Thursday, March 17, 2011

Unchain Their Hearts

Today is the Fast of Esther, commemorating Queen Esther’s call to her fellow Jews to fast on her behalf as she prepares to risk her life to save theirs. It is also International Chained Woman Day referring to those Jewish women (agunot) who are chained to husbands who either refuse to give them a divorce or who are missing (in battle or otherwise) but cannot be proven dead, and who are therefore married to the missing for the rest of their lives. (Women have no right to divorce in Judaism but do have the right to refuse a divorce their husbands may desire, so that men, too, can be chained.)

Many Orthodox rabbis work with women’s groups to find a way out of this nonsense, but estimates put the number of chained of women in the thousands.

Does this sound right to you? Does it make any sense to maintain a Bronze Age marriage bond that enslaves spouses to one another? Isn’t this just the kind of madness with which people who worry about Sharia are concerned?

Here in Tennessee I have spoken with many Jews who are worried about Sharia (Islamic law), and unconcerned about halacha (Jewish law). Why? Either because they believe halacha comes from God, or they have abandoned halachic observance, and choose to live their lives as modern rather than Bronze Age Jews.

Why do modern men and women voluntarily bind themselves to halacha and Sharia? The answer is that they believe this is what God wants of them. But this only begs the question: why believe in a god who demands this of you?

The answer to the craziness of religious laws isn’t legalized oppression of religious expression, but free men and women walking away from such craziness. As long as we in the United States maintain a country that protects both freedom of religion and freedom from religion, we don’t have to worry about either halacha or Sharia forcing us to live in ways most of us find repugnant. But this requires a knowledge of and support for the First Amendment that more and more Americans seem to be abandoning. The danger isn’t Muslim or Jewish orthodoxies, or even Christian fundamentalists who find freedom of religion a stumbling block to their version of a God fearing America. The danger is that we liberals will be out-maneuvered and lose the very rights that make the United States the exceptional experiment it is.


Lou Mindar said...

I went out with three Christian friends last night and the subject of Sharia law came up. All three were in favor of the Tennessee ban on Sharia, primarily they said, because of the way Sharia views women. Oddly, I've never heard any of these three voice any concerns previously on women's rights. One of the group, a Catholic, shares the Catholic church's stance on women. Even so, they are all very concerned with how Muslim women will fare under Sharia. Odd, don't you think?

andrea perez said...

Maybe we ought to change our names from Liberals and Conservatives to Those who support universal equality and those who support male dominated abusive control.
I can't imagine any woman independently choosing to be subjected to a male dominated iron fist. Unless she believes God is an abusive domineering man.Which I thought was not a stance of Islam. Didn't the daughters receive education and couldn't they teach long before our Jewish and Christian counterparts?
Alas, when any religion is interpreted by adolescent males, the hormone levels dictate the observance. It's time mothers called their sons to task in all faiths and reminded them to behave themselves.
And with all the sadness happening in Japan and the Middle East right now, who has time for all this hatred? It's really really sad.