“Why do they hate us so much?”

letter-447577_1280

3 bNissan

I heard this question this week at all-day conference at Bar Ilan University on “Tefillat Nashim” – issues realted to women’s prayer. There were over a dozen lectures and workshops, many of them discussing the history and halakha of the relationship of women to prayer and how this changed over the centuries. For example, several lecturers cited material that seems to show that centuries ago European Jewish women were the sondaks or godmothers at the brit mila circumcision ceremonies held in synagogues,but that the Maharam of Rotenberg ruled to discontinue this practice this because of the problems arising in mixing men and women. Others discussed how synagogue architecture and design reflect how women have sometimes been less welcomed and other times more welcomed in public prayer as there were fluctuations in the halakha and planning of women’s sections, Ezrat nashim. During the question period, one woman stood up and asked, “Why do the men hate us so much?” I was taken aback. It seems to me that the main reason for separating men and women in prayer is that the men like women so much!
I thought of this as I read the talkbacks (62 so far) on my current Jerusalem Post op ed (March 21, 2bNissan), “Black hats in the front of the bus.”

This is the article that appeared last month on the JTA website. I discussed it here in cross-currents on Feb. 18 in “The Kidnapping of Rosa Parks.” At one point I wrote about women sitting in a separate section at the back of some buses in Israel:

Why women in the back? It isn’t strictly required, but in the Shema prayer we are warned not to follow our roving eyes [“lo tasuru”] and some haredi men take an extra stringency upon themselves to minimize such opportunities. This gift from God – that women nicely distract men – belongs in the privacy of the home…. It’s the men who are disadvantaged because Jewish law imposes more limits on their visual freedom…While self-control is an admirable quality, you shouldn’t put stumbling blocks before the blind… or the sighted.[“lifne iver lo sasim michshol”]

I hoped this would lead to a serious discussion of halakhic concepts of “lifne iver” “lo tasuru” or “shmiras einayim” “shmiras habris” [avoiding problematic situations] – which I would like to understand better. But few respondents have taken the discussion in that direction.

My 19-year old son seems to understand these concepts. Recently he asked us not to drive on the Ayalon Freeway through north Tel Aviv, but to take the longer Highway 4 route. The Ayalon sports 40-storey high ads of provacatively posed, barely dressed women. This form of anti-religious coercion is sadly becoming more prevalent. Can anyone be surprised that there are counter-developments such as the desire for separate-seating Mehadrin buses?

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.

You may also like...

21 Responses

  1. Miriam Shear says:

    “As far as my own opinion about the buses, it is undergoing evolution (if I may use that term). I wonder if it may be a case of “s’kharo yotzei b’hefsed” and the haredi sector loses (in P.R., in goodwill) more than it gains.”

    Comment by Shira Schmidt — March 28, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

    Mrs. Schmidt, I think you’re on to something. On the pasuk in Tehillim 18:44: “You rescue me from the strife of the people”, Ben Azzai says that Dovid HaMelech is saying that he prefers to rule over the entire world than over those who enrap everything in talitot and tzitzit, meaning, pious wrappings. Such people – who feel a need to cloak everything, even simple bus rides – in holy wrappings through chumras actually create more problems and disunity. The Chasam Sofer states taht a truly “good Jew” strives to bring other Jews closer, not farther apart. Yet, some in our community are not learning these very important lessons. For more on this, please refer to Eim Habanim Semeichah (R. Teichtal), page 490 in the English version. Rashi also comments on this phenomenon of “being overly pious” which is what actually caused our descent to Mitzrayim. And this is exactly what several Gedolim are trying to teach us today when they are advising us to get rid of these Mehadrin buses because they are only causing more strife and hard feelings amongst Jews – causing us much greater losses than any potential gains.

    One other thought for consideration: The word “beged” – clothing – has the same letters as “bogaid” – traitor. A traitor is one who deceives others by appearing to be one thing when he is, in fact, something quite different, even dangerous. Those who choose to wear the begadim of piety while behaving like beheimas are traitors to our Torah way of life of which the main message is shalom and achdus.

  2. Shira Schmidt says:

    9 bNissan
    I learned a lot from the comments. I want to clarify the example with our son. My husband and I were only too happy to adopt my son’s suggestion that we take alternative routes, if they exist and even if they are longer, and minimize driving on highways with billboards and ads that degrade women. It is not an inconvenience. He explains that he prefers this approach, rather than the separate-seating bus approach where you may be inconveniencing large segments of the public.
    As far as my own opinion about the buses, it is undergoing evolution (if I may use that term). I wonder if it may be a case of “s’kharo yotzei b’hefsed” and the haredi sector loses (in P.R., in goodwill) more than it gains.

  3. cvmay says:

    When traveling in Eretz Yisroel I prefer sitting next to my husband, is this option available on the Mehedrin bus?
    In our daily avodas hashem, we attempt to add spirituality & depth to our relationship with Gd, this individual endeavor does not have to necessitate or overload others.

  4. bag says:

    “The gemara (I can not cite the location off hand) clearly states that if there are two paths, one passing a place of temptation, you should chose the path that will not test your moral strength”

    but it doesn’t say you have to create a second path when there is only one, especially when it inconveniences others

  5. Menachem Lipkin says:

    “…you should chose the path that will not test your moral strength.”

    YOU should choose an alternate existing path, you shouldn’t have others clear a path for you.

  6. Nachum Lamm says:

    Tempted to do so? They do it because hundreds of people are stuffed into subway cars. If they do so intentionally, sure, they have a problem. What I meant is that thousands of frum men *accidentally* brush against women in public transit every day and don’t see a need to klop al cheits and set up separate bus lines.

  7. Aron Katz says:

    “You may disagree with me, but I’m not “wrong” for being more impressed with men who, well, act like men and don’t pawn their problems off on women.”

    The gemara (I can not cite the location off hand) clearly states that if there are two paths, one passing a place of temptation, you should chose the path that will not test your moral strength. We let G-d chose when to test us, we should never test ourselves. This is the lesson from Dovid Hamelech who asked G-d to test him, and failed with the Bas Sheva test.

  8. Jewish Observer says:

    “Almost every time, men brush up against women”

    – it is precisely because they are tempted to do so that charedim are calling for separation

  9. Loberstein says:

    This topic keeps recurring. One reason is that it makes me and others very uncomfortable . I think I am a normal frum person and these people come along and tell me that my Judaism is nothing, that I am not really frum that only they are G-d’s Chosen Ones. The arrogance of it is what galls me. There has to be a reaction to this. If they were in control we would be forced to adopt their ways.I personally don’t think their Judaism is authentic, it is a reaction to the challenge of modernity . These are the same people who destroyed Slifkin, they can’t be met with silent cceptytance. L’maan Hashem, normal Jews can’t surrender.

  10. Nachum Lamm says:

    You know, nothing’s stopping people from moving, say, to some uninhabited South Pacific island (as R’ Mayer Schiller said many years ago) and setting up an ideal society. Or, to be more practical, founding your own settlement somewhere in Israel, growing your own crops, setting up your own shul and so on, and having zero contact with the rest of the world.

    You choose to live with six billion (or, limiting yourself to Israel, six million) fellow human beings, you have to make concessions.

    Why are people so offended? Simple. Religious Jews- including Charedi Jews- take much more crowded, untzniut, public transportation in New York every day. Almost every time, men brush up against women. (Horrors!) Most religious Jews in Israel don’t take Mehadrin buses. And yet somehow their frumkeit survives.

  11. Menachem Lipkin says:

    “Wrong. The mother understood what was at stake and was maskim, she did not see it as no tircha. To the extent we can help it, we should avoid temptation. Sticking one’s head in the sefer works b’dieved when everything else failed.”

    Hard to see how you can say “wrong” when I’m expressing my opinion that “I’d be more impressed…”.

    To me this little vignette illustrates the problem we’re dealing with here. Just like it’s a fact that sitting in the back of the bus is more of a tircha for the women so to it’s a fact that taking route 4 instead of the Ayalon is more of tircha for Mrs. Shmidt. (She said so herself.) That the women involved see it as some sort of honor badge to accept this tircha is of course to their credit, but at the same time it’s to the shame of the men involved. In both cases there are simple, viable alternatives that would allow the men to maintain their holiness while not being matriach the women.

    You may disagree with me, but I’m not “wrong” for being more impressed with men who, well, act like men and don’t pawn their problems off on women.

  12. Bob Miller says:

    When the women are really empowered, they’ll have their own bus and sit wherever they want to.

  13. dovid says:

    “I would be more impressed if your son said that he’d keep his head in a sefer while driving on that road rather than be matriach you to take the longer route.”

    Wrong. The mother understood what was at stake and was maskim, she did not see it as no tircha. To the extent we can help it, we should avoid temptation. Sticking one’s head in the sefer works b’dieved when everything else failed.

  14. Dr. E says:

    (1) It would seem from your comment that you obviously were not phased enough to take Highway 4 to begin with.

    (2) The travelers on the Mehadrin buses are self-selected and most women who would take them would be dressed with all the chumras. (perhaps that’s the point). So once you put something like that in place, are any slight deviations to the seating chart be an excuse for boorish behavior?

    (3) Even so, I don’t buy the idea that separate seating has to mean men in the front and women in the back. To couch that as a Halachic imperative or as having “spiritual” significance (“empowerment” of women and that “men like us too much”) comes across as apologetics. If one is intellectually honest, it does not take a feminist agenda to realize that much of this issue revolves around the male-centric mindset which permeates many Chareidi circles.

  15. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “This form of anti-religious coercion is sadly becoming more prevalent. Can anyone be surprised that there are counter-developments such as the desire for separate-seating Mehadrin buses?”

    This an important key to understanding developments in the charedi world, but it is only one aspect, and not the complete picture. I don’t think that it’s the complete picture because one can ask further, why is it necessary to go the opposite extreme? Why create new minhagim and stringencies? Is there anything in between provocative billboards in Tel Aviv, and separate seating on religious buses, where the women, I assume, dress modestly?

    The Rambam writes that although balance is generally the correct path regarding character traits, sometimes, one needs to temporarily go to the opposite extreme to correct an imbalance; then one moves to a balanced point at the center(this only a partial analogy because this is a “geder”, a protection against immodesty, and not a personality trait).

    I think that people see the separate seating on buses as part of a general trend towards polarization, and they are wondering if the Israeli charedi community will eventually move towards a more balanced point on this, and on many issues, as in the analogy of the Rambam. Somehow, the direction of the Israeli charedi community concerns people living elsewhere, perhaps because of the concern that the American world might in some ways move towards adopting additional stringencies.

  16. Jewish Observer says:

    “It seems to me that the main reason for separating men and women in prayer is that the men like women so much!”

    – there is a famous mussar vort in which the mashgiach (R’ Elya Lopian, I believe) asked a bochur why he eats fish to which the bochur responded “because I love fish”. So the mashgiach retorted (Artscroll word) if you loved fish you wouldn’t eat him, uou eat fish because you love yourself. Not just a word play but a deep vort.

    V’hamayvin yovin.

  17. JewishAtheist says:

    While you look at the issue as men taking stringencies upon themselves, the women no doubt notice that it’s always the women who are hidden behind mechitzas, have to sit in the back of the bus, must dress ever-more modestly, etc. The stringencies aren’t “taken” by the men but coerced onto the women.

    Your son taking the long route is indeed an example of taking a stringency on himself, but that’s all too rare.

  18. Menachem Lipkin says:

    “The Ayalon sports 40-storey high ads of provacatively posed, barely dressed women. This form of anti-religious coercion is sadly becoming more prevalent.”

    I was driving on the Ayalon today and noticed those ads. While they certainly are not appropriate for frum bochrim (or anyone) to be looking at, I think it’s a real strech to imply that they are part of some anti-relgious conspriracy.

    I would be more impressed if your son said that he’d keep his head in a sefer while driving on that road rather than be matriach you to take the longer route.

  19. Larry Lennhoff says:

    I suspect that some women suspect hatred as the underlying emotion when they are told that on the one hand they must stay hidden from sight during prayer in many locations to such an extent that they can neither see nor clearly hear the service, but on the other hand they cannot daven in a group by themselves without any men present.

    I suspect in the majority of cases they are wrong – it is not hatred of women that drives men (aka poskim, since the concept of poseket has minimal traction in Orthodoxy) to these positions. However, I doubt that the underlying motivation is love of women.

  20. G says:

    –>”Recently [our son] asked us not to drive on the Ayalon Freeway through north Tel Aviv, but to take the longer Highway 4 route. The Ayalon sports 40-storey high ads of provacatively posed, barely dressed women…Can anyone be surprised that there are counter-developments such as the desire for separate-seating Mehadrin buses?”

    That is not a fair comparison. I do not think that most people have a problem with the IDEA of or DESIRE for a mehadrin bus. The issue arises when that idea is imposed on others who may not share the same desire. Imagine if your son had been traveling in someone elses car and had DEMANDED that they travel along the longer highway, would you still feel that your son was understanding the correct concepts?

  21. ja says:

    “I hoped this would lead to a serious discussion of halakhic concepts of “lifne iver” “lo tasuru” or “shmiras einayim” “shmiras habris” [avoiding problematic situations] – which I would like to understand better. But few respondents have taken the discussion in that direction.”

    Interestingly, the comment I wrote on this was initially not let through on your last post. A main assumption in your article was mistaken, and I think is worth correcting again because it appears to be a common error. Histaklus is ossur for men and not women only due to biological considerations. See See Igros Moshe EH 1:69, also IM OC 4:15, and ROYosef Yabia Omer O.C. 1:6 . The premise of the halacha is not that women “nicely distract men” more than the reverse, but that such attraction is not problematic for women. Misunderstanding this point leads to much theorizing about women and men’s “nature” that has little basis in the sources, and sometimes is in outright contradiction to the sources.

    There was also a discussion of these issues on Hirhurim blog’s Feb 18 post discussing your piece (toward the end of the comment section).