An Orthodox Paradox

By Eliana Katz

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. It is intended to spark discussion and debate. It is not the opinion of Beit T’Shuvah but a sole individual from within, who subscribes both to Orthodox Judaism and Rabbi Mark Borovitz’s obvious though ground-breaking notion of being ‘Just Jewish.’


Orthodox Rally at Citi FieldMany of you probably know that 40,000 Hassidic Men gathered a few days ago at Citi Field in NYC to discuss the dangers of the Internet in the home of Hassidic Jews. Women were not welcome in the gathering. This gathering has garnered much backlash, on multiple levels, from a variety of people, including incensed Jews. Hassidic Jews may mutter in Yiddish with wagging, cautionary fingers of the dangers of Internet addiction, but it seems the Internet is roaring with disapproval in response.


I came across quite a few riled responses. Here are some:

The Religious Fanatics Who Want to Protect Men From Women


Victims Protest Rabbis- Protect Our Children


But then, via my college roommate I came across this article- a response from an educated and even humorous Hassidic woman on all the backlash. What Women’s Media Needs to Know About Hassidic Women

ChayaMy roommate posted the article with the question “Any thoughts?” posed to her like-minded professor of women’s studies.

Needless to say, she, and many other Facebook friends had quite a few. All of which were coming down very strongly on Chaya.


Perhaps it’s my lifelong Orthodox Jewry or maybe my perpetual love for the underdog, but I felt the need to respond- something I rarely do on Facebook! I felt myself conflicted with the same arguments as my peers, but at the same time, encouraged by her words.


Here are my thoughts- I’d LOVE to hear yours! [copied straight off my Facebook post- so pardon any typos!]


“Oh my goodness, where to begin. I had so much to say and after reading article after article, comment after comment, alas i am deflated. On the one hand, as your resident ‘nonfeminist who respects feminism’ friend, I felt compelled to defend Chaya. However misguided, she paints an articulate, humorous, compelling visual of her hassidic joy. As a relatively observant orthodox jew, who is, by feminist terms ‘oppressed’ in a lot of the same ways chaya speaks of, i actually agree with chaya in that i find my life and many of it’s rules rewarding. and i dont think that makes me ignorant or small minded. i live by choices, and i choose my orthodoxy each day, in whatever form it takes, and it fulfills me. Perhaps, as Deborah feldman points out, that is a luxury. I was not brought up to be *completely* ostracized for my less religious choices, or at least there’s little that I have chosen that I cannot win the support of my family with an articulate conversation. And, in another support to Chaya’s argument, this is her turn to tell her story. We’ve heard all the stories of rape, molestation, domestic abuse, lack of education, etc. But we cry out in anguish if someone expresses that she might just be happy. We only know what we hear, or at best, what we inspect. But we are not hassidic jews. Or at least, I am not. And i don’t claim to know the universally experienced emotion (happiness or sadness) of an entire sect of people. (Ironically, nor should she, but i’ll get to that point). On the flipside, i do agree that Chaya is speaking in a vacuum. Though i don’t live in the hassidic world, as I just argued, I think it’s a pretty plain fact that most hassidic women are not college graduates who blog. I also felt she unveiled a bit of her small mindedness by claiming that being described as ‘ants marching into a building’ or whatever was tantamount to the jew-as-insect metaphor of WWII. It’s a fucking descriptive. It’s painting a visual. It’s not an anti-semitic slur. Those kinds of accusations, well, breed…anti-semitism. I guess all in all I am fond of her for taking a stab at defending her happiness and her choices, though I do find her ‘skinny-jeaned coke-snorting’ diatribe to be heavily misguided. I will say that I am happy to see a right wing orthodox jewish woman who is bold and articulate enough to make an argument for herself on the internet, though perhaps unaware of the backlash it would garner. Frankly, the compelling stories are always about rape and discrimination. As my husband (Yes- I chose marriage) jokes about me, I tend to prefer the movies with ‘transgender amputee meth-heads who are bipolar’ over the rom-coms. But I think it’s ok to read about something as boring as happiness and not have such a guttural, revolted reaction.”



7 thoughts on “An Orthodox Paradox

  1. i’m having a harder and harder time describing myself as a feminist. the feminism i grew up with is simply that women should have every choice/opportunity in the world. no one can make their choices or limit their opportunities. but now we have people forcing feminist “enlightenment” on other women. that really misses the point and leaves me searching for a new word to call myself. the internet in theory is a great way to broaden your experiences but the reality is that it is an incredibly effective tool for becoming as narrow minded as possible.

  2. Ronnie Blakeney May 24, 2012 — 11:14 am

    Yasher khoach to you, eliana, for raising this discussion for our community. It’s so important, particularly for our young residents, andtfor the parents in our community to see the richness of our right to make choices that are inclusive of orthodoxy, Hasidism and just Jewish. I truly appreciate the transcendent daily life practices of my sisters who made, and make daily,other choices. The very observant and Hasidic women of my close acquaintance are among the brightest, most thoughtful, better educated, and still open, caring, giving and devout. I, frankly, am in awe of their discipline and their liberation. I believe more contact and conversation would be beneficial to all. It is one thing to tolerate and respect differences, and another to be open to the transformative power of listening with an open heart.

  3. Tempted to merely say “ditto” to Ronnie Blakeney who so very smoothly and effortlessly articulates many of my own thoughts. The one thought I would add to Ronnie’s and Chaya’s is something we learn over and over again in Rabbinic School, “we all learn, no one teaches”. My teachers always say to the student body, “I look forward to learning with you”. Not teaching you, but learning with you. Because each of us has some unique and wonderful to bring to the table. Even those we might disagree with or find fault with. There is much of Orthodoxy I find puzzling and strange to me, but as Ronnie stated, “I believe more contact and conversation would be beneficial to all”.

  4. Tristan Querol May 24, 2012 — 5:20 pm

    I think Chaya is well within her rights to point out the racist history of metaphorically linking congregating Jews (or any minority group) to insects or animals.

  5. you go girlfriend. as the mother of the writer, i am proud of your choices and especially proud of your courage to express them (even if they dont reflect mine!). as far as your movie choices, well…you got that from me!

  6. sorry, correction: that should read ‘when’, not ‘if’ your choices dont reflect mine

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