Racheli Ibenboim chats with writer Tuvia Tenenbom./Photo by Isi Tenenbaum
I may not be a dyed-in-the-wool feminist by any stretch of the imagination. But I have a strong sense of the rights of women to take agency in their own lives and a repulsion for the oppressive nature of men who harass women for their own reasons. That is why I was completely taken aback by Tuvia Tenenbom’s latest article “Everything He Wanted To Know About Sex Among the Orthodox.”
How this tabloid-worthy work of voyeurism could ever be considered a legitimate work of journalistic inquiry is beyond me. Which is a shame, because there is a so much to explore here.
Racheli Ibenboim’s story is fascinating. Here is a women, seemingly pious and observant, in love with her Hasidic lifestyle, but dedicated to being a change-agent in her community. She may have taken a step back due to internal pressures, but it seems that she has not stopped in her mission.
Yet instead of focusing on her deeds and actions, we’re given what amounts to some sort of voyeuristic look at a man who must fetishize women in thick stockings and wigs. The reader sits and reads with increasing shock as we witness the literal recreation of catcalls on the street. Tenenbom pushes her to a place no man that respects women ever should.
Ibenboim, to her credit, responds with great dignity when asked about the experience of marrying someone heretofore a complete stranger. But Tenenbom was obviously aiming for something lower.
He asks more directly about how it feels to be physically intimate with someone for the first time. Clearly uncomfortable she resorts to euphemism to maintain her dignity.
He pushes and pushes. She asks if they can move on. He tells her “No” — and asks again.
Is it ever acceptable to sit down with a woman and repeatedly ask her how her wedding night was, in the face of her discomfort and objections, again and again and again? Are Haredi women different than other women that their sense of personal boundaries and right to privacy is somehow denied to them?
Gur’s culture of sexual austerity may be a problem, but that does not deny Racheli Ibenboim a sense of privacy and decency. Yet Tenenbom tries to dissect her sexual encounters with the same level of lurid fascination that would be used to describe the mating life of primates or cannibalistic spiders on National Geographic.
One can only hope that perhaps next time Ibenboim will get the chance to be interviewed by someone who respects her for what she wants to do.
Mordechai Lightstone is a rabbi by training, but a blogger by choice. He can be reached on Twitter @Mottel