In my community in Samaria there is an impossible number of stunningly beautiful women. Beautiful and at the same time modest. If they dress modestly, you may ask, how can I know they're beautiful? Well, their faces are not covered. Nor are their necks. And pardon the specifics, but neither are their arms or feet or the backs of their necks.
The black head-to-toe burka-style clothing worn by certain women in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh frightens me. It is like covering the sun with a blanket. Everyone, even the strictest ultra-Orthodox Jews, view their behavior as a threat. It's not normal, Halachic or humane. On the other hand, 50-year-old women who intentionally wear thongs that show above their waistbands are not normal either. Nor are the freedom-loving women who fight for the right of their 10-year-old daughters to dress like prostitutes. Nor are the progressive young secular women who click their tongues at the scary ultra-Orthodox shawl cult, but dress up as sexy bunnies on Purim. Both sides have lost a certain natural equilibrium.
The Tel Aviv night club and alley in Mea Shearim are not that different from each other. Both environments have objectified women's bodies. In Tel Aviv, women expose too much, in Mea Shearim they reveal too little. It's as if people have stopped normal lives and have nothing to do but attend to this. Each place has its own way of being extreme. Neither is in possession of sanity.
Get the Israel Hayom newsletter sent to your mailbox!
Walking past the nursery school, I noticed Yifat and Avner having a conversation. A light breeze wafted bits of their discussion my way. She asked if he had managed to fall asleep that night. He asked if she'd like to borrow the book he'd recommended. Yifat and Avner are neighbors, and they're not married to each other.
I gave a ride to Avi recently, who told me that he and Dikla had made a wager over who would lose more weight by Hannukah. Avi and Dikla aren't married either. Ask yourselves this: To what extent are you willing to believe that the relationship between Yifat and Avner, Avi and Dikla is purely platonic and neighborly? What thoughts came into your head?
The kind of society where a pair of neighbors can converse openly without raising suspicions that something sexual is going on is gradually disappearing. In the kibbutzim of the past, this was a normal state of affairs.
When I heard the bits of rather personal conversation between Yifat and Avner, a balloon popped into my head with texts that could have been written by a secular work colleague. "I don't believe you. Don't kid yourself. There is no such thing as pure friendship between a man and woman."
But to an equal extent, I could have imagined texts of a religious nature: "Don't prolong conversation with a woman. If that refers to one's wife, then so much more so to the wife of one's fellow. And there is no chaperone for infidelity."
Both scripts are based on cumulative and unhappy human experience.
But the state of Israel was established by a mixed society of men and women who built communities and fought side by side, and where women were not objectified as they are today.
Once upon a time, when danger lurked, we knew how to build fences of human height and not higher. Today one can choose between a wide open space with no rules or boundaries, or an iron wall that stretches to the heavens.
What's needed is sanity. In this respect, the national religious community has something to offer Israeli society. The conventions of mutual respect and openness toward women that prevail in most national-religious communities of the Bnei Akiva stripe are an effective model that contrasts with secular or ultra-Orthodox objectification of women.
Walk around your average settlement on a regular Shabbat afternoon and you will witness vibrant and healthy interactions between men and women. The women's faces are bare and their arms exposed, but the men don't fear the women as witches. At the same time, the interaction between men and women is subject to boundaries and fences. Certain barriers are never crossed. The path that Avner and Yifat stood on is probably that of the golden mean.
Like our newsletter? 'Like' our Facebook page!