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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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A Hasidic Role Model

I would love to see Mrs. Freier become the role model for all Hasidic women – and not just for those like the ones she attended school with.

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First let me congratulate Mrs. Rachel (Ruchie) Freier for her many great personal achievements and contributions to both Judaism and the world at large. I honor and respect both her life choices and her values, many of which I am sure we share – including the primacy in her life of motherhood. But I have to say that I think her article in the Forward is a bit misleading.

Here’s the beginning of the article:

On Monday on the Forward, Judy Brown shared her perspective on motherhood, based on her experience in the Hasidic community that she left. Now, I’d like to share my perspective on motherhood from within the Hasidic community of Boro Park. Having children was always important to me and I chose to remain steadfast to Haredi ideology while pursuing a law degree and then maintaining a law practice without compromising my role as a yidishe momme to my children.

Would that her lifestyle was that of the typical Hasidic woman in enclaves such as Williamsburg. My guess is that this is far from the case.

I am not God forbid saying that the lives of these Hasidic women have no value. Quite the contrary. I believe they have great value in being mothers to their children and wives to their husbands. And I am equally sure that many of them have jobs. Some may even be professionals – like Mrs. Freier – but that would by far be the exception.

College is in most cases forbidden to Satmar and like minded Hasidim. I don’t know what kind of Hasidus Mrs. Freier belongs to, but I am all but certain it is not hard-core Satmar or similar – which I believe comprise the vast majority of Hasidim in the world.

Mrs. Freier’s article was written in response to Judy Brown’s article expressing a different view of motherhood than that which is typical of the Hasidic world. As most people know, Mrs. Brown is the author of Hush – a devastating indictment of Hasidic community in which she was raised with respect to the way they treat sex in general, sex abuse, and its victims. Although she is still observant – she has long since left that community to find herself. And she has written a series of critical articles about the world of her upbringing. That was the case with her latest article in the Forward.

Mrs. Brown wrote about the pain and anguish of having an unwanted pregnancy in a world where such thoughts are verboten! Mrs. Brown actually had such an experience. As did a friend of hers that had some devastating results. But she also shares the regret she felt at the relief of that burden when she miscarried late into her own pregnancy. A regret she had after being shown a picture of the dead fetus she gave birth to.

She now says she now lives with that pain. The point made in that article is that her former community does not understand the damage they do with such extreme attitudes about pregnancies and birth control. At the same time she expressed her own maternal instincts as over-riding any such pain in her own life.

Mrs. Freir does not actually contradict what Mrs. Brown said. She just wanted to emphasize that the Hasidic upbringing she experienced and the values it taught her are the values she lives with and honors – even while being a professional. Despite her success, her profession does not define her. Motherhood does. That is the value she learned from her parents, grandparents, and teachers. It is her children that makes her life complete, not her profession.

I have absolutely no problem with that. In fact I agree that the institution of motherhood that Judaism places primary focus upon for a woman is the most important thing a woman can do. But as is obvious from Mrs. Freier herself, it is not the only thing a woman can do. Just like men, they can walk and chew gum at the same time. Having a career and being a full time mother is not a contradiction in terms. One can do both quite successfully.

My problem with this article is that it presents a false image of the majority of Hasidic women. One might conclude from this article that many woman in Williamsburg have professional degrees… or at least have attended college. And that Mrs. Freier is but one example of that.

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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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