Another Jewish year is coming to a close. Antisemitism is still rising. Politics in the UK, Israel, and US are a mess. Left and right, right and left, can not speak to one another, and the middle ground continues to shrink while extremism continues to rise.
As a Jewish woman, I feel all of the above. My past is in America as is much of my family. My life and future are in Israel. But I’m also a citizen of the world, and seeing where we are headed is scary.
I suppose, that is why I choose to focus on the area where I believe I might possibly do some good, in my own community, where all of my worlds intersect. As a Jew, as a woman, as an Israeli, I live in a country where religion and state are often at one another’s throat. But, I cannot solely blame my country. Because my community, the global Jewish community, specifically the Orthodox one, is allowing itself to be pulled into this universal trend of extremism.
And it stubbornly refuses to see its way out. For the third time in as many weeks, another story of another woman chained to her Jewish marriage has landed on my social media feed. This time, a man who has kept his wife chained for 10 years, arrived in Israel under an assumed name and falsified papers. The lawyers and even the judges went to extraordinary lengths to grab him. He was arrested in the airport and put directly in jail in hopes to pressure him to free his wife. Yet, he chose to miss his son’s wedding, for which he had come to Israel, and sits in jail, a get refuser.
This story joins many others, such as the one a few weeks ago when the Chief Rabbi of Israel prevented a woman from being buried because her son was a 14 year get refuser. Despite the burial going forward, he still refuses. Another woman found herself in religious court this week begging to be freed from her abusive husband. She was told by the judges that she does not have enough of a reason for the court to compel her husband to free her.
These cases from the US and Israel join those in England, such as the woman who was forced last July to pay £50,000 for her freedom.
Being trapped in marriage is not the only issue Jewish women face. We are being regularly and systematically erased. The number of publications that will not show women out of a warped sense of modesty is growing. The organisations that join this phenomenon are more mainstream.
The erasure of Jewish women does not begin and end on a page of a magazine. When a woman is not seen, her voice is not heard, and her needs are not met. She is simply less than a full person. Her health suffers too. When the media will not say the words ‘breast cancer’ or ‘cervical cancer’, when they will not discuss women’s health, as is the case with Orthodox publications, when reading other publications is frowned upon, how on earth does she know how to monitor her own health? There is a reason the rate of screening is lower and that of death is higher in closed Orthodox communities.
Will this new year bring a change for Jewish women? Will the men of the community who hold the keys to the policies to which women are bound make change? Will they declare that women’s health is not taboo? Will they acknowledge that the erasure of women is something more typical of the Taliban than suited to Judaism?
Will they acknowledge that this has gone too far and bravely declare that it must be turned back?
There are very few things that we have control over. We can’t end antisemitism. We cannot force political parties to function. We cannot fix the economy, and we cannot un-burn the Amazon. But we in the Jewish community must acknowledge that the things that we do hold sway over should be swayed.
We must argue for a healthy Jewish community, no matter what is happening in the outside world. Otherwise, what is the Torah for? For what do we have laws that we must keep day in and day out if we are not meant to keep them hold them sacred?
Abdicating responsibility has never been the Jewish way even if everyone else is doing it.
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a writer and activist