The Revolt against Jewish Tradition Didn’t Benefit Jewish Women

March 15 2021

In the 19th century, due to massive social and political changes, large numbers of European Jews abandoned their distinctive modes of speech and dress, seized new opportunities for economic advancement, and joined the growing middle class—typically jettisoning religious belief and practice in the process. But bourgeois values, Shulamit Magnus notes, also meant an ideal of husbands and fathers as sole breadwinners. Thus “running shops and commercial businesses” or “managing loans,” once normal activities for Jewish women, ceased to be so. Nowhere is this change made clearer than in the memoirs of Pauline Wengeroff, a pious Russian Jew whose husband, after their marriage, rejected his faith:

Wengeroff’s experience of Jewish modernity was of a massive power shift between women and men that grossly disadvantaged women, taking from them meaningful roles and power in the spheres that patriarchal Jewish culture allotted them. The result of this shift, she asserts, was not just women’s repression and misery but the loss of Jewish culture altogether, since one of women’s roles was guarding and transmitting tradition within the family. Modernity, as forged by Jewish men, she felt and observed, was not a boon. It was a catastrophe.

In each of the many communities in which Wengeroff lived, she would note the struggle between traditional and modern Jewish life underway and the bitter social and family divisions this caused. Wengeroff also perceived . . . Jewish men as recklessly discarding tradition and women wishing to maintain and transmit it to their children—while also partaking of the best of modern European culture.

Wengeroff gives unprecedented testimony to the forced domestication of a brilliant, energetic woman, used to being productive and to seeing Jewish women active in spheres from religious ritual, to finance, innkeeping, healing, and midwifery. But [her husband] had drunk deeply from the well of middle-class aspiration: shortly after his loss of faith, he began to insist that Wengeroff “had no voice in business affairs.” Though none too adept—Wengeroff says that he lost her entire dowry in a business venture—he nonetheless objected to her participation in the couple’s business affairs, calling her input “meddling,” and wanting “to hear nothing of it.” In his opinion, “a wife, but especially his wife, had no ability in this area and [he] experienced my involvement as a humiliation.”

Her husband was not alone in combining anxiety about success and acceptance [in Gentile society] with tyranny against wives who wished to retain traditional practices. Rather, he joined a class of modernizing men who, she says, would light cigarettes with their wives’ Sabbath candles.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Jewish history, Modernity, Russian Jewry, Women in Judaism

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter