When Does Accommodation become Capitulation?

The latest episode in the saga of spin-off stories emanating from the Beit Shemesh Orot Banot 'spitting' video, is the Machon Puah fracas.

Machon Puah is a fertility research center and clinic, established by the National Religious community.

Over a decade ago, Machon Puah decided to reach out to their ultra-orthodox (Chareidi) colleagues via a conference - “Innovations in Gynecology, Obstetrics and Jewish Law”.

At the time, the managers of Machon Puah asked Rav Mordechai Eliyahu whether they should have a men-only line-up of speakers at such an event, and the Rav said they should only have male speakers, I understand in order to encourage attendance from their target audience.

The press outcry this year to this 'discriminatory' policy, banning women from talking (bedavka!) at a fertility conference, was initiated by Rachel Adatto a Kadima Member of Knesset and an obstetrician.

In their response, Machon Puah pooh-poohed the press criticism, and announced the show would go on – and indeed it did this past week, with an estimated 1000 attendees.

I have seen comparable 'discriminatory' behaviour patterns at institutions throughout Beit Shemesh.

Events which are not specifically 'religious', but where seating is separated out by gender.

Professional events where women are excluded from speaking, solely due to their gender.

Newspapers and magazines which do not ever publish a picture of any woman.

Community organizations which exclude women from all managerial or directorship positions.

And of course we have the now-famous Beit Shemesh women-in-the-back buslines and women-on-the-other-side-of-the-street pavements.

I am not aware of any 'mainstream' rabbi who argues that these issues are addressing halachik issurim (religiously forbidden activities). In religious terms, these are considerations of chumras, minhagim, and 'mehudar' branding.

They are therefore principally issues of Chareidi culture and lifestyle choices.

I believe the crux of all these issues is the question as to what differentiates Accommodation of various cultural mores, as against Capitulation by a dominant culture, to the behavioural demands of a sub-culture.

When on a State visit to Abu Dhabi, the Queen of England covered her hair (see picture), in order not to offend her hosts. I think this is entirely reasonable and unremarkable.

However, if the Queen of England was required to wear a Muslim headscarf every time she appears in public in Britain, so as not to offend the sensibilities of the British Muslim minority – the British public would go bananas.  The Sun (popular newspaper) would demand that the Queen revert to exposing her hair, and shout out "Stuff You!" to the Muslim minority. 

By covering her hair in public in London, the Queen would be seen as capitulating to the unreasonable demands of a minority of her subjects.
Meanwhile, back in Israel, I believe there is consensus that a synagogue is entitled to have separate gender seating arrangements, and so for example can a wedding banquet (although individual guests may be miffed).

And that a woman in a tank-top would be unwise, and culturally insensitive, to walk around Meah Shearim. She would be well advised, like the Queen visiting Abu Dhabi, to cover-up. (I am not saying the tank-topper is "answerable for the consequences" – the locals would not be entitled to harass the lady in any way).

Did Machon Puah do the right thing by banning women from speaking at a medical conference aimed at Charedi rabbis and professionals, as this was simply pragmatic and sensitive to the needs of that 'market'?

Or did Machon Puah, and do all the others, who adapt their own behaviour to meet Chareidi cultural mores, sell out their principals and thereby capitulate to the unreasonable demands of a minority?

Where are the red lines?


  1. I remind that Machon Puah is not a Charedi institution. I remind that it was a Datim Leumi group that tried to have our neighborhood Gan converted to separate.

    These issues that you rightly point out are not exclusively Charedi, we have let them seep into our society as well.

  2. The national-religious public also includesa Hareidi stream, with the same obsession with sex and therefore the same separation and sidelining or exclusion of women.
    The real tragedy , of course, is that those groups, people or leaders who do this refuse to say it is a humra, but rather insist that anyone who does not separate males and females (or cover their hair or body by teh more mahmir psak) is "less religious" and should not be admitted to various schools and yishuvim.

  3. > Over a decade ago, Machon Puah decided to reach out to their ultra-orthodox (Chareidi) colleagues via a conference - “Innovations in Gynecology, Obstetrics and Jewish Law”.

    That was their big mistake.

    The Chareidim need secular and Dati Leumi society far more than those groups need the Chareidim. It is time for the Dati Leumi community to take up a position of religious leadership in Israel. Let Puah go to their poskim instead of worrying about what Chareidi ones would say. Let Puah make a conference under Dati Leumi auspices and who cares if the Chareidim declare it trief?

    As for the Queen, well I'm sorry to tell you but if not her then the future Queen Kate will likely wear a veil or scarf in public a lot of the time because by then the apathetic atheistic English will have capitulated to the aggressive and vibrant Muslim minority and given them the rule of their culture.

  4. David,

    If this conference is specifically targeted to the Chareidi poskim and public, it is not unreasonable to have it in a manner that meets Chareidi standards. Puah has numerous other conferences, targeted to the general public, that DO include female presenters, so having one with the specific goal of reaching out to Chareidim is not improper. They could have possibly handled it better, but they did nothing wrong.

  5. Anonymous - If Puah "did nothing wrong" in this case, then what, in your mind, would have constituted a sell-out? Rossing a red line?

    For example, if they had omitted certain 'sensitive' words (eg. describing women's anatomies)?

    Or had the kipa sruga rabbonim and doctors been obliged to wear black kipot and hats?

    At what point should Puah say "this far, and no further"?

  6. My own opinion; it was a sell out. IF they wanted to present information specifically to the Charedi population that would have been one thing, but this conference was open to the public; anyone who wanted could by tickets and go. The voices of women who were the tops of their field were silenced.

    Not every Charedi demands women don't speak in public. This catered to a small, select group,to the detriment of the rest of the population.

  7. Puah itself put out a statement that explained that this very conference has made valuable inroads in the circles of charedi rabbinic advisors, giving access to treatments, procedures, and knowledge that these rabbis otherwise did not know about or allow. They said this was exactly the purpose of the conference.

    Rachel - because they sell tickets to anyone it becomes "public"? you'd rather they not let you buy a ticket since they want to maintain the ultra-religious environment?

  8. David you make the same mistake here as the secular press - lumping anything stemming from an ultra-orthodox source as all the same thing.

    Let's focus on intolerance as the problem, not "everything beyond halachic requirements."

  9. Why do you say they sold out David? They are trying to include the Charedi stream, who have certain requirements ( Even if you don't agree or understand them).Your obvious hatred or misunderstanding of the Charedi element here in Israel is very overtly shown by this post and previous posts!!!

  10. Anonymous: "Why do you say they sold out David?"

    Hi Anonymous: Sorry I missed that.... WHERE do I say that Machon Puah sold out?! I ask the question, "what, in your mind, would have constituted a sell-out?"

    Surely you can see the difference between a question and a statement?

    As for your contention that I am anti-Hareidi ("your obvious hatred..of the chareidi element"), this is a cheap and dirty slur.

    I am Dati Leumi. I am happily and proudly so; it is a hashkafa I feel at home with. That is my right.

    I have voiced criticisms of some aspects of behavior I have seen in Hareidi society, and indeed in Dati Leumi and Secular Society.

    Please don't get into the Everyone-Who-Expresses-Criticism-of-Something-Hareidi-Must-Be-A-Hareidi-Basher.

    It's such a cliche, a cheap personal slur, and so boring.

    Surely you can think of a more original and constructive approach to these very real issues?

    Looking forward to your further and positive contributions to this discussion!

  11. David you are indeed negative toward Puah's decision, and toward all charedi-inspired "separation" in this article. If you are trying to make a distinction between what a charedi community does internally, versus what "non-believers" do to accommodate that community when the two coincide, you have failed.

    The Puah conference is exactly one of these crossroads, not as you go on to list, "comparable 'discriminatory' behaviour patterns at institutions throughout Beit Shemesh" which are mostly internal attempts to keep outsiders out (or behaving).

    When the DL advocates can't make the distinctions, it only furthers the gaps.

    And if you or Dov Lippman or anyone else fighting this battle think that now is the time to "beat" the charedim and put them down for good, you're fighting the wrong game.

  12. Hi MiriamS

    You make a valid point about distinguishing between internal restrictions (I guess one could call it 'club rules' - where these don't conflict with discrimination laws etc) vs how Outsiders respond to these rules (accommodation or capitulation). I accept the distinction.

    I don't accept your accusation that I'm in any way attempting to "beat" the Chareidim". Please see my previous comment on such slurs and knee-jerk accusations of 'chareidi bashing'.

    MiriamS - I know you are capable of a higher level of discussion and debate than throwing insults.

    Please note this is a respectable and respectful Blog, it's not the Knesset!

  13. I take issue with your calling the Puah conference "discriminatory behavior."

    What if you were finally able to get some of the really uncooperative charedi Rabbanim to join you in a conference on child abuse. Some of the best potential presenters would be women - but then the charedi leaders would not attend.

    Who would you be discriminating against if you denied requests to select only men to present at this conference?

  14. Hi MiriamS - thanks for the further input.

    I was careful to put the word "Discriminatory" in inverted comas, both times I mentioned it in my article.

    The word "discriminate" is actually neutral, although it clearly is 'loaded' in this era of equal rights etc. Thus the inverted comas.

    Here's how www.dictionary.com defines discriminate:

    1. to make a distinction in favor of or against a person or thing on the basis of the group, class, or category to which the person or thing belongs rather than according to actual merit; show partiality: The new law discriminates against foreigners. He discriminates in favor of his relatives.

    2.to note or observe a difference; distinguish accurately: to discriminate between things.

    I stand by the use of the word "discriminatory", describing a professional conference having a men-only policy for speakers. The women are excluded because of WHAT they are, not who they are.

    As for the idea of a conference on abuse, which would need to only have men presenters in order to get chareidi rabbonim to attend - this begs the question my article asks - would that be to accommodate the rabbonim, or to capitulate to them?

    Indeed there is such a child abuse conference in Beit Shemesh next month, targeting charedim, and I understand women indeed have been excluded from speaking.

    On the other hand, in a previous event a couple of years ago, the rabbonim insisted on women only, were over-ruled, women spoke, and the rabbonim came anyway.

    In my article, I leave is as a conundrum, a dilemma.

    When DOES accommodation become capitulation?

  15. I see the quotes around the word discrimination. But I would think broadening what is called discrimination using the dictionary, is a distraction from from your stated purpose to identify what kinds of male-female separations are acceptable or not.

    Would you compare the Puah conference choice of men only for presenters, to the Nishmat yoatzot program choice of women only for answering their phone line?

  16. Hi MiriamS: "to identify what kinds of male-female separations are acceptable or not."

    I accept this statement of purpose.

    In this article, I am not giving answers - I am asking a question and requesting answers, suggestions.

    I am seeking clarity, not offering it.

    Your analogy between the Puah Conference and Nishmat Yoatzot program seems reasonable.

    Indeed, this question has wide application, throughout many aspects of frum communities. And not solely regarding gender separation, but also many other quasi-halachik standards, rules, or branding issues.

    Can you suggest some answers, offer clarity?

  17. hmmm. you write things in a slightly slanted way to get a reaction and then say "oh I was just leading a discussion please join."

    I guess that's one way to do it.

  18. David. I guess we discriminate against women because they're separated by a mechitza and can't be the chazzan and can't be called up to the Torah. In our religion certain things are not accepted.According to different groups,there are lines that shouldn't be crossed. I don't think a D.L. meeting would have a scantily clad lady address the crowd (at least I hope not)
    Why not???
    Because there are standards. Each group has its own standards and has the right to do so (as long as it doesn't hurt others)
    So the fact that Puah is trying to fit into the standards of Charedim for one of their conferences, should not bother a person who is open minded.

  19. I fully accept that in Puah's case, they acted pragmatically.

    That is different than not being bothered by it.

    Many of us are forced into acting certain ways, while gritting our teeth.

    For example, perhaps many frum women, particularly from Western backgrounds, feel that in RBS/BS on an almost daily basis?

  20. David, Puah did not "discriminate" against anyone. This was a conference aimed at a particular audience and they followed the norms of this audience in order to encourage attendance at the kenes in order to impart vital information.

    Others have stated that this is not the only informational conference that Puah sponsors; just like the Arabs have 22 nations and we have one teeny little Israel, the secular world has numerous conferences and information opportunities on this subject and the chareidim have one.

    As to your question as to what would be "going too far", I don't see this as a valid question. We who hold by Torah and not by our own ideas go by what rabbonim pasken, and whatever they pasken is what we do and no more and no less. A conference meant for chareidi rabbonim that asks one of the poskei hador for a ruling and then follows it is certainly NOT going too far.

    It seems to me that you are indeed anti-chareidi. No, not because you simply have a criticism, but because your criticism is not a constructive one. You wish to deny others the right to do what is right according to their rabbonim while you still reserve that right for yourself. Are you also in favor of your sons being forced to eat treif and listen to women sing in their army units? How about co-ed military units? What, in your opinion would be "going too far" in that situation? Why should the secular world be forced to "capitulate" to a bunch of rabbis as to what they are allowed to do in the IDF? Why should otherwise secular soldiers be inconvenienced at best and forced to serve gritting their teeth at worst because some bunch of rabbonim thinks that everyone has to eat kosher or that their delicate adherents shouldn't listen to a woman singing at a tekes? Why is it okay for you to try to inconvenience most of society while denying others the right to practice Judaism as they hold by it?

    Please take these words as a request for you to really think about your motives and your middot and then reply to them.

  21. Wow! Israeli Mother, that middle paragraph "It seems..as they hold by it?" contains such a string of serious topics and issues, each of which merits (and currently receives - pick up a newspaper!) considerable discussion and debate.

    For the record - I deny being anti-chareidi (again!) and your basis for this, that I "wish to deny others the right to do what is right according to their rabbonim" is way off the mark.

    There are standards in society at large - let's call it the Macro Society - which must trump those standards and rules of clubs or Micro-Societies.

    So, yes, when my son goes into the army, and if he were to insist that he is only willing to have hechsher X, the Army has every right to tell him "Sorry chayal, you'll eat what you're given".

    For the IDF, it's the same as saying "I refuse to march up that hill, officer."

    In civilian society, such as the Puah Conference, discrimination against women presenters seems to clash with the values of wider society, and indeed of the Dati Leumi (of which Puah is a part).

    If a group were to agree to come to a Puah Conference, only on condition that there be no Sephardi or Yemenite speakers, or Blacks, how would you expect Puah to respond?

  22. David I'm not sure whether you're setting the Puah conference up as a straw man (which some of your readers have misunderstood as criticizing, and accepted YOUR criticism against it) or if you are sincerely saying you object to accommodating a charedi comfort level at a conference aimed to include them.

    Either way, I think the point you yourself state but seem not to take seriously is what Israeli Mother also notes - Rav Eliyahu approved this format. Meaning Puah questioned the decision on some level and got Rabbinic backing.

    Can I ask whether you personally submit to Rabbinic decisions only when you personally agree with them - and otherwise you publicly muse whether it's capitulating or some other insult?

    I apologize for putting it so bluntly, but honestly I'm confused by this post and your follow up comments.

  23. MiriamS - with all respect, you still don't Get-It.

    Perhaps I am not being clear enough.

    I am not directly criticising Puah's policy.I am questioning it, in light of the public outcry (I direct you again to the splattering of question marks in the article).

    Yes, as I mention in my article, Puah has stated that they asked Rav Mordechai Eliahu, z"tzl who approved of the exclusion of women speakers for this particular conference.

    Puah are therefore well covered halachikly for their decision to ban women speakers.

    I don't know the exact wording of Rav Eliyahu's psak (if it has been published, please bring this to my attention).

    I can only assume that this was the exception, and that in other Puah conferences Rav Eliyahu approved the regular use of women speakers, as professionally appropriate.

    So banning women speakers was not halachikly required, just permitted in this special circumstance (wishing to attract a Hareidi audience).

    If Puah had decided, for pragmatic reasons, NOT to ban women from the conference, and asked the Rav's permission - presumably he would also have said Permitted.

    So it's not a treif vs kosher issue.

    If my rav poskened that something was treif,asur, I certainly would not eat it (or do it).

    If he told me something is permitted (mutar), but not obligatory, then I can take my choice.

    Puah made a choice, and I am questioning it, as have many others.

    Reasonable. Methinks.

    (MiriamS - as I previously requested, please will you direct your further comments questions etc on this posting to my email. Thanks).


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