“What would you write about?” Rabbi Klass asked me. Before I could answer, my husband said, “My wife is an expert in helping and guiding people.”
“What would you call the column?” Rabbi Klass queried. Without even thinking, I said, “The Rebbetzin’s Viewpoint.” Now, this all took place a few years before the feminist movement (or “women’s lib,” as it was then called) really exploded, but dissatisfaction with women’s traditional roles had already begun to percolate, particularly among upper middle class, college- educated women.
Even many rebbetzins felt compromised by the title “rebbetzin,” protesting that they had their own identity – and it did not come from their husbands. I wanted to reverse that. I wanted little girls to look up to rebbetzins. Just as they played teacher, nurse, or Nancy Drew, I wanted those girls to play rebbetzin as well.
My rebbetzin story fades into insignificance when you consider the many other fallouts of the women’s lib movement. I cannot begin to tell you how many women in their late forties and fifties have come to me over the past three decades with tears in their eyes as they unburdened themselves:
“When I could have married and had children I gave it up to be an attorney” (or a physician, an investment banker, etc.), they say. “And now I yearn to have a husband, children, and a true Jewish family. Rebbetzin, do you think I still have a chance?”
But despite all the problems caused by feminism – broken homes, derailed marriage plans, confusion and bitter feelings among both men and women – the ideas that animated the movement are alive and well, only now they play out under the banner of “religious equality.” And one of the battlefronts is our holy Kotel, creating a very ugly chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d’s name.
To be sure, we’ve always had rebellious groups who chose to violate our Torah and mitzvot. But to do so willfully, spitefully, in front of the Wall is something different. From the moment Israeli soldiers liberated that holy site Jews started flocking there with awe and reverence. It was always understood that when you come to that Wall you do so with the utmost respect. Even the most assimilated among us were sensitive to that.
People who go to the Vatican or other venues of religious significance respect the traditions that prevail there. So how can it be that the Jewish people, who yearned for nearly 2,000 years to pray at the Kotel, now have women coming there to battle and rebel? Sadly, there is more. This discretion has resulted in ugly infighting and despicable words and behavior – things the media relish but our Heavenly Father despises. When Jews fight and turn against one another, they jeopardize their own existence, for there is nothing G-d abhors more than seeing hatred and viciousness tearing His children asunder.
What is that hidden agenda that started all of this? Surely it cannot be merely the right to pray in tallis and tefillin, for if that were the case these women could easily find places to unobtrusively do just that. If the agenda driving these protests is a determination to break the back of the bastion of Torah in our Holy Land, it can never succeed. The chain of our heritage is eternal. But such division and desecration can result, G-d forbid, in the most tragic consequences for our people and our land.Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
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