I actually don’t even know how I stumbled upon the article.
Actually, I think it’s more accurate to say that the article found me.
That’s the way, after all, with being Jewish on the internet. Jewish-related things just seem to find me. I mean, you guys, that’s how I first met Metalia. Bound together for life because we both celebrate a holiday that essentially forces us to eat cheesecake and our inability to participate in “I LOVE BACON!” discussions. Yesterday, I was minding my own business, busy minding my actual business, editing away, and found myself down a chassidic Jewish wormhole that I absolutely did not expect, and certainly did not have time to fall down. “What’s that Â you say, children? You want me to feed you an actual dinner? Alas, I cannot. I have to sift through over 1200 comments on this initital article and then I need to read Deborah Feldman’s rebuttal and then I need to keep digging and find more. Don’t you see, children? One article is not enough. NOT ENOUGH!”
They may or may not have had Nestle Drumsticks for dinner.Â
Here’s a nifty little disclaimer to give you a bit of detail into who I am. Read: NOT AN EXPERT. I grew up in two householdsâ€”one set of my parents are modern orthodox jews and one set of my parents are agnostic/Christian. So, it’s an interesting mix to say the least. The majority of my time was spentÂ growingÂ up modern orthodox, which is to say that my mother doesn’t wear pants, but she also doesn’t cover her hair or wear a wig. My family kept a strictly kosher home and was Shabbat observant, meaning no electricity from sundown on Friday to when three stars come out on Saturday night. As adults, my husband and I have chosen to live our lives a little differently, as Traditional Jews, and we choose to focus on and celebrate our cultures and customs and heritage instead of ritual procedure and rules we disagree with. We choose to celebrate what is wonderful about Judaismâ€”to teach our children about who we are and where we came from and have lovely Shabbat meals together and, of course, eat cheesecake on Shavuot.
I do use electronics on Shabbat and I don’t eat bacon. This is my choice. And I’m incredibly happy.
So. Obviously not at an expert of any kind. Also, not judging any way you want to live your life. If you are chassidic, orthodox, traditional, conservative, reform, reconstructionist, whatever you want to call yourself, if that’s how you want to be I will respect it. I hope you are living your life as the best possible person you can be, because to me, that’s way more important than what label you give yourself and what rules and regulations you do or do not follow.
Because I grew up modern orthodox, there are things I know about Chassidic Jewish women.
Because I grew up modern orthodox, there are things I know absolutely nothing about Chassidic Jewish women.Â
So, I first read Chaya’s article about Chassidic Judaism. Her post was, basically, in a nutshell, that she feels like Chassidic women are painted in an unfair and untrue light. She feels free to make choices. She loves her bearded husband, finds him sexy. She is accomplished and happy; not oppressed. She loves the mikvah. My first instinct was…GOOD FOR HER! She has chosen to live her life a certain way and she sounds incredibly happy and certainly fulfilled in the bedroom. And she likes the mikvah…which is 1000% not the case for me, unfortunately. (I almost drowned in one, once.)
But then I started to worry. This may possibly be the only article people are reading about her brand of Judaism, and I worry that she may be painting in her world through her personal rose-colored glasses. I think a big problem is that some people are going to read this article and not dig any deeper. They are going to ignore that there are some big issues that Chaya is not discussing, because for her personally, HER LIFE IS WONDERFUL and, clearly, full of sex.Â I have no doubts that what she speaks is true.
But I have a gut feeling that while this may be true FOR HER, it may not be the case for many, many women who didn’t choose to be born into a life like this. The most important words I took from Chaya’s article are the words that SHE CHOSE THIS. She didn’t grow up this way and actually made a conscious choice to live her life this way.
And I’m sure there are many out there who are just like her. I’mÂ positive, in fact. There are many.
But what about those who aren’t? Do we really want her speaking out on behalf of those who have no voice?
What about the girls who are married and babied several times over before the age of 20? What about the women who are not allowed to get degrees or jobs? What about the women who are not happy? What about the women who don’t even know that they are unhappy because questioning anything has never been an option? What about the women who don’t find the mikvah to be a spa-like experience? What kind of freedoms do these young women have? For many women who are born into this sect of religion, I fear that they do not have the same feelings of CHOICE that Chaya here has.
People who are reading this may not be aware of the intricacies of how the ultra-orthodox community works; of howÂ restrictiveÂ it actually is to women. It’s a lifestyle that clings to the social and family structure of medieval Europe. Many advances we have made in terms of social rights and women’s rights have been shunned andÂ oppressedÂ by this community in order to protect their religious beliefs and identity.
I think that if Chaya’s article is what the media needs to know about Chassidic Judaism, the media is going to get it wrong.
The media needs to dig a little deeper.
And then I read Deborah Feldman’s rebuttal.
If you aren’t familiar with Deborah, she is the author ofÂ UNORTHODOX: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. Her book is about being raised Chassidic and about how she felt trapped in a cult-like existence. She was married at 17 to a man she barely knew and wasn’t allowed an education. I haven’t read the bookâ€”I have it downloaded, ready to sink my teeth into it. Obviously, she is on the opposite side of this coin. Where Chaya was blissfully happy; Deborah was not. She speaks, in her rebuttal comment, about what her life was like. And it was very different than the life Chaya chooses to lead.
And then I started to worry.Â This may possibly be the only article people are reading about her brand of Judaism, and I worry that she may be painting in her world through her personal angry-colored glasses.
I think that if this is what the media needs to know about Chassidic Judaism, the media is going to get it wrong.
The media needs to dig a little deeper.
The bottom line is, it’s so important that people are talking about thisâ€”good and bad.
It’s important for people who know nothing about Judaism to know that when they pass a woman walking down the street with her elbows covered and her knees covered and she’s not touching her bearded, suited and black-hatted husband, she may be the happiest woman on earth. She may love these rules. She may embrace a lifestyle that is filled with much celebration and holidays and good food and family and happiness and children and days that are spent unplugged. She may love it…and who are you to judge?
But it’s also importantÂ for people who know nothing about Judaism to know that when they pass that same woman, she may be unhappy, and completely and fully trapped inside a religion that dictates her life for her. She may want something differentâ€”she may hate the mikvah, she may hate the concept of not touching her husband for two weeks out of every month, she may not find her husband sexy, she may not feel like she has a voice. Or a choice.
It’s fascinating what you will find.