Friday, January 05, 2007

The Education Controversy

As usual, I come rather late to this discussion, but that never stopped me before.

Here's the thing. It's not the sexism or close-mindedness of this decision that offends me. (Incidentally, it's probably more the latter than the former- they aren't all that crazy about higher education for men either.) Every community has every right to make decisions for themselves as a community, and I, as an outsider, have every right to keep my mouth shut and let them. So the fact that I find this decision theologically offensive, practically idiotic, and a personally annoying is not, strictly speaking relevant. And fairness obliges me to recognize that the decision was almost certainly motivated by noble and worthwhile, if misplaced, concerns and that all the people involved are almost certainly good, well-meaning people. And if it pains me to see the girls with whom I went to high school- good, brilliant, talented girls- believing that education and indeed most forms of thought are b'dieved, if not assur, still the respect I have for them as people and my theoretical faith in the whole tolerance thing obligates me to accept their decision, instead of dismissing them as brainwashed.

No, what makes me most angry about this decision is not what they are doing to their women, but what they are doing to my religion. See, my religion is a beautiful one. It loves and respects knowledge, idolizes truth, and considers women equally valuable human beings. It is full of strong, educated women and plenty of people who explore all areas of knowledge without getting hysterical or paranoid that they might ever hear a drop of a philosophy that does not perfectly match their own. And what these people are doing is not simply to themselves but to my religion. My religion has been hijacked by their close-mindedness and taken to strange and ugly countries that I and most of the other passengers had not interest in visiting.

Because that's what they're doing when they come out with these things- they are reshaping my religion into a new, more extremist form. And of course, we can oppose them, but it will require effort to get it back into its old form, effort that ought not be wasted on a giant game of tug-of-war just to keep my religion within the realms of sane. When they do these things, not only in the name of my religion, but claiming to be its only legitimate expression, they decide the course of my religion, in the eyes of a sadly large part of the world and even the Orthodox community.

And I don't like the face. Because my religion is not that. Is better than that. Does not deserve to become that.


Ezzie said...

Excellent post.

e-kvetcher said...

Your religion sounds groovy. What do you call it?


SaraK said...

Well said. I agree. The same way that every Orthodox Jew (especially a man with a kippah) is a "rabbi" to others, the stories that get all the attention are the views that non Jews have of all of us.

It's really a shame.

Halfnutcase said...

I think this is an excelent post. And scince I'm not really feeling in the phillosophical mood (joy my spelling went out the window a few weeks ago) I'll just point out a typo you made.

just to keep my religion within the realms of sane.

Probably should read

just to keep my religion within the realms of sanity.

but it's stupid stuff like this that almost makes you want to quit scince judaism is communal and if this kind of stuff is becomming mainstream that what is left of the judaism we loved? what's left to stay for? all they seem to want to do is make people misserable.

docmom said...

Great post, unfortunately;<(
After smirking at the whole thing, ultimately it leaves me sad, for the reasons you so well describe.
Add to it the divisiveness is brings on its trail...and the result is tragic.

dbs said...

Nice post, and I understand how you feel that this is a distortion of orthodoxy.

And, I suppose that it is.

Though, I'm more upset by the ruined lives and hungry children than of the bad rap that Judaism is getting. After all, R' Elyashiv is THE recognized Godol Hador by virtually every strand of orthodoxy, so this isn't just some outragous fringe guy who is running amok. This IS the mainstream of the religion.

Tobie said...

Thanks, y'all. Just to clarify, something in the comments of sarak, hnc, and especially dbs:

It's not so much a question of outsiders erroneously perceiving Judaism as being x, y, or z. Because, frankly, I tend not to care about most people or about the 'rap' that Orthodoxy gets. But the fact is that I believe Judaism to be inherently malleable- actively shaped by those who live it. Therefore, people who do crazy things with Judaism- especially if they are the mainstream- are not simply misreprensenting my religion, but actively distorting it. As hnc said, Judaism is a communal religion and as such, the precedents set by this bunch of nutjobs necessarily makes my religion something different from what it was and very different from what I want it to be.

The second necessary part of that is this: you can't desert the religion because people are distorting it. Because then you allow the distortions to be the unalloyed course that the religion is taking and who the heck wants that? Not to use loaded language, but if you see your house on fire, you're not going to shake your head and deplore all that evil arson going on and you're not going talk about how tragic it is that fire is forcing you out of your house. You're going to grab a blinking hose and go put out the stupid fire. It's a poor metaphor because the stupidity can only be overruled and not destroyed, but it's the best I can think of off-hand.

dbs said...

Yes, I'm not suggesting that you should change your theology because of this type of thing. Quite the contrary - go get that firehose.

And don't underestimate the power of protest in this case. Women are a far stronger group then they percieve. They are not a weak minority - they are a strong majority. If they will not accept this rulling, it will change.

Women have broken down stronger walls than this in the past. Who knows, maybe this is a cause which can actually bring enough factions together.

As for myself, I didn't leave orthodoxy because of this type of stupidity - religious people hardly have a corner on that market. I left because I don't believe in the underlying dogma.

Miri said...

viva la revolution! come teach at my school. we'll change the world. I mean, well, you know...we all want to change the world.

Halfnutcase said...

After all, R' Elyashiv is THE recognized Godol Hador by virtually every strand of orthodoxy,

I don't agree, and pretty much all of the people I know would not agree. Certainly he enjoys no-where near the wide base of authority that rav moshe feinstein enjoyed. I don't think MO consideres him as such (and they are a sizable segment of orthodoxy) and I know lubavitch doesn't consider him as such, and I seriously doubt that any of the chassidim see him as such either.

Tobie, your MO and in touch with MO, I'm not far off base am I?

and tobie, most people totaly panic and lose their bearing when they see fire.

He's hardly mainstream.

dbs said...


He’s no Rav Moshe, but you just have this wrong. If you polled the entire staff of Revel, every last person would identify R’ Elyashiv as the GH. (With the possible exception of Rav Shachter, who would name himself – with some justification.)

This ruling won’t cause much of a stir in some communities, but it will have repercussions well beyond Israel.