Recent Netflix productions like Unorthodox and My Unorthodox Life have been painting Orthodox Judaism in a shitty light, and prompting a wave of defensive responses on social media, a la enlightened Orthodox Jews like Rabbi Doniel Katz and such.
The gist of their message is this: “How dare you accuse us of being primitive, backwards people? We, in fact, have degrees, have careers, and are happy. So very, very happy. Do not accuse us of being oppressed women, because, in fact, we have 17 kids, AND a career. We wear fashionable clothes, believe in science, and basically, are just like everyone else, except better, because we have the secrets of a Meaningful Life™.”
Before I explain why this premise is bullshit, two caveats. First of all, I think Netflix’s content is unrealistic fluff and I refuse to watch most of it. Julia Haart and her over-dramatization of everyday life for the sake of reality TV, is nauseating. And despite my eye-catching title, this post is not intended as an attack on any individual person, but rather on Orthodox Judaism as a whole.
Because, yes, Orthodox Judaism is bullshit, and I don’t care how many degrees or careers or smiles you have.
My main points:
Asking oppressed people if they don’t mind being oppressed is not a thing. I don’t care if it’s a woman speaking about her own experiences. If she was raised from age zero to believe that showing her elbows is wrong, and that she must cover her hair when she is married, then she can’t even conceive of any alternate reality. I believe in certain objective freedoms that all people deserve EVEN IF THEY DON’T ASK FOR THEM, and being allowed to show your elbows freely and get divorced when you want to, is on that list.
Other religions do this to, and you are very quick to mock them when they do. The “Empowered Muslim Woman” is definitely a thing, and it’s much easier to spot the absurdity of it when it’s not your own culture.
There are still a lot of things you can’t or won’t do, you’re just glossing over them. Ok, ok, you have a degree AND you made dinner. There are still a lot of limitations on being an Orthodox Jew, even when you live in the more liberal America (Israel is coming up next). There’s multiple halachic limitations, from Shabbat to Sex to Sins galore.
There are entrenched primitive beliefs that people are choosing not to focus on when they tout their surprisingly materialistic accomplishments. It is still very common in Orthodox Jewish media outlets to not show any pictures of women whatsoever. This is just a small example of an absurdity Orthodox Women take for granted, although there are much bigger issues that should be addressed as well.
There’s generally less quality education for men, even if women have the better end of this stick because they don’t need to spend as much time studying Torah. And even the degrees as a whole are shittier, if we call a spade a spade. Not that I’m a huge believer in pedigree, but many of the degrees Orthodox men and women obtain are shitty Excelsior College degrees that are basically a joke. I know this because I have this exact degree. So you manage to deceive the average person with your diploma mill degree. Very nice.
Orthodox Judaism is a single collective. This is my most important point, if I had to pick just one. At the end of the day, Orthodox Judaism of America considers itself part and parcel of Orthodox Judaism in Israel. From extensive financial support, to sending your kids to Israeli institutions after high school, to looking up to Israeli Rabbis with the highest regard, Orthodox Jews of America have their cake and eat it too – they soak in the liberal materialism of America, while basking in the spiritual glow emanating from the holy land.
And as long as you have not distinctly distanced yourself from your fanatical cousins across the pond, or in New Square and Williamsburg for that matter, you are complacent in their actions.
You are condoning men getting married at 19 after three dates to the first woman they meet. Men getting zero religious education and women getting an education that is not formally recognized by the Israeli government (and thus effectively useless). Condemning all technology as the work of the devil, even as the rest of civilization marches firmly into that new era. Covering up sexual abuse and protecting abusers.
You are complacent in all the bullshit that the extremists around you practice in the name of your religion, unless you specifically condemn and distance yourself from it, and I haven’t seen any Facebook posts about that any time recently.
All the people raising the roof about low quality Netflix productions which cast them in a bad light would be better served to ignore Netflix and their own reputation and focus their attention and indignant posts on the actual problems that lead to these allegations in the first place.