Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Man's Seder: The Backlash

Rabbi Adam Starr teaching at the Man's Seder
I guess I should have seen it coming.
After all, if the backlash hadn't come, it wouldn't be a truly successful program.
Yesterday, a good friend of mine pointed me to a Facebook group called, and no, I'm not making this up, "I'm also fed up with the way women are treated in Orthodoxy", and the fact that a specific member of that group had pointed to the page of the Young Israel of Toco Hills' Man's Seder pictures (70 participants! Amazing!) with the comment, "My family's "modern orthodox" shul has hit a new low with this event."
This led to a torrent of criticism about how exclusionary Orthodoxy is, and wondering why we have to serve steaks and beer at a Men's event.

The Facts:
Let's get the facts straight: I developed the program after watching my wife participate in a women's only pre-Pesach seder sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit. I wondered why only women were having such an event, and decided to organize a similar program for the men. Was there an outcry at the exclusionary tactics of the Federation for creating a gendered version of the Seder? Hardly. There was a need, and we created it.
Let's ask another question: At your Seder, who recites the Kiddush? Who breaks the Matzah? Who makes the Motzi? At most Sedarim (although I wonder about those of the members of the IAFUWTWWATIO FB group), a man makes the kiddush, breaks the Matzah at Yachatz, etc. In other words, he "leads" the Seder. That doesn't mean he monopolizes or controls it. He leads it. Wouldn't it also make sense that in addition to the technical aspects of leading, that he also came to the Seder prepared to lead a discussion and engage in meaningful conversation about the Exodus? Yes? You agree? That's the basic idea of the Man's Seder.
Why men only? Truthfully, because at the time of its creation, there was already a women's-only event. But there's more to it than that.
Why can't some women recognize that group dynamics change in different environments  Mixed-gender environments have a certain atmosphere, as do separate-gender environments. It's just a different dynamic, and sometimes the "Men's Club" camaraderie is a critical element to a successful program. Like the Man's Seder.
Why steaks and beer? You may not have noticed this, but men like steak and beer. In general, in marketing, its a good idea to use the things that people like to draw them to a program, no matter how snarky and nasty the silly comments on a Facebook page might be.

The Targets
Particularly galling to me, is that the target of this criticism is a synagogue (and the rabbi of that shul) that is not only sensitive to the issues of women in Orthodoxy, but which goes to great lengths to make Orthodoxy as inclusive as possible. I am not a personal friend of Rabbi Adam Starr, but I consider him a colleague, and he's is known, even here in Israel, as a rabbi that takes the issue of inclusiveness in shul and religious life very, very seriously. So, to attack him publicly on Facebook, and to "lump" him in with every other anti-Orthodox gender-related rant is both inaccurate and unfair. The same applies to every other rabbi who organized a Man's Seder this year.

The Tone
I find the tone of the IAFUWTWWATIO FB group appalling.
You're fed up? You're angry? Can there be a more negative, nasty, distasteful group on Facebook? (It is the definition of what's wrong with Facebook. While FB can be a tool to spread ideas and share constructive thoughts, too often it serves as a clearinghouse for venomous spewing of negativity and hatred). If you think that Orthodoxy needs to be more inclusive - and I can readily understand how one might feel this way - how about creating a group titled "I Would Like to Create More Meaningful Opportunities for Women In Orthodoxy", in which dedicated people could share their ideas for programs, encourage one-another, and offer tips to help women become more devoted to God in a positive manner. I can say this quite definitively: participation in the IAFUWTWWATIO will not bring anyone closer to God. Quite the contrary.
I also wonder what percentage of the group members are actually Orthodox. What you end up with is a group of Feminists from across the religious spectrum who have gathered to criticize Orthodoxy. Great.
To the member of the IAFUWTWWATIO group who complained about the Man's Seder: Instead of whining, why not approach your rabbi about creating a similar program for women? I doubt that there would be steaks and beer - maybe smoked salmon and a grilled vegetables (which the Jews ate in Egypt as well). But that would entail work, involvement, and a positive attitude, none of which are necessary in order to rant on a Facebook page.

In a recent article, Rabbi Berel Wein writes,
Perhaps the area of greatest contention in today’s world regarding these matters relates to what is generally called “women’s issues.”  There is no doubt that the status of women in today’s society – even in the most rigorous and conservative Orthodox society – is far different than what it was in eighteenth century Eastern Europe. But after all of the sloganeering and current political correctness is removed from the equation, the basic fact remains that Judaism recognizes and legislates gender equality in human terms but does not favor gender sameness.
The differences in the psychological and emotional makeup between men and women are innate – part of their biological and mental nature. This is a chazaka that is strong and “great.” It teaches us that what was before is now as well, and will also be in the future. One of the great failures of the feminist movement over the last 50 years, in my opinion, is that it tried to make women not only the equal of men in the work place and society but it also tried to make them the same as men.
I'm sure that the members of the IAFUWTWWATIO page don't agree with Rabbi Wein. But in their desire for fairness and equality, they seem to have forgotten that other people have the right to disagree. If these people really care about promoting the inclusion of women in Orthodoxy, item number one on the list should be leaving a Facebook group which will only cause them to grow increasingly angry, disillusioned and disconnected from the Torah.