“Men come to the partnership synagogue for a whole host of reasons, the overwhelming majority of which have nothing to do with feminism.” -The Men’s Section
The Men’s Section is about the men’s side of partnership minyanim in Israel–their reasons for joining and their difficulties after joining. The author was clearly distressed by her own findings, which even I admit were surprising. Partnership minyanim are generally seen as being the “next step” to equality and gender balance. Admittedly, her research is Israel-centric, but one thing was clear: men weren’t joining out of a sense of feminism. In fact, what we know as the ideal of feminism was actually one of the difficulties men had with the minyanim!
Many of the men interviewed reported that they didn’t feel a sense of community in their old shuls, or they felt an emotional disconnect, or that they felt constant pressure to be perfect (the “man-on-man gaze”), or that they were dissatisfied with the hierarchies. Note that none of this has anything to do with women. In fact, many of the problems reported by men were with the women–that they had their own incorrect “women’s trope,” or that they didn’t come on time. The fact that women were never taught the trope as meticulously as men were wasn’t discussed, and as Sztokman observed, women were expected to prepare meals for shabbos, and take care of the children, and still show up on time and stay throughout the service. She found that these men will let women into “their space” via the partnership minyanim only if they are willing to abide by the same rules by which the men were socialized. The irony is that these are the very rules and patterns that the men hoped to escape by joining these minyanim.
Sztokman shows they are replete with the same social hierarchies that one might find in any mainstream Orthodox shul. Feminist deconstruction of gender and manhood was not a concern, and it seemed as if the women were there as sort of an afterthought. In fact, when one of the members had a non-egalitarian member of his family come in for his son’s bar mitzvah, many of the members argued that they should rescind women’s leadership positions. As one woman said, “we all fix things up in our home before the mother-in-law visits. How is this any different?” It was obvious that, as strange as it seems, egalitarianism wasn’t a very pressing item.
Read more here: http://jewschool.com/2013/02/17/30144/men-being-nice-another-look-at-partnership-minyanim/...
Still in shock by this news... that my book won the National Jewish Book Award, the Barbara Dobkin award in the category of Women's Studies. Full of gratitude to all those who helped me get here.... inspired by all the good will.... mostly just over the moon....Read more here http://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/awards/2012-national-jewish-book-award-winners
I am still on a high from the responses I’ve received from participants in my book tour events. Jewish communities around America are wide-eyed in their search for meaningful frameworks to help them understand and unravel their Jewish and gender experiences. Many of the conversations revolved around community dynamics and tensions, while others went beyond Jewish life and started to unpack men’s and women’s experiences of grappling with societal expectations generally. In some cases, I found myself doing what the HBI people called “Sociology 101”, talking about how identity is formed through navigations vis a vis forces of surrounding cultural constructions. It seems to me that the Jewish community overall can use some Sociology 101 to help us separate our spiritual and/or halakhic needs from our fears of societal disapproval.
Here are some of my more memorable exchanges that have stuck with me:
“I thought my mother was going to hell because of me”– A man at Netivot Shalom in Baltimore told the crowd that for many years he thought that he had caused his mother an eternity of damnation because at his bar mitzvah, he was so nervous reading Torah that he lost his place and ended up reciting from memory rather than read from the scroll. Apparently some teacher along the way had planted in his mind that this was the worst thing a Jewish boy could do, worse than, say, murder. He carried that feeling around for so long, and it was very painful. He also talked about how much watching and measuring goes on in the boys’ yeshivah, so that he became accustomed to rabbis touching his tefillin while he was praying to “fix” it, and the general gaze of rabbis whose job it was to fix every miniscule act of observance. Ultimately the experience was too difficult to bear, and he eventually left his ultra-Orthodox community and now belongs to a more open, liberal Orthodox community.
“He told me, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself’.”– A man from the Five Towns in Long Island who attended the Drisha/Darkhei Noam/Yavneh event in Manhattan said that he posed a question on the list-serve in his community about whether there was any interest in starting a partnership minyan. One man responded, ‘What is a partnership minyan?’ and he explained to him about the principle of maximizing women’s participation within the framework of halakha. The response was quick and simple: “You should be ashamed of yourself”.
“We all just want to be accepted for who we are.”At the Tehilla Minyan In Cambridge, Mass, a man took issue with my assertion that all we really want from society is to be labeled as “normal”. He said that it’s not exactly precise – that what we really want is not to change but rather to be accepted by society for who we are. I think we were kind of saying the same thing. He told me an inspiring story about a rebbe who encountered a man who sat under the...
"My story on The Men’s Section and Drisha panel is now up on The Jewish Channel and, in abbreviated form, online. You can see the abridged web version on YouTube using this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KcjppFILbRE&t=578s
The complete broadcast version can only be seen on The Jewish Channel, which is available on cable – channel 528 on Time Warner, channel 291 on Cablevision iO Optimum, channel 268 on RCN, channel 900 on Verizon FiOS and Frontier, channel 1 on Cox, channel 330 on Brighthouse, and on Comcast in the On-Demand menu under “Premium Channels”
The program is listed in the TJC Original Series category as “Weekly News 04-27”
Feel free to spread around the web video, record it off The Jewish Channel for your own use, or you can purchase a DVD of the episode from TJC for $50.
All the best and Shabbat shalom,
---Rebecca Honig FriedmanManager, Original Programming & New MediaThe Jewish Channel / Compass ProductionsT. 212-643-9500 x106E. firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank">email@example.com.TJCTV.com...
Now that I’m on the last leg of my three-week book tour, the dozens of comments and questions that I’ve heard in different communities are starting to play over in my mind, some issues repeating themselves and others new and stimulating each time. Here are some of the issues that have dominated discussions, along with my responses:
Is there a difference between younger and older men?
A common assumption is that younger men are more “flexible” in their thinking than older men, and that the gender problem in Orthodox Judaism can be attributed to generational differences in attitudes. Actually, my research did not validate that finding. Anecdotally, some of the most open-minded men I interviewed were retirees and those with some of the most ossified ideas about women were in their thirties. Although I assumed this to be merely a counter-intuitive finding, it was actually explained to me by a discussant in Boston – my uncle, Hy Kempler, a 78-year old psychologist who, in his retirement, is researching identity shifts in later life. His research, which he published with the Harvard Adult Learning Institute, found that many people in later life experience significant shifts in identity and ideology, and find themselves opening up to ideas and lifestyles that they would not have in earlier years. Whether this is because burdens of childrearing and providing can be overwhelming, or whether we start out life with rigid expectations of perfections only to discover as we live life that such ideals are elusive and perhaps unhelpful – it is not entirely clear. But what is clear is that the idea of generational differences that view “young” people as more open and flexible than “older” people is an assumption that is not necessarily valid.
Maybe this is more about Israelis than Americans
Several people told me that some of the descriptions of the “Be an Orthodox Man Box” reflect more Israeli norms than American norms. This may be true to a certain extent. For instance, expectations of a prayer service that does not exceed 90 minutes is clearly an Israeli thing. Also, descriptions of army service as part of the construction of a masculine identity are also clearly Israel.
That said, I think that despite these slight differences, I think that there is far more overlap than difference overall. For instance, even though the word “hafifnik”, referring to a kind of “slacker” who comes late to services and does not care about precise performance, is a Hebrew slang word, the attitude of annoyance with the hafifnik-type has crossed through pretty much every synagogue I encountered. The communal narrative around those who come late, who don’t layn well, who don’t bother with mincha, or who just aren’t attentive enough to detail, took place in shuls in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Melbourne, Jerusalem, and Modi’in.
Moreover, I think that as people are traveling more and communicating more, cultural differences are starting to blur. I interviewed men who started a shul in Chicago but moved to...