Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women challenge the patriarchal and authoritarian stereotype of their community

<classe étendue="légende">Ultra-Orthodox women have become the main breadwinners.</span> <span class="attribution"><une classe="lien rapid-noclick-resp" href="https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/ultra-orthodox-jewish-women-wearing-protective-face-masks-news-photo/1209358303?adppopup=true" rel="nofollow noopener" cible="_Vide" data-ylk="slk : Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images">Menahem Kahana / AFP via Getty Images</a></span>“src =” https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/DYLJ0V0o5lBDfkY.gwnTvw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ3MA–/https://s.yimg.com/u.2/api/api 1cT8Ru8R0qPKsp4gYH6xkA– ~ B / aD05NTk7dz0xNDQwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u / https: //media.zenfs.com/en/the_conversation_us_articles_815/0b2752a23d6ae83655dcbcc02b0d588b “data-src =” https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/DYLJ0V0o5lBDfkY.gwnTvw – / YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ3MA – / https: //s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/1cT8Ru8R0qPKsp4gYH6xkA–~B/aD05NTk7dz0xNDQwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/https: //media.zenfs.com/en/the_conversation_us_articles_815/0b2752a23d6ae83655dcbcc02b0d588b “/ ></div>
<p>Ultra-Orthodox Jews have been in the headlines a lot lately, in part because of their reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic.</p>
<p>With few exceptions, the stories present ultra-Orthodox Jews as an authoritarian patriarchal community and resistant to public health measures, even during a global pandemic.</p>
<p>While this narrative has dominated coverage in this community for decades, it focuses on ultra-Orthodox men.  Male community leaders are quoted in the media, and men are more visible among crowds who resist and protest the lockdown measures.  This reinforces both external views on women in the community as subservient and internal attempts to silence and exclude women.</p>
<p>But given the gender segregation in ultra-Orthodox communities, a full picture of this society simply cannot be drawn from men alone.</p>
<p>And when you look at ultra-Orthodox women, a picture of major societal change emerges.  Women in the community are increasingly making reproductive decisions, working outside the home, and resisting the authority of the rabbis.</p>
<h2>Reproductive decision-makers</h2>
<p>As a religious studies specialist who focuses on gender and Jews, I spent two years from 2009-2011 interviewing ultra-Orthodox women in Jerusalem about their reproductive experiences.  What I heard then I see reflected in the dynamics of ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel today.</p>
<p>We talked about their pregnancies – ultra-Orthodox women have about seven children on average – as well as their choice of contraception and prenatal testing.</p>
<p>What has emerged most clearly from our conversations and the many hours of observations I have made in clinics and hospitals is that after multiple pregnancies, ultra-Orthodox women begin to take control of their lives. reproductive decisions.  It goes against what the rabbis expect of them.</p>
<p>Rabbis expect ultra-Orthodox men and women to come to them for advice and clearance for medical treatment.  Knowing this, doctors, men and women, might ask a woman who asks for hormonal contraception, “Did your rabbi approve of this?”  This relationship cultivates mistrust among ultra-Orthodox women and causes them to distance themselves from both doctors and rabbis when it comes to reproductive care.</p>
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However, this rejection of external authority over pregnancy and childbirth is supported by the ultra-Orthodox belief that pregnancy is a time when women embody divine authority. Women’s reproductive authority is therefore not completely counter-cultural; it is rooted in ultra-Orthodox theology.

Main breadwinners

While gender segregation has long been a feature of ultra-Orthodox ritual life, men and women now lead very different lives.

In Israel, ultra-Orthodox men spend most of their days in a Kollel, or religious institute, studying Jewish sacred texts. This task earned them a modest allowance from the government.

While the community still values ​​poverty, ultra-Orthodox women have become the main breadwinners. Over the past decade, they have increasingly attended colleges and higher education in order to support their large families. In fact, they are now entering the workforce at a pace similar to that of their secular peers and forging new careers in tech, music, and politics, for example.

New cultural representations

Some recent TV shows describe this type of nuanced understanding of gender and authority among ultra-Orthodox Jews. Take the final season of the Netflix series “Shtisel”, for example.

On the TV show, Shira Levi, an ultra-Orthodox young woman of Mizrahi descent – who refers to Jews in the Middle East and North Africa – does scientific research. She comes into contact with one of the main Ashkenazi characters, or European Jews. Their ethnic differences end up being a greater source of tension than Shira’s academic interests.

Another character, Tovi Shtisel, is a mother who works outside the home as a teacher. Despite the objections of her husband, a student from Kollel, she buys a car so that she can work more efficiently.

And finally, Ruchami, who first appears as a teenager in the first season, eagerly marries a Talmudic scholar, but struggles with a serious illness that puts her life in danger. Despite her commitment to ultra-Orthodox life, she flouts rabbinical and medical decisions. After her rabbi decides that she should not have another child due to her medical risks, Ruchami decides to get pregnant without anyone knowing.

Ultra-Orthodox woman holds baby in press photo for Netflix show

These characters reflect my research that ultra-Orthodox women have a very different relationship with authorities and rabbinical statements than men. However, this is not just due to the change in attitude among women. Ultra-Orthodox society has been going through what some call a “crisis of authority” for years.

Today there is a proliferation of new formal and informal leaders, leading to a diffusion of authority. In addition to the many rabbis from ultra-Orthodox communities, their informal assistants or assistants, called askanim, operate ubiquitously. Ultra-Orthodox women are also turning to repackaged theories in ultra-Orthodox parlance, like anti-vaccination campaigns. And finally, ultra-Orthodox Jews have created online groups that challenge the authority of leading rabbis.

Recognize diversity

The predominance of a narrative about the reactions of ultra-Orthodox Jews to the COVID-19 pandemic ignores other reasons why the virus has spread so quickly and devastatingly in these communities.

Interviews with women reportedly revealed that poverty and cramped living spaces made social distancing nearly impossible. These conversations also reportedly revealed that while some consider Rabbi Chaim Kaneivsky, a 93-year-old ultra-Orthodox rabbi who has cultivated a large following, as the “King of COVID” for rejecting the public health measures, there is has no single rabbi. that all ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews follow. In fact, many ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel have followed COVID-19 guidelines.

And furthermore, attention to women’s complicated experiences with the medical establishment would have highlighted the mistrust and doubt that permeate the ultra-Orthodox community’s relationship to public health measures.

During a public health crisis, it’s easy to demonize those who might not follow medical guidelines. But ultra-Orthodox Jews are diverse, and I believe understanding their complexity would improve information and medical care to reach these populations.

[3 media outlets, 1 religion newsletter. Get stories from The Conversation, AP and RNS.]

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Michal Raucher, Rutgers University.

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Michal Raucher received funding from the Fulbright Foundation and the Wenner Gren Foundation to conduct research related to his first book.

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