Friday, September 25, 2020

The Charedi Opposition to Women's Names

My home town of Beit Shemesh is back in the news, for yet another extraordinary case of charedi intolerance. The Yisrael HaYom website ran a story on it, which was picked up by the Jerusalem Post. This time, it's that the city council decided to erase the first names of women from streets that are named after them. However, this case is more complicated and subtle than is widely being understood.

The neighborhood under discussion, Neve Shamir, is under advance stages of construction. It is designated for the general population, i.e. national-religious and secular Jews, as opposed to the neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh which are designated for charedim. The streets were originally named after the months of the year. But the (national-religious) mayor, Dr. Aliza Bloch, wanted to rename them after various heroes of modern Jewish history, including women such as Anne Frank and Sarah Aaronson. The charedi city councilors protested, reportedly over the appearance of women's names. And so the women's first names are not being printed; the streets will simply be called Rechov Frank, Rechov Aaronson, and so on.

Some people who are uncomfortable with bad PR for charedim (or for the mayor) are claiming that the entire story is being misreported and that it is Fake News. They say that it's just a matter of a design/utility choice of having a single word for the main street sign, and that the women's names are not at all being erased, but rather are printed in smaller letters below, which is also happening with the men's first names.

Alas, this is not true. As the mayor's spokesperson confirmed, the charedi councilors did indeed voice opposition to the women's names. The compromise reached was for all the names, both men and women, to be written in full only in small letters, and for the primary street name to be only the last name, for both men and women.

The charedi community frequently erases the names of women as well as their pictures. Wedding invitations are from "Rabbi Beryl Shmeryl and Wife," without the wife actually getting a name. And articles by female charedi journalists are often printed without their first names appearing

What about the fact that there are streets in charedi neighborhoods in Jerusalem named after Biblical women, with no objection ever voiced? That's no different from the fact that the Torah itself mentions names of women. It's not a relevant point to charedim who are opposed to printing women's names. They're opposed to the printing of names which represent women with identities, with faces, who they see as posing a challenge to the male mind, not to names of abstract women from thousands of years ago.

Now, it goes without saying that this recent charedi development is wrong. It's harmful. Any questionable alleged tzniyut benefits are vastly outweighed by the damage that it causes, in all kinds of ways.

But that's not what's under discussion. The topic being debated is whether the mayor should have accommodated this charedi demand. And that's a much, much more difficult question to answer.

To refresh your memories: For ten years, the city of Beit Shemesh was under the control of a charedi administration which had three enormous flaws. One, it was completely incompetent. Two, it was corrupt (one of the deputy mayors explicitly asked me to bribe him). Three, it tried to "charedify" the city as much as possible. 

After ten years, something extraordinary occurred. The elections were won by someone that many of us thought possessed absolutely zero chance of winning: Dr. Aliza Bloch, a national-religious woman. This is one of the great miracles of Jewish history! (I told her as much when I had the honor of hosting her in my home for Shabbos last year.)

Since Dr. Bloch's victory, the governance of the city has improved in myriads of ways. But many of those in the national religious camp, while preferring Dr. Bloch over the previous administration, are disappointed in certain aspects of her approach - in particular, with regard to charedim. Basically, Aliza Bloch decided to incorporate the charedi municipal parties into her coalition, and accommodate their wishes in various ways.

From the perspective of many in the national-religious camp, Dr. Bloch has sold them out in order to increase her political power. But from the perspective of Dr. Bloch and her supporters, she has engaged in necessary and valuable compromises in order to create unity, increase the chances of her governance lasting more than one electoral cycle, and ultimately effect long-term benefit for the city.

I'm not going to weigh in on who I believe to be correct. Partly, this is because I don't actually know what to think. But I think that it's certainly important to be aware of both sides of the issue.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that the charedi city councilors even particularly care about the women's names on the signs. They're probably more bothered by the very fact of naming streets after non-charedi heroes. And fundamentally, it's probably more about basic issues of power and control. After all, these streets are not even in charedi neighborhoods, which have their "Rav Elyashiv Streets" and other streets named after charedi gedolim (without regard to whether these are offensive to non-charedim). It's probably not anything to do with women; it's all about exerting charedi influence on the city and limiting non-charedi influence.

I admire the idealism and passion of those who don't want to give an inch to offensive charedi demands. But such people would never become mayor of a charedi-majority city, and would be very limited in their ability to effect change. Aliza Bloch, by virtue of compromise, is able to be more effective at creating change. 

At the same time, that doesn't mean that people shouldn't complain when the mayor gives in to charedi demands. It's important for both the mayor and the public to see that giving in does cause pain to the non-charedi community. But, at the same time as complaining, people should recognize that the mayor has to engage in a certain amount of compromise. And if agreeing that first names will be omitted from the large street sign, and written in full only in small letters below, then perhaps that is a worthwhile trade for naming streets after non-charedi heroes and being able to continue as a non-charedi mayor in a majority chareidi city. (Note that I say "perhaps".)

Anyway, one local resident suggested that "streets should be named for trees or animals, instead of names of people that are hard to pronounce, remember, and type into Waze." Personally, I agree. I for one would love to see "Nigerian Red Uromastyx Lizard Street."

 

See too these posts:

The Invisible Women

Know Your Enemy

38 comments:

  1. Haredim take an insane, extreme unprecedented position, and you rationalize meeting them halfway as blessed compromise and leadership. So what if women are again the ones who are belittled, at least we acknowledged the haredi cultural views in the name of false unity.
    PERHAPS NOT

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    1. But the women were not belittled. The men's first names were also minimized.

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  2. " I don't actually know what to think. "

    My attitude towards Israeli politics in general. ;)

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    1. Here's what to think (I think!). IL will become a kind if Jewish Turkey or Russia, where notions of equity and social equality will erode in favor of the new flavor of Judaism - Nationalist-Religion and a sub class of Haredim. Eventually, votes won't really matter anyway, but decrees. It's why secular, educated ILs are leaving the land increasingly.

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    2. I disagree. I think Israel will shine brighter in the ME. I think the non-charedi Jews will surpass the charedi Jews in terms of birth-rates. More and more charedi Jews are becoming non-charedi.

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    3. Turk, you surpass yourself here in terms of nonsensical comments.....

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  3. Not sure I agree with your kind interpretation. Need to think about. Happy we chose the Gush bubble.

    Yet, kudos for eloquently presenting a thoughtful, articulate, and balanced position.

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  4. There is an aspect of this conversation which I have not seen sufficiently discussed. To my mind, this is the most important problem with the erasure of women's faces and names. What does it say about the psycho-sexual health of Haredi society? In terms of both genders. If the men cannot see the name of a woman on a street sign without becoming sexually aroused, what does this say about their sexuality? And if the females are taught from the earliest age that their sexuality is first and foremost a threat, and that they must hide any hint of their femininity - how does that translate afterward into marital life? To be clear: my concern is on how this effects marital intimacy on a societal level, which of course affects entire family dynamics and hence trickles down to every aspect of life. I do not know of any other social group in the world which has developed the kinds of attitudes toward sexuality as have developed in recent years among the Haredim. It is truly worrisome.
    I would be very interested in hearing others comments. I already anticipate that some will mention the low statistic of divorce in the Haredi community. This is not a valid argument in favor of the psycho-sexual health of this community; divorce is low primarily because of the incredibly powerful social pressure pushing against it among Haredim. Where divorce is hardly an option, low numbers of divorces hardly proves that healthy sexual intimacy is thriving among Haredi families.

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    1. Not sure if it's entirely a 'sexual' matter as much as that women cannot be seen or understood to fulfill key social or historical roles outside of the context of Torah. They have a role to play. Mother & income provider.

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    2. If I remember correctly, charedi women are not allowed to get a get?

      "I do not know of any other social group in the world which has developed the kinds of attitudes toward sexuality as have developed in recent years among the Haredim."

      Then you never heard of ISLAM.

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    3. MM: where in the Torah does it say that a woman's role is income provider? (I apologize if you are being tongue-in-cheek.) Taking your statement at face value, one can make a point that LIFE in general, while bounded by guidelines and infused with meaning from Torah, has lots of bits to it that are NOT explicitly written anywhere. Where is it written that a man can have a street named after him? Does this not go against gaavah? or worse - avoda zara?

      TH: are you asking if chareidi women cannot be given divorces? Curious pointed to the low rate, not the impossibility. I admit that I have no firsthand knowledge either, but I find this hard to believe. Social pressure to stay married, yes; absolute halachic impossibility, no.

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    4. To Curious' point though, it is extremely tempting to say such things - that marginalizing girls/women and mechitzah-ing the world creates negative sexual attitudes. But we say this sort of thing all the time and the argument retruned is that it is unfounded. Is it even possible to get unbiased studies? What are "negative attitudes" anyway? A girl grown up in that world who can internalize the "bas melech penima" attitude without having her self esteem eroded will not manifest anything negative.

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    5. The overprotectiveness of the boys/men I think is a common thread with general chareidi outlook. Keep them away from women because they might get tempted (or have impure thoughts etc, not that they will violate anything on the spot)! Similarly, keep them away from the secular world because they might get tempted! This attitude underscores a total lack of confidence in the education of such boys - why is yeshiva "training" not enough of a protection? Learn inside for a few years, then go outside and get a job! Strengthen your resolve in a single gender environment for much of the day, but in between and for the rest of one's life, live in the world and interact safely with the other gender!

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    6. There is no accurate way to measure attitudes. Studies about these things are generally junk science, and they cannot reflect a society as it is.
      People are nuanced, and they cannot be placed into a box.

      And Mr R - you may be right, but your point has nothing to with Charedim. The Rambam writes quite clearly that one may not read something that could get you to think thoughts that are against the Torah. He does not rely on the education of the young, he thinks it is still forbidden.
      I don't think names on streets awaken bad thoughts, and I don't think they have a valid point at all. But the idea that education is sufficient is just not true.
      If you actually believed what you said, would you say that all drugs should be made legal, and rely on education to prevent people hurting themselves?
      Jason from Jersey

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  5. I feel compelled to point out that you once again have used the word "erase" improperly.

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  6. What about the fact that there are streets in charedi neighborhoods in Jerusalem named after Biblical women, with no objection ever voiced? That's no different from the fact that the Torah itself mentions names of women. It's not a relevant point to charedim who are opposed to printing women's names. They're opposed to the printing of names which represent women with identities, with faces, who they see as posing a challenge to the male mind, not to names of abstract women from thousands of years ago.

    While this last sentence may or may not be the true explanation from a psychological point of view, it doesn't explain how they themselves rationalize the distinction. If you asked them to explain it, what would they say?

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    1. They always have a pat rationalization, and it's always a lie.

      As R' Slifkin says, it's about power.

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  7. "Any questionable alleged tzniyut benefits are vastly outweighed by the damage that it causes, in all kinds of ways." But weighing relative merits, costs against benefits and risks against rewards is precisely at the core of what haredim reject. If there is a single unifying principle to haredism of all stripes, a foundational text, it is:
    אבל בפרהסיא - אפילו מצוה קלה יהרג ואל יעבור.
    - מאי מצוה קלה? - אמר רבא בר יצחק אמר רב: אפילו לשנויי ערקתא דמסאנא
    That is, we have entered a permanent state of שעת השמד, and it is therefore forbidden to ever make rational calculations to determine עיקר and טפל. Accordingly, trivial and foolish humrot must be respected, supported, and adopted, without regard to the harm they may cause, because they are ערקתא דמסאנא.

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  8. Go for avenue 1, 2, 3 etc. finished!

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    1. Hard to do in a land where the streets all twist and turn and double back on themselves and basically look like a plate of spaghetti. (Granted, some of this is dictated by land topology, but let's face it: there will never be a nice Manhattan-like street grid anywhere in Israel.)

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  9. Your lot claim to be completely non-tribal about "naming streets after non-charedi heroes" but they are "all about exerting charedi influence on the city". Beit Shemesh has a tribalism pandemic, and it affects both tribes.

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    1. But usually MO folk do respect chareidi heroes. And there are a plethora of streets already chareidily named. Looking for balance, at least.

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    2. I'm not making tribal assumptions about Morden Orthodox or daati leumi people. I'm talking about the sectarians of Beit Shemesh furiously scrabbling to be the top dog to leave their mark on the street signs.

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  10. What possible benefit is there to the concept of tzniyut?

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  11. 2 points:

    1. I'm sorry to disappoint youRabbi Slifkin, but although neve shamir was marketed towards non charedim, its going to be a fully charedi neighborhood. I personally know a number of mainstream charedim moving there. They thought if they didn't name it RBS and put pictures of chilonim in the advertisements that they could trick non charedim into moving there. No non charedi in there right mind wants to move to anything assosiated with RBS, it has quite a toxic reputation. And alas, they failed miserably - the vast majority of apartments were taken by charedim and the rest will soon follow.

    2. Although Aliza Bloch is the Mayor, the council is something like over 65% charedi. She would literally not be able to get a thing on her agenda done if she didn't give into chareidi demands. This is politics.

    A chereidi RBS resident

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    1. This is very sad and depressing.

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    2. You are incorrect. First of all, there are many non haredim moving to rbs. Ramat shilo, mishkafayim, mem-3, and plain old rbs-a have non-haredim moving there all the time. Even rbs-g have pockets of non-haredim. If you are truly chareidi as you claim, you should be very careful to adhere to truth and not be involved in deceptions.

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    3. Neve Shamir (RBS/Hei) has been designed for non-religious population - tall buildings with overlapping balconies (no succah porches), no shabbos elevators, and only small spaces in the area set aside for shuls and schools. Not very chareidi friendly. Also the prices are not cheap but that is the case almost everywhere...

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    4. I personally know of a dati-leumi couple who bought there.

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  12. I think the mayor reached a fine compromise. Tho charedi community needs to realize that they're not the sum of all Jews. Orthodox non-charedi are Jews, too. Even secular Jews who fought to free Israel from the clutches of the backwards Arab world are heroes no less than the biblical Moses who save Jews from Egyptian slavery. If women's first names will be minimized, so to the men. This is only fair.

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  13. Does anyone know if the modesty signs still up.?

    could not find much by googling
    https://matzav.com/israeli-supreme-court-gives-bet-shemesh-municipality-until-december-31-to-remove-all-modesty-signs/

    Israeli Supreme Court Gives Bet Shemesh Municipality Until December 31 to Remove All Modesty Signs

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  14. Nir Barkat included charedim in his coalition and was super nice to them. Didn't keep them from trying to throw him out.

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  15. Much ado about nothing. If one is opposed to what the charedim do in this or any other issue, just boycott them. No cooperation, etc. I find the picture interesting, when my wife and got married, we got no house nor help at all. Yes, they are religious...they just cosigned on too many damn loans. Also they favored the sons and not daughters.

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  16. It's nothing more than a landgrab. There is a national shortage of housing. The haredim are planning to take over this newly built area of reasonable priced housing on the edge of RBS gimmel (totally haredi area). By making a fuss about they names they 1. scare off the intended dati buyers and 2. They are planning to make this a haredi neighbourhood, and want appropriate names for the streets that the future families will live in.

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  17. Rabbi Skifkin, while I agree with many sentiments in this post, I hope you didn’t host Dr. Bloch for a seuda - you can’t wear a mask while eating!

    Since you are taking a very strong stance on Covid, you have a responsibility to explicate that you are hosting people within Covid guidelines (or don’t host them).

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