Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Divorce in the looking-glass

This is the story of my very dear friend Alicia*.  Alicia and her husband Charlie found Orthodoxy together.  They had two beautiful boys, which they raised in the faith.
And then everything fell down the rabbit hole.
Unbeknownst to Alicia, Charlie was not faithful.  Charlie was abusive.  Alicia had enough and filed for divorce.
And now Alicia wants to leave Orthodoxy, taking her two sons with her.  While she is devoted to Yiddishkeit, and will remain within some bounds of Torah practice (the exact nature of which is still undetermined), she is through with the community.  As she put it, “Had I known that by becoming Orthodox I might someday lose my kids, I would have walked right out again.”  Unfortunately, in the looking-glass world of the community, she is extremely close to the mark.  In a divorce mediated by a din Torah, boys over six often go to the father.  Even if the father is abusive.  Even if the father is unfaithful.  Even if the father breaks Shabbos.  To complicate matters, Alicia is a giyoret, while Charlie is merely a BT.  Charlie would be favored for reasons completely unrelated to his parenting.  This has made Alicia so desperate that she wants to possul her own conversion, thus declaring both herself and her children not Jewish.
And that is a great loss.
As Jews, we are all one.  If one of us cries, we should all cry out.  But we care more about some bizarre, 14th-century interpretation of the law than we do about the well-being of a family.  We would rather curse the darkness than light a candle.  We would rather put our own Torah through the looking-glass until it is distorted beyond recognition. And in doing so, we affect real lives.  People like Alicia, who is a great contributor to any community.  People like her children, who could have become the sort of husbands and fathers we need more of.   Instead, we have turned them into a korban.  And we will be the ultimate losers.
Now, the Torah makes provisions for divorce.  But, in the text itself, it only says that if a man wants to send his wife away, he has to give her a get.  Nowhere does the Torah (and I’m referring only to the first five books here) state any laws about custody.  It is only our sages, great but still fallible men, who have made this policy.  And it is the passage of time that has calcified this rule into an unbreakable part of our mesorah.  The rightness or justice in the eyes of Hashem is never the issue.  Only holding on to a past that may never have existed.

*As per my blog policy, all names are changed to protect the guilty.

Monday, March 18, 2013

At least try to care about education

Once again, Builder has pressured me into submitting an application to Giant Bais Yaakov.  I fill it in, because--I don't want to lie about my past.  Any problematic questions, such as my last name, I left blank.  Let Builder do the lying.  I want no part of it.  Meanwhile, the questions are laughable.
Mother's elementary school?  (Why, unless this is a blatant attempt at screening for BTs.  Besides, I thought we were supposed to be on a higher spiritual level.)  Shul where father davens on Shabbos?  (Because of course, a respectable Jewish mother is too busy with her ever-expanding family to attend shul--not to mention if you do go, you might actually--gasp--hold by the eruv!  Mechallel Shabbos!)  Summer residence?  (It's the same as my winter residence.  And my spring residence.  And my fall residence.)  Grandparent's names and contact info?  (Should I send you to the cemetery where Builder's parents are buried?  Or to my secular-and-makes-no-bones-about-it Queen Mom, who has told me that she wants to write into her will that none of her inheritance is to go to a religious institution?)  Do you own a VCR?  (1995 called--they want their application back.) 
However, I noticed the absence of one question I consider of utmost importance--current school performance.
On every private school known to mankind, no application is complete without a request for current and past grades.  Just one line, like "All applicants for second grade or higher, please attach a copy of the student's last report card."  Or a transcript request form to send to the child's current school.  Or something to show that you give a damn about academic performance.  (For the record, the state makes me keep and submit records about Thing 1's progress--records which I would happily provide to any school  that asks.)
This, of course, combined with the pattern of obfuscation I have observed, makes me wonder if education is even the goal. 
Should Builder force the issue, they will go.  However, this does not mean I stop homeschooling.  As far as I'm concerned, the place is a babysitting service and a means to give Builder the illusion of normalcy.  Meanwhile, I will happily continue teaching my kids at home.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dear Jew in the City

Recently, Orthodox vlogger Allison Josephs (also known as Jew in the City) published an article on Buzzfeed about ridiculous Orthodox stereotypes.  Now, some of them are not only stupid, but have been largely discredited even in the MSM (does anyone really believe that old "hole in the sheet" myth or that kosher means blessed by a rabbi?  And Manischewitz wine?  Blech.  Give me my Herzog White Riesling any day.)
OK, now I get to respond.
Dear Mrs. Josephs,
I read your article.  While every single point you made is technically true, it's not all a bed of roses.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I identify as Orthodox.  I love the Torah, and will keep it to my dying day!  Judaism is a beautiful religion, and there is a great deal of wisodm and kindness in in it.
However, I must take issue with points 3, 4, 5, 6, and 11.  While it is true that many Orthodox women have fulfilling careers (among my friends are a medical editor and a college professor) and are not slaves to their husbands, do not be so quick to generalize.  Sadly, these stereotypes exist for a reason.  For example, a large majority of the women on my block have at least six children.  My next-door neighbor is currently carrying her ninth.  And these kids are...not that impressive.  (I used to think that I was the only one who got the "Boro Park Stare."  Who knew that it was a real phenomenon?)  Only two women on my block work outside the home, and maybe three have a degree from something that could be considered a real college.  (Unfortunately, there seems to be a growth in online diploma mills.  The degrees granted by these institutions can't be used for much beyond wallpapering the subway.)  As for the science--I know people even in my Modern Orthodox shul who interpret the first chapter of Genesis literally.
Again, I'm happy that you're happy.  I'm glad that being Orthodox doesn't interfere with your hip, urban, 21st-century life.  But this article erases the voices of those for whom Orthodoxy is as described.  Those who raise money for Weberman while silencing his victim.  Those who believe that the Earth really is 6,000 years old.  Those who suffer as agunot.  Those who lose their sons to divorce in a court system that still believes that boys go to the fathers.
I'd like to close with a true story about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the founding mothers of the American suffrage movement.  While she lived in Boston, she loved being a housewife so much that she didn't understand why every woman could not find fulfillment in the domestic sphere.  Since she had good friends and good servants, she was happy.  However, after her husband moved the family to Seneca Falls, and she lost her good friends and devoted servants, she suddenly realized that being a housewife wasn't always pleasant.  This was the moment that she began to fight for suffrage.  While I hope that you never experience the dark side of the Orthodox community, please do not be so quick to discount it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Obfuscation, thy name is Bais Yaakov

Recently, while Builder and I were shopping, he suggested I swing by Giant Bais Yaakov just to get more information.  I had hoped that Builder would forget all about it until after Pesach,when application season would be closed, but no such luck.  So, in I go to the administration office.  I am guided to the director of the preschool, since Thing 2 is only four years old.
"Yes, hi, I'm considering applying to your school, and I'd like some information about your curriculum."
"What do you mean?"  Wrong answer.  But I press on.
"Well, my daughter will be in Pre-1a this fall, and I'd like to know what is taught in terms of kodesh and chol."
"Well, you'll have to submit an application and schedule an interview."
"So, I can't get any information before I apply?"
"You'll have to sit down with the director and they'll go over the different options in the different classes."  Wrong answer #2.  So, I walk out, singing the "Obfuscation Song" under my breath.   To the tune of "Ode to Joy," sing with me!
"Obfuscation, obfuscation, they don't tell you anything!"
Having attended two non-public schools of my own choosing (one brick and mortar, one correspondence), I only care about one thing--curriculum.  Treat it like a state secret, you lose my interest.  Builder and I already went through this with Small Modox Girls and I have no desire to go through it again.  Moreover, these obfuscating tactics cause me to lose faith in the entire system.  I'm not looking for a playground, a lunch table or a babysitting service.  School should be an institution of learning.  If a curriculum is not readily available to any prospective parent, then the school's entire purpose is defeated.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tznius vs loshon hara--which is more important?

Last night, Chavie and I started learning the laws of loshon hara.  We begin by stating that the best prevention for loshon hara, or evil talk, is being dan l'kaf zchus.  Loosely translated, don't judge people.  Sounds fair.  It's an idea that has a lot of merit.  And it does come straight from the Torah.  So, no arguments from me.
But then, Chavie had to continue.
She goes on about the depravity of this generation. Specifically, how a friend's daughter is wearing a skirt above the knee.  Oh no!
Um, Chavie, didn't we just finish discussing the importance of NOT JUDGING PEOPLE!?
Over and over again, our Torah discusses the importance of proper speech.  Don't judge, don't slander, don't gossip.  I think there are at least twenty separate mitzvos (if not more) related solely to speech.  However, the Torah has four--count 'em, four!--mitzvos related to dress for those of us who are not the Kohen Gadol.  And one of those is by implication only.
  1. Men don't wear women's clothes
  2. Women don't wear men's clothes
  3. Don't blend linen and wool.
  4. (this is the one that's implied) married women must cover their hair.
 Nowhere does it mention skirt length.  When I mention this to Chavie she sputters about Rabbi Falk's sefer.  I've read it.  Now, unless Hashem has changed his name to Rabbi Falk, I'm going to pay more attention to a person's words and deeds, and less to their skirt length. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bais Yaakov of Sheker

Recently, Builder brought home an application for Giant Bais Yaakov.  The biggest one on Brooklyn, if not the US and/or the world.  And, true to form, I balked.  Then I read the application.  And I balked again.
First problem is what I call the "BT screen."  The application asks for information about where the parents attended elementary school, high school, and yeshiva or seminary.  The purpose, of course, is to weed out evil BTs like me who went to the dread public school.  And of course, none of the nine schools I attended were Jewish schools at all.  Builder wanted me to fudge my answers and list cities only.  I don't think so.
Then came the bottom of the application. "Do you have any of the following: VCR?  TV?  Internet?"  In the most technical sense, we're two for three, since the VCR has gone the way of the manual typewriter.  However, we do have the other two, and the Things have limited access to both. 
The solution, in the mind of Builder?  Lie.  All the other parents do it. 
Excuse me while I run out of the room screaming.
OK, back now.
So, let me get this straight.  In order to send one's children to an institution of Torah learning, you're going to lie.  You're going to violate the Torah so your kids can learn it.  That makes no bloody sense.  Either you believe in the Torah, and live it by example, and prioritize your children's Torah education, or you don't.  If you would violate a commandment etched in stone by the hand of G-d, why bother with the yeshiva?  The Torah your children learn will be an empty shell.