Thursday, January 04, 2007

All Manner of Heresy May Arise, Has V'helilah

In an attempt to compete with their Muslim fundamentalist breathren, Ultra Orthodox Rabbis charged with determining education policies in the ultra orthodox community have come out with a Ban on Education for Women.
A committee of rabbis formulating the education policy in the ultra-Orthodox community has prohibited women's continuing education programs and severely restricted other study courses, thus blocking the advancement and development of haredi women's careers.

This is a devastating economic and professional blow to thousands of women teachers, who are the primary breadwinners in the ultra-Orthodox community. It is also a drastic regression in haredi women's ongoing process of moving ahead in their studies and career and in improving their economic situation.

The repercussions on the teachers and the ultra-Orthodox education system are tantamount to an earthquake, as the haredi newspaper Yated Neeman called it. The issues at the heart of the ultra-Orthodox society are at stake - the limits of education, the norm requiring women to be the breadwinners while their husbands study and, above all, the authority of the rabbis and functionaries to foist restrictions on the increasingly frustrated public.

In recent years, the reforms in the continuing education programs have not pleased the rabbis, who object to women's "academic" studies. The conservatives warned of women's "career ambitions," fearing they would now be able to break out of the "teaching ghetto" and find other jobs than teaching. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was quoted in Yated Neeman objecting to teachers' enrolling in "all kinds of other education programs without any supervision of rabbis on every detail".

He warned that without close supervision and determining the content, "all manner of heresy can creep into those programs."

The rabbis were mostly infuriated by the psychological subjects in the teaching programs. Freud and Western psychology had always been a red rag to them.
Our authors are playing games - a red rag, meaning that the subject matter is as impure to them as menstrual blood. And there is also the inevitable bull comparison leavened in - the subject makes them so mad, they charge instinctually. Moreover, there was the recent kerfuffle when the Rabbinic committee on Modesty - a committee made up of all men - continued their millenial commitment to banning the color red for women. Red being an immodest, attention seeking color in which to adorn oneself.

Most of all, one can't help thinking that the rabbis don't want any women analyzing their power and control issues. Or reflecting on the fact that once haredi women begin earning a lot of money, it will inevitably change the dynamics at home, and this is an easy way to head off that problem.

All in all - an absolutely shameful and deplorable decision. Though I wonder if it a bit like closing the gate once the horses have already fled the stable.

Will the status quo eventually prevail?

Or, now that they have been introduced to the advantages of higher education, will the women and perhaps the community at large - decide that the rabbis on this particular committee do not know what they are talking about and create in effect a grass roots movement to effect change from the ground up. There are certainly historical precedents for the rabbis coming around to the minhag of the people.

And will the rabbis in return make this the staging ground for an all out ideological war?

I can't help but think about Poland early last century - when the women began to assimilate at a great rate because they were offered secular education and no religious education - at which point the Bais Ya'akov school system for Haredi girls was founded to counter this move towards the women assimilating by offering them a baseline religious education. Perhaps this was a preemptive move by the rabbis to cut off greater secular education among women, lest they begin assimilating once they, too, receive their secular higher education.

But in the end, they seem dead set on keeping women in terribly compensated jobs, and the haredi world, with their huge families, living in or near poverty conditions. Do they believe that is spiritually beneficial?

To me that seems like the last shreds of exilic thinking strangling any oxygen to the brain. If this is how they propose to help the haredi world flourish until Messiah comes, it seems to me that Messiah will tarry quite a while still.

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