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Friday, March 5, 2010

Shelo Asani Isha and the New York Times

So today all three major U.S. Orthodox mostly based on copyright-violating with some original reporting newsblogs (Vos iz Neias, Matzav, and Yeshiva World News), posted a letter to the editor from a (presumably Modern Orthodox given his place of residence and the fact that he reads the New York Times) Daniel Wolf of Teaneck, NJ, complaining/clarifying the purpose of the ברוך אתה ה', אלקינו מלך העולם, שלא עשני אשה (said by Orthodox Jewish men every morning.) from ברכות השחר, part of the morning prayer service.

Maureen Dowd's reference to a morning prayer recited by some Orthodox Jewish men thanking God for not making them women ("Loosey Goosey Saudi," column, March 3) is the second time in two months that a New York Times columnist (after Nicholas D. Kristof, Jan. 10) has cited this practice as evidence of Judaism's oppression of women.

Under Orthodox Jewish practice, women, in recognition of their childbearing and other familial responsibilities, are charged with fewer ritual commandments than men. The blessing in question, far from reflective of officially sanctioned subjugation of women, is simply a daily expression of thanks by men for being given the opportunity to express their belief in God by performing additional commandments.

Now, Maureen Dowd's article was devoted to mocking a Saudi Arabian prince for his temerity to criticize "the democracy of Israel" on the issue of religious and other freedom given that his country is "an absolute Muslim monarchy ruling over one of the most religiously and socially intolerant places on earth." In addition to her nine paragraphs criticizing Saudi Arabia's "glacial pace" of "chipping away at gender apartheid and cultural repression," she does note that while "Israel is a secular society," things are in fact trending to the right due to those want to "impose a harsh and exclusive interpretation of Judaism." She references the arrest of Nofrat Frankel of Women of the Wall at the Kotel for the 'crime' of wearing a tallit, and notes that "in Orthodox synagogues, some men still say a morning prayer thanking God for not making them women."

In other words, she's being charitable and going easy on Orthodoxy/the Israeli ultra-Orthodox, limiting critical remarks in this area entirely to purely religious/prayer-related practices, while going after Saudi Arabia for religious-based influence on society in general.

Frankly, even on the issue Daniel Wolf criticizes her for, she's letting Orthodoxy off easily. Unless I am much mistaken, in all Orthodox synagogues, from Ohev Shalom--the National Synagogue in Washington, DC, whose Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, wrote to the Israeli ambassador criticizing the arrest of Frankel on religious grounds, to synagogues in the Old City whose rabbis pushed for Frankel's arrest, all Orthodox men say שלא עשני אשה

This is one of the very few areas in which the Conservative nusach differs from the traditional Nusach Ashkenaz used in non-Chasidic Ashkenazi Orthodox synagogues. The Conservative movement decided to modify all three שלא עשני
blessings (where God is thanked by men for A) not making them a goy [non-Jew] B) not making them a slave C) not making them a woman).

The Conservative nusach thanks God for making one a Jew שעשני ישראל and making one a free person שעשני בן/בת חורין. For the "not making them a woman", it totally scratches the dichotomy of "not making me a woman" for men versus "for making me according to Your will" for women. Instead, both women and men say שעשני בצלמו
(that I was made in Your image).

However, more importantly, especially during a week where a bunch of anti-Semites are participating in "Israel Apartheid Week" worldwide, Mr. Wolf should be thankful for the tone of the article.

Frankly, she could've made analogies to the situation in Israel for a whole bunch of nasty Saudi Arabian practices. For instance, "the bearded religious police officers who patrol the streets" of Saudi Arabia have a non-governmental analogy in the Vaad hatznius (modesty police) in Jerusalem and other ultra-Orthodox areas.

The arrest of an American woman for sitting with a man at Starbucks? The new ultra-Orthodox ice cream parlors, with the popular lemon-vodka flavor, were opened specifically as a no-seating ice cream parlor to avoid that altogether. Where there are benches in Mea Shearim that cannot easily be removed but could be used by young men and women to sit together, the problem is solved with sticky raspberry syrup. Women not being allowed to drive? Well, the Haredi community generally cannot afford private cars, but they have brought back the 1950s Southern United States by forcing women to sit in the back of the bus.

So seriously, Mr. Wolf. Better to work to solve the problems.

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