Sunday, November 07, 2004

Battle of the Religions

There are several "factions" of students in my nursing class. Out of 80 students, I would say 30 are Muslim/Arab (1 is Christian Arab), 20 are religious Jewish girls, and the rest are secular Israeli.

A worrying trend, contrary to previously stated school policy, has developed. The religious girls seem to be bent on not interacting with the Muslim/Arab students. We had to break up into groups of 3 for the rets of the year, in order to practice our new nursing skills on each other, and at the end of the dividing there were 3 people left over, 2 religious girl and a Muslim girl. And the religious girls refused to be in a group with the Muslim.

The va'ad (student council) decided that an erev gibush [evening to build cohesiveness] was in order. They (claimed) took pains to find a bar that would be acceptable to Jew and non-Jew alike, made sure the party would be when Ramadan was finished, and that it would be in a bar not open on Shabbat or that served non-kosher drinks. Unfortunately the Rabbinate of Jerusalem will not certify any bar as kosher, on the grounds that the acitivities inside the bar negate the kosher-ness of anything being served.

The fact does remain that the bar is not kosher. This is problematic for me. While in America I would meet up with friends at a non-kosher bar, and drink a beer from a bottle, or hang out in a non-kosher restaurant and have a drink, in Israel there is no reason for this. There is no reason for me to have to eat/drink in a non-kosher establishment, particularly here in Jerusalem, and I won't do it. However, I agreed to go to the bar evening, because I thought the need to bring the class together as a unit was more important.

Unfortunately, the 20 year old religious girls, didn't agree. They were stubborn and rude, and I was recruited to speak to them, since I am religious, a bit older, and assertive (even in Hebrew). I met with their unoffical leader, Talya, to try and get them to stop being so obnoxious.

I think Talya was totally shocked at my somewhat extensive halachik knowledge. I wear pants and skirts, and though I think even in pants I am obviously religious, I guess they thought that as skirt-wearers they must know more than me.

I tried explaining that while yes, the concept of ma'arit ayin [appearing to do an action that is wrong, even if one isn't really doing it - In this case, being in a non-kosher establishment, though not eating] applies, they must also take into account other halachik [Jewish law] precepts, such as 'al tifrosh min hatsibbur', the idea that cohesiveness as a group has merit; and the concept of "ayt la'asot", that there are certain times when an action that would otheriwise be considered incorrect, may be acceptable in this limited situation.

I asked the girls if they had consulted their rabbi with this dilemma, or just gone ahead and come up with an excuse to avoid hanging out with the Arab students. None of them had asked.

I hope I impressed upon these young minds the idea that Halacha should be used as a tool to develop your life, not an excuse to hide from it. As an outsider, someone who has lived in a world where I didn't always have the privilege of just going to a kosher restaurant instead, I pointed out how spoiled we've become, how inflexible.

I'm not so sure I got my point across. The girls still won't be joining the rest of the group tomorrow, which sort of foiled the point of the evening. But maybe over time they'll grow up. I pointed out to them that they chose to study in a mixed school (as opposed to Shaarey Tzedek Nursing School which is predominantly religious girls), and that they chose nursing as a career, where they will have to treat Jew and non-Jew alike, and set halacha aside for the moment sometimes, with respect to patient triage. And they will have to use Halacha as a tool in order to meet the rules of medicine, instead of using the Torah as an excuse to hide behind.

Meanwhile, I just went shopping and bought a new pair of high-heeled boots, Hush Puppies shoes (not terribly trendy, but very comfortable), a new skirt and a shirt. Yay!


Blogger amechad said...

Kol HaKavod to you. It's so unfortunate what these girls are doing ... hiding behind halakha to be closed minded/bigoted. I can understand not hanging with the Arabs (it's a hard thing to deal w/ when Jewish and Arab society mix... and too complicated to get in here, but of course u understand it).

Your model of halakha and religious observance is, IMHO, the right one and one that, if applied to more of Israel, would bring the Jewish people closer together. Of course, I wonder if living in the predominant non-Jewish society out of Israel for many years has had a strong impact on that. As someone in a similiar situation (though I think it's easier sometimes for females to "blend" in if they wear pants whereas if guys wear kippot it's much harder)/similiar background (though I didn't grow up observant yet I grew up in a strong Jewish community) I agree 100%.

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mother has this idea that I am a 'self-hating' religious Jew. But it's stories like yours that illustrate exactly the problem I have that appalls me, and should appall any religious Jew who reads this. Of course it is true that there are going to be idiots in any given group of people, as well as real sincerely amazing good-hearted people in the same group. Jews are not at alone in this, every religion, race, nation, etc., has their share of creeps. What gets me isn't that, it is, as you point out, the fact that Jewish bigots, for example, bond together and hide behind halacha as a defense for their indefensible actions.

I know all of these issues are extremely complex, but the view from the outside makes things look stark. Take the Rabbinate of Jerusalem's interesting ruling on bars, which you fairly gloss over here. You seem to have accepted this ruling upon yourself, which is your prerogative, and more power to you. But it seems to me that there are plenty of frum Jews who frequent certain bars in ways that they, and I can only assume their rabbis, do not see as violating halacha. And yet the Rabbinate has taken it upon themselves to extend their authority over the kashrut of food and drink to enforce their own moral views (derived from halacha, certainly. The letter of the law? Absolutely not.) upon everyone. Talk about hiding behind halacha -- they have used their huge influence to put forth their own moral agenda, whether or not it accords with the consensus of halacha. This means that anyone who has a different opinion of the rules about public behavior, drinking with goyim, etc., either has to toe their line or not technically be keeping kosher. Imagine, if such a thing were possible, that the Rabbinate decided to rule that nothing a woman eats while she is wearing pants is kosher. Would you then have to follow their dictate? Isn't this similarly an abuse of power, and hiding behind the authority of halacha?


11:17 AM  
Blogger Adrian said...

Your post made me despair for Israel. Truely , we have no hope of living together.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Y'yasher Kochech!

Well and admirably reasoned.


5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

screw the drama - does anyone else see the significance of buying hush puppies? perhaps Im paying too close attention

from chicago with love

7:21 AM  
Blogger Noa said...

Anonymous -- Glad you got the main gist of the posting. I am wearing them right now, and they are soooo comfortable! The boots, I must add, are ultra sexy, so not like anything I would ever buy, and I cannot wait to wear them. But they lack the comfort of the Hush Puppies

3:18 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

Hi Noa,

This report was really interesting. I have a few questions and comments.

If the religious girls didn't agree to go, then why did you? It no longer served to bring people in the group closer together.

I'm suprised the religious Moslems agreed to go to a bar.

I'm suprised that they chose a bar in the first place. If they were trying to bring people together why organize an event that creates controversy and highlights the differences between people? Why not have it in a Coffee shop?

There is a paradox here. On the one hand, there is tolerance of personal choice to refuse to partner with a student because of her ethnic group. This, by the way, is not at all obvious to me. I think it would be quite reasonable to expell a pupil for this or at least disqualify her from the activity.

On the other hand, when there is an attempt to address the problem of bigotry, its done without sensitivities to the legitimate differences in personal ethical standards of individuals in the group.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Like a previous poster, I agree that many problems for both Jews and muslims could have been avoided by having the get-together in a coffe-shop, or perhaps even better, in the school, in a decorated classroom. Or have a picnic in a local park.

The cup is half-full. With people like Noa, why should we despair for the future? It sounds like the vast majority of this diverse nursing class ARE interested in group unity. If only 3 out of 80 students are making an issue, then something is RIGHT here.


1:01 PM  
Blogger Noa said...

Andy -
I agreed to go because I am also a religious girl, though obviously of the more open-minded variety, and can serve to unify the group in some way, because I still do represent the religious contingency (though I may not be very proud of the group I represent).

I was also surprised the religious Moslems agreed, and actually all of them didn't. A few of the more religious girls said they couldn't/wouldn't go as well.

Here's the deal: I was not part of the group that chose where to have this shindig. Had I been, I would never has said it was ok (as a rep of the religious people) to host it in a bar that lacks a te'udat kashrut. I wasn't even aware of the Moslem issues (though there was a Moslem guy on the group that made the decision - but he isn't as religious as some of the others, and thus okayed it). I also think if the goal was to unify, then as a l'chtachila it should have only been in a place not unacceptable to anyone.

However, as a b'di'eved, when the place was already chosen and the evening set, and it was too late to change it, I thought we should do the best with what we had.

As for the students who refused to be in a group with the Moslem girl, the "acceptance" of this behavior was not what you think. Only a few of us knew what had happened (those responsible for making sure everyone was in a group) and had we notified the administration those 2 girls would likely have been expelled. I was all for turning them in, mind you, but the rest of the group decided that if one of us (me) blasted them out, and they never did it again, we should give them that chance to change their ways.

Sarah -- I agree with you, and the previous poster. It was just a matter of knowing about the issue too late. Next time (if there is one), we will do something else. B. recommended going bowling, and I suggested having the hospital free up a room for a party at night. The intolerance here was not just on the part of the religious was also on the part of the organizers, who failed to give appropriate weight to everyone's issues.

Though the organizer included a religious girl and a Moslem boy, they both said later they felt bull-dozed into agreeing with the rest of the group.

And I'm glad you have faith in me :)

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think there is any ma'aras ayin involved even if there is no hashgacho - or if there is, there is no more than in a bar w/ no hashgacha in chutz la'aretz.

However, if there were an issue of maaras ayin, then the arguments you gave (al tifrosh min hatzibur and eys la'asos) are terribly misapplied.

A Skirt Wearer (not that I think there's much halachic reason to avoid wearing pants)

8:56 PM  
Blogger TheHock said...

I stumbled across your blog last night and found it interesting. Keep up the good work.

I’m writing with the assumption that when you say religious you mean orthodox. (Hay you never know, the definition of the words Jew, Jewish, Religious, Art etc. always seem to be expanding). This is not a blind assumption; I made it based upon the content of the post, so I hope I’m correct.

I am not a Rabbi or Rebbetzen and do not feel “holier than thou”, we all struggle trying to do what’s right and we all make mistakes. However being orthodox we can’t just make things up as we go along. I am perfectly fine when someone tells me their “Makil” [lenient] in law X because there is a respected Halachic authority that allows it. I’m also comfortable with someone who says hay, I know I’m NOT allowed to do X however it’s my problem-area and one day I’ll correct it. However to say something is ok because you want to feel comfortable doing it, doesn’t sit well with me.

It seems to me that the post started out with a social issue not a religious one. I mean if it were two Jews and a Mexican I don’t think there would be a problem. So lets think, why would two Jewish women treat an Arab different then a Mexican? Uuuuu… I know because we are in the middle of a fifty-year war! Granted, the Arabs in school may be good people and don’t deserve to be treated this way however the question is, can you blame the girls for acting this way? Can you honestly say that the girls are bigots? I think it’s to be expected. Think for a moment, if a murderers mother (a great person) calls the victims family to express her condolences, can you blame the family for hanging up the phone?

Then the story takes a turn (here it gets religious). And I must admit I find it quite funny.

You had a problem:
Two Jewish girls do not what to be partners with an Arab

Wait till after Ramadan so the Muslims are comfy and then take them out to a non-kosher institution that’s primary purpose/product is alcohol. Duuuh.. Religious Jews only eat kosher and Muslims can’t drink alcohol, what a fantastic idea. Also, the fact that many religious people (Jew and Muslim) do not feel comfortable in a bar is no secret. If they were arranging a meeting for business clients would they have made the same mistakes? I think not…

Next.. You write “Unfortunately the Rabbinate of Jerusalem will not certify any bar as kosher, on the grounds that the acitivities inside the bar negate the kosher-ness of anything being served. “

Unfortunately? Why Unfortunately? Do you think that the Rabbinate SHOULD certify all institution that serve kosher without considering the activities inside? How about a Glat Kosher strip club, do you think it would be ok for the Rabbinate to certify? If your answer is no, then we agree in principle that what goes on IS there business, the question is only “what type of activity” should disqualify an institution form being certified. It’s the Rabbinates opinion that an institution that serves alcohol and is used by men and women to socialize is not something they what to indorse.
Why is it different then a corporation that pulls its advertising off the air after the station did/said something that dose not agree with the image the company wants to portray?

You say
“A bar not open on Shabbat and that served only kosher drinks” …. “The fact does remain that the bar is not kosher”

Did I miss something, how can a bar that serves only kosher be not kosher? Because it has no kosher certification? That suddenly turns the kosher beer into shrimp? Don’t you know that the concept of formal certification like the OU, OK etc only started AFTER WW2. Do you think that in Russia there were “Kosher Certification companies?” no way in hell.

You said “You drink a beer from a bottle …”
Why this sudden “chumra“ [stringent]. The vast majority of authorities are of the opinion that at a bar you can drink directly from a glass (Drinking directly form a bottle may have is own halachic problems).

You say you “hang out in a non-kosher restaurant and have a drink”… can you explain to me why that’s not “ma'arit ayin”… Would you not agree that if you drove by a Wendy’s and saw a guy with a Yarmuka sitting at a table … you would do a dubble – take.

And now for the “somewhat extensive halachik knowledge.”
So now its been arranged for religious girls to meet at a non-non kosher institution, and they don’t want to go, ladies and gents … taddaaa 'al tifrosh min hatsibbur' and "ayt la'asot". i.e. not only should they go but they are obligated to go. I’m sorry but these are not get out of jail free cards. Where dose it end? How about the fact that most of Israel i.e. the “tsibbur” is not religious. That it “al tifrosh min hatsibbur' just throw the religion out the window. You forgot to mention “N’shtanu Haitim” [times have changes] and “N’shtonu Hativim” [nature has changed] and don’t forget “N’shtonu HaGufim” [out bodies have changes] keep em coming baby... Hey let get Talmudic.. [Pilpul] Since there is an “Eruv” around Jerusalem that allows one to carry on Shabbat even thought it is otherwise BIBLICLY forbidden is it then not logical that an “Eruv” has the power to override the laws of “ma'arit ayin” witch is merely RABBINIC? You get my drift …

You say “And they will have to use Halacha as a tool in order to meet the rules of medicine”
1. Halacha is not used, it’s lived
2. How about using medicine as a tool in order to meet the rules of Halacha”

10:53 PM  

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