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Rachel Freier Champions the Idealization of Motherhood in the Forward

ChoicesThe 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.

Link: Forward

Link to a discussion on Facebook about this post: Facebook.com


16 Comments
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  • Freedom to Choose

    There are times when religious women find pregnancy challenging. There are times when religious women may feel overwhelmed with another pregnancy, as Judy Brown describes — we are human. But those periods pass and when we cradle our newborn babies, we feel blessed and caress our treasured ones with love.

    HOW DOES SHE KNOW THAT THEY WILL PASS? Why should a mother be stuck with a child she will resent forever because she knew throughout the pregnancy that this was one child too many and that she could not handle the burden of this additional child? Why should this child and the other children of this mother have to deal with a mother who is now miserable and depressed because she is so stressed out? Every mother should have the choice to decide for herself what is right and wrong for her family and her body. That is all.

  • Chani

    It’s because of the Browns, Feldmans, feminists that Rachel has been able to attend law school and practice as a lawyer to support her wonderful family. I wonder if she realizes that.

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      Good point.

    • http://2nd-son.blogspot.com/ G*3

      I doubt it. In my experience, people from the right of the frum community will point to things like being able to have a career and ask what the feminists are complaining about. They don’t realize that a generation or two ago the feminists were complaining about women not
      being allowed to have careers, and it is because of those feminists that women in their community have careers now.

      • tesyaa

        people from the right of the frum community will point to things like
        being able to have a career and ask what the feminists are complaining
        about.

        Apparently, many younger women in the secular world have a similar negative attitude toward feminists, totally dismissing ealier feminists such as Betty Friedan who gave them what they take for granted today.

    • Fed up with chasidim

      Rachel Freier went to a regular Bais Yakov school where she got a regular secular education which included a regents diploma which allowed her to pursue a secular education. Rachel Freier chose to marry a Hasidic man and be Hasidic herself. Brown and Feldman grew up Hasidic, went to Hasidic schools where they did not get the secular education required to pursue a higher education.

      • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

        Honestly, that changes everything. She should have said that in her article.

        • Whatever

          I was just informed that the girls school that Judy Brown attended, Bais Yaakov D’Gur, is a Bais Yaakov school and they do take the regents exams. That means that only Feldman, who went to Satmar, did not take regents exams. Either way, Freier did not go to a Chasidic school officially makes her an outsider in the Bobov community and we all know that outsiders are treated differently than those who grew up in the community which may very well be the reason as to why she had the opportunity to attend law school to begin with.

        • liveandletlive

          I am curious. Why does that change anything? She is obviously living the Chasidic life. Feldman shouldn’t even be in the picture because it was way more than Chasidic life that happened to her.

    • liveandletlive

      That isn’t true. She was able to go go law school because there is nothing wrong with a frum woman being a lawyer.

  • http://twitter.com/EmesOrNT Miriam Brach

    As a personal narrative, it’s ‘nice’. But she never had PPD. She never felt pressured. She never had no choice. (I know, double negative.)

    As such, she cannot speak for others.

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      Precisely.

    • liveandletlive

      I saw her as a woman who went through some trouble conceiving and then appreciating the miracle of being able to have kids. I think everybody here is judging this woman way too harshly.

  • kweansmom

    She did not say that she argued in her law school class that abortion should not be legal. She said that she was objecting to the Supreme Court’s reasoning that pregnancy is an onerous burden, because many people, including herself do not view it that way.. She may in fact agree with the SC’s conclusions, but she was objecting to that particular use of language.

    Still, I could imagine the eyes rolling in that classroom. Even if she loves motherhood, that is not a reason to overturn Roe v. Wade. And her description of labor and delivery is a little too rosy-hued for my liking. Many of us would rather be having root canal. If she is indeed starting an EMT service to help frum women who need emergency services for labor, she better have a little more empathy for the moms who don’t feel they are having “the best day of my life”.

  • Elliot Pasik

    Ms. Brown is frum. She is part of the frum community. Her children attend yeshiva. We should all be proud of Judy Brown. We need more Judy Browns. Ms. Freier is frum, her children attend yeshiva. We should all be proud of Rachel Freier. We need more Rachel Freiers.

    We should all be proud of Jewish women everywhere. We should all be proud of Deborah Feldman. We need more Deborah Feldmans.

    We should all be proud of klal Yisroel. We are great.

  • Marty Bluke

    I have a problem with these kinds of articles because these are the exceptions that prove the rule. The average Chassidic woman does not and cannot go to law school for a variety of reasons including a poor secular education and societal pressure. That one woman managed to do so is simply an exception.

    I hate it when Charedi institutions/people make the claim that their women have free choice and can do whatever they want, because, in reality, NO they can’t.

    A few years ago, Aish Hatorah published an article Women at Work which claimed that Orthodox women can work at any job that they want. In the Charedi world (and certainly in the Israeli Charedi world) this is simply a very big lie. All the women that she brings as examples fall into one of 2 categories:

    1. Baalei teshuva

    2. They grew up in modern homes

    I find it very offensive when Charedi kiruv institutions use examples of Baalei Teshiva or people who were brought up in a more Modern home. Using these people as examples of how well religious Jews can fit into society is very misleading when the institutions themselves don’t believe in that hashkafa. According to Charedi hashkafa, Modern Orthodoxy is pasul and University study is prohibited, yet those are the examples they site when trying to be mekarev people.

    For more see Misleading statements in the name of Kiruv