Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dirty Old Ultra-Orthodox Men

Writing about the strange new rhetoric of "religious liberty," we mentioned in passing the ever-more-strident calls of Israel's ultra-Orthodox minority to be granted a "liberty" which imposes harshly upon that of their fellow citizens.

They work little to be free for "study," enjoy tax benefits and substantial welfare checks, and are excused from military service even though it is their intransigence which adds so much to Israel's precarious security situation. And, lately, their very presence in a room is sometimes seen to require that other Israelis comply with their sectarian requirements that women be seated separately, dressed modestly, and kept silent.

To call this an imposition upon the freedom of their fellow-citizens is an understatement. In fact, it runs counter to the sexually egalitarian character long typical of Israeli society. One wonders what Golda Meir would make of it.

Dov Linzer, himself an Orthodox rabbi and educator, has a tart little op-ed piece in the Times about this business. He argues that the strictures to which these sectarians appeal are misunderstandngs -- indeed, reversals -- of the Torah and especially the Talmud:

The Talmud, the foundation of Jewish law, acknowledges that men can be sexually aroused by women and is indeed concerned with sexual thoughts and activity outside of marriage. But it does not tell women that men’s sexual urges are their responsibility. Rather, both the Talmud and the later codes of Jewish law make that demand of men. [...]

Put more plainly, the Talmud says: It’s your problem, sir; not hers.

Like equally rigid Muslim extremists, Israel's ultra-Orthodox claim, at least implicitly, that their rules protect women from the prurient gaze of men. But as Linzer writes:

In fact, though, their actions objectify and hyper-sexualize women. Think about it: By saying that all women must hide their bodies, they are saying that every woman is an object who can stir a man’s sexual thoughts. Thus, every woman who passes their field of vision is sized up on the basis of how much of her body is covered. She is not seen as a complete person, only as a potential inducement to sin.

Of course, once you judge a female human being only through a man’s sexualized imagination, you can turn even a modest 8-year-old girl into a seductress and a prostitute.

At heart, we are talking about a blame-the-victim mentality. It shifts the responsibility of managing a man’s sexual urges from himself to every woman he may or may not encounter. It is a cousin to the mentality behind the claim, “She was asking for it.”


1 comment:

Pastor Joelle said...

This was a good op ed piece

I'm concerned about how little press is given to the growing power and stridency and violence of the ultra orthodox Jews in Israel. Especially when those who want to wage war against Islam claim its partly about how badly THEY treat women.