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Monday, June 03, 2013 

Haaretz may be exaggerating the idea that Zionist religous kids are being raised on notion that females are taboo

Haaretz published an article that may actually have been intended to villify Zionism, religious or otherwise. They say that recent generations of religious children are growing up with the notion being taught that women are taboo. It begins with a web production called Asi and Tuvia, run by some religious producers that has a male-only cast:
Though it would seem such programming could only be possible in a niche program for religious children, the show is actually pretty relatable, even for a secular audience. The language is contemporary; each episode is pleasant and entertaining. It's only when watching a whole batch of episodes in a row that one notices something startling: None of them feature a single girl or a woman.

Arutz Meir caters specifically to families from the religious Zionist sector, a population which has moved more and more in recent years toward gender-segregation and the exclusion of women (both of which are already common among the stricter, ultra-Orthodox communities). Public singing by women, even by 4-year-old girls, is no longer permissible, let alone on-screen. In fact, any mention of women has been removed from many of the schoolbooks used in religious schools.
Is that so? Not where I live, and my nephew goes to a school where there's mixed genders learning together. However, I do realize that even among "national religious", there's some groups now called "chardalim", which derives from the Hebrew word for mustard, "chardal", and is used as a slang to describe so-called national religious Jews who moved in the direction of the Haredis. I assume that's whom they're actually referring to, and I personally wouldn't consider them Zionists, let alone true followers of Judaism if they're going to resort to such insults to the intellect.
Needless to say, many of the religious programs on the Internet are devoid of women, as are plays and DVDs. "I know someone who initiated a nice cultural project involving DVDs for children – he didn’t do very well”, says Shmuel Shatach, chairman of Ne’emanei Torah Ve’Avodah, a nonprofit organization that combats the move toward extremism and exclusion of women in the Orthodox sector. “Singing by girls does not take place anymore in schools and kindergartens belonging to the religious Zionist stream. If it’s missing in the educational system, it’s nonexistent.”

The absence of women has become especially prominent in illustrated Jewish texts, such as the Passover Hagaddah and the Megillat Esther for Purim. “It’s absurd that there are now Hagaddah books in which it looks as if only men left Egypt,” says Rachel Azaria, a Jerusalem councilwoman who represents the Yerushalmim Party and is one of the leading figures in the struggle against gender-segregation and the exclusion of women.

“Our religious Zionist kindergarten had a Passover Hagaddah in which Pharaoh’s daughter is pulling Moses out of the water. Only her hand could be seen; her face was hidden behind bushes," says Azaria. "And this is the lenient version of such books. They only show women with their heads lowered or facing away. What is of concern here is the question of what part women play in the Jewish story. It says that everyone left Egypt, but the pictures show only men around the seder table. This presents a distorted world.” [...]

In these books, Azaria says, sentences such as “'Mother is cooking in the kitchen' – in itself a gender issue – has no picture to accompany the text. But when it comes to describing the father going to work, the picture is there.”
I wonder if some of those pseudo-publications were tailored so that they could be marketed to Haredis as well? But it reminds, and it's embarrasing to say, but at home, my family has at least 1 Passover Hagaddah with no pictures of women, and a Purim Megilla where the only image of Esther is with a veil. It makes no difference whether they were tailored to suit Haredis (and chardalim), it's offensive and dehumanizing. The advocates of this bizarre censorship will say they're doing it out of "modesty" which is only the cowardly way of saying they consider women sex objects.

And that's the biggest problem with Haredis - if not other streams of Orthodoxy - today: if the left is obsessed with race, the Haredis have basically become obsessed with sex, or censoring thereof. In other words, they're so afraid of sex and cannot bring themselves to teach their children how to better look upon women.

Fortunately, I did also once find an illustrated after-meals prayer book that had female imagery in it, published around 1997. And my family also has some Haggadahs published in the early 1960s for a religious girls' orphanage in NYC that have some female imagery in them, no doubt from a time when people had more common sense and weren't such cowards.

Even if religious Zionists, something Haaretz isn't very clear about either, don't condone this kind of creativity-destroying censorship, they shouldn't be using these censored approaches and publications in their facilities.
Meanwhile, as boys and girls become segregated in print, so too are they becoming segregated in the real world – namely, in schools. “Separate schools and exclusion of women are two phenomena that feed on each other – it's the chicken and the egg," says Shatach. "Since a boy grows up isolated, without the other gender, one cannot create an environment that might shatter [his worldview]. Just like one cannot show these boys popular old documentaries that describe the theory of evolution, one also cannot show them women, since they have no girls in their schools.”

Shatach adds that because these program aren't in English (with the occasional exception), young religious viewers aren't exposed to English the way their peers in the general population are. Given the fact that religious schools typically don’t go to great lengths to teach students English, Shatach says, these kids' options later in life become limited, particularly when it comes to their education and careers.
I think this is where they've distorted something: national religious are more likely to study English; it's the Haredis who failed this. If a dad has to take his daughter to and from school, I don't see them stopping him. In fact, a religious Zionist even responded in the comments:
Which religious Zionist community are you using as your basis for these claims?? Every community I know has equality for both genders, both as adults and children - including school events open to fathers with singing by children - boys and girls.
That's a lot more honest than what a Haredi could say.

Asi Tsobel, the producer of the ludicrously structured web series, defended his approach as a reaction to "secular" TV, and he said:
“Kids know the world not through ‘Asi & Tuvia,’" he says. "At school they might have female homeroom teachers and principals, so watching ‘Asi & Tuvia’ for an hour a day shouldn't cause them any great harm."
Funny how this is basically admitting national religious schools aren't as segregated as they imply. But if he's saying that his program isn't intended to be realistic, there's a limit to how far you can go there, and he's crossed it - he's sending a subtle message that imagery of women are corrupting.

Another one of his arguments was also ludicrous and misleading:
Instead, Tzobel insists the criticism should be directed instead at mainstream children’s TV – for example, the way women are represented in the program "Pyjamas."

“There is a group of men, and in the episode I watched the only woman on the show enters the room and the men ask her to bend over. They all do so together while the men peek down her shirt. The rest is left up to the child’s imagination," he says. "I don’t think this is healthy. The religious Zionist camp thinks that if these are the choices, they would rather opt for what we have to offer.”
Oh, how clever. I don't know anything about Pyjamas, but it doesn't sound like a kiddie program to me. And even if it were, it's something that even secular women would find offensive. Yes, I agree that the program he cites is lewd. But if he thinks that's going to get him a free pass, he should find a new hobby. Nobody said his productions had to stoop to such insulting ideas as Pyjamas has. But just like it's insulting to treat/depict women as just one-dimensional sex objects, it's also insulting to imply that they are sexual beings. It's dehumanizing, and damning them as inferior in almost every way. Tsobel sounds like he's resorting to a ruse not unlike what rabbi Dov Lipman's former educator used.

However, at the end, he does say:
“The issue of girls and women on our shows is a legitimate one, which we are looking into," Tzobel says. "We have a lot of room for improvement. The main thing is to find the correct balance. We’re trying, and when we find it perhaps not only the religious public but the entire population will have an alternative choice.”
Well I hope he's true to his word there. Years ago, I read books by potentially religious authors like Yaffa Ganz that did have female imagery in them. They may have dressed modestly, but they were never excluded from view there. I even read a children's book called "The Double-Decker Purple Shul Bus", published in 1977, that also had women appear in it. I'm guessing that some Haredis would consider those books taboo today, which is sad, because the goal of that book was simple entertainment for youngsters with creativity to spare. If Tsobel really wants to improve, all they have to do is set up something like a cooking show where a religious woman, whatever her form of dress, pays a visit to the studio and shows them how she prepares a recipe. Or even how to do gardening. It's a lot easier than they think, and I'd suggest they start realizing that it's not as hard as they think, nor dangerous.

And as for Haaretz, I'd suggest they get more solid facts before they start villifying Zionism, which I suspect was the real goal behind this article!

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