Now, for the Rabbis’ Wives…..

In my youth way back a long time ago, the heady days of the seventies when we still knew we could change the world, I thought of being a lawyer, and I’d contemplate a career in human rights law. Today, in a world with few heroes, I think of people like Prof. Irwin Cotler, a tireless campaigner for human rights in many parts of the world, as an individual we would do well to emulate.

So, when my love of justice and human rights is perverted by those who claim to represent other great loves in my life, Torah and Israel, I can’t help but feel hurt and disappointed. Oh yes, and did I mention angry?

I’ve been listening with one ear to the discussions around the infamous letter of some rabbis regarding selling or renting to non-Jews, specifically to Arabs, and was happy to see it condemned by key rabbis of all stripes and colours. Prof. Jeffrey Woolf has written about this here, as has Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein.

Clearly, there are more responsible leaders who condemn the by now infamous “rabbis’ letter” than there are rabbinic supporters of this offensive point of view. I still wonder what the impact will be on the ground, whether we are sowing the seeds among the people for these perverted attitudes to become more and more acceptable, as representing true Jewish values and Jewish Law.

What pushed me over the top on this issue was seeing yesterday that now the “rabbaniot”, the wives of many of the same rabbis who signed the letter, have jumped on the bandwagon. And about what? That Jewish girls shouldn’t marry Arab men.

Shocker that one.

Without a public letter from these illustrious women we might never know that Jews shouldn’t intermarry. Thanks for that insider’s tip. (Funny, I don’t see any missives being sent out to Natalie Portman, our girl in LA, who just announced an engagement to someone from outside the tribe. How about warning off super-model Bar Rafael from any marriage to DeCaprio?)

What can I say, it’s all painful. Yes, Jewish law forbids marrying someone who is not Jewish. Yes, I’ll even go so far as to say that the fate of Israeli women married to Arab men is generally unhappy. However, the need to make a public, strident statement with hysterical language clearly does not have as its goal preventing anyone from marrying or dating an Arab.

And let’s get this straight; were this a statement about Jewish Law, it would have spoken about marrying non-Jews. This was racism pure and simple; don’t go near those scary darker people who live in our midst.

And to whom is this geared? To the girls in the ulpanot, the high schools for religious girls? Presumably, they are the constituents of the authors of this letter. So without a doubt, the girl from that particular milieu who was just about to sign up for National Service in Um-El Fahm so that she could find herself a nice Arab husband is going to change her mind, now that she has seen the cumulative wisdom of the rabbis’ wives in writing.

Thank goodness for that particular intervention.

Oh, and the girl from the non-observant family, she is definitely going to refrain from getting into the car of the nice Arab man whooing her because she suddenly recalls the letter from Rabbanit Ovadia.

Are we now in a race to be the most publicly offensive and imbecilic?

My dear rabbaniot. With all due respect, there are lots of ugly things going on out there in the world, and there are a lot of things that need fixing. Perhaps you might want to start using your political connections to agitate for bigger budgets for schools, so that all Israeli children – male, female, Arab, Jewish or other – receive a decent basic education.

If you are sincerely concerned about Jewish continuity, perhaps you might want to focus on where we have failed in our homes and education system to communicate Jewish values to the extent that a young woman would turn her back on her tradition? Are you even aware of the active and aggressive work that missionaries carry out in Israel? Or are they white and polite, so they don’t register on your radar screen of affronts to Jewish values?

Raising your voices to a high pitch and investing your personal prestige to raise a hue and cry about a phenomenon that affects a small number of women every year, giving it a higher profile than acute social ills, calls your motives – and your integrity – into question.

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9 Responses to Now, for the Rabbis’ Wives…..

  1. ellen says:

    wonderful post. A voice of sanity!
    Thank you!!

  2. if you think this is “racism pure and simple,” you don’t know what racism is, and it’s just this kind of rhetoric that makes talking about anything that has to do with culture very difficult. it’s the equivalent of calling anything that directly criticizes islam as islamophobic.

    my personal guess is that the target audience of these remarks are the frechot who hang and malls and have members of their family who vote shas, who would be happy to have the rabbaniot’s opinion behind them as they issue their warnings.

  3. shaananlaw says:

    I’d be happy to hear a clear definition of racism; this wasn’t simply a friendly or academic discussion of cultural differences.

    Once again, if you think that the “frechot” (unfortunate choice that word) will suddenly see a vision of this letter, and that will stop them from getting in the car, much as Joseph was stopped in his tracks on his way to Potiphar by seeing his father’s face in the mirror, that’s just illogical. If their upbringing and education doesn’t stop them, why will they suddenly relate to a letter from some rabbaniot who can’t relate to their lives in a meaningful way?
    The letter was, at best, gratuitous.

  4. The definition of xenophobic is intense fear /hatred of the ‘foreign’ , people, their culture, etc.

    Historically, racism is the belief that genes determine individual traits, differences, character, aptitude, lack of aptitude. Race meant lineage and it was thought there were 3 races : caucasian (aryan, mediterranean, semites, alpine, etc), mongoloid (china,indo-china, tibet, malayan, polynesian, eskimo, native american, etc.) and negroid (africans, hottentots, australian aborigines, etc.) Skin color, hair color and texture, head shapes and facial features are the observable signs of a race. This view of race extrapolates there are superior and inferior races, less and more evolved. Within each of the 3 categories there is also a supposed hierarchy of superiority also.

    The above description was found inadequate and erroneous by scientists, anthropologists, sociologists. It just did not correspond to what is seen in nature and what can be determined by genes.

    The sociological definition defines racism as race based group privilege, who has the institutional and economic power in society.

    The UN doesn’t define race to my knowledge but states that racial discrimination is any distiction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing a person’s equal recognition, equal enjoyment or equal exercise of human rights and freedoms(political, economic, social, cultural or any other public sphere. )
    The terms Ethnicity and race are obviously debatable.

    Some consider endogamy, marrying within your own ethnicity, to be racism. Others point out that similarities lead to much greater likelihood of a sucessful marriage.

    • shaananlaw says:

      Thanks for the clarity of definitions.
      I don’t consider endogamy to be racism; that’s a choice people can make, and I definitely don’t consider Judaism to be racism, certainly not in the narrow, genetic definition of racism. Anyone, of whatever gene pool can convert to Judaism by accepting the rules and responsibilities that go with being Jewish.

      All of which is to say, I don’t have a problem saying not to intermarry, I have a problem when it’s directed to a particular ethnic group, and with hysterical language.

  5. slowly making our way to israel, BH :) says:

    Definitions being given, a friend, a linguistic researcher, in Sfat told me he really believes the decree against renting was a safety issue. He said that much of the Galil
    is moslem and they want to make facts on the ground in anticipation of the future dissolution of the ‘zionist racist structure’.

    I hink it’s difficult to coordinate modern secular humanistic definitions of what is ethical with needs for Israel’s safety and the continuation of the Jewish people when one assumes Jewish Israelis are the powerful ones and Palestinians are victims.

    • shaananlaw says:

      Under those circumstances, one could also encourage people to move to the Galil, recruit investors etc. I know lots of young Israelis who would love to move to the Galil but there are no jobs. We hope that the medical school scheduled to open in Tsat will improve the situation somewhat.

  6. good definition of racism from BH. i’d say: racism (or what you call “pure racism”) is the belief that your race is superior and that it should rule over others (with the latter element crucial). in this case we’re talking about culture not race, and as long as a given culture does not feel the need to conquer and dominate others, it’s not even “culturalism.”

    as for the “frechot” (another term, please), i think these issues are more complicated. you’re not necessarily going to succeed in convincing them even the third time you warn someone not to do something foolish, but it can begin to make a dent after the mistake has been made. the world is a messy place and we all have to make mistakes (including rabbaniot). it’s how much we learn from our mistakes that count. not everyone can be as “good” as joseph, but people can learn and warnings (eg, get involved with people from a patriarchal culture in which dominating women is prized above serious relations, and you’re in for trouble) is not necessarily a losing proposition.
    in any case, if you don’t like the way they issued their warning, how about offering an alternative. they’re addressing a serious problem.

  7. slowly making our way to Israel, BH says:

    good discussion… agreed to the utmost Judaism isn’t racist in the traditional sense of the word. It is really ”rainbow colored” and multicultural w/ its myriads of foods/songs/minhagim. Beautiful!!

    Esther, yr idea abt encouraging Jewish growth in the Galil is extremely sensible. the medical school sounds like an important move. i think nfn is trying to encourage aliyah to the galil.

    I personally think endogamous marriages as promoted by halacha, like tree roots, are life giving, preserving the wonderful variety in the world. I think religious endogamy is a wise choice. there is a cognitive dissonance when trying to ‘marry’ within different religions and it has long term repercussions. I much prefer endogamy w/ a live and let live attitude towards other groups over John Lennon’s imaginary world w/o borders, religion, nationalism, convention, etc.

    Richard is right.. from what i have read by Israeli Jewish women who divorce arab men, many of the intermarriages between Jews and arabs in Israel are very abusive. (not to say that doesn’t happen in endogamous marriages also.)

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