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Have you ever met a chasid?

Radio 4 recently hosted 3 Orthodox Jewish women to talk about their lives. The premise of the program was to disprove the stereotype that shtisel and Unorthodox perpetuated. It was a program to announce that we are not likethem. Thankfully, the eminent Rabba Lindsey Taylor Goodhart was one of the interviewees, and was there to counter the social worker and rebetzen who proclaimed that orthodox women are separate but equal. In attempting so prove how different she is from those chasidim she finds so embarrassing, she sounded extremely similar to everything I have every heard in the Chasidic community. At least everyone had nice London accents and no one had a husband who wears a furry hat.

Have you ever met a Chasidic man?

One who speaks in heavily accented English, who wears his tzitzis over his shirt, but under his waistcoat, with peyos and a large black yarmulka and an obvious lack of social nous?

Maybe you looked at him and appreciated the shtetle-esque image, maybe you chuckled at the jokes he told as he tried to find some common ground with you. Maybe you looked away in disgust at the picture he projected of unpolished, unapologetic Jew. Maybe you laughed at him, maybe you laughed with him.

Maybe you like to visit Stamford Hill or JTrade or to clap a chasid on the back but you recoil at the thought of your daughter ever marrying someone like that.

You wouldn’t employ someone like that.

You read the scandals and cringe at the exposes and either wish no one ever wrote them, or boil in sanctimonious rage at the audacity of that kind of jew.

Maybe you read my articles and nod along as you read, because I am writing about them. Not about people in our backyard, in our living rooms, in our shuls.

Not us.

We kid ourselves that there is some magical border between the mainstream community and the Charedi world, and definitely between the mainstream world and the Chasidic community.

When we think of child abusers and cover ups, we think of old men with long beards and antiquated approaches.

We think of mikvas, chadorim, maybe an all-male beth din hearing.

We don’t imagine  that bestselling authors with neatly trimmed beards could be raping little girls, or that the owner of our chidren’s daycamp is storing child abuse images on his iphone.

Our Judaism is polished and presentable.

We have degrees and privilege and disdain for all things too heimish. Sure, the odd Dayan has an affair, but only with adult women. It’s not as if he molested anyone.

We have respectable professional organisations that address any issues anyone might encounter and as long as no one points out where these organisations fall short, we can maintain their shiny surfaces and clean lines.

Just don’t prod at anything.

Outside of Stamford Hill, we aren’t so uncouth as to tell OFSTED inspectors our prejudices to their faces.

We are more covert in our intolerance, misogyny and sexism.

Our clean shaven, blue shirted men wear polished leather shoes and that makes their patriarchy ok.

We like our rabbis to be well spoken, so they can deliver entertaining sermons, but they don’t need to be feminist allies or welcoming to LGBT people.

We don’t think about how they treat their wives or whether their sons are withdrawn from school before the legal leaving age.

We like the fun, energetic young couples who run our cultural events and the school trips to Eastern Europe, so we dare not question the practices, ethics or ideologies that fuel the kiruv world.

We enjoy inspiring zooms, nice atmospheres, feel-good events and charismatic rabbinic couples. We want a shul with a good children’s service and a good kiddush. If no women are on the board, that’s just too bad. Sure, we roll our eyes and sometimes even raise our eyebrows but that’s it, really.

That’s just way it is, people tell me. You can’t hope for more. We are really narrow minded here, you might laugh. Or cry.

I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that this community doesn’t want more; from our leadership, both lay and rabbinic, and from our membership, too.

I don’t believe that we don’t want to progress, and grow.

I don’t believe that we want to drive so many people away. Chasidim make good headlines, but we risk overindulging in easy stereotypes as a way of deflecting from our own deficiencies.

Yehudis Fletcher is a political and social activist. She co-founder of www.nahamu.org and an ISVA at Migdal Emunah. She is studying social policy at Salford University.

Source: Jewish News

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