When two value sys­tems collide

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll THE VIEW FROM IS­RAEL

WE — my hus­band and I — made aliyah twice. First, as a starry-eyed young couple, the sec­ond time as a fam­ily of five af­ter six years back in the United States. Af­ter some de­bate, we opted for a soft land­ing over in­tense in­te­gra­tion and wound up in Bet Shemesh. Be­fore ar­riv­ing, I had heard ru­mours of a rabbi ex­com­mu­ni­cated on ac­count of his books on di­nosaurs, and of gyms where tele­vi­sions were out­lawed, but I chalked such things up to ex­trem­ists. Af­ter all, I had grown up in Lake­wood, NJ and we all al­ways got along just fine — - jeans-wear­ers and sheit­el­don­ners alike.

It soon be­came clear, how­ever, that I had moved to the front line. Nowhere near any of Is­rael’s borders but the front line of ever-in­creas­ing re­li­gious ex­trem­ism. Over the years, it has crept in — some­times seep­ing so slowly that we don’t no­tice un­til too late, some­times slam­ming us against the prover­bial wall.

At the same time I con­fronted re­li­gious ex­trem­ism in my home­town, I was work­ing to help free a fam­ily mem­ber from the man who’d been chain­ing her to mar­riage. It was a bat­tle of many year, and, in seek­ing help for her, I met in­cred­i­ble peo­ple who wage war against re­li­gious ex­trem­ism and the pit­falls of the re­li­gious es­tab­lish­ment day and night, on be­half of all Jews.

These ex­pe­ri­ences cre­ated a perfect storm that left me an ad­vo­cate for those who fall vic­tim to the very es­tab­lish­ment meant to pro­tect them. I rail against the warp­ing of our tra­di­tion into a tool of op­pres­sion. And I ad­vo­cate for change.

I write about the re­moval of im­ages of women and girls from Ortho­dox pub­li­ca­tions, about Charedi women’s higher death rate from breast can­cer, about Jewish women chained in mar­riage, about women’s rights in the mikveh and the ob­ses­sion with (pre­vent­ing) Ortho­dox women’s lead­er­ship. I raise aware­ness of child sex abuse, con­verts’ rights and plights, and hu­man rights in gen­eral.

It may sound as if things are aw­ful and that so much has gone wrong, but with strug­gle comes op­por­tu­nity; there is a flip­side to this. The rea­son there is ten­sion is that Is­rael is ded­i­cated to be­ing both a vi­brant democ­racy and a proud Jewish state. It suc­ceeds on many fronts but prob­lems arise when these two value sys­tems collide.

Here in Is­rael, the re­li­gious es­tab­lish­ment is a gov­ern­ment body. Fight­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies, there­fore, means tak­ing on the es­tab­lish­ment, with all that that im­plies.

One ap­proach to change is to work from within the Knes­set, pe­ti­tion­ing leg­is­la­tors for pro­tec­tive laws. For ex­am­ple, it is now law that four of the 11 mem­bers of the com­mit­tee that elects re­li­gious court judges must be women. Con­sid­er­ing that the re­li­gious courts are nearly en­tirely male­dom­i­nated, the pres­ence of women on the com­mit­tee that ap­points these judges has the po­ten­tial for sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the per­son­al­i­ties, bi­ases, and sec­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion lev­els of the men se­lected for these courts, where all di­vorce is­sues are han­dled.

An­other way to ef­fect change is via the courts. Women scored a vic­tory for rights in the mikveh af­ter a Supreme Court pe­ti­tion called for women to be al­lowed to im­merse with­out an at­ten­dant and ac­cord­ing to her own cus­toms.

There are also peo­ple work­ing out­side the es­tab­lish­ment, cre­at­ing ha­lachic al­ter­na­tives to the ser­vices they pro­vide. Cur­rently, there are ha­lachi­cally valid (Ortho­dox) al­ter­na­tive op­tions for kashrut cer­ti­fi­ca­tions, mar­riage, con­ver­sion, and, soon to be, di­vorce.

Grass­roots ac­tivism and me­dia also play a part, since aware­ness leads to peo­ple tak­ing ac­tion. We can all fight against the re­moval of im­ages of women and girls by re­fus­ing to buy the pub­li­ca­tions that won’t print fe­male pictures. We can protest against grow­ing ex­trem­ism by cre­at­ing more mod­er­ate al­ter­na­tives and speaking out when­ever we can.

Change is hap­pen­ing for the bet­ter. We, all of us who care, have the op­por­tu­nity to help im­prove our so­ci­ety. Those who live here can be part of this lo­cally, while those from afar can also make a dif­fer­ence. Is­rael is the Jewish home­land, which means our fight here is your fight there. We are work­ing to im­prove the fu­ture of the Jewish state and the Jewish peo­ple.

Is­rael is the Jewish home­land KWM X^[ »PQ] R\ āX^[ »PQ]

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is co-founder of REACH3K, a brand­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm and found­ing mem­ber of Chochmat Nashim, which raises aware­ness of women’s is­sues.

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