Hadarat nashim, translatable as “the exclusion of women,” is a Hebrew phrase with which few Israelis would have been familiar several months ago. Now there are even fewer, if any, who are unfamiliar with it. After first coming to the public’s attention late last summer over the issue of excusing Orthodox soldiers in the Israeli army from attending ceremonies and events at which female singers performed, it has subsequently been used repeatedly in connection with such things as separate sidewalks for women in some ultra-Orthodox sections of Jerusalem, gender- segregated seating on bus lines serving mainly Haredi passengers and, most recently, angry confrontations in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh, where groups of Haredim have been protesting the existence of a co-educational religious school in their neighborhood. Hadarat nashim is now a household expression.
On the face of it, one would assume it to be an expression with a long history. Although nashim in Hebrew just means women (a single woman is isha), hadara is an old rabbinic noun that was rarely used in contemporary Hebrew until now. It comes from the verb l’hadir, to exclude or abstain from something, as in the Mishnaic l’hadir mi’nekhasim, “to exclude from one’s property” — that is, to disinherit. L’hadir is the causative or hiph’il form of the verb nadar, to take a vow (the word for a vow is neder, which we all know from the Yom Kippur prayer Kol Nidre). Indeed, when we exclude or abstain from something, we vow to have no contact with it.
But hadarat nashim is not an old expression at all. Nor is it a rabbinic one. It is brand new and reflects the fact that while there are traditional halachic injunctions against certain kinds of contact between men and women, there are none excluding women from men’s presence or commanding men to abstain from women’s company. Moreover, the expression was not even minted in ultra-Orthodox circles. The earliest example of it that I have been able to find dates to August 2010. In an address given then, Liora Minka, chairwoman of the Modern Orthodox Israeli women’s organization Emunah, criticized a new Hebrew book, a paean to modern Israeli Orthodoxy called “Raising the Flag,” for containing thumbnail biographies of Orthodox men who have contributed to Israeli life, but not of Orthodox women who have done the same.
Minka declared: “Raising the flag? This is no way to do it. It’s a great blunder to try to enunciate the vision and intellectual substance of religious Zionism while excluding [maddirim] the female half of its public…. Unfortunately, the exclusion of women [hadarat nashim] is an all too common pattern of behavior in our ranks.”
Minka was talking about sexist attitudes in Modern Orthodox circles, not about the physical segregation of women in certain ultra-Orthodox ones. But the fact that no religious term for such segregation existed prior to hadarat nashim is evidence of how recent the phenomenon is. (Until now, the catchall rabbinic word for the proper place of women in the public sphere has been tsni’ut, “modesty,” which implies restrictions on female dress and comportment but has nothing to do with the physical separation of the sexes.) Far from having roots in Jewish tradition, this phenomenon represents a new form of super-fundamentalism that is as unprecedented as it is outrageous. In the end, the battle against it will have to be fought not only by the Israeli secular public, but also by — if they wish to preserve any semblance of sanity in their religious practice — Israel’s Modern Orthodox and Haredi populations.
Archaeologists digging near the base of the Western Wall in Jerusalem have announced the discovery of a ceramic seal the size of a button, dating to Second Temple times, with the Aramaic words dakha l’yah, inscribed in its clay. Dakha means “pure” in Aramaic, and yah is a shortened form of the Tetragrammaton, the ancient unutterable four-letter name of God (as in “hallelujah,” from the Hebrew hallelu yah, “Praise God”). Dakha l’yah thus means “pure to God,” and the seal’s finders have quite logically connected it with a passage in the Mishnaic tractate of Shekalim, which records the memories of rabbis who were alive in the Temple’s last years:
“Whoever [in the Temple] wished [to purchase] a libation [for a sacrifice], went to Yochanan, who was in charge of the seals, gave him money, and received a seal from him. He then went to Achiyah, who was in charge of the libations, gave him the seal, and received his libation. At the day’s end, they [Yochanan and Achiyah] met, and Achiyah handed over the seals and received the money for them [from Yochanan].”
That’s pretty much the same procedure that one nowadays encounters in some places — airport cafes, for instance — where one pays a cashier for one’s order, gets a receipt and hands that receipt to someone else, who fills the order. Imagine if such a receipt, having fallen to the floor and been swept into a crack, were to be discovered by an archaeologist 2,000 years from now. It might even be taken as proof that such things as airports once existed.
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