These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] Picking Our Battles

Posted on February 1, 2013 by The Director of Digital Media

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Posted by Ben Barer (Fellows '12):

When you stop to consider the problems plaguing our world (now, as in any other time in history), it can be daunting to the point of being immobilizing. How can I possibly choose, based on such imperfect knowledge, where to most effectively apply myself, and, even if I do, how can I know that I will make any difference — all the while struggling to make ends meet and taking on the stresses of many other people?

I think a large part of the answer to the first question — what cause to take on — is a matter of reformulation. You do not choose a cause so much as the cause chooses you. It is naive to hope that you can choose the cause that ‘needs the most help’ in the world today, and then PRESTO you find the energy to devote yourself to that cause night and day, for decades. We were all born and raised with different skills, predilections, and goals. One of the toughest challenges for me is accepting that I can only be effective at a cause that calls to me before seeing it on a headline.

This was the struggle I had after reading a recent piece in Ha’aretz about the growing phenomenon of Orthodox Jewish women being granted a status as halakhic decisors, ‘almost’ on a par with rabbinic ordination. As women’s rights in all spheres, Jewish and otherwise, is a cause close to my heart, I am very happy to hear of such developments. When I read passages like this one, however, I am torn:

“Friedman [the woman who is the focus of the article] says she chose the Torah path in response to religious radicalization. ‘We were all jolted by the extremist rulings of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner and other representatives of fundamentalism not to rent apartments to Arabs in Safed, or modesty requirements for a three-year-old girl and the like,’ she says. ‘My heritage in the religious-Zionist movement was different. But if you want to sound a different voice, you have to do it from within’” (emphasis added)

I think that Friedman is right, and that is what troubles me. In order to make some of the changes that I can only dream of experiencing in my own lifetime surrounding issues of gender acceptance, and eventually, equity, in Judaism, I often feel the need to fight from the inside. Throwing one’s lot in with the Orthodox community, however, carries with it the consequence of largely shutting out the voices in the Jewish community who have already reached the desired goal, except as personal inspiration. Orthodox communities do not want to hear from non-Orthodox communities on issues of ritual change. The only voices that will be heard are those like Friedman’s. I am left to ponder whether that is the battle that is calling to me, or if there are other battles that might provide the same fire under my belly without such compromise.