(If you haven’t read Chaya’s article, you’ll need to read that first. Click: XOJane)
I am very happy that you have found personal satisfaction in your religious life. I am also happy you took to the Internet to profess your love for your personal relationship with God (and apparently your husband). I honestly wish every orthodox Jewish woman was as religiously fulfilled as you are. However, sadly this is not the case.
Which leads me to the real issues I take with your effusive article.
You represented your subjective experience as the objective experience of chasidic women. Making things worse, you failed to disclose in the article many important factors that contributed to your personal experience. Indeed, you made them clear in the comments, but it was too little, too late.
You were not born into orthodox Judaism. That means that you actually chose the life you live. That’s amazing and I am so happy for you that you arrived at what I believe to be the truth on your own. But the simple fact is that people who are born into orthodox Judaism don’t choose it. This means that they are stuck. For better or for worse. Some people are thrilled to be stuck. Others, not so much. But this means that while you feel like you are free to as you please. I am sure you realize that if an orthodox woman would put on “pants and go snort coke” she would probably be asked to leave the community and be handed a quick divorce and lose custody of her children. So it is not as free as you intimate. It might feel free to you because you chose it. But it is not free.
The second thing that you did not disclose, and this is a far more egregious error, is that you are a member of the Chabad sect of chasidus. The reason this is so crucial is because Chabad is different than every single other chasidic sect. There are absolutely no social correlations between Chabad and the other sects of chasidus. None.
In the words of Hella Winston (quoted from Unchosen):
With its “mitzvah tanks”, campus Chabad houses, celebrity stuffed fundraising telethons, and outposts across the globe, Lubavitch has become almost synonymous with Hasidism. This despite the fact that in the United State it numbers less than half the size of Satmar and is hardly representative of the Hasidic community as a whole. With their mission – unique in the Hasidic world – to attract unaffiliated Jews, Lubavitchers are raised to engage (Jewish) outsiders, doing missionary work wherever Jews are found around the world. […]
This emphasis on proselytizing has meant that a significant percentage of Lubavitchers were not born in the community but joined by choice. Often those who join […] have led formerly secular lives, which likely included a college education or beyond. […] Additionally, Lubavitch raises a substantial amount of money from non-Hasidic Jews […]. All of this is strong contrast to the other Hasidic sects, which include Satmar, Ger, Viznitz, Belz, Bobov, Skver, Sponka, Pupa and Breslow, to name only a few. In these sects, almost all members are born into the community, and none engages in formal outreach, making them comparatively more insulated from , and less aware of, the ways of the outside society than their counterparts in Lubavitch.
You see, the insular chasidic sects bear no resemblance to this world you love. Their world is even more closed and more insular. So your personal experience, while wonderful, has no relevance to the world of chasidic women in the insular sects of Satmar, Ger, Vizhnitz, Square, etc. More importantly, their world is a world where women are more oppressed than in the rest of orthodox Judaism. There are rules against driving, getting an education, men and women walk on separate sides of the street in some communities, there are very strict rules about sex, many women shave their heads, girls are wed after extremely short meetings to young men they barely know, they must wear synthetic (bad looking) wigs, can’t wear latest fashions (even the modest ones), I could go on and on. The point is that in these communities, women don’t feel the great freedom and empowerment that you feel.
Ironically, by ignoring all this omitted information, you are causing a disservice to chasidic women everywhere. You make it sound like things are all honky-dory. But they are not. I am sure many chasidic women love their lot in life. But your experience has no bearing on theirs. In fact, I would bet you wouldn’t last a week in Kiryas Joel or New Square! The things you love about your Judaism are simply not present in those uber-insular communities.
But the most difficult thing about your article is that it completely ignores that plain fact that in halacha, women can easily be perceived as second class citizens. This is an incontrovertible fact. Women cannot be rabbis, cantors, judges, witnesses in Beis Din, and they aren’t counted as part of a minyan. Women’s dress codes are medieval, their stained underwear is checked by rabbis, they are discouraged from using contraception, they don’t study the most important text of orthodox Judaism – the Talmud (because they are assumed to have weaker minds), and they don’t take positions of authority. Heck the women in Crown Heights are not even allowed to vote on communal issues! I am well aware of the various apologetics and interpretations of these rules. It could be argued that women have an elevated role and do not require the encumbrances of mitzvah observance. I have used them and taught them myself. Some people buy those explanations, but many others do not. It’s great that so many orthodox Jewish women are happy with their place in orthodox Judaism, but it is completely reasonable for women inside the system and outside the system to perceive orthodox Judaism as oppressive to women.
In sum, I respect your healthy exuberance for your Chabad lifestyle. I think it’s great. Share the love. By all means. But please do not generalize and use terms like “we” and “us” to describe your personal experience. Not only is it disingenuous, it actually harms the cause of those who are trying to advocate for women’s rights and opportunities in the chasidic and otherwise orthodox Jewish women. The future of orthodox Judaism will need to make adjustments to the way we deal with women issues (see: The Future of Women in Orthodox Judaism). Pretending it is perfect as it is, sets us backwards several decades.