An exploration of radical Judaism’s treatment of women in Israel.
Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance executive director Sztokman (The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World, 2011) takes on the Haredi, a segment of Orthodox Judaism that rejects contact with the secular culture. The Haredi are growing in numbers and influence in Israel, and the role of women, both inside and outside of their community, is a major point of contention. The Haredi believe in strict rules of modesty and specific gender roles in the home and in worship. Sztokman presents instances in which these cultural differences have run into conflict with modern Israeli society. One example is where women may sit on public buses. The author documents the development of segregated buses around Haredi-dominated areas and how women who board them, often unknowingly, are subjected to verbal and physical attacks. Sztokman also explores issues of military service for women in Israel and how conscripted Haredi often refuse any contact with women as commanders, trainers or medical personnel. The author documents the ongoing fight for equality of worship at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where women have been abused and arrested for years for attempting to pray as men do. Sztokman labors to note that the arguments go beyond points of religious law or issues within Haredi communities themselves. Instead, she witnesses a growing desire among Haredi men to have total control over the society in which they live, and that includes a complete separation of the sexes in every way. “If one point becomes clear from this entire book,” writes the author, “it is how much separation from women is increasingly a key element of identity for religious men.” The tales of Haredi misogyny are often shocking, but they provide open avenues for reflection and discussion. Sztokman is at her weakest when trying to tie these problems to larger, more global questions of women’s freedom, such as American Christian movements toward modest dress for teenage girls.
Overall, a worthwhile and eye-opening study.