PREFACE: My very early childhood was spent in a Pentecostal movement that was very much like the Charedi movement in Judaism. By the time I became a teenager, the movement had changed a lot, so it didn’t resemble the Charedi as much. Those who are as old or older than me that were involved with the Pentecostal movement at that time know what I am talking about… women couldn’t wear makeup or cut their hair, friendships outside the Pentecostal movement were discouraged, you had to wear long-sleeve shirts or else you were showing too much skin, males and females couldn’t swim in the same pool (mixed bathing), etc.
Your synagogue is like an extended family. Our Torah study fits that bill especially. We talk to each other during the week, send emails, attend functions the others are involved in, etc. This is one such email that I sent out today because we spent the entire Torah study talking about the women of the wall and the recent disturbances at the Kotel (Western/Wailing wall) directed at them.
I’ve been thinking about this all morning and I’ve come to a conclusion. When I was a kid, we were Pentecostals and, at that time, they were a very insular community. If you were a Pentecostal you weren’t supposed to have friends outside the community, etc. The thing that brought the fundamentalists out was their perception that the outside was threatening their way of life. They had seen the role churches played in the civil rights movement and knew they could affect change in the society at large.
The same thing has happened with the charedim. But, their turning their gaze outward is not the problem. They are simply acting as they have always acted within. Inside their community they oppressed women, had absolute control etc. The reason it’s seen as a problem now is because it’s no longer some unknown charedi woman being victimized. It is our daughter, our wife, our mother.
Did we object when they extended the mechitza [wall separating women from men in Orthodox synagogues] from their synagogue to their community? Did we object when they set up different programs of study for men and women? Did we object when they silenced women in their own community and turned them into a faceless minority? We really can’t make an excuse of religious freedom for a country that, less than a month ago, was jailing women for praying in a manner they did not approve of.
The charedim did not change. We did. We had a social contract with them. Our silence and complacence ensured our complicity. Now, the charedim are showing us the dirt on our own hands. They are showing us the horrors we have allowed to fester in their communities by attempting to foist it onto ours. Was it right when they did it to women in their communities? No, but we looked away and shirked our responsibility to our fellow human beings. We allowed their deviance to become a new normal and now they are fighting to keep their normal way of life that we worked with them to build.
They are not so much trying to change outside society as they are fighting to keep their own society intact and operating normally. They are a problem for Israel because Israel allowed them to isolate themselves and then turned a blind eye to their activities only to later decide that they want to change them. Their anger in this situation is entirely reasonable and justified. However, their cause is not. Of course they would fight. Anyone in their situation would. The outside community has changed. They have not. But, what they’re fighting for is a shanda [shame/disgrace]. It didn’t just become one however. It always has been.. even when we refused to acknowledge it.