Jewish Religious Law Threatening Israeli Women

Most Israeli children learn, in schools funded by the state, that women exist for men's use, and it shapes their world.

Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky
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Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky

Many of those who protest against silencing the singing of secular women act out of hypocrisy. Israel sends most first-graders whom the state identifies as Jews to religious schools. Whether they are part of the public school system or run by the ultra-Orthodox, these schools receive state subsidies yet are responsible for unconstitutional sex segregation.

We are not merely talking about silencing the singing of women. The whole truth is made clear in the two creation stories that appear in Genesis. In the first, male and female are created. In the second, man is created alone and woman is later created from his rib.

There is a canonical Orthodox explanation for this contradiction: Man and woman were created together, but the man wanted to rule over the woman. She did not want to rule, only to be independent. So he abused her until God gave her wings and she flew away. That was Lilith. The first Eve and the first feminist, she is the female Satan.

God understood his mistake. The second Eve, the woman of our world, was born of the rib of a man, so that she could be an organ among his organs. That is why our sages, including Maimonides, Nahmanides and other rabbinical leaders, called her "a tail" - because women should know that they exist for men's "tashmish," meaning both "use" and "sex." This is what most Israeli children learn, in schools funded by the state, and it shapes their world.

And that's not all. This country surrendered from the outset, deciding that the only legally binding Jewish marriage conducted in Israel would be an Orthodox one in which a woman's father sells her to a new master: her husband. Just like people used to buy ewes and lambs.

Religion exists in the dialectic between precept and reality. Judaism, as well as Christianity and Islam, have been filled with strictures based on accepted tradition and each religion's response to persecution. However, one of the foundations of rabbinical guidance is that a rabbi should advise others to adhere to a given precept if he thinks they will heed him, but should not do so if he thinks they won't. In other words, the extent to which the stricture is publicized depends on an assessment of whether anyone will pay attention.

Religious moderation is therefore dependent on the iron wall of reality. When children push against a wall and realize that it will remain intact, the wall's stability teaches them about boundaries. But what happens if the wall moves? It is reasonable to expect the child to go mad. That is what happens to religion when the principle of reality is removed; the strictures know no bounds.

Non-Jews, from the point of view of Jewish religious law, or halakha, cannot be citizens of the Holy Land. And the prohibition regarding women's voices does not apply only to singing, according to the late Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, who said men should not listen to anything women say that extends beyond day-to-day affairs.

MK Yaakov Katz of National Union, who is closely identified with Eliahu, is behind the so-called "Grunis Law," which seeks to pave the way for Supreme Court Justice Asher Dan Grunis to become court president and, ultimately, to push out what Katz has referred to as the "miserable gang" out of the Supreme Court and to turn Israel into a theocracy.

Katz is also a disciple of Rabbi Yitzhak Levanon, who recently said it was better for male soldiers to face a firing squad than to listen to female singers. This summer he also ruled that no woman should be appointed to any task; that was in the context of picking a committee on a small settlement. Immediately after that, Katz sponsored the Grunis Law, which was aimed at preventing Justice Miriam Naor from becoming Supreme Court president. Today the coalition is planning to back the law.

Only a week ago, the current Supreme Court president, Dorit Beinisch, called for a stop to the wave of legislation relating to the justice system. But then again, she's just a woman. After that came a warning from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spoke about her with disrespect as Interior Minister Eli Yishai hastily clarified that everything was being done in accordance with the law.

Naor warned of the huge risk involved in attaching political labels to judges. But those were the remarks of a woman. So here we have not merely any judge, but the president of the Supreme Court on the way to being appointed by an ad hoc law, while the judge in question makes it clear that he does indeed have vested interests and will work to keep the court from overturning unconstitutional laws. Those behind the Grunis bill have made it clear that once he retires, the practice of appointing the court president based on seniority will be abolished and the danger of having female chief justices will be removed.

Behind every halakhic-style statement you will find a man. This week it was Israel's foreign minister who declared to the Russians just what he considers democracy and legal elections to be. The Supreme Court is the last iron wall of Israeli democracy, and it is being crushed. If the wall is moved, all boundaries will be breached. Once the Supreme Court is no longer intervening, we can expect Arab parties to be disqualified from the next election - and that's just the beginning.

Grunis' desire to be appointed Supreme Court president is understandable. But not like this. Not at this price. Not as an emissary of those getting rid of the "miserable gang." Not as someone with whom the lords of halakha will readily shake hands and sing, because he is a man. Let us not cooperate with that, for it is forbidden.

Read this article in Hebrew.



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