Haredi woman in UK believes she's inferior
“It was boring,” says Ilana Freedman of the furore, sitting in the flat she shares with her rabbi husband and four young sons, above a west London synagogue. “That sign was intended to make our women feel comfortable,”she says. “But it became part of that tired narrative about Haredi [ultra-orthodox Jewish] women being oppressed.”No, it was meant for segregation, and in doing so, declares they're inferior and nothing more than sex objects who impede upon men's movements. Which is insulting to imply, but this woman sure doesn't have a clue. If a woman from her community does want to walk on the same sidewalk as men, will they respect that, or, will they ostracize her and her family for daring to think for themselves?
Freedman’s pet hate is Western feminists’ reading of an ultra-orthodox Jewish woman’s lot as, “All about wigs, menstrual rites and being downtrodden,” she says. “Belz rabbis themselves don’t drive. But it’s easy to wheel out that tired old story about Haredi women being oppressed.”Oh, but of course not, that's because they could have chauffeurs to bus them around! Point: if a child's ill and need to be driven to the hospital ASAP, and a woman in the community's the only one available who can drive, are they going to raise heckles about it?
Technically, it may be easy to bring up a case like putting Haredi women in positions inferior to men, in sharp comparison with the far worse cases in Saudi Arabia. But that still doesn't mean what the Haredi supremacists are doing is justified, and in fact, it's still quite reprehensible.
It is a troubled time for women in Britain’s more than 40,000-strong (and growing) Haredi community, and not just because of a rise in anti-semitic attacks. Their lives of strict observance are being assailed as never before, by the pressures of caring for large families in an era of benefit cuts; by rising house prices in the community’s north London enclave of Stamford Hill; and by the emergence in Israelof a reformist brand of “orthofeminism” that is questioning the doctrinal basis for traditional Haredi gender roles.Interesting they bring that up, because the isolationist lifestyle they go by makes it difficult to deal properly with anti-semitism. And the socialist approach they employ can encourage more anti-semitism, even if it's wrong to commit anti-semitism. It's basically a damned if you do and don't situation.
Freedman sees her coming to Haredism as a moment of emancipation. Raised in a secular Jewish family in north London by a liberal mother, who instilled in her “a relaxed attitude to dress and sexual intimacy”, she traces her decision to become more observant to an incident in a nightclub while she was at university in Manchester.I think she's missed the exact pictures by miles. Does she think it was HER fault the man at the nightclub patted her ass? Of course not! It was the MAN's fault; he should know better than to offend her with that crass act. Despite her seeming acknowledgement that the perv was guilty, she still apparently views her own prior way of dress as the mistake, not his actions against her. And the fact she sees nothing wrong with demanding that women don't drive cars only shows how she's sold out to another kind of sexism. That same kind of twisted logic could also be used to justify sexual harrassment and assault. How that escaped her is mystifying.
“A man I’d never met slapped me on the bottom,” Freeman recalls. “I was livid. I thought, ‘When did this supposed feminist revolution happen that someone thought it was OK to do that?’ For a long time, I’d felt that goyish [non-Jewish] culture had become over-sexualised and Western women objectified. I looked at Judaism and I didn’t see that.”
On the other hand, here's a woman who left because of all the problems that do exist in some Haredi societies like Satmar and such:
For Miriam Kliers, 42, the “warm bath of Haredi womanhood” is an illusion. Born and raised in Stamford Hill, she recalls being struck at a young age by the hypocrisies of an upbringing that taught women they were central to Haredi life while denying them an education. When Kliers asked permission to sit maths and English GCSEs, she was told she’d have to pay for the examinations herself.But she's right about how these Haredis will go to such lengths to ruin everything for one parent by helping the other parent to maintain custody of their children in a way that indicates they don't consider the children human beings. And good she alluded to the "modesty squads" and/or the community "authorities" who dictate how their communities will run their lives. That's practically defying country laws, and if this were an Islamic community, it would be far worse. I'm glad there's more help groups now that ex-Haredis can seek for aid in getting out of such an awful lifestyle that relies heavily on welfare, something they unfortunately didn't clearly talk about here.
“Of course, my parents had no interest,” Kliers says. “I was destined to be a good Haredi wife.” By her mid-20s Kliers was unhappily married, raising three children and was the sole family breadwinner. She felt disillusioned with Haredi life.
“I can sit and chat about babies and Passover recipes with the best of them,” she says. “But I suddenly saw how sinister it all was. Haredi women manage large families and this gives them an illusion of power. This power isn’t real.”
In Oral Law divorce is initiated by the husband issuing a get: an official bill of divorce that decrees that the woman is “hereby permitted to all men”. Aged 39, Kliers found herself agunah – or chained – to a marriage because her husband refused to divorce her. One night in 2011, she fled with only the clothes she was wearing and her youngest child, Sarah (not her real name), five, in tow.
Today, Kliers is part of a support group for women and men who have taken the decision to leave the faith. She claims her experience is not unique. “If you leave the community, the ‘religious police’ will make your life a disaster,” she says. “You will also lose your children as they are considered the property of the community. This, naturally, is a big disincentive for many women to leave.”
Yet Kliers considers herself one of the lucky ones. In her early 30s she satisfied her “insatiable itch” to get an education by studying for an Open University degree and was able to support herself in the outside world. “Most Haredi women don’t have the options I had,” she says.