Letter to the Editor
In the last issue of Kol Hamevaser, the article entitled “Our Side of the Mehitsah: An Open Letter,” written by Davida Kollmar, was beautifully and tactfully written. It touched upon many issues of women’s roles in the synagogue and expressed many concerns that I share with the author.
However, I feel that Davida missed an important point that is very pertinent to our institution. That is that the insensitivity to women’s religious issues stems from the decisions of some educators and students in Yeshiva College and RIETS. I have witnessed countless examples of disrespect, insult, and revulsion (feigned and real) to women’s spiritual needs. There are men in Yeshiva University who purposefully deny the spiritual and religious commitment of women. Among some of my colleagues, there exists a culture of male superiority, of religion being man’s domain, of complete insensitivity to the religious needs of women. I fear that Davida was only describing the symptoms of this culture.
For example, last semester I often prayed at the 2:30 minyan in the Heights Lounge. Usually there are women who are studying there at this time who are asked to leave so the men may pray. I once suggested that the women who want to can join us in the far left pit. There was plenty of space in the center pit for the men to let the women have the other space. An acquaintance of mine (who had recently gotten married, no less) said, with contempt, “No, get them out of here. They’re women!” I can’t describe the horror and disgust I felt at hearing that. The very concept of women praying seemed alien to him.
Another example: R. Goldwicht used to give a night seder shiur in the center of the Glueck beit midrash. A female friend of mine wanted to hear him speak. Because the second floor is sometimes the women’s section, she went there to hear him. She received dirty looks, and someone told her that it is not the best idea for her to be there. R. Goldwicht, shlita, heard about it and at the next shiur he had a small mehitsah set up for her so that she would be comfortable. Although I laud R. Goldwicht’s response, the fact that he needed to say something disturbs me. As a qualifier, I am not saying that all the men in YC or RIETS hold these chauvinistic attitudes. I am simply relaying what I have seen among some of my colleagues.
Perhaps more courses in contemporary women’s issues and a more mixed religious environment would help alleviate this problem. How about having a shabbaton on the Wilf campus, or inviting the Stern student body to the Hanukkah party? Why not introduce contemporary women’s issues in shiurim across the spectrum of Jewish studies programs? In discussing co-ed education, a rebbe of mine in Israel said that he recommended having separate secular classes and mixed religious classes. Should not our religious leaders and educators demonstrate how we should behave with members of the opposite sex? My roshei yeshivah in Israel always said that they would prefer we meet our future wives in Israel so that the religious and spiritual element in our relationship also flowers.
YU has tried to mend these various issues in ineffective ways. YUConnects meetings and marriage guidance events seem to be no more than band-aids for the dominant male culture in Yeshiva College. If we integrate women’s religious issues into our religious courses and shiurim, perhaps we will not be so shocked when our future wives want to join us in shul.