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Op-ed

Religion Seen Through a Feminist’s Eyes

Judaism is a strange religion in my view. The majority of our beliefs are fairly Liberal, but the more Orthodox people within our religion seem to believe otherwise. You would think that since the majority of our religion’s beliefs are liberal, that the more observant Jews would be the most Liberal of them all, but the truth is, they’re not. They strictly follow what used to be, and not what now is.

I have always been a very active part of the Jewish community, I currently belong to three different Jewish youth groups, and each of the three youth groups are a part of a different movement of Judaism. The movements of Judaism are: Reformed, the least religious, Orthodox, the most religious, and Conservative, which is right in between. One of the three Jewish youth groups that I belong to is a group called NFTY-The Reformed Jewish Youth Movement, the least religious of the three. The second is Yachad (the Hebrew word for together), the Conservative group which stands for the empowerment of Jewish youth.  The final one is The National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), which is the most religious of the three, and is actually part of The Orthodox Union. It wasn’t until recently that I really noticed the difference.

For the past two years I have been an active member of NFTY, and I’ve enjoyed it. The services are enjoyable, and we discuss a lot of political values, and current issues in the world. I go to conventions for NFTY in the Spring, Fall, and Winter, and am very happy that I do. Yachad is less relevant to me, because all I do is take two classes with a week, so it feels a bit irrelevant compared to NFTY and NCSY. I just started NCSY about 2 months ago when one of my close friends told me to join him at their Fall convention in St. Louis this year. I went, and it was not what I expected at all. This is where the idea of the Orthodox side being more politically Conservative, and less for equality of men and women, comes into play.

When we got off the bus in St. Louis, there was a man who was high fiving people, but he would not high-five the females due to a rule called Shomer – when you may not touch a person of the opposite gender unless you are a part of their family, or married to them. I had witnessed this once before when my friend’s father would not shake my mother’s hand, I really thought nothing of it at the time, but now experiencing it for myself first hand, I felt disrespected and looked down upon as a woman. I was somewhat uncomfortable, and embarrassed at the fact that I had even thought to put my hand up in preparation for a high five, when so many other girls before me had just bowed their heads in shame, and continued walking, looking like they knew their place in the world. I understood the rule of Shomer though because this was still a part of the Jewish Religion, though I do not observe this, so this was very borderline compared to what was to come later in the weekend.

The next thing that really took me by surprise was something called a Mechitza, which is defined as “The separation between men and women in Orthodox prayer spaces”. I knew of such things before, but I had never actually thought that the modern day Jewish Religion still used it, but I could’ve guessed because the Orthodox follow anything but the modern day Jewish religion. The fact that the men are the leaders of the prayer, and that the Mechitza is an opaque wall dividing the men and women. The men leading in prayer are not even visible from the side of the women, and the women’s side is also a lot more cramped. This results in the women having less of an experience observing the religion that they have chosen, compared to the men. These are the kinds of things I’m talking about when I say that the concept of things like Feminism has yet to be implemented in the brains of Orthodox Jews. I know that the Mechitza is also just a part of the Jewish religion, but the times are changing, and I don’t see why religion isn’t with it.

The final thing that really sparked this concept for me was when my bunkmate at the convention was explaining to me why Orthodox women could only wear skirts and dresses. She said that the Torah explains that pants are men’s clothing and only men are allowed to wear men’s clothing. That means no leggings, no jeans, no anything with two leg holes, because those are pants which are apparently “Men’s Clothing”. So I asked her what about pants made for women, which was a stupid question due to the fact that she had just explained to me that all pants, even those made for women were men’s clothes. I find this unfair and inconsiderate. If there is a pair of pants in a “Women’s” section at a store, I expect all women to be able to wear that pair of pants, because they were made specifically as women’s clothing. This really kinda set off the mechanics in my brain and got me thinking.

Orthodox Jewish people are not bad people at all, they just have an extremely different concept of reality than us, I don’t want to call them sexist, because they’re not, but the Religion itself is far from Feminist. There is an extremely obvious divide between men and women throughout the traditional Jewish culture. The women are treated as lessers and not shown the equality they deserve. I respect the ideals of the Religion, but I really have a hard time respecting the way that these ideals are implemented through the Orthodox movement. The advancement needs to be made. Our world is forever changing, but it doesn’t seem to be for the traditionalists in our society. I also want to reiterate that this is simply an observation, and not a stereotype. Women deserve to be treated equally, no matter the environment.

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Written By

Sarah Jonas, is a student currently living in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Through writing she has found her voice, and a true passion of hers. She participates in Theater, her school's Drumline, Ultimate Frisbee and is involved in three different Jewish youth groups. In her free time, she likes to play music on a variety of instruments including Guitar, Bass Guitar, Ukulele, Drums and Percussion. Sarah is also quite passionate about all sorts of arts. She is currently enrolled at Hopkins High School, and looking to graduate high school in the year of 2020.

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