Jewfem Blog

A Political Tipping Point for Ultra-Orthodox Women?

There is a new feminist revolution happening in Israel, and it is emerging from one of the most surprising places: Ultra-Orthodoxy. Over the past two years, ultra-Orthodox or haredi women have been organizing around feminist issues. They began with a campaign during the 2012 national elections, when a small group of women led by haredi journalist Esti Shushan and others formed a group called “Lo nivcharot; lo bocharot” (LoNiLoBo), which means, if we can’t be elected, we will not vote for you. It was a call to the haredi political parties to allow women to run on their lists. The LoNiLoBo group petitioned the High Court of Justice to declare it illegal for a political party to prohibit women from running — but unfortunately they lost, and the religious parties seemed no worse for wear, considering their election results.   The LoNiLoBo group gained traction during the 2013 municipal elections when four haredi women ran for spots on municipal councils in four different cities — Jerusalem, Petach Tikva, Elad and Safed. This time, the women were noticed. They received threats and curses from rabbis and haredi political leaders, and one — Racheli Ibenboim, who ran in Jerusalem on the Bayit Yehudi party list — had to pull out because of the threats. Nevertheless, one of the women, Shira Gergi of Safed, won and became the first haredi woman to sit on a municipal council. In fact, she became the first woman to sit on the Safed council in over 20 years. Since then, the LoNiLoBo group has been growing and expanding, with over 5,000 likes on its Facebook page and coverage on every major news outlet in Israel. The impressive young powerhouse Racheli Ibenboim even quit her job as Executive Director of a major NGO in Israel to work on what she called taking care of her feminist identity. This week, the haredi feminist movement reached a new milestone with the formation of the first ever religious women’s political party. Ruth Colian, a 33-year-old activist and mother of four who had run for a seat in the Petach Tikva municipality, held a press conference on Sunday in which she announced the formation of “U’Bezchutan” — literally, “in their [women’s] merit” — to run in the coming elections. Even the secular feminist movement does not currently have its own party. (There have been three attempts in Israel to advance a Women’s Party in Israel: in 1979, led by former MK Marcia Freedman; in 1992 led by Ruth Reznik, and in 1999 led by Esther Herzog. All times, they failed to meet the electoral threshold, but impacted the elections in different ways ). The formation of a women’s party is a very different political strategy than forming an advocacy group to get religious parties to allow women on the lists. This approach takes the movement for social change outside of the existing systems and suggests that change for women can only come when women have a “room of their own.” If the LoNiLoBo movement says that haredi women have faith in the parties of their religious sector...

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Adina Bar Shalom: Haredi feminism is already here

Adina Bar Shalom, the oldest daughter of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, founder of the Haredi College in Jerusalem that has 1000 students – mostly women – gaining professional skills to enter the Israeli workforce, writes in today’s Yediot about the quiet feminist revolution taking place in the haredi community. Here is my English translation of her column: Every woman has a natural, quiet strength. So, too with haredi women, who have to be very strong in order to deal with life’s challenges. As such, she is able to grapple with the roughest problems and come out empowered. Anyone who is capable of living in “normal” society, going out to work, while maintaining the strict as well as the lenient [of Judaism] is a hero. The haredi feminist is different from the secular feminism. Even though she doesn’t use the term “feminist”, she definitely wants equal rights, but as long as it does not contradict the Torah. A haredi woman is not interested in competing with her husband about anything, just to prove that they are equal. There are things that he is better at, and there are things that she is better at. Just like an expert in biology would not argue with an expert in chemistry, and vice versa. Haredi society is in a very good place today, and progress has reached us as well, and helps us. The gates are already opened, and progress cannot be halted – for better and for worse. Our challenge is to maintain boundaries with open gates. Today, whoever wants to can learn anything. In the past, there were no frameworks or appropriate tools for haredi students – so we didn’t go [to college, presumably -- EMS]. Today, there are haredi frameworks everywhere. True, we are still at the beginning of the road and there are still uncertainties and we don’t always know what’s for us and how to choose. But this train has already left the station. Personally, I am very happy when people who go out to get a secular education choose the academic route rather than professional training, since the academic route brings greater success as well as intellectual development. I certainly want to see haredi intellectuals. Why not? Why shouldn’t haredim lead in academia? I anticipate that in ten years’ time, the lecturers in the haredi (and even non-haredi) institutions will be haredi scientists, researchers and deans -- haredi men and women. Some of us have to sit in the world of Torah, to look for new interpretations and to write and to lead the people. But even those who are unable to do that in the world of Torah – I would like to see them do that in the life of this world [as opposed to the life of the World to Come -- EMS]. Collaboration between these two worlds will bring partnership in all areas. When we will have haredi scientists, haredi business owners, and haredi hi-tech endeavors, this collaboration will be a victory in all...

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