observant girls and young female Gush residents who on the whole do not serve understand that the male/female differences are cosmic and described in Creation. Religious girls see themselves as supporting and encouraging the men, as partners not as competitors. The trajectory for these girls is away from modern egalitarianism to enhancement of the differences. They see themselves as marrying and starting families young, and envision themselves as mothers of large families. This is their way to empowerment and religious, political national, and personal fulfillment. The average age of marriage is (again I am checking this out) in the early twenties, and national-religious families of 7 or 10 or more children are not unusual.

I am generalizing, but the overall facts will, I think, substantiate this description. Who are the role models of these religious teens and twenty-somethings? Their role models are those Israelite women during shibud Mitzrayim , our period of slavery in Egypt, who represent female empowerment. The midrash explains that when the men were distanced from marital life the women went into the fields where their exhausted husbands were laboring and enticed the men using their copper mirrors. They fried fish and plied the men with enough wine to arouse their spouses’ desire. Rashi comments that this assertiveness was Divinely rewarded and the women were blessed with super-fecundity, expressed in the hyperbole that they gave birth to “six at a time.” The orange-hued copper mirrors were subsequently incorporated into the basin in the Tabernacle and Temple. See Rashi on the verse “Moses made the basin and its stand from the copper mirrors of the women who raised crowds” of chidren. (Exodus 38:8).

Returning to the scene of the girl soldiers versus the girl demonstrators, we can see this as a micro-example of macro-phenomena, symbolized chromatically by the “blue” ribbons, representing secular left-of-center Jewish Israelis, as opposed to the “orange” ribbons of the religious right-of-center. The difference is more than color deep and the future is with the religious “orange” group.

This is because those in the secular left have adherents. Those in the religious right have babies.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She is on the board of the Charedi College of Jerusalem. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survved the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She s available to lecture in Israel and in the US.

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2 Responses

  1. mirty says:

    Shira writes: ” Returning to the scene of the girl soldiers versus the girl demonstrators, we can see this as a micro-example of macro-phenomena, symbolized chromatically by the “blue” ribbons, representing secular left-of-center Jewish Israelis, as opposed to the “orange” ribbons of the religious right-of-center. The difference is more than color deep and the future is with the religious “orange” group.

    This is because those in the secular left have adherents. Those in the religious right have babies.”

    I disagree that this event was an example of a wide-spread phenomena. If Jews were indeed that pitted against each other, and in a constant state of nearly war-like opposition, there would be no Jewish community or Jewish State. I humbly suggest that the future lies in Jews working together and trying to understand each other’s views, not in choosing separate sides.

  2. mirty says:

    I think there is a middle-ground between a completely secular lifestyle and an Orthodox shul with a mechitza. One can partake of Jewish values and beliefs in more than one way. (I believe so, anyway.) My husband, kids and I attended a very nice Reform service in Baka (in Jerusalem) when I visited there.