Monday, August 02, 2004

Rightful Place

Although the issue of women in Judaism is important to me, I didn’t start this blog to deal with it exclusively. I figured that I would write about individual issues as they came up, but I was sure I wouldn’t be hearing or writing about them every day.

Until this week.

Novelist and Jerusalem resident Naomi Ragen writes about her recent experience on a public bus in Jerusalem: Egged and the Taliban.

I was happily immersed in an article about Yaddo in Vanity Fair when I was interrupted by an angry haredi man who announced that I needed to move to the back of the bus. I looked up at him, astonished, feeling a flash of what Blacks must have felt in Alabama in 1950.

It only gets worse from there.

Ms. Ragen’s article reminded me of similar incident that happened to me a few years ago when I boarded a bus at the Western Wall and sat down towards the front. Although the buses that go to and from the Western Wall are ordinary public buses, a process of voluntary segregation occurs on them. Men sit next to men and women sit next to women, but both men and women sit throughout the bus. A haredi man who boarded soon after me noticed where I was sitting and waved his hand peremptorily at me, not looking at me, saying: “Yoter le-matah” (farther down). That was it. No polite request, such as “Would you mind sitting farther back, please?” I guess that for men like him, women—or perhaps only those who do not know their place—do not deserve basic courtesy.

But lest we lose hope, here is an article by Rabbi Aaron Frank in the Baltimore Jewish Times on the importance of keeping a synagogue’s women’s section for the women: A Football Minyan.

If even one woman is made to feel that it is hard or uncomfortable to go to shul, we, as an Orthodox community, are failing. If one person, not to mention an entire gender, is shut out, it is simply wrong. Even if an entire year goes by and the women’s section is never used, it should never be given over to men—not ever. Keeping a designated women’s section reminds us all that shul is for everyone.

The issue of the women’s role in Orthodox Judaism has engendered much controversy, but this issue contains none of that. No Orthodox Jew should disagree that women ought to feel welcome in shul. Let us fulfill our mission of making our mikdashei me’aht into truly sacred space. Put up a sign in your shul’s women's section that this is a section for women only, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Way to go, Rabbi Frank. May there be many more like you among the Jewish people.

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