Sunday, November 2, 2014

Circle, Arrow, Spiral - Orthodoxy and Feminism - Reflections on an excellent book regarding

Guest post by Mrs. Rachel Eidensohn (my daughter-in-law) 

Review sent to the author  Miriam Kosman

As a 12th – 14th grade teacher, I was grateful to receive a methodical work which organizes together various ideas we tend to talk about randomly on a "need to respond" basis. I am a teacher, supervisor and adviser specializing in learning disabled teens from high school years through adulthood – Including marriage.

In the course of my job, I meet "women rights" issues in various circumstances: Parental conflicts in the student's families, pre-marriage courses, haskafa lessons, Tanach lessons and last but not least – Married students contacting me for consultation.

In my view, one of the most important things I do is instilling in the students the knowledge and feeling, that being a "Doormat" is NOT one of the characteristics of a Jewish woman. You will not find me teaching students "לוותר למען השלום". It is important for me to note that I have taught techniques to do this to Mechanchos of seminary ages in mainstream frum schools – such as the סמינר החדש. With the growing divorce rate in the background, my approach is highly accepted and appreciated.

The circle, arrow and spiral paradigm are a beautiful way to present the זכר/נקבה forces, which was new to me.

The idea brought in Devorah Heshlis's "The moons lost light", is a "must" for the frum intellectually minded women in this generation. Knowing that the changing status of women is an ideal happening towards the Geula, and not a perversion in Yiddishkiet enables the Jewish women of modern times to feel "whole" and not "perverse". I first came across it in Rachel Arbos's book "מאישה לאשה·", and was looking for more sources about it ever since. B"h I will get the book. I fell deeply indebted to you for introducing it to me.

The practical ramifications of understanding the nature of man/woman relationships are one of the most notable resources in the book. For example: Understanding the problematic results of taking away the natural responsibilities of the "man of the family" – unmotivated and irresponsible "grown ups".

I found book two an artful and refreshing harmony, explaining the Mitsvos in a logically satisfying way, without the apologetic tone which is so common in explanations of this nature. It is a pleasure reading an explanation which is not based on "The women is really better then the man" paradigm.

I realize your book is intended to be a מלכתחילה viewpoint of healthy Hashkafa, and not an apology to sins of (the frum) society. Nevertheless, as an observer of various unhealthy women relevant situations, I feel the lack of a few points of interest:

1.     In page 272 it is stated that "as a community, we have the obligation to use all of our resources to alleviate their pain, within the context of halacha". This is the only place in the book which mentions the need of changes in society, within the right context of hashkafa, of course . It is important that the reader should know that in a lot of areas, the treatment of women is not a ramification of Jewish hashkafa but ramifications of shortcomings in the application of Jewish law.
2.     Presenting the changes in practical Jewish law (הלכה) in accordance to the shift towards the woman's position before חטא אדם הראשון would enrich the book.
3.     Last but not least: As a life and marriage skills teacher, I keenly feel the absence of stressing that just as any other person, it is a woman's job to make sure her needs are respected, regardless of the "other side". Of course, a smart women "presents her case" in a womanly, haskkafa accommodating way. Nevertheless, after reading your book, a reader might get the (wrong) impression that if a female is misused in any way, she should realize it is not the way of Torah to treat her like that, but aside of asking society for support she can't do anything about it. This is a harmful message.
In other words, while you do provides tools for clarifying what a Jewish woman is - nonetheless at the same time you are unfortunately conveying the negative message that women can at most change the way they understand their roles - but that they have no right to ask for changes when Jewish society fails to deal with woman in the correct Torah manner. A counter message would give the book a balance towards perfection.

Thank you for giving us a beautiful, well based foundation in Jewish thought.

DT's response to the book  Disclaimer I received a review copy

My reaction to the book is twofold.  My response to the book is the reaction I have to Maharal/Rav Moshe Shapiro's views in general - which form the source of most of the author's ideas. Brilliant intellectual exercises but largely irrelevant to the real world. So while I would strongly recommend the book as a source for articulating a Jewish understanding of gender roles I was very disappointed for what it didn't contain. In other words it is good for teachers and kiruv workers but is largely useless for people like myself who want an understanding - not just an explanation. For example I was hoping to see some discussion of the change in the divorce laws through the last 2000 years - with an explanation of female role vs male role. She just says that Aguna is a difficult issue.

In short while I did see the beauty behind her male/female concept, I was primarily concerned by the latter 3 points that my daughter-in-law raised. I didn't see any evidence of her ideas pushing to a goal or ideal nor the use of them to explain women in real life. The focus was "these are principles but not people." It comes across as apologetics rather than a means of adjustment of the role of women as society changes. The principles are best used to justify the status quo rather than self-actualization or creating environments for spiritual and psychological growth.

p.s. I didn't read the whole thing. I sampled the material and kept coming up with the same impression so I stopped.


  1. Thanks to both of you for sharing your thoughts. The only the problem is
    now I would like to hear more from both of you on points 1 and 3. I saw another review which also would have liked more practical examples. I checked her website and read her article on gender separation on buses. Again like you say about the book, very philosophical but does not look at the practical issues. I can appreciate gender separation for over-crowded and chaotic buses but imho I think people with kids like to travel as a family and help each other with the kids. Wives would also like to sit next to their husbands.

    'the treatment of women is ramifications of shortcomings in the application of Jewish law.' – can you elaborate

    if a female is misused in any way, she should realize it is not the way of Torah to treat her like that, but aside of asking society for support she can't do anything about it. This is a harmful message. - so what can she do ?

  2. "Knowing that the changing status of women is an ideal happening towards the Geula, and not a perversion in Yiddishkiet"

    Whose shitta/idea is this? Nowhere is this said by any talmid chochom. It is said that the traditional Jewish status of women and of the male/female relationship and status is in fact most proper and best. And the changes wrought upon us by modern society and feminism terrible and destructive to society.

    We sho u of protect to the best extent possible b let the maintenance of the traditional status and responsibilities of the genders rather than accept the secular and non-Jewish world's changes to such.

    Much as we realize that "the changing status" of homosexuals is not "an ideal happening towards the Geula" and rather *is* a perversion of Yiddishkeit.

  3. I've have heard this idea re. women said by a great, widely-accepted talmid chacham. HIs interpretation is that the submissiveness of women, their secondary status, is a product of the קללה on Chavah. As the geulah approaches and starts taking effect, the קללות begin to weaken.

  4. There are no sources in the Torah or halachic literature stating any of the purported changes you're citing from some anonymous rabbi.

  5. So you say. Big deal. You're anonymous too.

  6. [Although the rabbi is not. I've heard him say this b'rabim, and I'm pretty sure it's in his sefarim too.)

    What's the name of this rabbi?

  7. An anonymous internet poster quoting an anonymous person who is supposedly a rabbi who supposedly made a public statement, but the anonymous internet poster refuses to say the name of the supposed rabbi who supposedly made a statement does not translate into any credibility.

    Especially if the since the supposed statement has no source in Torah literature.

  8. Yeah, I get it. You don't believe me. That's fine.

    Just so you understand, though, there's no credibility either for an anonymous internet poster who claims that there is no Torah source for a given statement.

  9. Actually if you claim there is a Torah source it is your duty to backup any claim you make by sourcing where and what the Torah source is. You haven't done so, so any such claim lacks credibility.

  10. My duty? Assigned by whom? I recognize no such duty, nor does any such duty exist.

    Or do you have sources to back up your claim regarding my supposed "duty"?

    In any case, I said I heard him say it b'rabim, and I'm *pretty sure* it's in his sefarim too. If I knew the precise location of the piece, I'd cite the sefer. But I don't know the location, and I'm not inclined to take the time to find it, notwithstanding my supposed duty to do so.


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