Sunday, January 25, 2009

Keeping Things in Perspective

Back in the days before Dennis Miller went crazy, he made a very good comment in one of his "rant" books that has always stuck with me, along the lines of, "Isn't there something a little presumptuous in a bunch of old men telling women about what they can and can't do with their own bodies?" Miller was talking about the American Congress (at present there are under 100 out of 600 seats) but he could just as easily have been talking about the Haredi rabbinical establishment:

Hundreds of religious and ultra-Orthodox men thronged to lectures on woman's sexuality, fertility, menstruation and birth control in Jerusalem yesterday in the "Innovations in Women's Medicine" conference.

All the lecturers were men while the women, who also came in the hundreds, had to sit behind a barrier in the ninth annual conference held by the Puha Institute, dedicated to women's medical and halakhic issues.

Conference organizer Rabbi Benjamin David said he was aware that having all male lecturers address such sensitive issues was drawing fire from religious circles.

"First, we don't think that we are not sensitive," he said. "These are very professional halakhic issues and the lecturers are first-rate experts. Second, it's a matter of modesty. We are a very open institute but we have our limits and we don't think it proper for a woman to stand on the stage and address 1,000 people."

Separating between the genders at the conference as well as the intensive occupation with woman's sexual issues indicate openness, not radicalization, he said.

"We put things on the table. It shows openness, contrary to the stigmas on the religious public," he said.

Hmm. Now I know what you're thinking-- no women speakers at a women's health conference? Women having to sit behind a mechitza (could they even hear the lectures)? Shouldn't it have been the other way around-- the men should have been behind the barrier!

Anyway, I'm here to tell you to calm down. Believe it or not, this conference was actually a major improvement-- remember this?

Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar last week canceled the conference on women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce (agunot), which was due to take place in Jerusalem on Tuesday, at the order of ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.

Three months ago, Amar persuaded the Haredi sage Elyashiv to approve the conference. Elyashiv conditioned his consent on banning women from the conference.

Impressive. They went from banning women from a conference about women's issues and then cancelling it at the last minute to having it and just keeping them behind a sexiness-barrier, that's a big step. Who knows, in another two years they might have graduated to full Bachanalias. Of course, they'll keep the sheitels on. For modesty's sake.


scazon said...

Ugh. Not sure what else can be said.

Shira Salamone said...

In some extreme Chareidi circles, the existence of women is acknowledged only if the men are unable to see or hear them. Sigh. Thank goodness this group doesn't represent the majority of the Orthodox community.

Sorry to post this here, but you don't list a contact e-mail address: Why are several totally unrelated posts of yours--some dating back as far as 2006--being linked to my most recent posts? I've deleted a few links already. Since I keep a kosher home, I'm not a big fan of spam.