Thursday, September 4, 2008

The “Immodesty” of Women Voting

During the early 1920s there was a major debate amongst the religious community in Israel as to whether women should be allowed to vote. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook famously opposed it. One of the defenders of women’s suffrage was Rabbi Ben-Zion Hai Uziel, who would later go on to become the Sephardic chief Rabbi. In particular Uziel rejected the argument that we should be concerned lest women voting lead to increased intermingling between men and women and thus lead people to sin. Uziel challenged this premise:

What licentiousness can there be in each person going to the poll and entering a voting slip? If we start considering such activities as licentious, no creature would be able to survive! Women and men would be prohibited from walking in the street or from entering a shop together; it would be forbidden to negotiate in commerce with a woman, lest this lead to intimacy and hence to licentiousness. Such ideas have never been suggested by anyone. (The Jewish Political Tradition Vol. II pg. 204)

Looking back at this response, nearly a century later, one is struck by how naïve Uziel was. He obviously never had to deal with modern Israeli Haredim, who see any contact between unrelated men and women as inherently sinful and have no problem banning such activity. For example the recent campaign to have women sit at the back of buses. (See here) The irony here is that Haredim today allow their women to vote. Is it liberalism on their part or an unwillingness to commit political suicide? I suspect it is not the former.

6 comments:

Miss S. said...

Interesting. Since Shabbos has ended, I have read about a hechsher for Jewish music, Artscroll being held in some opinions as creating seforim that "reek of Haredi triumphalism" (lol), and now this :-). Maybe it's a sign that I should go to bed already.

I knew about the bus thing...from earlier in the summer I believe (when it broke the news); but it gets confounded in my mind with all the other chumrot frenzies. Saying shaitels contain hair from Indians who engaged in avodah zara, banning the internet, banning Pesach in Miami Beach, etc., etc.

These Rabbeim are responding to the very real problem of an increasingly global society where different groups of people all over the world are interacting. But unless they suggest going the way of the Amish, there is no real way to completely ward off the secular world. And why is that the ideal anyway again?

I think someone is underestimating people a just little wee bit. If you possess a particular level of pride in who you are and what you do daily, than there is no need to treat adults like children and use fear/shame tactics. Maybe they can take some notes from Chabad; who have shluchim in very non-frum places. I think one of the best Purim parties I ever went to was thrown by University of Miami's Chabad at a South Beach nightclub. There was kosher food and an Israeli DJ brought in, but other than that, it was open to the public - so there was a mix of frum people, Jewish students, and the standard club crowd. All the frum people pretty much sat on couches in the lounge; women not sharing couches with men. It was fine. There was no desire to join in and do something you are not comfortable with.

Barriers foster the kedusha that is already inside; they don't work otherwise and can be abused...like a crutch. And sometimes, it can backfire -- in that if you repress too much, it creates a yearning to escape somehow (shhhh...lest we talk about all of the chassidishe men in Brooklyn who frequent the Asian massage parlors...hmmmm). There's the story of a man who returns home with guests from shul after davening. He sees that the challah is not on the table and that it is not set; so he criticizes his wife in earshot of the guests. It makes you wonder if this particular Yid realizes that you cover the challah during kiddush so the challah doesn't get "embarrassed" by being bracha sheni. But it is ok to embarrass your wife? Just how much kedusha of this Baal Habayis' Shabbas shulchan have?

You sin when you don't have yiras h'shamaya; not because there was no mechitzah between you and a stranger out in public.

Izgad said...

"Maybe they can take some notes from Chabad; who have shluchim in very non-frum places. I think one of the best Purim parties I ever went to was thrown by University of Miami's Chabad at a South Beach nightclub. There was kosher food and an Israeli DJ brought in, but other than that, it was open to the public - so there was a mix of frum people, Jewish students, and the standard club crowd."

The difference is not that great.
Haredim would be willing to send their kiruv people into such situations as well and Chabad for that matter is not likely to send their lay kids there. Chabad is a Haredi kiruv organization. The difference is that Chabad does not just have a kiruv organization it is a kiruv organization.

Mikewind Dale said...

In the time of Rabbi Uziel, the tradition had not yet been invented. Am I referencing Orwell or Michael Silber?

Izgad said...

I am going to guess Silber.

Mikewind Dale said...

Correct, but Orwell is still standing in reserve.

Izgad said...

Orwell could bat in my lineup anytime he wants. He and C. S. Lewis could lead off, before we bring in our heavy funny hitters Shaw and Shakespeare.