Alright Chaya. You said you wanted to hear more, so here it is.
First off, it is my understanding that you are a ba’al teshuvah, which translates as a “returned to the faith.” Please correct me if I am wrong. If you are indeed a woman who chose to become religious, than you have grossly misrepresented yourself in this article by choosing to omit that tidbit of information. As you well know, most women who are born into the Hassidic community do not have the privilege of choosing their religion, especially not a particular brand of it. In fact, lack of personal choice is one of the most difficult aspects of growing up Hasidic, I would say, based on MY personal experience.
Secondly, I believe you belong to the sect of Hasidic Judaism called Lubavitch, or Chabad. The same sect who runs a worldwide PR machine designed to bring lapsed (or fried) jews closer to Judaism. In fact, I have an Uncle who is quite prominent in this sect; he was the deceased Rabbi’s (the same you claim to be the messiah) treasurer. He has a family of seventeen children, my cousins, whom I interacted with somewhat when I was growing up. So I often heard the statement “it’s okay to lie to bring a Jew closer to Judaism.” Which explains why the Chabad Jews who went on Oprah denied the existence of gayness within their community even as my dear friend Chaim Levin was writing about the horrific trauma he underwent at the hands of Chabad Ex-Gay therapists.
If you do indeed belong to this sect of Chassidic Judaism, let me stop you right there. Chabad broke off from the world of Hasidic Jews when they declared their Rabbi the next Jesus. Yes, they are waiting for a resurrection, or a second coming, whichever, and woe to the Lubavitcher Chasid that claims otherwise, as I’ve heard from some who were severely beaten in punishment. Unlike the rest of Hasidic Jews (Satmar being the largest sect, and the umbrella under which smaller sects such as Pupa, Belz, Vizhnitz, Bobov, etc sometimes reside,) Chabad is not rabidly anti-zionist, anti-education, or anti-women. And the reason they are none of these things is because it would make it difficult to present an attractive case for the secular Jew to return to the faith. But for these reasons, Chabad has been soundly rejected by other Hasidic sects; in fact Satmar and Chabad have had a longstanding feud ever since the “messiah” fiasco began, and when I was growing up I was told it was better to be a goy than to be lubavitch.
So here you are, ostensibly Ba’al Teshuvah, having chosen to join Chabad Judaism, making claims on behalf of women who were born into much more extreme societies that you know very little about. Let’s start with your first claim. You say “we” are not imprisoned. You say you are free to snort coke and wear skinny jeans and no one will hurt you. First of all, I’d like to point out your stinging condescension in using those two activities as your examples, as if that is all secular people engage in. Yes, you poor things who don’t have religion in their lives, all you can hope for is a life of drugs and promiscuity. So you are implying that although you have the “choice,” obviously, the secular life can hardly tempt you, because you have reduced it to those two things.
In response I will tell you about some of the things I felt deprived of as a Hasidic woman, for if I listed all I’m sure I would exceed the limits of your patience. And surprisingly, coke and skinny jeans are not very high on that list.
Driving: Hasidic women are not allowed behind the wheel
Education: Hasidic women do not receive high school diplomas. The word college was censored from our textbooks.
Dating: Hasidic women are not allowed to get to know their prospective spouses, or choose between a selection. They are assigned one future husband and are permitted to meet them once or twice, for a short and supervised period, before the wedding.
Sex Education: I was never taught about sex or sexually transmitted diseases
Privacy: The Rabbis and Mikva Attendants had to be involved in the most intimate details of my private life, including but not limited to the stains on my underwear.
Lack of Birth Control: Hasidic Women are not allowed to make decisions regarding reproduction
Safe Circumcision: I was not allowed to attend my son’s Bris, nor was I permitted any input as to who was to perform the procedure or the manner in which it was conducted. Thank goodness it wasn’t my baby that died of herpes or had his bandages wrapped so tightly they cut off all his circulation.
I could go ON and ON, and will at length if you ask me to, but for now here are those examples. Now let’s talk about choice.
Say I chose to drive, or to get an education, or stop showing my underwear to a rabbi, or stop shaving my head, or stop allowing some strange woman to inspect and touch my naked body… Say I do any of those things that aren’t allowed in the Hasidic community.
Here are some direct consequences:
Excommunication and Ostracism. People who used to call themselves your friends are suddenly gossiping behind your back and want nothing to do with you. Your family declares that they are ashamed of you and no longer invite you to their celebrations. The Rabbi threatens to have your kids thrown out of school. Your husband’s boss threatens to fire him. I could go on.
So yeah, we have a CHOICE.
Your second point: “We like ourselves the way we are.” I’m really glad to learn that you are happy in the spiritual life that YOU CHOSE, but please don’t try and pretend that you can see into the minds of every Hasidic woman that puts on a happy face on the street. I was one of those woman who knew it was in my best interest to appear happy and content at all times but in no way was I feeling “happy with the way I was,” so please, at the very least, don’t speak for women like me.
Your third point: “We find our husbands attractive.”
Ummm, it’s a little TMI but Congrats on finding your hubby fuckable. But you have no idea how other women feel about their husbands in bed. We may be under pressure to say that we feel great and love having sex with bearded dudes, but I personally hated the carpet burn and never found the Hasidic “look” charming in any way. Yet I felt compelled to say I did. So good for you, but your assertion is completely irrelevant and subjective.
You say Jewish law prohibits marrying someone you’re not attracted to. If that is the case, I never heard it mentioned growing up. Certainly no one asked me if I found my husband attractive. Perhaps you mean that Talmudic saying about how a man should look at his wife before he marries her to make sure she doesn’t repulse him? Now THAT sounds familiar. However , this point is moot because there are many Jewish laws that the Hasidic community COMPLETELY ignores (as even Rabbi Shmuley Boteach attested on Dr. Phil) while there are countless other contradictory laws that Hasidic Jews have elaborated and distorted beyond recognition. Your claim that this law exists does not mean that it is still in application. So yes, I know that in the Ketubah it states that my husband is obligated to satisfy me sexually, but I also know the language used in that case is allegorical, and never mentioned. I can’t think of one case in the Hasidic community where a woman felt safe enough to complain that her husband wasn’t sexually satisfying her. Just because its written in Aramaic on a document doesn’t mean it’s a cultural priority.
Your next point: Judaism is the original sex-positive culture.
If that is the case, I never knew it. Hasidic Judaism is NOT sex positive. My husband and I were taught to keep the lights off and not to look at each others genitals. We were told sex was for procreation only. So whatever Talmudic or biblical grounds you have for that claim, I will remind you again that Hasidic Jews do not necessarily adhere to the laws they find inconvenient. As you can see, they rallied against the internet because they found the idea of easily accessible hook-ups and porn threatening; sexual release and satisfaction was always considered a threat in my world because it would lead to greater and therefore uncontrollable desire. My husband was told that the more sex he had the more he would want it, and then he wouldn’t be able to control his ejaculations anymore. After a wet dream, he would be beside himself with guilt, and immerse in a ritual bath as penance.
God likes it when a married Jewish couple has sex? (I like the way you claim to know what God likes.) Do you mean He likes it when they have sex during permissible times, like the nights women ovulate?
And just so you know, Hasidic people don’t have the monopoly on fidelity. Secular people know how to be loyal in a marriage. In fact, I know more adulterous Hasidic Jews than I do secular ones. Perhaps all that repression? Nah, can’t be.
Where are we commanded explicitly by God to get naked to shag, as you say? Please, if you’re going to make such wild claims, bring some evidence? I was told it was only necessary to roll up my nightgown.
Your fifth point: The mikvah is awesome.
Really? Because it wasn’t awesome for me, and many of my friends. Us women would freely discuss how much we dreaded that monthly visit. I had a friend who would pretend to bleed much longer than she actually did just so she could postpone her visit. You really think it’s credible to say that all women would love to visit a public swimming pool where they are inspected naked by a post-menopausal stranger and immerse in warm water shared by hundreds of other naked women of all ages, some of them unknowing disease carriers? You may say the word “impure” has a “different” meaning for you, but for most people it sounds exactly like it’s literal meaning, impure. You may have been convinced otherwise, but there are plenty of women who aren’t willing to swallow that cheap explanation of “it’s SPIRTUAL impurity not physical.” How is that better???
All I need to know is the premise is awesome? Wow you really are a media professional, telling me “all I need to know.” Actually no, I need to know what makes it so awesome for EVERY Hasidic woman in every community, because I NEVER got that, in my five years of marriage.
Also, the cervical cancer thing. Squaring the circle much? Don’t pretend that the laws of niddah were created to protect women from cervical cancers. What you are doing is taking a fact that arose centuries after these laws were created and fitting it into your theory. The great thing about being secular is that we can protect ourselves from cervical cancers and STD WITHOUT having to follow a set of rabbinical laws. One doesn’t follow the other.
And being told to stick my finger in my vagina twice a day and inspect the cloth for stains that may need to be show to a Rabbi is NOT the opposite of sexual repression. It creates a negative relationship between women and what should be considered normal, healthy bodily functions and parts. My menstrual emissions are not some gross matter to be analyzed for its “purity” status by a bunch of pervy dudes (because, yes, you are a perv if you look at women’s underwear and vaginal fluids all day long, sorry.)
In conclusion… You say that Orthodox men were slammed, and therefore you, as an Orthodox (Or Hasidic, I can’t figure it out?) woman felt slammed as well. I’m so sorry you felt slammed. I don’t see how you made that connection. But if you did feel personally attacked, I’m so sorry. I commend you for finding the spiritual life that fit your needs and I am so glad that you are enjoying it. However, please refrain from making claims on behalf of Hasidic women you have never met and know nothing about.
I may have made delicious kugel. I may have been strong. But I most certainly was that girl, pushing a stroller, but waiting to be liberated.