Op-Ed: A Woman on the Bayit Hayehudi Party's List
A revolution has taken place in the Bayit Hayehudi, the Jewish Home.
No, I don't mean the change in leadership that occurred last week in the Jewish Home Party, revolutionary as it was, but the quiet revolution that has occurred in the life of the mainstay of the Jewish Home, the religious Zionist woman. This was a gradual revolution that did not take place last week, but it is a fait accompli.
First and foremost, the religious Zionist woman has become a Torah "consumer" – the women's Midrashot are full, investing a year or two in learning Torah has become the norm for young women – and their mothers are finding the time to attend an abundance of Torah classes regularly. Women, non-confrontationally and with mainstream rabbinic approval, have chosen Torah-related fields, such as kashrut supervisors, rabbinic pleaders, ritual purity advisers.
And religious Zionist women – if they wish to – are fulfilling career aspirations in the public sphere, in academia, medicine, research, business, media and the arts. They have done so in politics as well, although in Israel that has mainly been confined to local government where religious women have headed regional and local authorities as well as serving on them. There are religious Zionist women in managerial and decision-making positions in just about every organization; intelligent, caring, G-d fearing women who are role models for punctilious adherence to the commandments of the Torah as well as for contributing to society's welfare and running Torah-true homes. The sky's the limit for the religious Zionist woman.
And that is the kind of woman who should be chosen for the Bayit Hayehudi list of candidates this coming week. The choice of a woman on the list has to reflect this amazing reality. And it can.
After all, why have a woman on the list at all? Not to prove that religious Zionists are as modern and egalitarian as any other sector – because if that were the case, it would be a non-issue, there would be no slots reserved for women, they would be chosen or not chosen along with the men only on the basis of their relative capabilities.
Nevertheless, a woman on the Bayit Hayehudi list is an issue – for positive reasons. She has a special role to play, she is expected to bring an added dimension to the role of MK by personifying the image of today's religious Jewish Woman – an image with which both religious and traditional women can identify and who commands respect for that image.
That is an especially significant message for religious high school girls, because de facto, the woman in the Bayit Hayehudi Knesset faction will become the First Lady of the religious Zionist world, and its daughters will want to emulate her.
It is therefore crucial that she exemplify the centrality of building of an observant Jewish home, otherwise why are we teaching our daughters about the uniqueness of the religious woman, of her irreplaceable role in raising her children to love Torah and mitzvoth, the Land of Israel and its people? Our Ulpana (religious girls high school network) curriculum includes the idea of equality before G-d along with respect for the religious Jewish woman's unique role and special strengths.
Has that lost its importance? Can it be ignored?
The non-observant (but self-declared 'traditional') woman who is running for a position on the list, although talented and Zionistic, has written that she can represent religious needs without being religious, just as she fought for the rights of the people of Southern Tel Aviv without being one.
But, the people of Tel Aviv are not a belief system. And to give just one example, why turn to a woman whose children do not attend religious schools on issues involving the religious Zionist educational system that spans from early childhood to hesder and mechinot, one of the basic topics our MK's address, when there are men on the list whose children are actually enrolled in them?
It just doesn't work that way.
The woman chosen for the Bayit Hayehudi list must be a symbol of Jewish women throughout history, while personifying the extraordinary accomplishments of today's religious Zionist woman, her faith, selflessness and dedication to mitzvot.
The woman chosen for the Bayit Hayehudi list must be a symbol of Jewish women throughout history, while personifying the extraordinary accomplishments of today's religious Zionist woman, her faith, selflessness and dedication to mitzvot. That is the golden cord that connects today's Jewish woman with the generations of religious Jewish women who preceded her.
The new head of the Bayit Hayehudi party, who has so eloquently welcomed the traditional and religious Zionist population of Israel to join the ranks, is promoting several candidates. All of the men on his list are observant Jews. Those of them that are chosen in the primaries will stand up for religious Zionist rights as well as a woman would. They will all fight to add Jewish content to non-religious Israeli children's education so as to strenghthen the Jewish connection of tradition-observing (called masorti in Israel).
The choice of "the woman" for the party list on Tuesday therefore must be someone who adds more to the party than another name with opinions identical to those of the men on the list, she must exempliy the special religious Zionist women of today.
The Bayit Hayehudi list needs a woman who knows what is written in the Shulkan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law) and what the messages of Rashi and the Midrash are, a woman whose life is lived according to those guidelines, a woman whose children are in religious educational institutions and whose Shabbat table is one of Torah insights.
The new head of the Bayit Hayehudi party, and the party itself, would soon see the spiritual and electoral benefits of that kind of choice.
Ed. Note: Primaries for the party's Knesset list take place on Tuesday, November 13. There are three women running in the primaries. Shuli Mualem, 47, religious, whose young husband was killed in the 1994 IDF helicopter disaster and who is vice-president of the Organization of IDF Widows and Orphans (since remarried), serves on boards of regional authority and puclic serrvice organizations; Gila Finkelstein, 62, religious, Dean of the Givat Washington Religious Teacher's College and former NRP MK; Ayelet Shaked, 36, masorti (traditional, non-observant) founder of MyIsrael and a hi tech manager who ran Netanyahu's office in the past.