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Hasidic Woman Sparks To-Do on the Internet

Post about the traditionally Orthodox and women stirs debate

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You’d have to be hiding under a rock not to have heard about the various recent articles that have taken on issues (the Internet, abuse, etc.) within the Orthodox world. Yesterday, one “Hasidic Jewish woman” named Chaya wrote that she couldn’t stand what she saw as a pile-on against her kind and published a defense of Orthodoxy that has caused its own choruses of fury and support. Chaya, who’s “also a media professional with a degree in Women’s Studies from a large, very liberal university (magna cum laude, baby!)” took particular exception to the recent media representations of the traditionally Orthodox in the days following their males-only rally against the Internet at Citi Field and, on behalf of her aggrieved brothers, means now to correct misapprehensions.

Nobody in her community, she assures us, forced her to marry her big-bearded husband who’s “also the most handsome, hot, attractive man in the entire world to me.” Nobody in her community has intercourse through a sheet. Mikveh is like a spa, and it’s “awesome.” Because of rules governing purity, Orthodox women do internal self-inspections that mean, ultimately, they “have one of the lowest rates of cervical and other reproductive cancers.” (I’d like to see the science on that—I question the notion that checking whether you still have menstrual blood in your vaginal canal has any relation to detection of ovarian cancer.)

Chaya’s bravado provoked heated responses from the likes of Deborah Feldman (herself the recent object of scrutiny over her tell-all about the Orthodox world), who points out that Chaya is a Chabadnik and ba’alat tshuva, and so her take on the wonders of Orthodoxy may be skewed. Specifically, Chaya chose to join; she wasn’t born into it (I’d like to see the science too on how many native-born traditionally Orthodox women go to very liberal universities). Moreover, one of the tenets of the Chabad movement is outreach—Chaya’s assertions could well be interpreted as evangelizing on behalf of her movement. That’s fine, but “please,” Feldman writes, “refrain from making claims on behalf of Hasidic women you have never met and know nothing about.” When Chaya boasts that nobody in her community would stop her from putting on skinny jeans and snorting cocaine, Feldman sees “stinging condescension in using those two activities as your examples, as if that is all secular people engage in.”

Facebook commenters have made similar, pithy observations. For example: “I’m sure Hasidic women are technically ‘free’ to put on skinny jeans … the same way I’m free to throw a chair through the window of my office building.” Touché. And for Jewcy, Sarah Breger thankfully took a gander at some of the best quickie comments to Chaya’s piece. One choice remark: “Thanks for writing this! I have always been curious. I have more questions …. why do all you Hasidic ladies have the most beautiful, glowy skin?” (Could it be all that internal self-inspection?)

Not everyone has responded with snark, though. Rabbi Eliyahu Fink (a rare male voice in this hoo-ha) took less contentious issue with Chaya’s Chabadnik orientation. “Your personal experience, while wonderful, has no relevance to the world of Hasidic women in the insular sects of Satmar, Ger, Vizhnitz, Square, etc.,” he argued. “More importantly, their world is a world where women are more oppressed than in the rest of orthodox Judaism.”

But what are we talking about here really? Whether Chaya is a proselytizer? Whether Orthodox women have free will and how that is defined, exactly? Whether those of us who are not adherents of traditional Orthodoxy have lost our spiritual way? Whether in general the media fetishize the traditionally Orthodox for their seemingly cultish ways (um, okay, you caught me—I do think there is some cultishness in the most extreme forms of any religion and I do think too the media love to write about it because it all seems so dang zany to the rest of us)? All of these issues come up in this particular smack-down.

Ultimately, though, the question for women who consider themselves feminists is whether the tent is, or even should be, big enough to make room for those who look askance on our more secular lifestyles while they opt to make their priority a kosher home, a (sometimes) shaved head, and a visit to the mikveh. And should we presume to speak for those women who, perhaps, don’t have free will, who are stuck in communities where they are unhappy or abused or fearful? Chaya chose her life; many women—Jews and otherwise—do not.

What Women’s Media Needs to Know About Hasidic Sex [xoJane]
Deborah Feldman Responds [blunt, tom]
What We Can Learn From the xoJane Article About Orthodox Judaism [Jewcy]
Dear Chaya [Pacific Jewish Center]
Earlier: Yiddish, Translated on a Jumbotron

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LinkMan says:

You keep using this phrase, “traditionally Orthodox” to refer to hasidism.   I do not think this phrase means what you think it means.

Feldman says twice in her response Chaya shouldn’t speak for “women she’s never met and knows nothing about.”  Simultaneously, she generalizes saying “Hasidic women” go through such and such an issue, face such and such a limitation.  She’s clearly dismissing Chaya not just in terms of Chaya’s opinion but also saying her entire experience can’t possibly be true.  She is trying to narrow the definition of what a Hasidic woman is by dismissing her as a mere “Chabadnik” and a “ba’alat t’shuva.”  Her response reminds me of the way converts’ words are mangled and their experiences belittled by religious Jews, as if their time in the community isn’t worth the mint their hekdesh coins are stamped on.  This could easily descend into Deborah being attacked in a similar manner, where her switch to secularism could against be turned into a lightning rod to delegitimize her opinions on these topics.  Feldman is a hypocrite for turning someone’s background into a weapon to wipe their words off the table, plus for deliberately ignoring her own advice and speaking about “women she’s never met and knows nothing about.”

    Exactly, like Feldman is in any position to judge a devout convert! It is disgusting. Converts are as revered in Judiasm as Jewish-born. The “ger” – the convert – is the “stranger” mentioned in the Torah – and we are commanded to love the stranger, welcome the stranger.

Bracha Bennett says:

It is hypocritical as hell for Deborah Feldman to say  “please,refrain from making claims on behalf of Hasidic women you have never met and know nothing about.” All Feldman has done is grow wealthy off the liberal media’s hunger for anti-Orthodox material. And while you are at it, author, why ignore the exceptionally empathetic statement Chaya made about Feldman. “Poor Deborah Feldman got the short end of the stick. She got a dysfunctional family and a crummy school. But listen: That happens everywhere. How many (non-Jewish or secular Jewish) friends of yours come from dysfunctional families and crappy schools and just couldn’t wait to leave home? Did they represent your entire hometown? ”

So maybe Deborah could “please,refrain from making claims on behalf of Hasidic women you have never met and know nothing about.”

    Laurel Kornfeld says:

    Feldman is selling books and making money because she is a good writer.  And she never claims to speak for anyone but herself.

      Do you think so? I find her writing style quite dull, and her nasal ramblings may be good for insomnia, but not for edification.

        Laurel Kornfeld says:

        What’s with this “nasal” thing you keep talking about? What does that even mean? Feldman has a writing style that does a great job in capturing the sights and sounds of a neighborhood while at the same time being very articulate and open in discussing her personal feelings. Her sentence structure is highly sophisticated. My guess is that it isn’t her style you don’t like; it’s the content of her book that bothers you.

        Speaking of education, how can anyone justify spending $2 million on renting the Mets’ stadium for an “anti-Internet” rally? The 60,000 men who attended and the women who watched via live feeds could have spent quality time with their children that night watching the broadcast of an annular solar eclipse that took place that very day. That was a chance to share a beautiful and educational experience, but they missed it because they were too busy railing against machines.

    Datetree says:

    Bracha- Chaya’s “empathetic statement” was sarcasm at its worst.  As a Jewish mother, no matter what my stripe, it is important that my children receive the best education that I can procure from them.   Accepting crummy schools and dysfunctional families as inevitable, shows ignorance and lack of empathy for children.  When adults intervene appropriately, many children’s lives can be saved.  It is widely known that the ultra-orthodox world accepts and harbors child molesters.  Many Jews in the secular world get the best educational oppportunities because their parents care a lot.

      Crummy schools? Our 3 children attend a Chabad-run Hebrew day school after leaving suburban public school where all they taught was global warming and fear of foods Michelle Obama doesn’t like 24/7. 
      The day school – which has less than 400 students total – won 8 first-place awards in the state science fair this year, after getting 6 last year. The school consistently outperforms the richest WASP-y schools on state “mastery tests” (middle school standardized tests). What makes you think that Orthodox parents don’t “care”. You sure have a lot of hate to deal with, baby.

Naamah18 says:

I’m bothered by this sentence: “Ultimately, though, the question for women who consider themselves feminists is whether the tent is, or even should be, big enough to make room for those who look askance on our more secular lifestyles while they opt to make their priority a kosher home, a (sometimes) shaved head, and a visit to the mikveh.”  To me, this pits religious and secular women against each other in a way that I don’t believe was intended by Chaya (though I understand why some would read it that way.) This seems to suggest that choosing to make religion a priority in your life means that you look askance at those that don’t.  In all the media frenzy around religious Jews of late, no one talks about the intersection of the religious and secular worlds and the many Jews who incorporate both in their lives.  I keep a kosher home. I go to the mikveh (and sometimes hate it).  I sometimes wear skinny jeans, but I don’t do coke.  And I don’t look askance at people who don’t keep those religious observances or who adopt a stricter level of observance than I do.  I welcome anyone who wants to have this conversation into my “feminist tent.”

marjorie ingall says:

“a rare male voice in this hoo-ha” — I see what you did there.  

Seriously, though: Great piece, capturing everything that was disturbing and generalize-y and discomfiting about the essay. I’m just sorry that some folks feel the need to turn it into an Attack Deborah Feldman opp.

Flash11 says:

This “born into Orthodoxy so she doesn’t have a choice is nonsense.  Every day a person wakes up she has a choice.  If you are saying it is too difficult for a woman to leave Orthodoxy because this woman would be leaving her children and family then she is choosing to stay Orthodox and not throw it away for a life focused on physical pleasures because she perceives that her life with children and family is better for her.  This is more Orthodox bashing  antisemitism from self-hating Jews.  Do you ever hear of Reform or Conservative bashing.  These liberal sluts have no choice they cannot choose to throw out their skinny jeans. To each her own-but stop the Orthodox bashing-you may one day wake up and have a child of your own become Orthodox.

    zeeydee says:

    What about if a woman wants to leave, take her children and just live a simple normal life.  Is that an option?  Or do you think that everyone who leaves wants “a life focused on physical pleasure” whatever that means…….

    Sara_Ivry says:

     @Flash11:disqus   You read my post above as self-hating? I assure you I am not self-hate, nor am I a “liberal slut,” and just as you object to generalizations about the Orthodox, I object to your generalizations about what choices you think the rest of us (that is, who are not you) make. (For the record, I don’t judge people who wear skinny jeans or don’t wear them; the content of your character is what counts, not your preferred denim). That said, nowhere in my piece did I write anything about “born into Orthodoxy so she doesn’t have a choice.”  If I were to have a child who became Orthodox, I would have no objection provided that she or he was open minded about other ways of life. The same goes if my child were to be completely secular.

      Harold Berman says:

      I enjoyed your article, and I agree the post was written in poor taste with very poor word choice. Having said that, my interpretation of his “born into Orthodoxy but doesn’t have a choice” phrase is that he wasn’t commenting on your article but on Deborah Feldman’s. In fact, Deborah Feldman, without using that exact wording, did essentially say in her response to Chaya that those born into Orthodoxy (unlike Chaya, who chose this unbearably oppressive lifestyle that Deborah Feldman seems to think everyone would run from if only they could) have no choice but to stay. On many levels, this is a bogus assertion, but is nevertheless consistent with someone who is now making a career out of trying to generalize her specific experience to the masses of Orthodoxy.

    You lost me at “sluts”.

    Have some respect.  Is demeaning people, particularly women, the way you were brought up?

      It’s called sarcasm. She is making the point that Orthodox Jews don’t “bash” Reform women that way. It is the self-hating Jews who HATE Jews who look “too Jewish” and are also angry that real Judiasm does not welcome the easy-lay, anything goes mentality their feminist professor at Columbia taught them was their birthright.

RuthFeder says:

Rabbi Fink makes some excellent points in his comment. But here’s what I don’t get. Why
are these points —

getting an education, men and women walk on separate sides of the street in
some communities, there are very strict rules about sex, many women shave their
heads, girls are wed after extremely short meetings to young men they barely

— considered “female” restrictions? Don’t these exact same issues apply to

    Hi. Thanks for commenting (you would have got a quicker response if you commented on my blog).

    Who makes the rules? The men. Women have no say in these rules. So while one could argue, the men make the rules so they have agreed to be bound by them, the women have not.

      RuthFeder says:

      I don’t buy this argument. These rules were created thousands of years ago. The men alive today must abide by these rules even if they disagree with them. They are as enslaved, if you will, by the rules as the women are.

        That is false. These are all recent rules instituted in the last century. That’s why I mentioned those rules and not rules like mechitza.

          RuthFeder says:

          Oh sorry,  you’re right. I forgot to reread the original comment I’d responded to. It is true that the points you mentioned are pretty much recent innovations. But again I disagree with what I consider a pat explanation of men having more rights in these matters. True, there is a small male elite that signs these rules into being, but they can only enforce these rules if they have the cooperation of both the men and women these rules affect. In other words, the masses have a certain amount of power. And these masses consist of men and women. I can offer some examples, if you or anyone is interested.

          In the CHASIDIC community? I am sorry, women have ZERO influence. (Again, not the non-chasidic community.) But in general I agree with you. Men are also oppressed in the chasidic community.

          RuthFeder says:

          Zero influence? Have you actually studied the inner tickings of chassidic communities that you state this with so much confidence? Perhaps you should look into the new rules, say, that Satmar has implemented in their girls’ schools in the last ten years, all of them initially proposed and decided upon by women. All the new tznius rules–no cap sleeves, etc.– were initiated by the female staff (and advisors) of Satmar school.

          I am not talking about the rules in the schools. Again, look at the rules I mentioned.

          RuthFeder says:

          I feel like we’ve gone off on a tangent. My initial point, which I want to reiterate here, is that saying that the chassidic norms of girls meeting boys for a short time before becoming engaged, strict rules about sex, weak education, etc., are norms that oppress females is one-sided. These norms restrict men as much (or in some cases, more) as women. It seems you agree with me on this point.

          Yes. I agree. They only appear to be MORE oppressive to women because they have no say (in those rules).

yankel stein says:

Suddenly a voice out of blue, unfiltered, unedited of a real Chassidic woman with a mind of her own. This seems too much for those that love to stereotype “they must be all barefoot, brainless and pregnant”. As for Deborah Feldman she is no better, “Chaya is just a BT, she really does not know the score”. Duh, she was an outsider who took a hard look and liked what she saw. And yes there are vast differences, Chabad is much more willing to engage the upside world. Not just because of outreach, because it’s world view is vastly different than other Chassidic groups. In israel they serve in the army in America they have real jobs.

Chaya is a real voice, if the liberal feminists will look beyond their own prejudice they might discover that Chaya is not some pr flack, but a real Chassidic woman who got sick and tired of the bigotry against the “ultras” (and why are the ultra, isn’t jstreet ultra left?).

    I want to see the masochist who marries Deborah Feldman by CHOICE. Feh.

      Laurel Kornfeld says:

      Has it ever occurred to you that maybe Deborah Feldman is happy being single? Regardless of her preferences, it is well known that when one has to resort to an ad hominem attack, one has already lost the debate.

How many women who have made tshuva leave ultra orthodox sects and their marriages because the life styles has become unworkable for them.  I only have to look at my own circle to see many women who gave up community and everything else for personal choice, self respect and freedom.

 (I’d like to see the science on that—I question the notion that checking whether you still have menstrual blood in your vaginal canal has any relation to detection of ovarian cancer.)a slight amount of staining may show something is wrong.  A woman will be alerted to this if she is doing bedikot.  

chanaleh says:

If smugness counts as “tzneyos”, modesty, Chaya’s fine, but what about “derech eretz,” decency? Putting aside her cheap, phallic reference to the “short end of the stick,” suggesting that Deborah Feldman is really the under-sexed one, her arguments are unconvincing, in spite of her education (baby!) Chaya characterizes her critics as shallow malcontents, and, worse, she is flip when she says Chasidism is voluntary, and no one “forces her” to stay.

As if it is easy to opt out. As if it is easy to bear the cost of belonging. 

Just because a woman chooses her repression–spa, notwithstanding–doesn’t mean it is not repression. Indeed, what defines any small-o orthodoxy or hegemony is an over-strained tension of inner experience and social expectations. Inasmuch as a Chasidic identity is overdetermined, it is repressive.  In those cases, she is forced to choose between her desires and her community life. 

 It takes only a small deviation to put perfectly a healthy desire at odds with regulations. Can’t we imagine a Chasidic woman driven, inspired to be, say, a performance artist or dancer, only to be squashed because the practice it is deemed lewd and “asur,” forbidden, in the presence of men, whose urges are, evidentally, uncontainable. And mightn’t a couple, in private, occasionally be turned on when wearing something during (heterosexual, of course) sex, despite the law–the law!–that they be naked. What about sex acts considered “abberations?” Twenty years ago, I was so incredulous sitting in a rebbetzin’s “kallah class,” a class that prepares virgins to be brides, I wrote this down, verbatim, “the breasts may be kissed, but oral sex [not to mention, anal] is considered ‘meyus’ [disgusting] and, therefore, asur.” And, just curious: perhaps there is a law stating that a Jewish man must satisfy his wife (albeit, not orally,) have many Jewish women petitioned for a “get,” divorce, because they haven’t had decent orgasms in years?


    Deborah Feldman likely remains “undersexed”. What man would choose her. I can’t even fathom it.

B Newmark Klein says:

Really so very offensive, arrogant and immature. The writer states: “Ultimately, though, the question for women who consider themselves feminists is whether the tent is, or even should be, big enough to make room for those who look askance on our more secular lifestyles while they opt to make their priority a kosher home, a (sometimes) shaved head, and a visit to the mikveh. And should we presume to speak for those women who, perhaps, don’t have free will, who are stuck in communities where they are unhappy or abused or fearful? Chaya chose her life; many women—Jews and otherwise—do not.”
In her imaginary tent, the reality is that it is the feminists who close us out(and see us as mikveh shlepping dirty hordes of pregnant belly).  The ugly bias and “small head” that has been reveled here are really sad. And this is no doubt after somebodyMommy and daddy?) have shelled out, not a small amount for the writer to attend the grassy groves of the academy–because all true “femistis” need expensive credentials to learn to have an open mind.How in the world can you presume to know how I look at another woman? Has feminism given people the ability to mind read? I doubt it. My conclusion, you project you own prejudice against Ultra Orthodox women(who yes, have babies–it is called “reproductive freedom” a woman can choose an abortion or choose to have a baby–simple stuff) because you feel so very smug and superior. Freedom, in America has to do with “money honey.” Your choice of verbs betrays your bias–“stuck” “abused” “fearful”  It is the same in here in “mikveh land” as in any other community.  You think the poor women in the trailer park have more “freedom?”  
If you wrote this way about let’s say women of color–you would not have a job, unless the KKK weekly is hiring. Seriously, I am making a copy of this little open minded piece and passing it around to some friends–they can read. I would hope that some editor might realize that you do not posses the writing skills to do anything other than to insult Ultra Orthodox women en toto.

    Sara_Ivry says:

    The question goes to you too — how can you presume to know how I look at another woman? But besides that, I think you totally misread my piece — I don’t say that abuse or fear exist only for some women in the Orthodox world, I say those exist everywhere, in every community, among women of every socio-economic background and every race and religion. It seems like you assume I am attacking you–I am not–but your defensiveness suggests you came to the post with an axe to grind, not with an open mind about what you read and about what other people, who might come from different backgrounds, might think or write.

Marty Susman says:

I hesitated on commenting on this until I read that “self inspection” can keep you from types of cancer… PLEASE, don’t be ridiculous, that is the dumbest thing I have ever read. Blood in the vaginal canal has ZERO to do with cancer & statements like that can give all females who read it VERY BAD & VERY FALSE information that could kill them later in life.

Say all you want about the super religious, say all you want about anything that has to do with religion BUT do not give out false information tat can hurt people & nonsense like the above can do just that… (If you doubt that I am 1,000,000 correct, ask your OB/GYN PLEASE !!!!!

    Sara_Ivry says:

     Marty, I did not assert that self inspection prevents cancer, but Chaya did in her original piece; I was summarizing her thoughts on the matter. I too am skeptical of that notion.

Hey…let’s all follow Deborah Feldman and quit Orthodox, stop having too many babies, stop doing mikvah, stop doing bris, stop observing too much! Hey wait, aren’t there already “Jews” who have adopted this attitude? Sure are…they call themselves “REFORM”! And what is the fate of Reform “Jews”? Oh yeah, that’s right…EXTINCTION. If Jews were Reform during the diaspora we would no longer exist. So, sorry, Debs, I am going to go ahead and ignore your annoying nasal ramblings and continue to be a happy Orthodox woman and proud mother, who incidentally runs an internet retailer that rakes in $35,000 a month.
-Joe’s Wife

    Laurel Kornfeld says:

    Feldman isn’t telling everyone to stop being Orthodox.  She’s made it clear that she is not seeking to change the lives of those who are happy being Orthodox (and that itself is a huge spectrum, as most Orthodox are not as extreme as Satmar). What she is saying is that many, especially in the Satmar community, are not happy living this way but are trapped by social and financial circumstances and cannot get out. These are the people she wants to help, so they can live a life that is true to themselves and makes them happy. There is a big difference between choosing a lifestyle and having one chosen for you while you have no say in the matter.

    Unless you grew up in the same community and circumstances as Feldman, you have no right to judge her and refer to her writing as “nasal ramblings.” Chances are you didn’t go through the trauma that she did. And if you’re really happy with your lifestyle, you shouldn’t feel threatened by those who make different choices.


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