The Forward deserves a lot of credit for publishing a very nice article written by Rachel Freier about the joys of Hasidic motherhood. Unlike Judy Brown, Freier is still part of the Hasidic community and she argues that being a yiddishe momme is who she is. It defines her. She argues that the pressure and value placed on having children in the Hasidic community is vital and a beautiful part of her lifestyle. It is what makes her life worth living.
Freier is an attorney. I don’t know for sure, but I think she might be the only Hasidic woman who is a lawyer (NOT INCLUDING LUBAVITCH). As an orthodox Jew, I am very proud of women like Rachel Freier. With all the talk of whether women can “have it all”, she is a example of someone who does have it all. She has a family – 6 kids. She has a career – a law practice. She has religion – Hasidic Judaism. She has it all. As a role model, I think she is an excellent person for orthodox Jewish women to emulate.
It’s also inspiring to see someone who has it all, coming back to their role as a parent, and in her case as a mother as the thing she values most and as the part of her life that defines her. I cannot say it with any more conviction – More Rachel Freiers please!
But, and you just had to know there was a “but” coming, I don’t entirely agree with her approach.
I think Freier makes a mistake that a lot of women with traditional values make. They think that feminism or modern gender roles seeks to eliminate the traditional homemaker or yiddishe momme from society. Therefore, they will argue that there is a lot of value and beauty in traditional roles where women are mostly mothers and wives.
But that argument is not a counter argument to feminism. It is not a counter argument to the Deborah Feldmans and Judy Browns of the world. All they are arguing is that women should have a choice. If a young woman wants to marry after a couple dates, great. If a woman want to have children right away, great. If a woman wants to have a large family, great. But what if they don’t? Should they be pressured? Should they be forced? Should they feel like they must do what they don’t want to do?
Brown, Feldman, feminists, etc. want women to have choices. Freier is happy with her life. That’s great. Really. I hope many women can follow in her footsteps. I am happy for her and for the thousands and thousands of women who chose motherhood, or even if they merely accepted motherhood, but did so with exuberance and gusto. But there are too many women (and men too) who would like to have options.
By limiting options, traditionalists are implying that with a choice, too many would opt out. That doesn’t make for a very compelling case to opt in. So what I suggest strong, successful, more traditional women in the Hasidic and non-Hasidic communities do, is join the voice of the progressives who want women to have that choice and then and only then make their case for traditionalism. Don’t make the case for traditionalism and hope to head off anyone from rejecting it. Give our daughters every option available to them and guide them, teach them what values you think are important. If they buy in, great. If not, they will be productive, happy, contributing members of society in other ways. They may have but a few children instead of half a dozen or more. Or they may postpone motherhood for a few years. Let them. Please.
Rachel Freier had options. She is a lawyer. Clearly, she has excellent command of the English language. But far too many of the young women in her community are deprived of the tools that would enable them to have a choice and they march in lockstep to a sit in date at 17, the bridal canopy at 18, and the maternity ward at 19, and at 21, and at 23, and so on.
I know that Freier does not appreciate this point because of her law school anecdote. She took a brave stance in her law school classroom discussion on abortion and argued that abortion should not be legal because “having children is a blessing and each day that I gave birth was the most memorable day of my life. The joy of motherhood cannot be properly described in a law school casebook.”
That’s a great argument in favor of someone electing not to abort a pregnancy. It is not a valid argument against giving women a choice about aborting a pregnancy. I am not arguing that abortion is good, bad, or otherwise. There are perhaps very good arguments to ban abortion. The joy of motherhood is not a valid argument when the potential mother does not want that joy or maybe she doesn’t even feel it. This anecdote shows that Freier misses the point on the choice to have an abortion and on the march to motherhood. Women should have choices, so long as they are moral and justifiable in one’s legal and ethical code. There is nothing in halachic Judaism that should prevent a young woman from having a choice.
Let’s not forget, that there are many women in the Hasidic community who would never let their daughters attend law school. Would Ms. Freier not argue that even Hasidic women should have that option?
We love our yiddishe mommes. They play a very important role in the future of our people. We want our yiddishe mommes to want to be yiddishe mommes and embrace that role. But it’s only one role. It need not be the only role.
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