Cheshvan 5765 – “Orthodox” Feminism & Spiritual Fulfillment (?)

2 MarCheshvan 5765

“Orthodox” Feminism
& Spiritual Fulfillment

Lichvod Rabbi Orlofsky,

I’ve been back from seminary for a few months and I have a chavrusa on Shabbos with a friend of mine who went to a more “modern” seminary. When we were learning last week, she expressed to me her frustration at being a woman, or more precisely, being different from men. She said that she sometimes feels jealous of what the men get to do and feels upset that more women don’t go to daily minyan, and mincha on Shabbos.

Baruch Hashem, I am not bothered by these problems and I never really was. I understand that we have a different tafkid and Hashem made us the way we are, etc. I tried to convey this to her, but I found it difficult because of our different schooling to express it in a way that would not insult her more.

Is there anything else that I can say?
Thank you very much!

Name & Seminary withheld upon request

Dear Name Withheld,

What I try to express to people like this when they say they want to be like men is, why? Why do you want to do everything that men do? Don’t you recognize that men and women are different? And if they aren’t, why didn’t Hashem make us asexual? He could have, you know.

The problem is that the things that society values (externality, physical strength, aggressiveness, etc.) are primarily male characteristics. The power that women have is not as valued in our secular society and often ignored.

Therefore the women’s movement in the seventies tended to downplay female attributes. Feminists cut their hair short, wore mannish suits, smoked and tried to act like men. As the movement evolved, however, women realized that they had strengths and abilities that were different than men and while equality in status (i.e. equal pay for equal work) remained a goal, forcing women to act like men was not.

The sad thing is that Orthodox feminism is mired in the outdated ideas of the seventies. The idea that if a man does it I should do it is something that contradicts the concept that G-d created men and women differently; physically, psychologically and spiritually. It’s one thing to wish away the words “Ezer kinegdo” but it’s intellectually dishonest and spiritually devastating for women to lose out on their fulfillment because of outdated feminist ideology.

There are women who claim that they can only reach spiritual fulfillment through the spiritual means that men have available. It’s strange that I have never heard this from a woman who wasn’t also a feminist. But the more overriding point is the one that was illustrated by Rav Solovechik. A woman came to him and said she wanted to wear a talis for tefilla. Rav Solovechik said, “That’s not how we do things in Judaism. You have to work up to a particular level. First try wearing the beged without the tzitzis and if
you feel anything after a month we will add the tzitzis.”

A month later the woman came back to him and said that in fact she had enjoyed deep spiritual satisfaction from wearing the arba kanfos. Rav Solovechik said that that was strange because what she did was of no spiritual significance at all. The term he used was “spiritual paganism”.

Anyone can convince themselves that what they’re doing gives them spiritual fulfillment. The reform girl who leads the service at her Bat Mitzva, the Jews for J, all claim they are feeling spirituality. We have always had one approach to determining true spiritual fulfillment: the Torah and the Chazal.

“Ko somar l’bais Yaakov vihigged li bnei yisroel,” the Torah says. There was one approach to maamad Har Sinai for men and one for women. As I said, one can wish away all the chazal that disagree with their position, or fall back on the claim that Conservative Judaism used to build their entire philosophical edifice, “times have changed”, but you can’t do that and claim to be true to Jewish tradition.

I don’t know how effective any of this will be on someone who has already been brainwashed into believing that women are inferior and that unless you do everything that a man does, you’re second class, but at least I hope this gives you some clarity for your own position.

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky