"Who Made Me a Woman": Women in Ultra-Orthodox Society

A Series of Videos Moderated by Dr. Lee Cahaner

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A series of Hebrew videos on the historical processes behind the development of the role of ultra-Orthodox women in the family and society, which were developed as part of IDI's research projects on the Nation State and on the Integration of Haredim in Israeli Society.

As part of the activities of two IDI projects – The Nation State, directed by Prof. Anita Shapira, and The Integration of Haredim in Israeli Society, directed by Prof. Yedidia Stern – IDI produced a series of videos on the historical processes behind the development of the role of ultra-Orthodox women in the family and society. 

Journalist Riki Rath discusses women in the modern ultra-Orthodox middle class in Israel

Moderated by IDI researcher Dr. Lee Cahaner, an instructor at the Oranim Academic College, the series is comprised of interviews with experts on a wide range of issues in the life of ultra-Orthodox women. It traces the establishment—and occasionally the collapse—of the ultra-Orthodox family unit, introduces the Haredi educational system for girls, explores the entry of uItra-Orthodox women into higher education and the labor market, discusses the ultra-Orthodox culture of leisure, and even provides a glimpse into women's grooming in the Haredi community. The series also explores the shifts and changes that are taking place within ultra-Orthodox society and the lives of women in ultra-Orthodox society in Israel today.

While the videos themselves are in Hebrew, the English introductions below should give non-Hebrew speakers a sense of the scope of this project.

Professor Kimmy Caplan, Department of Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University

This video explores the development of the status of women in Ultra-Orthodox society from historical and contemporary perspectives. It raises the following questions: What characterized the position of women in the ultra-Orthodox world in the period between World War II and the immigration to Israel? How was the Ultra-Orthodox educational system for girls established in Europe and what were its goals? How did the role and status of the ultra-Orthodox woman develop in Israel, both in the past and the contemporary period? Find out in this discussion between Dr. Lee Cahaner and Prof. Kimmy Caplan, of the Department of Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University. A leading researcher in the field of ultra-Orthodox society, Prof. Caplan has published many books and articles on the Haredi community in Israel.

Mrs. Rivka Paluch, political strategy consultant with expertise on the ultra-Orthodox sector and talk show host on the Lev HaMedina radio station.

There are many myths about the role and status of women in the ultra-Orthodox family and society. This video focuses on the image of the ultra-Orthodox woman, how she deals with the reality of life in ultra-Orthodox society, the ways in which she goes out to work, her leisure consumption, and her place and position in a variety of ultra-Orthodox circles. To discuss these issues, Dr. Lee Cahaner is joined by Mrs. Rivka Paluch, a strategic consultant for the ultra-Orthodox sector, who served as a special adviser to Prime Minister Sharon on religious political parties.

Dr. Anat Feldman, expert on the Shas Party and instructor at the Achva Academic College

The Sephardic Haredi community is one of the most complex groups in ultra-Orthodox society in Israel. What is the historical origin of this group? What is the relationship between this group and the Ashkenazic ultra-Orthodox community? What characterizes Sephardic ultra-Orthodox women? How do they dress, manage their homes, go out to work, and keep Jewish laws? What characterizes their position in society and what is the nature of their inner strength? Dr. Anat Feldman, a pioneer in the study of the Shas Party, expert on the Sephardic community in Israel, and instructor at the Achva Academic Campus, discusses these questions.

Ms. Riki Rath, journalist, Makor Rishon, and board member of the Bat Melech center for victims of domestic violence

As a result of changes in leadership, cultural changes, and economic developments, a number of relevant and significant sub-groups seem to have developed at the margins of Israel's ultra-Orthodox society in the past decade. These "modern ultra-Orthodox" groups are essentially similar to the ultra-Orthodox communities in many places in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. In this video, Ms. Riki Rath, a journalist for Makor Rishon, discusses women in the modern ultra-Orthodox middle class in Israel. Their modern attitudes are reflected in the status of women in the community and influence many aspects of life such as academic studies, representative jobs, an emphasis on careers, whether women drive or have a car, birth rates, women's leisure activities, and concern for style and personal appearance.

Mr. Bezalel Cohen, founding director of "Beit Chinuch Yeshivati," an association for the advancement of education in the ultra-Orthodox community

The education system in a closed society has special significance, since it serves as a protective mechanism that prevents the entry of foreign values. The ultra-Orthodox community in Israel runs its own education system, which is separate, independent, and unique. Practically every sub-group within this community establishes its own educational institutions. This reality makes the Haredi education system very complex even within the ultra-Orthodox community itself. In this video, Mr. Bezalel Cohen, the founding director of "Beit Chinuch Yeshivati," a Haredi yeshiva in Jerusalem that will include core secular subjects alongside its religious studies, explores the ultra-Orthodox education system for girls in Israel, focusing on its structure, complexity, and the values that it seeks to inculcate.

Dr. Anat Bart, researcher on divorce in the ultra-Orthodox community, Jerusalem College for Women

Ultra-Orthodox society invests a great deal of effort to eliminate personal, intimate, and romantic aspects of the process of finding a mate. These measures are seen by the community as neutralizing the sexual dimension of courtship and enabling encounters between the sexes that are intended to build a future family unit that will be based on other or additional foundations. In this video, Dr. Anat Bart, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on divorce in ultra-Orthodox society (2012), discusses the development of the ultra-Orthodox family unit and the nature of matchmaking and the process of choosing a spouse in ultra-Orthodox society. The second part of the video focuses on the less familiar process of breaking down the family unit and the experience of divorce in the ultra-Orthodox community, with an emphasis on the female perspective.

Attorney Vardit Rosenblum, rabbinic court pleader and fellow at the Mandel School for Educational Leadership of the Mandel Leadership Institute

Following on from the video on the establishment and dissolution of the family unit in Haredi society, this video deals with the role of rabbinic court pleaders with regard to the court, the family, society, the client, and themselves. Topics explored include a definition of the role of a rabbinic court pleader, the training that such advocates undergo, the feminine dimension that has been introduced to the studies that comprise the training, the various organizations that train rabbinic court pleaders, and the way in which rabbinic court pleaders deal with the issues that confront them in a variety of settings. Attorney Vardit Rosenblum, a rabbinic court pleader and a fellow at the Mandel Leadership Institute, shares her expertise on this subject.

Attorney Ariel Deri, CEO of the “Tov” ultra-Orthodox social movement

In the late 1990s, the first attempts were made to integrate ultra-Orthodox students into specialized tracks in Israeli colleges. These attempts were intensified when the Council for Higher Education in Israel announced its decision to establish a college that would be administered by an ultra-Orthodox non-profit organization, with content and pedagogy supervised by an accredited academic institution. Within a few years, this led to the establishment of the Haredi College of Bnei Brak, the Haredi College of Jerusalem, the Haredi extension of Ono College, and other institutions in which over 7,000 ultra-Orthodox students are studying today. This video focuses on the entry of ultra-Orthodox women into higher education. In it, Attorney Ariel Deri, CEO of the “Tov” ultra-Orthodox social movement, explores the subjects studied by Haredi women, the institutions in which Haredi women enroll, the entry barriers they face in applying for admission, how they perceive higher education (as a means of supporting their husbands or as a springboard for their own careers and self actualization), and how ultra-Orthodox society relates to the higher education revolution among Haredi women.

Naomi Perl, co-founder of the Ron Shulamit music conservatory for Haredi girls, director of the Mandel Leadership Institute's programs for leadership development in the Haredi community, and Founder of the Shluchei Tzibur program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The previous video in this series focused on higher education for ultra-Orthodox women. This video goes a step further and focuses on ultra-Orthodox women who distinguish themselves in varied disciplines and on the importance of their success for the development of a high status for women in the ultra-Orthodox world. Naomi Perl, the co-founder of the Ron Shulamit music conservatory for ultra-Orthodox women and the director of the Mandel Institute's programs for leadership development in the Haredi community discusses these issues in depth.

Ms. Eti Meller, director of the Tevet employment initiative's programs for the ultra-Orthodox community, JDC Israel

During the last decade, researchers and government bodies studying the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel have been looking for solutions for the problem of employment in the Haredi sector. This video focuses on the employment of women in ultra-Orthodox society, their motivation for going to work, the obstacles that they must overcome in order to enter the labor market, and ways to promote the issue of employment among women in the ultra-Orthodox community. These issues are discussed by Ms. Eti Meller, the director of programs for the ultra-Orthodox community in the JDC Israel's Tevet employment initiative.

Attorney Noach Korman, founder and CEO of the Bat Melech center for family justice and the Nigunim hostel for at-risk adolescent girls

The phenomenon of women and youth in distress and at risk on the margins of society is not new, and has been studied throughout the world. Women and girls at risk can be found in all sectors of Israeli society. This phenomenon cuts across class, cultural backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, economic status, and geographic location. This video describes the internal tools that ultra-Orthodox society in Israel uses to deal with women and girls at risk. It also discusses the factors that create situations of risk and alienation among Ultra-Orthodox women and girls, the ways in which the problem is dealt with on the level of family and society, and the treatment facilities that have been established within ultra-Orthodox society for these women and girls. Our guest in this discussion is Attorney Noach Korman, founder of the Bat Melech support center for religious women who are victims of domestic violence and of the Nigunim hostel for at-risk adolescent girls.

Ms. Shalhevet Hasdiel, Editor of "Fine Stylish," a Lifestyle Magazine for the Ultra-Orthodox Community

There are many preconceptions about the connection, or rather the disconnection, between ultra-Orthodox women and everything relating to beauty, fashion, and grooming. This may be due to the vast difference between the pursuit of physical beauty and the concept of "women's modesty." Stereotypes, however, often obscure a completely different reality. With the innovations in today's cosmetics market, there is no problem whatsoever in being beautiful while still observing Jewish law. In this video, dress, grooming, and leisure activities in the ultra-Orthodox community are discussed by Ms. Shalhevet Hasdiel, Editor of Fine Stylish, an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle magazine.

Prof. Tamar El-Or, Anthropologist, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The final video in the series is hosted Prof. Tamar El-Or of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Professor El-Or is a leading figure in the study of gender issues in ultra-Orthodox society and has written many books and articles on the subject. Published in Hebrew, her books include Educated and Ignorant: Ultra-Orthodox Women and their World, and Reserved Seats: Gender, Ethnicity and Religion in Contemporary Israel. In this video, she discusses gender issues in the ultra-Orthodox society, based on her research, and reviews the major points that emerged in the other videos in the series.