Readers Respond to the "Monica" Article

From Steve Winnett in Brighton, MA:

I just glanced at your Web page. I thought the Lewinsky article was quite interesting. You might be able to deliver that to a wider audience - e.g. in widely read Jewish publications like "Moment" - as an opinion piece; I'm sure it would garner a lot of comment from the non-Orthodox. The area I would like to see explored further in this article - and this is a tough one - is the following: Does being Orthodox better equip or worse equip a woman to deal with these men who seek to gain "favors" as a result of their positions of power? Put another way - would an Orthodox woman be more likely to resist these advances - not just out of a sense of outrage, but more deeply, out of a sense of her own sacredness? After all, a woman might be brought up within the safety of the Orthodox world, but what happens to her when she ventures out -through the need for employment - into a world which has no use for the Orthodox mindset?

Kresel responds:


I'm surprised you ask this. Of course a Torah education would give a woman a sense of her own sacredness. That's the whole point of the article. The tragedy is that most Jewish women today are so lacking in Torah education that they believe that the Torah would oppress rather than uplift them.

A Torah-observant woman may even stand to become more successful in the career world than her non-religious counterparts. A woman who tries to ascend the career ladder using her appeal to men will never be really taken seriously, no matter how competent she is. In contrast, a woman who carries herself like a daughter of G-d commands more respect from those who meet her.

Our modest dress code contributes to this. A woman can control the reactions she will get from men simply by her choice of clothing. Does "dressed for success" necessarily mean mini-skirted business suits? I think that the ideas of a woman whose clothing does not draw attention to her body will be listened to more attentively.

Nonetheless, there are creeps everywhere. Sometimes harassment is unavoidable, and sometimes, putting up with it is the cost of promotions. In such situations, all women lose out.

For more on this topic, read Rabbi Manis Friedman's Antidote to Harrassment

From "Gypsy" in Portland, OR:

I wasn't going to make a comment, because I'm not in the habit of adding to guest books. (Shy, embarrassed, take your pick.) But your explanation of the mikvah was so different from anything I had ever been told about the reasoning behind it, and was so wonderful, I had to tell you that it has brightened my day and possibly my week!

Now, then, the comment I had initially thought to make is this. When I was a college student, one of my friends in the dorm watched the way the few of us who were observant interacted and said she was disturbed by the way a baalas t'shuvah (or possibly boys, too; not being a boy I didn't know) was told right off the bat about the separation between the genders, almost before being told any of what my friend considered important, such as tzedakah or Shabbat. (She was wrong about that, but to let her make her point I'll let that stand...) It seemed to her that the Orthodox were hung up on preventing men and women from sleeping together.

I had to think about it a long time, but I realized why she was possibly right, and why this was not the bad thing she suggested it was. Your Monica Lewinsky article, while not reflecting EXACTLY the same sentiment, comes close. The problem many people have in today's Western world is that the 60's led us to devalue our bodies, viewing them only as vehicles to physical pleasure. And since we ARE our bodies (as well as our minds and our souls, if you will) this leads us to devalue ourselves. What we were being taught, in effect, was that our deity made us in a particular way and to devalue the way we were made by, for example, using our bodies for indiscriminate and meaningless fun, we were devaluing a gift from the One who made us. And by that token, we were devaluing that same One.

Many people came to Orthodoxy feeling like they had no value. Teaching them to respect their bodies taught them to acknowledge the inherent value given to them by their Creator. Those who feel that the separation of the genders is anti-feminist (and as a feminist of a sort, I feel obligated to enter into such discussions) need to think about what indiscriminate exposure (a loaded word, but I can't think of a better one) means to both women and men.

In order to be truly free as women, we have to respect our bodies. If we consider them only as the vehicle for lust, how can we respect ourselves at all?

Kresel responds:


Dear "Gypsy",

Thank you so much for your comments to my page.

Your thoughts on this subject are interesting. I also disagree with your college friend's statement that the first thing baalei teshuva learn in Judaism is to separate themselves from the opposite gender. Certainly that's an important aspect of leading a Torah life, and often it presents the hardest adjustment to Jews raised in the secular world, but in my vast experience with outreach programs, celebrating Shabbos is the first thing stressed. I emphasize it on this site, too, which is why my article "The Kindness of Strangers" is near the top of my home page.

But as you point out, I DO have the Monica article, and I am glad you find its message relevant. I believe it is a message all women should hear, regardless of whether or not they intend to become Orthodox Jews. Before the "liberation" of the 60's, people waited until they were married. Since then, people who choose to wait are thought of as naive and even repressed. Women have gained no freedom as a result; they are simply expected to behave according to a different set of social rules - or be taunted if they refuse. True liberation would be the ability to choose one's fate for oneself without fear of social repercussion.

Far more frequently, women allow the cravings of their bodies to drown out their higher aspirations. This exists to such an extent that permissiveness has become the norm. An excellent book that explores this subject is Wendy Shalit's Return to Modesty.

The only way women can regain their power of choice is by building their self-esteem. Religion offers this more than anything I know, and it is my hope that young people will come to see that and embrace more moral lifestyles. However, if someone finds self-esteem in some other way, and is able to make clear-minded choices about her most heartfelt desires, that is indeed an accomplishment.

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