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Rabbi Eliyahu on a Woman’s Place

There seems no end to the stream of astounding stories out of Israel relating to the official rabbinate there.

This one, for instance, which says the rabbinate revoked an Ethiopian immigrant’s conversion to Judaism in retaliation for the legal action against a prominent rabbi. The immigrant was injured when he tried to leave the parking lot where she was the attendant without paying, and drove right over her.

This week brings another story relating to women — as so many of these rabbanut-related stories do — brought to us courtesy of former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who is considered one of the most important living Sephardic halachic interpreters and kabbalists. The rabbi condemned his colleagues who “kowtow to women.”

According to the story on the Israeli news Web site Ynet:

During a Torah lesson delivered Monday, the prominent national religious leader spoke at length about the importance of observing chastity codes. He advised soldiers to cover their ears during military ceremonies that include women singing. “It’s better to go to jail than to obey the commander and hear a woman sing or play,” he stated.

Eliyahu stressed that listening to a woman deliver a speech, if she did so while using hand gestures, was also forbidden: “It’s very serious. One should watch out for these things.”

Hand gestures? I infer from the story that a woman delivering a speech (not that women have many opportunities to do so in front of a mixed audience, in Rabbi Eliyahu’s world) using hand gestures is forbidden because it’s potentially arousing to a male listener. If this is the rabbi’s reasoning (though “reason” seems a nearly impossible term to use in the context of this discussion), then it says far more about the way the rabbi views men than it does women.

It is a strange, sad view of human behavior and potential. Unfortunately, it continues to be women who ultimately pay the price for attitudes like his — relegated to ever-shrinking domains where it is “appropriate” for women to be present, to be visible, to be human.

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