|Chaya, hard at work, on her xoJane article.|
Sadly, Chaya omitted the most crucial details about her identity, namely that she is a member of the most liberal Hasidic sect (Lubavitch) and that she is a Ba'al Teshuva, which translates as someone who returned to the faith. So a woman who resided on the most liberal end of the spectrum in the most tolerant of all Hasidic sects, who had chosen this way of life after she had already had access to a secular education, wrote an essay on behalf of all Hasidic women across the global spectrum, telling women's media that all is glorious and wonderful in their worldBut that's not all she left out. After the jump, I try to fill in the blanks, line by line. As usual, I'm in green.
Hi. I'm Chaya, and I am a Chassidic Jewish woman. I am also a media professional with a degree in Women's Studies from a large, very liberal university (magna cum laude, baby!).
Chaya is a Lubavitcher, who embraced the teaching's of her sect after she was already an adult and after she finished school. How many from-the-womb Vishnitz, Square or Satmar Hasidic women have fancy jobs and fancy degrees? (hardly any at all, baby!)
In the past few days, I've been reading the backlash against "the asifa," a recent mass meeting of religious Jewish men meant to draw a few boundaries around Internet use in our homes (meaning religious Jewish homes; not your house).
You're off your talking points Chaya. According to the spokesmen women were included. Not at the event itself, perhaps, but they were still welcome to watch the presentations on TV from remote locations.
Whenever religious Jews make a stink about some cultural issue, the media moves in on it with a bizarre kind of vengeance. Like yesterday, Katie J.M. Baker published an article on Jezebel about the event, in which she actually compared Jewish men to ants!
See: "While men in traditional Orthodox garb filed into Citi Field as steadily as a never-ending line of ants approaching an anthill…" Um, where have I seen Jews compard to insects before? Oh, wait, WWII.
Also the Bible! אַף כִּי־אֱנֹושׁ רִמָּה וּבֶן־אָדָם תֹּולֵעָה to cite just one example.
As a resident of Brooklyn, the epicenter of all things hipster and the home of many, many clad-in-black religious Jews, I'd like to clarify a few things for all of you. Here are a few things you need to know about Chassidic women:
1. We are not imprisoned.
The last time I checked (which was right now), I am free to do whatever I want to do. Nobody is making me do anything. If I want to leave the community I live in, whether to go grocery shopping or to put on a pair of pants and go to a disco and snort coke, I can. Nobody is going to stop me. Would I wear a pair of skinny jeans and snort coke in a disco? No. Why?
Nobody is going to stop you, sure, but a household full of kids and the absence of an education or marketable skills might stop some of your sisters. Not all chains are made from metal.
2. We like ourselves the way we are. And most of us are happy.
Poor Deborah Feldman got the short end of the stick. She got a dysfunctional family and a crummy school. But listen: That happens everywhere. How many (non-Jewish or secular Jewish) friends of yours come from dysfunctional families and crappy schools and just couldn't wait to leave home? Did they represent your entire hometown?
I hate to trade in anecdotal evidence, but my friends in the health professions who work in Hasidic settings say "everyone" is on some kind of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drug. This claim is not worth anything, but perhaps should be considered alongside your own anecdotes. If we're going to agree that Deborah Feldman's unhappy story proves nothing, your happy story is similarly worthless as a proof.
We call becoming lax in religious observance and adopting a secular lifestyle "frying out." People fry out all the time. Most of us, though, feel like we are leading pretty rewarding lives.
Probably true. Most Hasidim probably do feel like they are living rewarding lives.(Though the fact that people fry out "all the time" suggests two sides to this story.) Still, I don't think your point is in dispute. In fact, I'll add that most people -- Hasidim and non-Hasidim alike - say their lives are rewarding.
Look at it this way: When your friends go to India to learn how to meditate and come home "leading spiritual lives" and suddenly won't go out for barbecue with you, you think it is cool. Your friend is leading a spiritual life. Spiritual lives involve boundaries and not just doing whatever your body feels like at that second. We lead spiritual lives. Leading a spiritual life is rewarding.
For some. Not for all. And others decide that it is "rewarding" because there are no other options available.
3. We find our husbands attractive.
You know those guys with the long beards and the black coats who are always reading something in Hebrew on the train and you're kind of freaked out by them? So they're our husbands.
My husband has a very impressive beard. He wears a black suit, and a kippah and a black hat. He is also the most handsome, hot, attractive man in the entire world to me. Nobody forced me to marry him. My father did not trade me to him for a flock of sheep.
Perhaps you feel like you had a choice. Your 17 and 18 year old Satmar sisters who find themselves engaged after one "sit-in" may not agree. In fact, they may be three or four children into the game and still not yet 23, before they realize who they are and what they want.
Fun fact: Jewish law prohibits marrying someone who you're not attracted to.
Fun fact: In every practical sense this law is unenforced in places like Square, Vishnitz and Satmar.
Another fun fact: In the Jewish marriage contract, one of the conditions of marriage is that a husband is obligated to sexually satisfy his wife. If my husband would deny "conjugal rights" to me, that's grounds for divorce. Pretty effing progressive if you ask me.
"We hold these truth to be self evident that all men are created equal" was, for its time, pretty... um, effing progressive. Only it took another 200 years for America to fully deliver on this promise. So, sure, the Talmud says "satisfy your wife" but there are no orgasm police making sure it happens. In the bedrooms of Boro Park and Kiryas Joel plenty of Jewish men are defaulting on this promissory note.
4. We have been happily shagging for millennia. Jews never had the concept of "original sin."
Judaism is the original sex-positive culture. What? You heard me right. Y'all need "sex-positive Third wave feminism" to help you feel like having sex is OK. Jews bypassed the whole Christian idea that all sex, even in marriage, is a sin. And Protestant asceticism just never happened for us.
It is not a Christian idea that all sex, even in marriage, is a sin!! Irony much? You fundamentally misunderstand Christianity in precisely the same way you complain that people misunderstand Judaism. In the Catholic Church, marriage is a sacrament. The Catechism says that "sexual relationships in marriage are a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator's generosity and fecundity" The Christian view of sex has always been the same as the Jewish view, namely that anything done within marriage is licit. So you see, Christians, too, have been "happily shagging" for millennia. (Why do you think there are so many of them?)
G-d likes it when a married Jewish couple has sex. Jews never got a message that sex is dirty. We think sex is good. It is so good that having it is actually a commandment. No, we cannot shag "anything that moves." No, we can't sleep around or have sex outside of marriage. But once you're married, sex is totally cool and awesome and G-d likes it.
Which is what the Catholic Church and the major Christian denominations have always taught!
I don't know who made up the dumb story about having sex through a sheet,
Probably the same person who made up the dumb story about Christians thinking sex within marriage is dirty or a sin.
but let's bury that old chestnut now. Having sex through a sheet is actually prohibited by Torah and we are commanded explicitly by G-d to get totally naked to shag. Just in case you're wondering.
Which, when you think about it, is not so effing enlightened. What if one wishes not to shag "while totally naked" What if one wishes to don fetish wear or haute lingerie? What does the God of Israel say then?
5. Mikveh is awesome. We don't go to the mikveh because we're "dirty."
Holy moly! How many times have I heard feminists totally misread the Jewish practice of abstaining from sex during one's period and then immersing in a mikveh (a ritual bath)? It is hard to explain this one to people who grew up in Puritan America.
Is "Puritan America" a place where everyone wears skinny jeans and snorts coke? Up above you suggested it was. And what makes a Puritan cognitively unable to understand concepts of ritual purity? I'd think the true Puritan would have an easier time with it than most.
When you hear the word "impure," it has a totally different meaning than the meaning it has in the context of Torah. In Torah, you're dealing with states of being that are related to the service in the Beis HaMikdash (the Great Temple). It's called "ritual purity" and "ritual impurity." These states of being have nothing to do with being dirty or clean. You could, in fact, not shower for days and roll in the mud and you'd still be "ritually pure."
Nothing to do with a clean or dirty that can be seen, but the point of the mikva is to remove uncleanliness all the same. Invisible uncleanliness. A dip in the mikva takes something that's unfit, and makes it fit. Your feminists friends aren't far off, and may in fact be closer to the truth than you.
Are you confused? You should be. We think about these things in a paradigm that is so not the dominant paradigm.
All you need to know is that the practice of not touching your husband when you're on your period and then immersing in a mikveh is awesome.
Freedom is slavery! Ignorance is strength. Mikva is awesome. Slogans are smart!
Most women's mikvehs are like spas. Picture the most beautiful spa you've ever been to, in a quiet all-girls safe space, and that's mikveh.
Is this woman on drugs? A nice mikva is certainly clean and well appointed but still a million miles away from the "most beautiful spa"; also, what this nonsense about "quiet all-girls safe space?" Sure, no men are allowed, but you don't luxuriate in a steam room discussing chick literature. You're in and out, as quickly as possible, and at the best-run mikvahs you see no one but the attendant.
Incidentally, Orthodox Jewish women have one of the lowest rates of cervical and other reproductive cancers because of…wait for it…these customs.
We also have super high blood pressure, ridiculously frequent instances of diabetes, plus you can't walk down 18th Avenue without side-stepping a fat man. These are also the blessings of... wait for it... our customs.
We do not have sex at times that our vaginas are vulnerable to infection (such as right after birth).
But we do slather our penises with saliva within seconds of circumcision. Also, the Hebrew bible for all its good advice, contains not one word about indoor plumbing or potable water. So perhaps we should be a bit modest in assigning health benefits to the dictates of the tradition.
Because we do internal checks for menstrual blood the week after we finish menstruating, the rate of early detection of (G-d forbid) tumors and cysts in the vagina is very high.
And because we wash with a cup instead of with soap and water, shigella shows up in yeshivot more often than it should.
You think we are sexually repressed and afraid of our own bodies just because we dress modestly? Every single Chassidic woman you see sticks her own fingers in her own vagina at least twice a day for 7 days of the month. The chicks in my women's studies classes didn't even do that.
Sure, but the chicks in your woman's studies class probably had sex more frequently and more creatively so, odds are, they win the sexual adventure contest.
When you slam Orthodox Jews because you think you're defending or somehow liberating the women of our communities, you're actually doing us a huge disservice.
What if they defend or somehow liberate the women without also slamming? Or is any comment you find disturbing by definition a slam?
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