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NYC Mayoral Candidate Runs Into Jewish Misogyny

New York City is all atwitter over the fact that Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota made a “faux pas” by walking into a Jewish temple with — gasp! — women with him, though it seems to me that this is entirely the wrong part of the story to focus on.

Lhota’s first blunder occurred Wednesday, as he, aides and reporters made what appeared to be an impromptu stop at Congregation Shomrei Shabbos, a small synagogue famous for holding services every 15 minutes almost around the clock.

Lhota’s entourage included his liaison to the Jewish community, Michael Fragin, a couple of women among the clutch of campaign staffers and six or seven reporters, said those who were with him. When they walked into Shomrei Shabbos, afternoon prayers were taking place in the sanctuary and the women were soon asked to leave. “The rabbi was clearly agitated and wanted the women gone,” New York Observer reporter Ross Barkan told Haaretz. “Lhota paid his respects and dropped a dollar into the donation box” and then the group left the synagogue. Lhota “didn’t seem as well briefed as he might have been” on the customs, Barkan said.

Yeah, if he had been briefed he might have — should have — stood in front of the temple and told the press that the temple’s gender segregation is unjust and absurd. After one female journalist who was with the candidate posted about it, a Jewish journalist responded to her:

One of those reporters, Erin Durkin of The Daily News, tweeted Wednesday, “Female reporters and staffers ejected from ‪@JoeLhota4Mayor stop at Borough Park synagogue,” while her story about the incident was headlined “Joe Lhota does nothing as women with him are kicked out of Brooklyn synagogue.”

Jacob Kornbluh, a reporter for Yeshiva World News and a Borough Park resident, said he spoke to Durkin as Lhota made his way into the synagogue. “I told Erin when we entered I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to go in, you should stand by the door,” Kornbluh told Haaretz.

He added that Lhota was accompanied by female staffers and that Durkin “pushed herself in” when she saw the other women enter the temple. “Within a minute were all asked to leave because it’s disrespectful to enter with women while people are praying,” he said.

Well of course. It’s “disrespectful” to let icky women into the building while those far more important men are talking to their imaginary friend. It’s not at all “disrespectful” to women to think they’re so dirty that they can’t come in.

When asked about the incident by reporters, Lhota defended the synagogue, saying, “Throughout the Orthodox world, the Orthodox Jewish world as well as the Orthodox Muslim world, there are certain places that women are not involved in. I will not as mayor violate their First Amendment constitutional rights for their religious practices.”

That’s a non-sequitur. That they have a first amendment right to be sexist does not mean that you have to respect that or refrain from criticizing it. It’s misogyny, plain and simple. And it should be condemned by anyone who wants to hold public office.

Comments

  1. dugglebogey says

    That’s a “rock and a hard place” situation. He obviously doesn’t agree with their attitudes towards women, but he still wants Jewish people to vote for him so he doesn’t want to blatantly criticize their religious beliefs.

    I don’t think I’d criticize him too harshly for not screaming “misogynists!”

  2. Dunc says

    it’s disrespectful to enter with women while people are praying

    Interesting way to phrase it…

  3. matty1 says

    Maybe if he’s worried about the first amendment and not taking sides on religious issues he should keep his campaign away from places of worship.

  4. says

    I remember reading some article about how men of my father’s generation made a big deal out of “martini culture” because mixing drinks was the only household activity men controlled. I think the same factor is at work in these synagogues: the men, in their grand supremacy, have kicked more and more of the ordinary scutwork of normal life “down” to women, because men had so much more important things to do…only to find they’d left themselves with NOTHING important to do! So now the men have to retreat into their holy places and pretend that’s the important work they were made to do. And once they’re locked in that attitude, there’s no way they can let any women barge into the last place reserved only to men.

    It’s not about spirituality or religious rules; nor is it about protecting women from danger or having honest discussion of male issues; it’s about men clinging to the last pretenses of male specialness.

  5. eric says

    @2:

    He obviously doesn’t agree with their attitudes towards women, but he still wants Jewish people to vote for him

    Why do you rule out the possibility that the vast, vast majority of American Jews would not change their vote (from for- to against-) if he stood up against sexism? Put another way: I would not assume that the orthodox community’s sexism is representative of American Judaism, either theologically or politically.

  6. raven says

    I would not assume that the orthodox community’s sexism is representative of American Judaism, either theologically or politically.

    It’s not.

    In Reform Judaism, the largest US sect of Judaism, women can be Rabbis.

    It didn’t seem to bother Yahweh. He didn’t say anything.

  7. lofgren says

    I would not assume that the orthodox community’s sexism is representative of American Judaism, either theologically or politically.

    I would not assume that either.

    I would assume, albeit only because none of them has yet been willing to test it, that the best course of action for any politician when it comes to questions of religion is basically Lhota’s strategy here: put your hands in the air and swear to keep them where everybody can see them (and don’t even think about reaching for a ten foot pole).

    Why is this a good strategy? First of all, any negative comment that Lhota makes will be sure to enrage misogynists of all stripes. And there are a lot of them. And he needs their votes. But more importantly speaking up about his opinions of any religious belief opens him up to a whole host of uncomfortable questions related to every custom of every religion in his constituency. “No comment” is just the safest way to go.

  8. blf says

    I would not assume that the orthodox community’s sexism is representative of American Judaism, either theologically or politically.

    As others have said, it’s very possibly not. I was once invited to attend the evening prayers at a synagogue in Brooklyn by a good friend of mine (who has since started training to become a rabbi) and his wife (also devout, and also a friend). Beside her, there were other women in attendance, albeit there clearly was more male than females. There was no segregation that I can now recall. No-one was bothered by my presence and were quite willing to explain what it was I had seen. I even got a few invitations to an upcoming holiday feast (which I was unable to attend).

  9. otrame says

    So now the men have to retreat into their holy places and pretend that’s the important work they were made to do.

    When my dad was a young airmen in the Air Force (in the late 50s) who had (at the time) 4 children to feed, the “retreat to a holy male place” was a way to feed his kids more than potato soup four or five nights of the last week of the month. The “holy place” was Friday night poker. I remember when I was about 10 he told me the real reason the other men were there was to get away from their families. He said he did not want to get away from his family, but he nursed one or two beers while the others nursed one or two 6 packs and played poker. He never came home with nothing and only very rarely came home with less than he set aside each week to spend in this fashion. I clearly remember him sometimes coming home with $20-30 when that was roughly what he made in a week in the Air Force.

    He never cheated. He didn’t need to, and wouldn’t have anyway. He was just a good poker player who took advantage of the other’s need to “get away from the wife”.

    In later years he fixed TVs and CB radios to make extra money.

    Yeah, I really love and respect my dad. Why do you ask?

  10. exdrone says

    The synagogue gets upset when mom comes in to get them for dinner too, even though the “Boys only. No girls allowed” sign is hung on the nail.

  11. birgerjohansson says

    Slightly different from Nixon’s treehouse, which had a “no girls or jews” sign.

  12. says

    “He obviously doesn’t agree with their attitudes towards women, but he still wants Jewish people to vote for him.”

    Facts not in evidence. Misogyny is a feature of the current GOP, not a bug.

  13. drken says

    Lhota’s wasn’t going to win anyway, he’s losing 68 to 24 percent. That he didn’t know (or have somebody to tell him) women couldn’t mix with men in an Orthodox synagogue while running for Mayor of a city with more Jews than Tel-Aviv is a good indicator why. Both Giuliani and Bloomberg won as Republicans, so that’s not an excuse.

    Also, only about 6% of American Jews are Orthodox, which is the only branch that segregates women. There are far more atheist Jews.

  14. dogmeat says

    Also, only about 6% of American Jews are Orthodox, which is the only branch that segregates women. There are far more atheist Jews.

    Is that accurate drken? I’m not challenging, just curious. As an atheist I find that interesting.

  15. drken says

    @dogmeat

    About half of all Jews refer to themselves as non-religous. I’ve seen atheism numbers ranging from 14% to 2% depending on how the question is asked. As always, it probably depends on the agenda of who’s asking the question. Given how hard it is for people to make that jump from “spiritual but not religious” to agnostic/atheist without any actual changes in belief, I’m going to assume the numbers are much closer to 14% than 2%.

    The main point being that Orthodox Judaism is a minority in this country. Most belong to the Reform, Reconstructionalist, or Conservative movements, which are far more egalitarian. Unfortunately, since the media in this country tends to ignore religious voices from the left, they get far more attention than they deserve. You only have to look at the visibility of Shmuley Boteach (or as I call him Dumbed-down McRabbi) to get a good example of that.

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