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Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

Leah Vincent as she appeared on Katie Curic's talk show.

Leah Vincent as she appeared on Katie Curic's talk show.

If there is anything that could turn someone off from Yiddishkeit it is the following , reported by Rabbi Yair Hoffman in the 5 Towns Jewish Times (republished at Cross Currents):

Recently, Yeshiva World News reported that one of the Rebbes of Satmar has been reporting an increase in cancer in his community rachmana litzlan. While no one can vouch for the accuracy of what was actually said, it seems that after some examination they (it is unclear who else was involved) concluded that it might possibly be due to a breach of tznius in their community – highlighting that it may be the wearing of excessive make-up. To this end, a new Vaad was created accompanied with a solicitation for funds.

I can’t believe that anyone with even a modicum of intelligence would ‘buy’ the suggestion that an increase in the incidence of cancer in a particular community is due to the fact that some of their female members (not the ones suffering from cancer) wear too much makeup. And yet the leader of one of the largest segments of Orthodox Judaism has actually suggested that might very well be the case.

I mention this in light of an article published in Jewish World Review (JWR) by Rabbi Avi Joseph. He wrote an open letter to Leah Vincent explaining why he did not ‘become her’… meaning why he did not abandon Torah observance despite having had a similar background and similar ‘yearnings’.

While I appreciate his perspective which in many ways mimics my own, I have to take issue with the implication of his words. He seems to be judging Ms. Vincent and claiming authority to do that by revealing a shared adolescent experience. From JWR:

Like you, as a teenager, I was drawn to the opposite sex. Like you, I experienced an engine humming in my gut with brakes nowhere in sight. It was new and it was engaging.

Like you, my parents and educators told me that following primal attraction at that age would be destructive. Boy girl stuff was wondrous — two human becoming one was magical — they said, when courtship was a dance that led down the wedding aisle. Otherwise, they opined, women tend to pursue love and men tend to chase sex, all while using the language of the other. Without the maturity of age and the grounding of marriage, both men and women are often left alone and adrift, broken hearts held together with anger and suspicion.

OK. Let us concede that these are indeed experiences that they had in common. But it takes quite a bit of Chutzpah to imply that these shared experiences nonetheless could have had different results as his personal situation shows. The the truth is that they did not have same experiences. Not even close. The mere fact that Rabbi Joseph is a man and Ms. Vincent is a woman in a world where male / female roles are so clearly defined and separated is enough of a reason to reject this comparison. The educational experiences of Charedi men and women are vastly different from each other even as their Hashkafos are the same. The pressures on them entirely different and not comparable.

In the Charedi world boys are subjected to intensive Torah study in subjects like Gemarah. Girls do not study any Gemara at all. Boys are required to spend an excessive amount of time in the Yeshiva. Their day typically at 7:30 AM and lasts until 10PM or later if they are Masmidim (diligently dedicated to Torah study). Girls start their school day later and end it much earlier – typically at 4 or 5 PM. Her curriculum will include a wider variety of religious and secular subjects. Many Girl’s high schools offer offer extra curricular activities like participating in a school play. This is unavailable to Charedi boys.

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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