Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

A Prfound Ignorance of What Judaism Is

Ynet has an article on a survery done by the Conservatives in Israel on the perception of gender equality in Judaism amongst Israelis. Naturally their conclusions are that most people feel that there is discrimination against women in Torah Judaism but not suprisingly, the vast majority of Israelis wouldn't go to shul just because the mechitzah:

Although 54% believe that Jewish tradition discriminates against women, 39% are of the opinion that discrimination doesn't exist, and another 4% claim that Judaism holds women above men.
Meanwhile, 24% of seculars and 18% of 'traditional' Israelis said that eliminating the gender barrier in places of worship would in fact make them more likely to attend prayer services.

One of favourite quotes is Mark Twain: "There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics." Almost all surveys like this are meaningless since the people doing the survey pick and choose, sometimes consciously, sometimes not, their target population to maximize the results they want to get. If I wanted to do a survey that shows that kashrus and Shabbos are important priorities for Jews, I would go and do it in Meah Shearim, not Ramat Aviv. Without seeing the breakdown on who was surveyed, one can immediately tell this was not an actual random cross-section of the Israeli population. After all, at least 15% of Israelis are Torah observant and a good percentage more are traditional. How is the 87% of people who think Judaism is discriminatory number reached?

I would go even further. Of those 87%, how many keep a kosher home? How many are scrupulous in their observance of Shabbos and taharas mishpacha? In other words, how many are full observant of those mitzvos in which women are accorded an important role?

The problem with Conservatism is its unconscious imitation of Chrsitianity. Most Christians limit active religious practice to Sunday mornings in church. So too the Conservatives on Saturday morning. If one's entire conception of Judaism is what goes on in shul, then yes, Judaism is a very discriminatory religion. However, such an incomplete picture is not fair for drawing conclusions. Shul is actually a very small part of Judaism. The major pillars of the faith: kashrus, taharas mishpachah and Shabbos are all home-based and the responsibility of the woman for upholding. Let the Conservatives work on getting their membership to do any of those on a regular basis and then they can look for discrimination within the faith.

1 comment:

Nishma said...

In my house, it was felt that Judaism, i.e. Orthodox Judaism, was very gender males. The boys had to go to shul while the girls could decide when and if to go shul. All my boys wondered why they were so discriminated.

Beyond Garnel's points, one of the further problems with polls of this nature is that they do not consider the frame of reference of the conduct under question. In the Western World, distinctions are framed in the lanuage of rights -- i.e. one group has more rights thatn the other group. In the realm of Halacha, there is also the matter of obligation and many distinctions -- which may affect rights -- are described in terms of obligation. One cannot properly approach any issue within Halacha -- specifically in terms of shul and ritual observance -- without considering the issue of obligation. It is easy to state that women should also have a Bat Mitzvah (and my wife and I also did make celebrations for our girls when they reached the age of majority) but what about the reality that boys have an obligation to put on tefillin every weekday while girls do not? Is that being challenged as well? I guess in a world where the boys don't observe this obligation either it is easier to only challenge the so called rights without truly investigating the whole issue.

Rabbi Ben Hecht