Jewish Haredim and Jewish Feminist Women are So Alike: They Protest at the Wrong Places

Allow me to express my Talmudic indignation over two misplaced Jewish protests by using a metaphor.

After the notorious thief Willie Sutton was apprehended, a reporter supposedly asked him, “Willie, why did you rob those banks?” His answer was, “Because that is where the money is.”

Beautiful. Sutton knew just what he wanted, and just where to go to get it. That’s why he had a good shot at being a successful and notorious bank robber.

By contrast I feel talmudically indignant that two groups of Jews have shown me lately that they know neither what they want, nor where they need to go to get it.

Let me imagine I can put reporter-like questions to spokespersons in New York City for Haredi Jewish men and feminist Jewish women who recently held protest gatherings.
To a Haredi Jewish man: “Why did you gather with 50,000 of your brethren at Wall Street recently?”
He replies, “To protest there against the impending Israeli laws that will require Haredi men to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.”
“Are you going to be drafted?”
“No, it’s Haredi men in Israel.”
“Are there any Israeli government official offices in Wall Street in New York City.”

To a feminist Jewish woman: “Why did you gather in a flash mob with a group of your sisters at Times Square recently?”
She replies, “To protest there against the sorry state of agunot, women abandoned by their husbands, who refuse to grant them Jewish divorces.”
“Are you one of the Agunot?”
“No, others are.”
“Are there any Jewish divorce offices in Times Square in New York City.”
To be clear and to fully disclose, I disagree with the cause of the Haredi Jewish men. I believe that Israeli Haredi men should serve in the IDF.

And I support with enthusiasm the cause of the feminist Jewish women. I believe that Jewish women are entitled for full civil and legal rights in all respects.

But I am equally talmudically indignant at the lack of logic and precision of goals and the poor choice of locations that has resulted in the apparent ineffectiveness of the protests of both groups of my Jewish colleagues.

You may very well say to me that a gathering of a protest crowd need not be in the exact place that matters, nor need it be held by those people who directly are affected and involved in the cause. You may argue that it is okay for supporters to gather at a random location like Wall Street or Times Square, because those are convenient venues, and because the point is for the groups to flex their muscles anywhere in public, and to show the world that crowds will gather to support the respective causes.

I’ll counter that claim with my observations. I think you need sincerity and precision behind your protests to make them credible and effective.

For the Haredim I’d argue that you’d need at least a few symbolic Israeli men who are affected by the potential change in law to be present at the rally. And you’d need to hold it in front of the Israeli Mission to the United Nations in New York City or the Israeli Embassy in Washington to make clear who is affected, and directly to address your protests to the perpetrators of the undesired change in the Haredi status quo in the State of Israel.

For the feminists I’d argue that you’d need to include a few symbolic agunot, actual women who cannot obtain a Jewish divorce. And you’d need to hold the rally in front of a Yeshiva or offices where the rabbis who control the Jewish divorce system work, perhaps in Washington Heights at Yeshiva University, or in Lakewood, New Jersey, at the high and mighty yeshiva called Beth Medrash Govoha which claims 6,500 rabbinical and talmudical students.

I ask then why would otherwise savvy and clever people engage in badly planned and misplaced protests?

Are these folks afraid of real confrontation at the source of the problem or, at least, at a place where they would find a reasonable proxy of the emanations of the evils that they seek to stop?

Or were these groups of Jews infiltrated by agents from their respective oppositions who slyly proceeded to convince them to arrange for toothless, ineffective protests?

Or were these groups of Jews satisfied at calling attention to their victimhood without any accompanying risks, and without any hope at all for practical outcomes from their protests.

I take these Jewish public policy matters seriously and at face value and ask the practical talmudic questions to the protesters: Do you want to protest to ameliorate your powerlessness? Do you want to stop others from usurping what you believe to be your liberties, your values and your lifestyles?

Then you cannot go with your protests to some random location with unfocused purposes. You will have to go, metaphorically speaking, right up to the banks to confront them, because that is where to money is.

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