In the 40 years I have spoken out about agunah, child abuse, sexual abuse and domestic violence issues, the male leadership dismissed me as a feminist with an agenda, and the women were too intimidated to act. Some rabbis did pay attention: Rabbis like Emanuel Rackman, Shaul Berman, Shmuel Goldin, Yossi Adler and Shlomo Riskin…all of them taking flack for their progressive position on what others dismissed as viebirisher mayses, women’s “things.”
Too many women were being pushed off the derech when they became agunot, taking their children with them. And in pleas for a solution, I helped Rabbi Riskin post the first halachic prenup on America online. It went viral before anyone knew what viral meant. Now social media is used to go up against recalcitrant husbands, pre-nups are pro-forma, and yet, nothing has changed. Agunot are still trapped. Kids are still abused. Some rabbis fight against mandatory reporting. And some forbid parents to call the police.
As women began to assert themselves in the Modern Orthodox community, wanting their families to live in spiritual safety and security, they tolerated their fair share of eye rolls, exasperation and accusations of pursuing a feminist agenda.
At the same time, some of those same negative rabbis have been exposed for committing heinous crimes against women and children, even in our own community. But none of their actions has enraged women more than the the voyeur rabbi in DC. Whether the accusations are true or not, the smoke is choking everyone in the room. The fire needs to be put out. The “feminist” agenda needs to be pursued. What is your agenda? Are you for child sexual abuse? Are you pro domestic violence? Do you like the fact that women are chained for life? Do you believe men have the right to hang around the mikvah? These are burning issues on the Modern Orthodox female agenda. Why aren’t these things on the male agenda in our Jewish community, too?
By Jeanette Friedman