An Education About Women In The Chasidic Community – An Open Letter in Response to Rockland County GOP and Chairman Garvey

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bsp[By: Barry Spitzer]

I was going to let this one slide as I have done many times in the past. It is just so tiresome to respond to all the ignorance coming from Rockland County these days. This Facebook post by Mr. Garvey from the Rockland County Republican Party is one of the worst examples of this. It was more ignorant and hateful than most of the things I have heard lately, but I was willing to wait and let other rational people knock some sense into Mr. Garvey.

In time, Mr. Garvey did remove the post, but in doing so, he explained that the post “had run its course” but “was factually accurate.” That statement was in some regards even more problematic than the post itself. It showed that even while people were trying to explain to Mr. Garvey how outrageous his assertions were, his views remained unchanged. Therefore, despite deleting his post, his false accusations and innuendo were still out there without a proper response.

I hope that Mr. Garvey is just ignorant and not, as many suspect, a person that carries hate and bigotry in his heart, especially while representing a large contingent of Orthodox and Chasidic Jews. For the purposes of this article, I will believe the former and try to educate Mr. Garvey.

I feel that I can speak on this subject because, besides being a Chasidic Jew myself, I am one of the representatives of the largest concentration of Chasidic Jews in New York.

So, let’s dissect your claims Mr. Garvey, and maybe you will come away from this more enlightened and educated about what is frankly quite a beautiful religion full of personal choices, free will and respect.

You talk about women’s oppression and abuse, claiming it is egregious and epic. If there were actually a situation of oppression and abuse, you would be correct and it would be imperative that we address that issue. As tolerant human beings, abuse and oppression are never acceptable. But that is not what is happening in the Orthodox and Chasidic Jewish communities.

Orthodox women choose to follow their faith’s strictures and the lifestyle that affords. Again, I emphasize that they choose to live as they do, and it is not remotely an act of oppression, as you claim. In the Chasidic community worldwide, women are honored and respected. The woman is considered the conscious of the household and is the main force in their children’s upbringing, instilling in them life’s values. Women have equal – and sometimes more – say in all decisions affecting their families. No woman is forced to adhere to this way of life. Rather, they choose this life and embrace it.

It seems you lack the basic understanding of the Orthodox and Chasidic Jewish community that you reference so blithely and cavalierly. Let me help you with this. Modesty is a big part of our belief, and that includes modesty of dress and modesty of behavior. The separation of the sexes which affronts you so is an aspect of that modesty, as is the way we choose to dress and present ourselves. These things serve to enhance the relationship between spouses and community members. It garners further respect and veneration for the women in our society, and these women understand this, appreciate this and revel in it. I honestly feel sorry for you that you cannot seem to understand that different is just different, not wrong.

11You write that women are ‘forced’ into arranged marriages. This is simply completely inaccurate. Yes, the Chasidic community has a tradition of arranged marriages, but that is a far cry from a forced marriage. Let me once again explain. In the Orthodox and Chasidic communities, two families decide that their children might be good to and for one another. From that point on, the boy and girl meet. They meet as many times as they choose and the ultimate decision to marry is always a mutual agreement between those two people. This is simply a more formal and intimate mode of matchmaking. That is it. I do not know of a case in the Orthodox or Chasidic community – and I challenge anyone to find me one – where a girl was forced to marry someone against her will. Not to mention there is no rabbi who would perform a religious marriage without the parties consent. It simply does not work like that.

Next you naively state that women are not able to obtain a divorce without the approval of their community leaders. Nowhere in Jewish law or in actual practice does this concept exist. Yes, the divorce proceedings are done in a rabbinical court, same as a secular divorce is done in secular court. Once a husband and wife decide to get divorced, no one can legally stop that from happening. I am truly befuddled where you found this total fabrication regarding our divorce laws.

Now to address your next inaccurate remark: that women are not properly educated and are not permitted to attend college. This claim is taking a large leap from the reality of our education system. To begin with, almost all Chasidic and Orthodox women are given a thorough, well-rounded secular education in addition to their Judaic studies. Male students focus primarily on Judaic subjects and Torah study, but Jewish girls’ schools teach our young women to read and write, as well as math, science and history. The movement to improve education in the orthodox community’s private schools – although I don’t agree with their tactics – never targeted the girls’ schools. Have you ever wondered why? As for attending college, there are many women who do enroll after completing high school and seminary (there are a few women in my immediate family that are college educated) but others choose not to because they either work in careers that do not require a college degree or – as in many cases – they choose to raise a family. But once again, in case you were not aware, this is a woman’s choice, not something forbidden to them.

And let me finally address you’re last concern about the Orthodox and Chasidic community – the use of birth control. This one amused me to no end. Had you bothered to ask any Chasidic or Orthodox rabbi, he would have cleared this up quite easily, and you would find that the Jewish community is actually quite a bit more liberal regarding birth control than other religious institutions. Rabbi’s will, and often do, give dispensation to women who would like to use birth control for health or various other reasons.

So there you have it Mr. Garvey. I hope that you, and anyone else who is unsure about why the Orthodox and Chasidic Jewish communities do things in certain ways just ask instead of jumping to erroneous and shameful conclusions. Ignorance is never an excuse to throw around wild accusations, and I really hope that I was able to enlighten you and clear some things up for you today. Most of the practices, customs and traditions of the Chasidic and Orthodox Jewish communities are to live a holy, decent, moral and spiritual life. The results of this are not something that can be debated. They speak for themselves. I hope you learned some things today, and I hope that in the future you will ask instead of posting something that can absolutely be construed as anti-Semitic. I’ll be happy to answer any further questions you have.

Author’s disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are my own and do not reflect the views of any other person, organization or entity.

Barry Spitzer is the district manager of Brooklyn Community Board 12, which includes Borough Park, home to thousands of Chasidic families. He can be reached at [email protected]

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. It is painful that Mr. Spitzer had to reply altogether. His article is very well articulated and well written. Perhaps he should have stooped low as to be virriolic as Garvey was. Garvey likely has a typo in that his post wast apropos for the Muslim women! And if not, why not! That leads to the only conclusion: hate and anti-semitism.

  2. Not that Mr. Spitzer can rewrite his letter, but I think it would have been worthwhile to mention that our community doesn’t frown on education, but has a lot of hesitation with a college environment, due to the known promiscuous and immoral environment.

    Also, please check for typos etc – because you loose credibility when you say

    The woman is considered the conscious of the household – and of course you mean conscience!

  3. While the article is no doubt well written- it is misleading.
    1. Women cannot get divorced without the husband giving a get -it’s not a “mutual agreement” as the article would have you believe- Ideally it should be mutual -but as we all have seen, there are untold cases of “agunos” its not a “total fabrication”
    2. Women are told what to wear- if a woman wishes to remain a part of the community that is- or if she wants to have custody of her kids- then were she to choose to wear what she wants she will be persona non grata. The question is how to define “forced”- if there are societal repercussions for even minor infractions then yes, that is being forced to dress a certain way.
    3.

  4. Mr Garvey is not a anti semite. He is just anti Hassids and loves muslims. Are there muslim women in Rockland county who cover their faces? Why the Hassids jews??? Because there are too many moving into Rockland county? They are changing the status as is. A woman should respond not the well written response from a man in Brooklyn.

  5. Well written!

    We have self-hating Jews or are causing antisemitism to flourish greatly, fabricating stories to bring more hate and destruction. This is looking more and more like the 1930s Germany and Poland

  6. I disagree with some of what Barry Spitzer is saying.
    The orthodox don’t always follow their faiths strictures and the lifestyle.

    Specifically the orthodox forbid teenagers from dating and marrying.
    In the secular world its unheard of that teenagers shouldn’t meet and marry.
    I think even the Amish and the Arabs allow teenagers to meet and marry.
    of course the Torah says Ben Shimona eser le hopa.
    18 years for the marriage canopy.
    Clearly the Torah wants shidduchim (dating) and marrying to take place in the teenage years.
    change is possible in the orthodox community but not likely.
    The orthodox are am Ke shay oreff.
    Their stubbornness has no parallel in the world.

  7. This article is very idealistic and does not account for the daily struggles I see as a professional working in this community….

    Some points are accurate, as I myself am a college-educated Chasidisha women….. but make no mistake: the price i had to pay to defy my family and community norms was very high….

    1. Women are very honored in the community. So honored that if they dare drive a car their children will be kicked out of school. Men are allowed to drive with immunity.

    2. Chasidisha men have the audacity to give speeches about the way women dress and whether it is or isn’t appropriate….

    3. Male principles will call mothers and make a comment about the length of her skirt or the makeup she wore…..

    4. Girls and women choose to follow their parents’ path, because if they don’t they are all too often shunned and have nowhere to turn to… unlike the authors repeated assertion, “they follow because they WANT to”.

    5. There are so many women who struggle with getting a divorce due to their husbands storytelling with-holding and giving them problems with their children’s visitation. Being that Bais Din is all male, it is often an intimidating experience for a woman.

    6. At the time of marriage most girls and boys are about 18 years old and have not yet developed enough of a backbone to be honest with their parents especially if they want to marry someone different than the parents suggest. Thus, they “go along” with the marriage and later end up in my office saying they never wanted the girl/boy they married. So, although they were not forced into the marriage it is not necessarily what they wanted either…

    But otherwise, good article…..

  8. #4:
    “Also, please check for typos etc – because you loose credibility when you say”

    “Lose” is spelled with only one “o” not two. Please lose one “o” of this loose form of spelling.

  9. @ mhb,Sarawak and the other negative naysayers… his views are the majority while yours are the minority. There are some issues, no community is perfect. He is referring to most of the general population of chasidim.

  10. I think there’s one major point some of the people who are commenting are missing…there is a huge difference between being forced into doing something and not being allowed to make a decision to do something as opposed to voluntarily accepting a set of rules upon oneself…..you wouldn’t say someone who chooses to diet is forced to be able to eat pizza….they can eat pizza and not be part of that diet if that’s what they choose but if they choose to strictly adhere to the rules of that diet they will follow all the rules or find a different diet they beleive In……nobody is forced to do anything they don’t want to…

  11. Unfortunately some of Mr Garvey’s article is completely correct l and a friend who’s sole profession is to deal with abused women in the Chareidi community have seen it time and again. The denial that it exists makes me sick. That said some of his material is absurd stereotypical nonsense. Our difficult task is to get accross the difference

  12. I have been reading YeshivaWorld News for years and this is the first time I felt a need to register so that I can leave a message.
    “Women are very honored in the community. So honored that if they dare drive a car their children will be kicked out of school. Men are allowed to drive with immunity”
    So ridiculous! I personally drive as I am not chassidish but if your community considers it a lack of tznius, what’s wrong with that? The kohanim and leviyim and were all men. Does Hashem also practice inequality?
    Sarawald proves that it is not a good idea for a frum woman to go to secular colleges. Listen to what she writes. She thinks marrying at 18 is not a good idea even though the torah thinks otherwise. She doesn’t like the way only men are in the batei din. Quite intimidating. If girls don’t dress 100% tzanuah they are shunned. They should dress with tznius. It’s halacha. We are not Americans. We are torah-Jews. If someone will be hit by a car today and go to beis din shel ma’alah NOW none of this secular-influenced rhetoric will fly.
    Our leaders have a right to give speeches to women to improve our tznius. We are not feminists in the torah. We know our role and most of us are satisfied and proud. I moved to Israel recently and my mother asked me, (she is also college educated and secularly influenced as you are) “Isn’t it humiliating to have to sit in the back of a segregated bus??”
    No. It is not. It is more practical for the women to sit in the back so that the men don’t have to stare at us. I am glad that my husband doesn’t sit near a gorgeous blond on his way home. I see every day during my commute that men will gladly stand the entire ride in order to give their seat to women whom do not have one. All this secular ideology is just that. Secular. Stop preaching what you hear the goyim preach against us. You are indeed the self-hating Jew. No. you do not have a choice. Hashem “forces” us to choose mitzvos vs. aveiros. If you want to drive, drive. You can even drive on shabbos if it suits you. Only you will pay for it. But then you can go tell the secular media how you were “shunned” just for driving to the store on Saturday morning. What a backward and anti women religion you chose!!!!
    Anyway, this is all just in jest but it’s true points and we should try to remember that. The German Jews also thought they had to “fit in” their Yiddishkeit to match the goyish lifestyles. We don’t. Always remember, Mrs. Professional, that the goyim hate us. Halacha hi b’yadua she’eisav sonei l’yaakov. Don’t try to change our hashkofos to impress them. They are not impressed.

    EVEN MORE IMPORTANT: Maybe the men are oppressed! They are not allowed to go to the beach in the summer. They may not watch movies or even chat with the neighborhood women. They are so restricted. They wear a coat and hat in the August sun. Three times a day they must venture out in all weather to pray. Poor guys. I can go on and on but I really want this to be posted and the longer I go on and on the less chance I have.
    Gut voch to all and try to strengthen your Yiddishkeit instead of putting it down.

  13. Yesterday, like many of you, I learned about a Facebook book post made by Rockland County Republican Chairman Lawrence Garvey. As a proud Republican and Ramapo Resident, I want to make it clear that the sentiments he expressed are not mine.

    I have always been, and am committed to remaining a voice for reason and respect in politics and government. We need reason and respect to increase the dialogue between all the people of Ramapo, so that we will find solutions going forward.

    As always, we have a lot of work to do but I am confident we can do it together.

    William J Weber
    Former Republican Party Candidate for Ramapo Town Council

  14. Forced! Wow!

    To all those who say we are shunned, cant drive or kids will get kicked out of school etc.choose a different community!

    No one is forcing anything upon anyone! If you choose to be part of a certain group, shul, or school, you will need to follow the norms in that setting.

    Try going bowling in your high heal shoes, you will be looked down upon. Show up at the gym with a suit – you will be looked down upon. Or come to work at a high end jewelry store in a tea shirt & jeans – you will be shunned. They may even ask you to leave.

    No one is forced, but if you choose to be part of a culture, (Or work in a certain environment) you understand what it entails.

    If you want to drive – send your kid to another frum school, where they don’t have that rule. Don’t try to change the norms – associate yourself with people who share your values.

  15. Again and again it’s being repeated “If you choose to be part of a certain group you have to keep its rules”. How is being born into a certain group and getting shunned if you leave, called “CHOOSING to be part of a certain group”?. Re: Sarawald totally agree with you, there is so much going on behind the scenes that people don’t know about. Even if you are talking about the minority as some have claimed, remember 49% is also a minority. And the numbers are actually closer to 49% than you would want to believe.

    You can actually know it and be in denial or you don’t even know about it but that doesn’t make it untrue.

  16. wow. maybe it was a mistake to read comments. so much gross lashon hora on our people and probably lots of motzee shem rah. then you daven for mashiach? moderator, please don’t be so “liberal”. it is not a mitzvah.