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November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘woman’

The Woman who Corrected the High Priest

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

By Chana Weisberg

The story begins in the year 2830 when Chana’s husband, Elkanah, takes his family on a pilgrimage to Shiloh, the site of the Tabernacle, the temporary spiritual epicenter that preceded the Temple. Elkanah is also married to another woman, Penina. The childless Chana silently suffers humiliation from her more fortunate rival, who has mothered several children.

Solemnly, Chana enters the holy place silently offering heartfelt prayers for a child.

Eli, the High Priest, unaccustomed to such heartfelt, silent prayers “thought that she was drunk.”

“How long will you be drunk? Sober up!” Eli reprimands Chana.

Chana responds: “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor spirits, but have poured out my soul before G‑d.”

Eli concludes: “Go in peace; and may the G‑d of Israel grant your request.”

The following year, Chana’s son, Samuel is born. When Samuel is weaned, Chana brings him to the tabernacle to be taught by Eli. Samuel grows up to become the great fearless prophet who coronated the first kings of Israel, Kings Saul and David.

Do you relate to G‑d as a parent or as a king?

The major theme of Rosh Hashanah is the acceptance and recognition of G‑d’s sovereignty over creation.

This consciousness serves as the basis of all of Judaism. G‑d desires to interact with our reality as Sovereign of the Universe. We, in turn, express our awareness that the very essence of our being is dependent on its Divine origin. “Rule over the entire world in Your glory,” we pray in the Rosh Hashanah Liturgy.

We view G‑d as our King. Though benevolent, He remains at an infinite distance from us, charging us with responsibility and courage to make the right decisions in our lives. He expects us to combat evil and rebukes our weaknesses or fluctuations. He sternly orders us to overcome temptations, to “hearken the commandments” and choose “blessings” rather than “stray from the path” and to realize that all that He does is for our ultimate benefit.

From this perspective, darkness, challenge and want exist only to bypass and transcend, to rouse our innermost strengths and convictions in realizing their true smallness and insignificance in the grand picture of things.

In the haftorah of Rosh Hashanah, we read about the experience and perspective of a woman. Chana, the prophetess, revealed many of the basic laws of prayer and the inner dimension of prayer—the interface between the physical and spiritual realities. She also taught us how to relate to our Creator from an entirely feminine perspective. To view G‑d not only as our King and Sovereign. But also as a Parent.

“You are children to the L-rd, your G-d.”

“Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, our King, be gracious to us and answer us… “

G‑d acts as both a king and a parent. He displays both modes of love: protecting and helping as well as disciplining and teaching.

Both the King and Parent paradigms are genuine and powerful. Yet they move in opposite directions. A King establishes a definite distance and authority over his subject. Parental love, on the other hand, is characterized by attachment and closeness.

At the same time that G‑d as our King decrees Divine law, G‑d as our Mother, as the Shechinah (Divine Presence or G‑d’s “feminine” expression) provides Divine help. The Shechinah -”the One who dwells with them in their impurity” (Leviticus 16:16) – is always present, ministering to and facilitating for her child. The Shechinah comes down to be together with her children. Nothing, not the material aspect of our world, nor our physical natures, can sever the unshakable bond between Mother and child.

Prayer is a demonstration of how we merge the two paradigms of G‑d as King and G‑d as Parent.

Prayer is a paradoxical activity. On the one hand a basic element of prayer is the acknowledgement of all the undeserved goodness that our King has showered upon us and the articulation of our appreciation, thanks and praise for it all. We acknowledge that as the origin of everything is ultimate Goodness, so, too, everything that happens to us must be entirely good.

In tandem with that, the commandment of prayer is to express our spiritual and material needs and wants. Anytime we feel something is amiss in our lives, we are commanded to pray to G‑d and ask Him to correct those things which, from our perception, have gone wrong.

Yet, if everything originates from our generous King, who is the ultimate of Goodness and He knows far better than us what is good for us, how can we be asking Him to change His plan? Or, how can we “demand” more goodness from our benevolent King while realizing how unworthy we are?

Because prayer is G‑d allowing us to not only relate to G‑d as a transcendental King on a spiritual level, but also as an imminent, caring Parent. Prayer is G‑d saying, show Me how things look from your viewpoint, from within your world. It is allowing us not to bypass our inner emotions, wants, fears, needs and insecurities, but to focus on them, put them in perspective and validate them.

Prayer is realizing that our Creator’s motherly bond and love will shake the very fabric of our world to bring Her child fulfillment. It is realizing that on this level physicality and spirituality do not conflict.

Perhaps this is how we can understand the fascinating exchange read in the haftorah of Rosh Hashanah.

When Eli accuses Chana of drunkenness, his words must be understood figuratively. He did not actually believe that Chana was intoxicated or he would have been required to remove her immediately out of respect for the holiness of the premises.

Eli was asking Chana, “How long will you remain intoxicated by your own desires? How long will you remain so absorbed in your own needs, drunk with your own wants?

“Prayer,” Eli was correcting Chana, “is meant to give you a more spiritual perspective, one in which you can rise above the materialism of our world and express gratitude to your King. Instead, you have become obsessed with your personal wants.

“Rise above your situation. It is time for you to gain a broader perspective, one in which you can appreciate the goodness of your King.”

To this, Chana responds: “No, I am not drunk with personal concerns. I have poured out my soul from the core of my essential being, from the depths of my soul.

“From this deep place, I see my Creator not as a foreign, faraway Being who is only concerned with the spiritual aspect of His subjects.

“But rather as a loving Parent who intimately relates to me, on my level and with my wants. A Mother who shares in my pain, and cries together with me, holding my hand in every time of darkness and distress.

“I do not need to transcend my wants, He yearns to hear all about them.”

Chana, a woman, needed to teach this perspective. She taught us that prayer, the feminine archetype, is empathetic. It is a supplication from our innermost selves, from the very depths of our hearts, connecting with G‑d’s innermost desire to forge a connection with us.

Adultery and Marriage: a Jewish Approach to Monogamy

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

It is well known that one of the Ten Commandments is the prohibition of adultery. Extramarital sex has historically been a man’s game, since the male sexual desire is stereotypically assumed to be uncontrollable. A recent survey by the National Opinion Research Center has shown, however, that the number of married American women having adulterous affairs has nearly doubled over the last decade. Today, 21 percent of men admit to having such affairs while 14.7 percent of women now admit to having them.

Sociologists explain that women today are more willing to cheat since they have stronger careers and aren’t as worried about the financial loss they would incur in a divorce. A recent Pew Research Center poll showing that working mothers are now the primary “breadwinners” in 37 percent of American homes (up from 11 percent in 1960) seems to bear this out, as these numbers roughly match the proportion of men and women having affairs. Most of these breadwinning women are single mothers, but 40 percent of them are married and earn more than their husbands. Perhaps it is true that when women began to enter the workforce in greater numbers and rise in the corporate world, they learned from and now emulate corporate male behavior.

In What do Women Want?, Daniel Bergner notes that women may be no different from men in their struggle with monogamy and desires for sexual novelty , although there may be differences depending on the situation. For example, research on rhesus monkeys demonstrated that males initiated sexual relations when the monkeys were kept in smaller cages, but in larger spaces the females initiated sexual relations. Significantly, this and other findings have occurred at the same time that the number of women in scientific research has soared. We hope that science has passed the era when scientists could claim that women suffered from “hysteria” (based on the Greek word for uterus), irrational behavior supposedly caused by disturbances in the uterus.

One might think that monogamy was considered to be against the norms of evolution, since a male biologically wants to have as many offspring as possible. Analysis of various animals living with their brood show that anywhere from 10 percent to 70 percent of their offspring have a father different from the male animal currently staying with the brood. Professor David P. Barash of the University of Washington famously quipped, “Infants have their infancy; adults, adultery.” Even among primates (which include humans), more than 200 species are not monogamous. However, British scientists have found that in the three species of primates in which monogamy evolved, it did so after a period where males had earlier committed infanticide. In reaction, fathers began to remain by their children and mothers to protect them from rival males, thus establishing the monogamous nuclear family. The virtual universality of this system among humans, and its staying power across civilizations, argues for its value.

Even among other species from beetles to baboons, while exogamous sex occurs, one mate will often react with a ferocious jealousy if it observes the other straying. Promiscuity may be necessary among some species for survival, but that does not mean that these creatures like it.

Marriage is one formal marker and arrangement for monogamy. In the Jewish tradition, marriage is a central institution, and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik wrote about this unique commitment:

On the one hand, the great covenant [of marriage] has been compared by the prophets time and again to the betrothal of Israel to G-d; on the other hand, the ordinary betrothal of woman to man has been raised to the level of covenantal commitment. Marriage as such is called berit, a covenant. Apparently, the Bible thinks that the redeeming power of marriage consists in personalizing the sexual experience, in having two strangers, both endowed with equal dignity and worth, meet. And the objective medium of attaining that meeting is the assumption of covenantal obligations which are based upon the principle of equality. Hence, we have a clue to the understanding of the nature of matrimony. All we have to do is analyze the unique aspects of covenantal commitment and apply them to the matrimonial commitment (Family Redeemed, 41-42).

Knowing how hard it is to find the perfect partner, the Rabbis taught: “It is [as] difficult [for G-d] to match up [a man and a woman for marriage] as it is to split the sea (Sotah 2a).” Elsewhere in the Talmud, the Rabbis debate whether the primary goal of marriage is to produce offspring or about the marriage itself:

Rav Nachman said in the name of Shmuel that even though a man has many children, he may not remain without a wife, as it says: “It is not good that man be alone.” But others say that if he does have children then he may abstain from procreation and he may even abstain from taking a wife altogether (Yevamot 61b).

But even those who subscribe to the latter position, that it is not obligatory to get married, must agree that it’s still desirable and good (i.e., not legally required but clearly very good and important) to marry.

Rav Soloveitchik further explains:

Within the frame of reference of marriage, love becomes not an instinctual reaction of an excited heart to the shocking sudden encounter with beauty, but an intentional experience in reply to a metaphysical ethical summons, a response to the great challenge, replete with ethical motifs. Love, emerging from an existential moral awareness, is sustained not by the flame of passion, but by the strength of a Divine norm whose repetitious fulfillment re-awakens its vigor and force. The marriage partners, by imitating G-d who created a world in order to be concerned with and care for it, extend the frontiers for their communal living to their offspring, and by questing to love someone who is yet unborn, defy the power of erotic change and flux. The ethical yearning to create and share existence with someone as yet unknown redeems hedone by infusing it with axiological normative meaning and thus gives it a new aspect — that of faith. Since our eternal faith in G-d is something which defies rationalization, the mutual temporal faith of man and woman united in matrimony is just as paradoxical. History does not warrant our unswerving religious faith; likewise, utilitarian psychology denies the element of faith in the marriage institution (Family Redeemed, 42).

No one claims that monogamy is easy. We know from psychological studies that young people often have cognitive skills that are still evolving, and it is difficult to tell whether two people can grow compatibly over decades. The choice of a partner is a serious matter. Honest and loving marriage is central to the Jewish faith. We must do all we can to collaboratively preserve the holy covenant that strengthens our families and societies.

We must protect our own marriages and the institution of marriage. Adultery, as one of the many causes of failed marriages, must be rejected through ethical conviction and spiritual commitment. We must all have personal moral accountability, legitimate caring for our spouses and children, and Jewish commitment to the pledge of monogamy and shared covenant of love and devotion.

The Internet, Halacha, and Olam HaBah

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

It’s simply not possible. I don’t believe it. Nonetheless it is being reported as fact. Rafi’s blog, Life in Israel, has linked to the Hebrew language website B’Chadrei Charedim that quotes Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s response to a question about smart-phones.

There is a Gemarah in Brachos that tells us that a man will lose his portion in Olam HaBah if he walks regularly behind a woman down a river. Rav Kanievsky was asked if this applies to someone who has in his possession an I-phone or the internet. His one word answer according to Chadrei was ‘ B’Vadai’ – absolutely! Anyone who uses an I-phone or the internet is in a category of losing his Olam HaBah – his heavenly reward in the world to come!

If this is true, then yet again, I think we all ought to all just go over to MacDonald’s and have a cheeseburger… or violate any other Miztvah in the Torah we want to violate. Why bother observing Halacha if you’ve lost your Olam Habah?

I happen to know Gedolei Torah and Roshei Yeshiva  who use I-phones and the internet. Are they all doomed?

Once again we have what appears to be a huge dis-connect between what a great Torah sage supposedly said – and reality. Either Rav Kanievsky does not know the extent of internet use among a great number of devoutly observant Jews, or this is a gross distortion or mischaracterization of his views. I think that both things are true. I don’t believe he said it and meant it to be interpreted as simply as that one word answer indicates.

I would not be surprised if this is yet another instance of Kanoim – religious zealots twisting the views of a elderly rabbinic leader to fit their agenda. I’m sure his position is far more nuanced than the one word answer (B’Vadai) he supposedly gave to a simple question.

The Agenda is obvious. There are people who are eager to destroy other Jews in a fit of self righteousness. They do not have these devices and do not want anyone else to have them either. So they make sure to twist the words of Gedolei Yisroel to assure it.

They may think they are doing the right thing. But they are by far doing far much more harm than good. They may in fact be responsible for pushing more religious Jews out of observance than saving them from using the internet.

By putting people who have smart-phones into a category of losing their Olam Habah, it is not too difficult to see many frustrated Frum people who have so often been put upon with comments like this say, ‘the heck with it!’ I may as well live a life of ease and not worry about violating Halacha. I won’t make to Olam HaBah anyway.

The Gemarah upon which this one word response attributed to Rav Kanievsky was based upon does not forbid the incidental following of a woman down a river. The loss of Olam Habah  that the Gemarah speaks of is only to those who purposely do so with lascivious thoughts and the intent to sin in that regard. And even then only if it is done on a regular basis.

I would add that even if someone regularly does things like that and has some sort of sexual addiction, he can get help… and do Teshuva. I find it very difficult to believe that the Gemarah’s intent is that someone loses his Olam HaBah permanently if he does that. It is also known that the Gemarah sometimes exaggerates to make a point. Which may be the case here.

If there is any comparison to be made between following a woman down a river and the world of the 21st century and the internet – it is in the area of purposely viewing pornography on it. The problem is not the internet. It is the websites one frequents… if those websites are pornographic. That is the comparison that Rav Kanievsky no doubt meant – if he said anything at all.  Accidentally accessing a pornographic website is not a cause for losing one’s Olam Habah.

But the Kanoim who publish stories like this do not want to be confused with the nuances of truth. They want convey the message that I-phones and any other device that can access the internet is so evil that one should not even touch it! For if they do, their Olam HaBah is at stake.

Spain’s New ‘Fornicators’

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

Public prosecutors in Spain have dropped charges of “advocating gender violence” against a Muslim cleric who, on April 2013, preached a two-hour sermon in Spanish, entitled “The Queens of Islam,” during which he made a number of pronouncements about the role of women in Spanish society, including: “Any woman who wears perfume and leaves the house and walks past men who can smell her perfume is a fornicator, and every glance she gets is a fornication.”

The case involves Malik Ibn Benaisa, a Muslim imam based in Ceuta, a Spanish exclave in North Africa where Muslims constitute about 50% of the total population.

Benaisa also said that women should be banned from wearing blue jeans and high heels and from leaving the house unless their hands and face are completely covered.

The comments, which were aired on Spanish public television, enraged women’s rights activists and triggered a nationwide debate over when religious speech becomes abusive and crosses the line into “sexual discrimination” and “gender violence.”

After Benaisa’s sermon was re-broadcast on Spanish public television for a second time during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in July, the Secretary for Gender Equality for the Spanish Socialist Party in Ceuta, Sandra López Cantero, accused Benaisa of being an “advocate for gender violence” and called on public prosecutors to investigate the imam for violating the Spanish Penal Code.

During a press conference on July 23, Cantero recited quotes from Benaisa’s sermon: “A women cannot show her face or bare hands, she cannot wear high heeled shoes, she cannot wear blue jeans, she must wear a scarf to cover her chest, she cannot pluck her eyebrows and she cannot wear perfume because if she uses it she becomes a fornicator. A woman must keep her head down because a jealous husband can cause problems with other men. A woman should be in total submission to her husband. She has an obligation to wear the veil.”

Cantero added: “We will not allow anyone to hide behind any religion or any culture in order to advocate violence. The Socialist Party will not allow any attack on the dignity of women, wherever it may come from. We will not allow the advocacy of violence, especially in a public medium.”

For his part, the President of the center-right Government of Ceuta, Juan Jesús Vivas, said in a statement that he “manifests his defense of the unequivocal values ​​enshrined in the Spanish Constitution, and in particular, those relating to non-discrimination and equality between men and women.”

Vivas added: “The Government of Ceuta believes that all should endeavor, each within the scope of their responsibilities, to reconcile respect for all faiths with the supremacy of democratic values ​​that are the pillars of our social order and of coexistence.”

Amid considerable media controversy across Spain, Benaisa organized a press conference at the Ibn Rochd Benzúa mosque in Ceuta to defend himself. Surrounded by some 150 Muslim female supporters, Benaisa said he lamented the “de-contextualization” of his statements, which he said were aimed exclusively at “Muslim women” in accordance with “the teachings of the Prophet and the Koran.”

According to Benaisa, “My message has always been to advise and not to impose, as this is not part of Islam, because in the Koran Allah makes it clear that there is no compulsion in religion.”

Benaisa also said that the term “fornicating” was not offensive in tone and that its essence was applicable to both men and women, “who when preening themselves excessively before going out are seeking to be unfaithful to their partners and to Allah.”

Spanish public prosecutors have decided to give Benaisa the benefit of the doubt. After analyzing Benaisa’s sermon, the district attorney concluded that the imam had not broken any laws.

In a statement dated August 7, the Ceuta District Attorney said that labelling women as fornicators is not a crime: “In relation to domestic violence, the law refers to concrete action in the form of threats, injuries, coercion or abuse, while the sexual or religious discrimination section of Article 510 of the Penal Code refers to encouraging discrimination, hatred or violence. This did not occur at the conference in question.”

Temptations, Tests, and the Search for Spiritual Courage

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

I was recently walking down the street when I smelled one of the most amazing unkosher cuisines I could ever remember smelling. As I stared at my food enemy, I had a thought which I imagine most religious Jews have at one point or another. I wondered: Was God testing me with this great smell? Was this amazing scent a way to bring my downfall?

Pondering this trivial “test” led to a greater philosophical and theological question: What is the religious nature of temptations and tests?

The Torah says, “Remember the entire path along which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the desert, He sent hardships to test you.” (Deut. 8:2). We read that G-d has Bnei Yisrael wander in the desert for 40 years as a test.

What is this about? To place a nation (man, woman, and child) through such transient and confused misery for decades as a test? I also often wonder if the Jewish people are being tested today, with our own state in Israel and unprecedented wealth and influence in the US. What will we do with the great blessings we’ve been granted? What does this idea mean that G-d tests us as individuals and as a nation?

It must be more than schar v’onesh (that God is merely keeping our score card) or that G-d is merely flexing power in the world.

I also can’t relate to the cynical answer found in the book of Job, where God tests Job because of a disagreement with Satan. My belief in a benevolent and personal G-d precludes the possibility of random tests.

Still within distance of smelling my temptation of the day, I began to ponder answers:

For years, the most compelling answer to me has been that it is through the struggle of these challenges that we truly grow. These temptations are ways of teaching people about G-d and the incredible human capacity for compassion and spiritual depth. The Ramban argues that this was exactly the purpose of the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac) for Avraham.

Alternatively, perhaps there is a utilitarian approach that more people can learn from a test than the one having to undergo the discomfort of the test. The Rambam and Radak argue that the purpose of the test at the Akeidah was not for Avraham to learn but for the future adherents of the Abrahamic faith to learn. This sets a gold standard for others to try to follow.

Rav Kook goes even further, arguing that Avraham was being tested in order to “prove” to the pagan religions that monotheism can match the religious passion of pagan worship through the act of inward sacrifice, without the need for savage and barbaric sacrifices. One is being tested in order to teach others through its example.

Another utilitarian approach is that tests can provide opportunities for others to do mitzvot to help when we are struggling. It is for the moral good of the community at large.

These explanations may be true and all of them are worth thinking about but Rav Tzadok teaches that just as a person needs to believe in G-d so too one needs to believe in oneself. These days many of us (including myself) are struggling less with why we are tested by G-d and more with how we can overcome our obstacles and challenges to live a happier, more meaningful, more successful life. Do we believe in our own capacity to overcome in the face of adversity?

One tool that we can all consider experimenting with: The Gemara says that the Torah is the seasoning for the yetzer hara (personal evil inclination). The Maggid of Mezritch offers a beautiful interpretation that since the yetzer hara is the main dish and the Torah is the seasoning, we must serve God with the full ecstasy of the yetzer hara. The purpose is not to destroy or subdue the yetzer hara but rather to spice it up – to access its energy and channel it towards good.

This is to say that when we experience struggle we should use that temptation and channel that new energy towards good rather than attempt to dismiss or remove the temptation. This is why the Midrash explains that without the yetzer hara there would be no business or procreation. In a complex way, we need our desire for self-advancement to further societal goals.

A Woman of Courage and Strength

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

When I was little, my parents didn’t have much money so family vacations were non-existent. But somehow, for years if I remember correctly, my uncle and aunt invited me to spend a week at their house. These are the memories of a child – perhaps it was only a few days. For all I know, it could have been only one night – but the memory I carry with me was that I spent days and days with my Uncle Woodie and my Aunt Pia.

Pia was an accomplished artist – she filled her house with color and brightness. She was a wonderful mother…housewife…teacher. She was always dressed so beautifully, so elegantly. I have so many memories of her as I was growing up.

Seven years ago, Pia was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told she had months, maybe even just weeks, to live. She redefined courage as she fought back the disease time and time again.

When a doctor told her there was no hope… she decided not to listen. She went experimental treatments, was declared cancer free and continued to fight even after the disease re-appeared. She became a symbol for many as she launched campaigns to raise money and awareness for a disease that leaves devastation and shock in its wake.

Through it all, she continued to smile, continued to cherish her family. I saw her a bit over a year ago when she came to Israel to celebrate the bar mitzvah of her oldest grandson. There was such pride in her as she stood on Masada and watched her daughter’s family gather around.

We all knew the disease was still there and we knew she would continue to fight it for as long as she could. She never gave up; she never gave in.

She lost her battle with cancer on Friday (Shabbat in Israel).

There are many heroes in the world – perhaps the greatest are those who simply struggle to live their lives with dignity, respect, and love.

I always knew Pia was a woman of grace, beauty, talent and love. I have learned over the last few years, that she was also a woman of incredible courage and strength. May God bless her memory.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Infidel

Monday, August 5th, 2013

I’ve written about Ayaan Hirsi Ali a few times, having heard her speak two years running now at the President’s Conference in Jerusalem. Each time, in her elegant and dignified way, she put the other speakers to shame. There were quiet and short remarks – there is great beauty is simplicity.

Last year, as several American Jews, diplomats and scholars, debated the need for Israel to surrender more, Hirsi Ali was handed the microphone and now, more than 16 months later, her words remain imprinted on my brain, “Even if you give them Jerusalem…EVEN if you give them Jerusalem, there will be no peace.”

Many clapped for this statement and the first thing I did after blogging about her was to promise myself I would learn more. With a great many excuses, a full year past and I was back again this past June at the President’s Conference, thrilled to have another opportunity to hear her speak. The room was packed – not a vacant seat (I grabbed the last three seats and called Chaim telling him he had to come hear this session). After hearing her speak again, I fulfilled that promise by ordering two of her books – “Infidel” and “Nomad.” These contain the story of her life – up to this point, whatever she wants to tell us – but certainly in much more detail than she could provide during her short presentations.

I learned so much about Islam – about that world on the other side of my borders. To be honest, I knew a lot of it, or suspected it – but she gave depth to my knowledge and then took me way beyond. She gave reasons, deeply rooted in Islam and in the Koran. I knew the results; she taught me the cause.

So here, I have a confession – I am a mother, a wife, even a grandmother, if you can believe that…and though I have joined others in condemning it, I only realized in reading her story what female genital mutilation was. I had no idea…and a part of me wishes I still didn’t know. How these men could do this to their daughters; how they could want this in their wives – I honestly and truly don’t understand.

That is, perhaps, the curse of Western civilization – we cannot comprehend the barbarity and because we are so naive, because we cannot understand, we tend to excuse, minimize the acts. We conveniently use the words and condemn the action…but to read pages that describe the act, the pain and suffering of these young girls – then and for years after was a startling revelation, a glimpse into a world that I had never imagined.

Can a mother want to do this to her daughter, as Ayaan’s mother chose to do to hers? How? In God’s name, how? I have never knowingly caused my daughter’s pain. And when they have been in pain, I have felt that pain throughout my body.

As to Ayaan, her story is amazing…what she survived…what she made of herself is a lesson to all of us – even those of us who, by comparison, have been blessed to live with relatively few hardships. I have never known hunger; I have never been beaten. Medical care has always been available, education, food, and love.

There were several things that got to me in her story (I’ve only read Infidel so far; I’m starting Nomad tonight) on so many levels – as a woman, as a Jew, as an Israeli, as a mother.

One of the first things that struck me, even as I found myself deeply involved with her personal story, were the few references to Jews. Until she was well into her 20s, I don’t think Ayaan ever met a Jew. I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry when I read, “In Saudi Arabia, everything bad was the fault of the Jews. When the air conditioner broke or suddenly the tap sopped running,t he Saudi women next door used to say the Jews did it…I had never med a Jew. (Neither had these Saudis.)” What I got from this was something I had already known – they really really hate us. They don’t even know us, but they hate us…go figure.

Another thing that bothered me, though I understood her reasoning, was her journey away from Islam. She describes a religion that demands absolute obedience; a religion that has no mechanism for change over time; and a religion that focuses on punishment and the Hereafter – all you do in this life is preparation for the Hereafter and there are seemingly thousands or more things for which you are regularly threatened to be condemned to hell. It seems almost as if it is impossible to get to this heaven, given the number of restrictions – in action and in thought – that are applied to Muslims.

Ayaan’s brilliant reasoning takes all of this into consideration and reaches a conclusion – there is no hell; there is no hereafter. The Koran was written by man, not be God…and from there – she decides there is no God. I’m simplifying it. For her, it was a journey of thousands of miles and many years. She embraced Islam, searching and searching to justify her beliefs. She found contradictions and still pushed on.

It is written in the Koran that you may beat your wife…and Ayaan properly asks, what kind of God would allow that? It is written that you can cheat and lie to an infidel…and what kind of God would allow that?

And while I agree with her, it is also the point where I lose my way in following her. I won’t argue whether Allah is God and God is Allah, but I will say that the God she describes is not my God. I do believe in God – but not this Allah that she describes. My God has told us to choose life, not death. My God does not allow a man to beat his wife and the value of a life – Jew or not, is important. You cannot cheat or beat a slave and even slaves have an “out” clause to their slavery such that they must be set free after a certain number of years. These are the laws given to my people, by our God, a God we refer to as merciful and just.

A man can sell himself into slavery to pay off a debt, knowing that when the debt is paid, he will be freed. I don’t want to get into a legal comparison of Jewish law versus Islamic law – I am an expert of neither.

But I do believe in the hereafter – only different from what Ayaan was taught. We are taught that God waits to the last minute of your life to forgive any transgressions; the Islam she learned involved having two “angels” over her shoulders, each writing down the good and bad you do – and the list of bad could be as simple as being alone with a man, seeing a movie, etc. If you wear pants, if you show any skin except for your face and hands, certainly not your neck, you are sinful and evil.

I don’t blame Ayaan for walking away from a culture in which a man can take several wives and beat them as he wishes; a culture in which a man can marry off his daughter to a someone she has never met; a culture in which a woman cannot move freely unless she is escorted by a man. I can only hope that had God put me in the same culture, I would have found the courage, as she did, to escape. And she didn’t just escape, she took with her a responsibility to try to help others.

I think it took tremendous courage to walk away, to flee and save herself and thousands of other Muslim women by the work she did in Holland and now does in the United States.

I just wish somehow that along her journey, she could have found a way to keep God. It seems to me that Ayaan’s logical conclusion should have been that if Islam is as flawed as she believes it to be…she should understand that their version and vision of God is flawed too. I do not believe in the God she worshiped as a child and a young woman. Flawed, vindictive, vengeful, and promoting inequality – no, these are not traits of the God that I have known.

This Allah she was raised to worship demanded absolute obedience – compare that to the story of Abraham arguing with God to save the few righteous of Sodom. We have been in a dialog with God for thousands of years – and He listens to us. It is a relationship of love, of gratitude.

In Israel, we have seen too many miracles to do anything but believe in God. Every time a missile hits…it is a miracle because moments before a car passed by, a person left the room, a class was in the library. We have seen it all and we recognize the source. I’m sure we have atheists in Israel, but even among secular Jews here, God is pretty much accepted.

The radio broadcaster will bless the memory of someone who has died; will say, “thank God,” when no one is hurt. God escorts us through our lives here and encourages us to be better, kinder, and more charitable. We are not measured by how many infidels we kill, how many women we force into modesty. This concept of honor killing finds no home in our religion or with our God.

We have seen the horrors of what man can do to man (and to woman) but to blame God for the actions of man seems unfair. There is evil in this world – we all know that. We are given the choice – to choose good and God or to choose evil and work against God.

I can’t explain why bad things happen, but I do believe even the horrible serves a purpose. What was done to Ayaan, and so many others, were terrible, almost unimaginable and yet, didn’t these actions form her into the person she is? Overall, as I read her book, I was left with the impression that she was happy with who she is and what she has done. God, yes, I believe God, gave her a task in this life – one that she accomplishes each time she spreads the knowledge of the culture in which she was raised, each time she forces us to open our eyes and see.

Would she have accomplished what she has, without the challenges along the way? I think the answer is obvious.

What I can say is that there is tremendous comfort in believing that there is a God looking out for you, guiding you, protecting you. And I wish Ayaan could have this comfort. God has a plan – perhaps the greatest evil comes when man attempts to control or redirect that plan; when man attempts to become master of that plan.

Perhaps the irony is that the religion of Islam’s greatest flaw is not that it targets infidels, but that it fails to understand what an infidel is. I would say an infidel is a man who beats his wife, mutilates his daughter, encourages his sons to commit suicide. An infidel is one who is so busy defining God for others, he forgets to understand it is not for us to define God at all.

In carefully defining every aspect of how you live, Islam has succeeded in defining nothing. What the Muslim man fails to realize is that when he blows up a building, murders and terrorizes – and it is he who will go to hell, not the poor woman who was seen talking to a man, not the family sitting in the pizza store in Jerusalem. There are infidels in the world – but these are the people who forsake the love of God, for a culture of death and misery.

(It’s still an incredible book and I highly recommend it…I just wish I could tell Ayaan Hirsi Ali that she is where she is in life…by her own intelligence, her own strength, and by the grace of God…if not Allah.)

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