Tag Archives: Orthodox Judaism

First person: Breaking the chains of religious tradition

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Where I come from, girls are married off as teenagers to men they barely know and are expected to spend their lives caring for their husband and children. They are required to cover their hair and nearly every inch of their skin, and to remain behind a curtain at parties and religious events.

Where I come from, if a woman wants to feel her hair blow in the wind or wear jeans or attend college, the courts have the authority to take her children away from her.

Where I come from, you might be surprised to learn, is the United States. Specifically, New York and then New Jersey, in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Recently, two women have brought national attention to the fact that Orthodox Jewish women who leave that insular community risk losing custody of their children: Deborah Feldman of New York, whose memoir about her escape from the Satmar Hasidic sect hit The New York Times best-seller list; and Perry Reich of New Jersey, whose custody battle — which includes accusations from her husband that she sometimes wears pants — earned her an appearance last month on the “Dr. Phil” television show.

My story is similar to theirs. When I was 19, my family arranged for me to marry a man who turned out to be violent. With no education and no job, and a family that refused to help me, I was stuck. By age 20, I was a trapped, abused, stay-at-home mother.

Ten years later, still trapped and unhappy, I finally took what became one of my first steps away from Orthodox Judaism: I stopped wearing a head covering.

The consequences were swift and severe. My family cut off contact with me; one of my five siblings kept in touch long enough to inform me the others were contemplating sitting shiva for me, or mourning as if I had died.

Perhaps most shockingly, several rabbis informed me I should say goodbye to my children because I was going to lose custody of them during my looming divorce proceeding.

They were not bluffing. Numerous family attorneys unaffiliated with any religion advised me to stop publicly flouting Orthodox laws and customs.

As the attorneys noted, and as illustrated by Feldman’s and Reich’s experiences, judges look at religion as one factor in a custody dispute and generally view stability to be in the children’s best interests.

They have been known to award custody to the parent who will continue to raise the children in the same religion as before the family breakup.

Where I come from — that means here in the United States, in 2012 — women fear, legitimately, that they might lose their children if they lose their religion.

Feldman and I each managed to settle and avoid divorce trials, and each of us retained custody of our children. Others have not been as lucky. Reich, for example, remains mired in her custody battle.

Fear in the religious community, therefore, persists. I recently started a nonprofit organization, Unchained At Last, to help women leave arranged marriages, and the most common inquiry I receive is from Orthodox Jewish women who want to leave the religion and are willing to accept ostracism from their family and friends, but are terrified that a judge might remove their children.

For many, their situation seems especially hopeless because they, like Reich, felt pressured to allow a beit din (an Orthodox Jewish court) arbitrate their divorce.

The beit din’s binding decisions and agreements routinely include a provision that the children will be raised within Orthodox Judaism.

Secular courts generally enforce those decisions and agreements, even if a mother later realizes she does not want to raise her children in a religion where men bless God every morning for not making them a non-Jew, a slave or a woman.

Where I come from — the United States — the First Amendment is supposed to empower people to choose whether and how to practice religion, without interference from secular courts. What went wrong?

(Fraidy Reiss is the founder/executive director of Unchained At Last. She lives in Westfield, N.J. A version of this commentary first appeared in The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.)


Belief Bytes: Thursday Religion News Roundup

Here is your Religion News roundup for today:

Graphic from CARA's Mark Gray. Courtesy of RNS.

c. Religion News Service 2012
Reprinted with permission

“HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says a new rule on contraception coverage is coming soon, and they pinkie swear that they’ll get it right this time.

Maine Republican Olympia Snowe isn’t waiting around for her party’s right wing to drive her away; she’s quitting while she’s ahead, and maybe making way for a Democratic pick up.

A federal judge in Montana sent around an ugly, racist email about President Obama, but he’s guilty with an explanation: “I didn’t send it as racist, although that’s what it is,” chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull. “I sent it out because it’s anti-Obama.”

Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and executed by terrorists in Pakistan in February 2002, is another deceased Jew who was baptized by proxy by Mormons.

And remember the saga of the Orthodox Jewish high school basketball that was going to have to forfeit a big playoff game rather than play on the Sabbath? The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools that refused to reschedule the games is getting more heat.

Read the rest of the article here:

-Samantha Freda, Wilmington Faith and Values news intern

Has Matisyahu left Judaism?

c. 2011 Religion News Service

(RNS) Matisyahu, the improbable but undeniable reggae star, announced on Twitter on Tuesday (Dec. 13) that he is shaving the beard that has long marked him as a Hasidic Jew.

Fans are confused.

Matisyahu in 2006 from RNS archives

Is he giving up the Orthodox brand of Judaism he adopted 10 years ago, and the ultra-religious persona that helped launch him to reggae stardom? Or is he still a very observant Jew — just sans beard?

Asked one fan on his website, which includes a picture of the newly shorn musician: “Are you denouncing your Faith?”

Here’s what Matisyahu, Billboard magazine’s reggae artist of the year in 2006, tweeted:

“No more Chassidic reggae superstar … At a certain point I felt the need to submit to a higher level of religiosity … to move away from my intuition and to accept an ultimate truth.”

Now, Matisyahu continued, still rather cryptically: “I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission.”

Matisyahu, 32, who grew up Matthew Paul Miller in a Jewish family but not an Orthodox one, has created a certain cognitive dissonance for Jews, said Mark Kligman, a professor of Jewish music at Hebrew Union College in New York.

“It’s the paradox of an outwardly Orthodox Jew singing in a tradition that has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism,” Kligman said. He speculated that Matisyahu felt some of that dissonance himself.

“It could be that this is his own processing of that experience,” said Kligman, who added that it doesn’t appear that the singer is shedding his religion.