On Patriarchs

On Patriarchs

Abraham looking for his luggage that contains his wife Sara

Such is the legacy of our first patriarch Abraham: he put his wife into a suitcase. Abraham gave patriarchs their reputation not for naught. All parsha I learned of him depicted him as a stereotypical male on top. He wasn’t just dragging his wife with the luggage and frolicking with that Hagar lady; Poor Sarah died when he took their beloved son Isaac to have him sacrificed for the God.

I know there have been thousands of apologetics and many Jewish feminists who tried to explain the patriarchal legacy and show in many ways that Judaism is not, in fact, prejudiced against women. But in Hasidic Satmar I knew of no such modern sugar-coating and reinterpreting. Women were, by the knowledge of all, the submissive, duller sex. From when I was a snotty-nosed nursery student with a blue hand-me-down jumper and dirty-blond home-cut bangs, I heard Sarah’s story told as plainly brutal as above. Long ago, the teacher would say to us wide-eyed girls, Abraham heard a voice say: GO. Lech-Lecha, and HE went, and SHE was lugged with the equity. She died tragically because her husband was about to kill her baby — she just fainted and passed away at the news. The nursery teacher would ask us “why did she die at hundred and twenty seven years?” instead of asking “why in heavens name did she die of her husband killing her son, WHY?” When at the end of the week I took home a little camel on a paper-plate with raisin boxes for luggage and two pages of parsha questions, it never raised the problem with the narrative of killing a mother and her child. It was all sacred, no questions asked. Or at least no relevant questions asked.

Our education was so innocently dismissive of women it was as if feminist consciousness hadn’t even touched the tip of the Hasidic world. Patriarchy was a simple known fact of life. So was the assumption that women are weak, stupid and reliant on men. I heard that often from the many teachers who came after nursery, who taught us how to cook and sew as good wives. “Us women, what do we understand?” we all said with a good dose of self-deprecating idiocy. At eighteen I went for kallah lessons and I was taught all about MAN and how I, a woman, was to serve as his wife. I remember that feeling of my stomach tumbling as I walked up a steep shortcut and over to a private deck, knocked on the porch door which was answered by a sweet but frightening kallah teacher. Her table was a mess of sheets of diagrams with female ovaries and uterus and menstrual travel maps. Every week she would tell me with a coy smile and a very low voice what it is that I need to do to make men tick. I struggled to hide the excitement

16 Comments
  • Eh, Not Convinced
    Posted at 14:36h, 26 October Reply

    Feminism is not about rights, it really isn’t, not today. It’s about theories of a social order, theories popular in the academy, with huge Marxist influences, but for which little of the usual academic rigor is applied.
    The reason people chafe against feminism, as an ideology, as a zeitgeist, is because it is far too politicized a subject to allow for honest critique, and that makes people instinctively uncomfortable. It’s not even because it’s man-hating (it isn’t, for the most part). It’s because it’s a “feel good” movement into which people can channel anger and frustration that has little to do with “rights.” Spurned wives, jaded girlfriends, ex-Hasidic women who never got to learn gemara, etc. Yes, patriarchy is real, but blaming it for every social ill known to mankind is just a little too easy.

  • Yoelish
    Posted at 15:07h, 26 October Reply

    Now that we’ve all heard the key word “Marxist” and phrase of “blaming it for every social ill, ” shall we return to what the author actually says about what feminism means to her? Choice anyone?

  • S.
    Posted at 15:30h, 26 October Reply

    What was unconvincing about this narrative? Scrape away the specific jargon that you object to, Not Convinced, in this light-on-jargon post, and what exactly is it that you are unconvinced of?

  • Eh, Not Convinced
    Posted at 15:33h, 26 October Reply

    >>> shall we return to what the author actually says about what feminism means to her? Choice anyone?
    Sure, Yoelish. But that wouldn’t be “returning,” because that’s not what the author was doing. Our dear Shpitzel was standing up, not for herself but for capital-F-feminism. It’s fair to critique her stance then. I don’t say this with malice. It is only a humble request for more rigorous scrutiny of the ideas she presents.

  • S.
    Posted at 15:47h, 26 October Reply

    Wow, that is so not what she wrote. She defined feminism very clearly. While not a super academic definition, what do you find objectionable? I know that some people are allergic to personal definitions, but it’s not like she defined it as a submarine. It’s a very minimalist definition and, importantly, capital F feminism *is* the only thing which confronted that historical situation, as it was, and rolled a lot of it back and changed many people’s attitude. As for the term patriarchy, which I assume you also consider a loaded jargony thing – how exactly can you deny that “don’t drive, make scrambled eggs, unlimited babies, and nashim datos kalos” is anything but that?

  • B.A.
    Posted at 16:27h, 26 October Reply

    Equality is an idealized word and notion that get bantered about. No two people are ever “equal” in reality. It does not exist in the natural world. And ironically the ideology of femism proves Aristotle’s point” nature abhors a vacuumed, so quick fill it with an ideology.
    What this seems to be suggesting is the notion of choice and the ability to make cross gender choice. Sure why not? All for it. If people can change their gender why can

  • S.
    Posted at 17:04h, 26 October Reply

    No, no, ein isha ela li-send your panties to a rov, and ein isha ela li-let the rov decide if and when you can use birth control.
    And the social situation described here, bei some Chassidim, is very different from other feminism-resisting parts of Orthodoxy, where they finally ceded many things, except for Rabbi Jennifer. Here we are talking about ceding the secular and the religious, with very little autonomy at all. I mean, c’mon. No driving? While we may understand why such a society forbids women from driving, it is exactly what it sounds like – a powerful way of control.

  • B.A.
    Posted at 17:36h, 26 October Reply

    “S” We have a box we drop the panties in–no need to send. Yes it is control and men they are not “controlled” and driving–come on? That is a great pose to strike for the secular–lights camera, the paparazzi flashes of “oppression” “inequality”. I did not learn to drive until recently and it has not changed my life and I could have lived the rest of my life never knowing. In fact most of the world does not drive or have a car. Are they howling like babies on every hillside in China–no. Take your values and standards from the American suburban class–good measure. Control is always powerful that is the nature of the beast. And some people have just bought in the popular notion that it is intrinsically bad. Is there not room enough in the human mind to accept that someone can say okay, my life, my family. Gut Shabbas.

  • Eh, Not Convinced
    Posted at 04:43h, 27 October Reply

    Yes, S., Chasidim forbid women to drive. And that’s a horrible thing. They also forbid men and boys from things readily afforded to women, such as secular education. That too is a horrible thing. Women are forced to be homemakers, as unsuitable as they might be for it. Men are forced to be breadwinners, as unsuitable as they might be for it.
    Girls are taught their lives are of lesser value. That’s atrocious. Boys are sent off to cheder for a full day of gemara and beaten for daydreaming or not knowing the meaning of a certain Rashi. That too is atrocious.
    The Chasidish life is horrible, for men and women both. To see it from a feminist perspective discounts a full 50% of those who suffer under it.

  • Khorus Al Haluchos
    Posted at 20:43h, 27 October Reply

    As it happens, there is no such thing as serendipity. Hashem designs the most intimate details of our experience. This Shabbos, as I was learning Mesechta Sanhedren with my Chavrusa, I came across the sugyah in Perek Chaylek of Aishes Ohn Ben Peles; Ohn Ben Peles’ better half ( Ohn, started out as a major player in the dispute between Korach & Moshe.) It seems that wifey had no interest for Ohn to get mixed up with Korach, so she got him drunk, tucked him in, then sat at the flap of the tent with her hair undone so that the god fearing minions of Korach wouldn’t deem to get nary as much as a glance at her. (Subversively speaking it seems that the Talmum glossed over the possibility of wifey wearing a shaitel, snood, pillbox or the like- simply that she undid her braids. It seems that they didn’t have vampy shaitlach in the desert.) Of her the verse is referenced “The wisdom of women builds a house. So much for the Talmud’s dismissal of the fairer sex.
    Onto the Torah. Sarah Imeynu, in this weeks Parsha seemed to have a petty jealousy going on with Hagar. Not true. In her near infinite tzitkus, she knew when to pick up the battle ax and stand true for Netzach Yisrael; the Eternity of the Jewish people. Proof of the pudding, when it comes to Hagar not just fleeing but of her getting the boot god tells Avraham: Anything that Sarah tells you- listen to her. Rashi- she is superior to you in prophecy. So much for the Torah,s dismissal of the Matriarchs.

  • OTAOT
    Posted at 22:13h, 27 October Reply

    Khorus Al Haluchos, this is not about Judaism’s stance, but about the Hasidic interpretation of what Judaism’s stance is.

    • Khorus Al Haluchos
      Posted at 22:20h, 27 October Reply

      This is not about Hasidic commentary either. Its simply modernistic chasidic myopia.

  • sam I am
    Posted at 09:14h, 28 October Reply

    Will you please make me green eggs and ham ? Sam I am, I do not like green eggs and ham.
    On a serious note, sarah was avrahams willing partner and to her devotion merited being a prophetess. And those of us who learned the parsha aren’t surprised that egypt has got major issues with sexual harrassment, its their alta minhag since avrahams times and THAT is why he hid her in his box!

  • Frimet Goldberger
    Posted at 11:57h, 28 October Reply

    Jeez, you guys. You seem to have missed the point! Madam Shpitzle uses patriarchy and feminism as it relates to Hasidism. Read: “Feminism is the belief that a woman should have rights to make choices in life.” Not: Feminism is the belief that a woman is equal to a man; Feminism is the belief that a woman doesn’t need a man to make her green scrambled eggs; Feminism is the belief that a woman should not cook, sew, clean, birth babies, feed them babies, raise them babies, and send her panties and down quilts to the rabbi.”
    Personally, I feel many Hasidic women are expert manipulators when trying to get their way. But, please, to claim that the Hasidic world, and to a great extent the Orthodox world, isn’t a patriarchal haven, is ridiculous.

  • PenT
    Posted at 22:20h, 05 November Reply

    Whenever the “women are different but are equally hard up” argument surfaces, mention equality in pay in the Hasidic world or the lack thereof, and then hear it said with a straight face that women are not ridden roughshod over, in that world.

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