Thursday, February 9, 2012

Judaism in Israel: Women's Public Roles

As noted at the beginning of class, these posts will help to identify the role of religion in contemporary issues, and will also emphasize issues tied to practice since the book focuses more on texts. When studying a religion it is important to look for differences for a couple of reasons: to show that a religious community is not homogeneous (i.e. all the same), and that there are always internal struggles over what religion means to whom and why, which gets at power relations and sectarian divisions.     

A good example of this in respect to Judaism is a recent conflict inside Israel and abroad over the appropriate dress and place of women in society. The first video below is by Israeli journalists and gives a good sense of the tension between Jews who practice differing degrees of conservative dress. In some cases the Haredi have thrown eggs and human feces at school girls. What's interesting is that this is not a conflict between Orthodox and Reformist Jews, but of differences within conservative forms of Judaism. The issue really centers around what is the appropriate response to other Jews with whom one does not agree. Should one verbally (and in some cases physically) confront those one disagrees with? Or, are there other ways of engaging (or not engaging) other religious people who have different perspectives and practices?


Here is another video below in response to the Haredi public attempts to enforce their sectarian views. Secular, liberal, and conservative Jews rallied against the more extreme measures taken against women:

In the wake of negative media coverage and national and international debates, many Jewish organizations have condemned the harsh treatment of women as opposed to appropriate Jewish activity, even some conservative Haredim have criticized such acts (here).

Another issue is gender segregation on public transportation buses (here). But this is about more than just where one sits, it is about the role of religion in public, the influence of the Israeli Supreme Court, and between Israelis of opposing political and religious persuasions to define the future of Judaism in Israel. In response to enforcing sex segregation, liberal Jews have engaged in campaigns of riding buses into Haredi areas with women at the front to protest the unofficial segregation practices (here). The women's rights organization, Kadima, has gone a step further by extending the women's segregation issue to a broader critique of exclusion and inequality of women in Israeli society (here). Kadima claims that women are excluded in public in numerous ways and that it is not just the very conservative Haredi who exclude women. Kadima wants to raise awareness and generate change in a way that makes civil society open to women as equals to men since women serve in the military just as men, and since there have been women Israeli prime minister sin the past. Despite these achievements, they claim there is still much  discrimination and inequality for women that needs to be acknowledged and changed. Here is a call to expand the debate about how the influence of religion on the Israeli public should be dealt with (here).

These general issues involving women in Judaism are not unique to Judaism, but face all religions. We will see some other examples as we cover other religions.