The leftist media in Israel has found a new whip to lash out at the world of Orthodox Judaism. For years, they say, the religious and secular got along, respecting the status quo, but now they complain, the Orthodox are becoming too Orthodox, moving toward an “extreme religious fundamentalism” that reminds them of the dark and primitive tribalism of Taliban, which finds expression in separate seating on Haredi buses for men and women; separate lines in Haredi supermarket check-out counters; and opposition to pictures of women appearing on billboards in Jerusalem. What irks them the most is the increased demand for modesty, coming even from the once moderate religious Zionist community, including opposition to female soldiers singing at IDF ceremonies.
Radio talk-show hosts rant about it for hours. Especially outraged talk-show hostesses, who take it as a personal offence. What a threat to Israeli society, they exclaim! What a terrible denigration of women, of women’s equality, and women’s rights!
Now tell me – who treats women more respectfully, the religious or the secular? Having lived half of my life in the secular world, and half in the religious, I think I have enough experience to answer. In the religious world, the woman is the queen of the house. Every Sabbath eve, the man of the house sings her praises in the famous song, “Eshet Chayil,” the beautiful tribute to the “Woman of Valor” which concludes the Book of Proverbs. The wife is equated with the Shechinah. The blessing in the house derives from her. A husband is commanded to love his wife as himself and respect her more than he respects himself. What religious man doesn’t bring his wife a bouquet of flowers every Erev Shabbat? She is loved and praised for her modesty, which wins her husband’s faithfulness. Though there may be many worthy women in the world, the husband sings to his wife, “you surpass them all.” He loves her not for her charm, nor passing physical beauty, but for her inner essence and fear of G-d.
How different things are in the secular world where a woman is turned into a sex object and considered little more than a whore. In the secular world, a woman is more esteemed for her body and the shape of her legs than for her inner worth. As the song of “The Doors” proclaims, “Don’t you love her when she’s walking out the door?” Who has a higher rate of divorce and adultery, the Orthodox or the secular? The answer is clear. In the secular world, when you get tired of one woman, you get yourself another. They’re all equal, right?
The religious world doesn’t turn their women into objects of sexual fantasy and lust. Pornography is the invention, and multi-billion dollar industry, of the non-religious world, not the religious. In the world of Orthodox Judaism, you don’t have to look like a Hollywood model and starve yourself to death in order to attract a man’s attention, or to keep your husband from running away with some younger girl. In the world of Orthodox Judaism, a woman doesn’t have to walk around half naked and turn herself into a call girl, to be winked at on the bus, pinched in the butt at the office, and forced to submit herself to humiliating and drunken one-night stands in order to keep up in the competition of the secular world’s modern-day jungle.
In the world of Orthodox Judaism, the separation between men and women in public places doesn’t come to denigrate women, but rather to guard their respected status and honor. Likewise, the opposition to pictures of women on Jerusalem billboards serves to protect them from being turned into sex objects to sell Coca-Cola and cars. And if they want to sing, what a wonderful thing, but not in front of religious soldiers, because a man is a man, and, as our Sages have told us, the eyes see, the heart desires, and transgression awaits at the door. And anyone familiar with what goes on in army bases, and the general secular world of nightclubs and pubs, knows very well that when men and women get together, all too often, the result is unwanted pregnancies, abortions, adulterous relationships, divorces, spilling semen in vain, venereal disease, and patterns of self-hate that lead to the psychologist’s couch or worse.
Now, tell me - who is more enlightened and respectful of women – the Orthodox Jew, or the outraged, secular radio-show hostess who has to wear low-cut blouses and flirt with all the guys at the station in order to keep her job?