Nivcharot is a group of Charedi women concerned about the welfare, rights and issues of religious women. We seek to improve the present circumstances of women in this community in the hope of creating more equality between men and women.
How many women are in the group?
This is a hard question to answer. There have been tens of women at the inner core of our activities and thousands of women within the wider core. There are also many women who identify with our call for representation especially with the goal of a woman being elected as part of a Charedi party.
There is a wide gap between the small amount of women willing to go out and expose themselves and the thousands of quiet women who will give their vote of solidarity to the cause. It isn’t easy to stand in the front line when the first and main weapon of those threatened by our activities is that they publicly denounce and de legitimizes these women. It is much easier then, let’s say, having a proper, practical and meaningful discussion.
There are Charedi women who don't agree with you?
Of Corse. Not every Haredi women agrees with us and that is totally reasonable and natural. We have never claimed to be the voice of all the women in the Haredi community. There are those who feel comfortable with their current situation and there are those who are too busy with their life chores and survival. Same as you have those who wish for somewhat different reality. Having different views and voices is what we believe to be a sign of a healthy society. Frankly, even some of us were quite unsure when we were first exposed to the massage of “no voice no vote”.
Why should we want to deal with politics? as It is boring and corrupt?
There are many negative aspects to politics and this is another reason why women need to make their voice heard in order to bring about a positive change. The place to make significant changes is through the Knesset since it is much harder to make an impact anywhere else. Charedi women amount to approximately nine of the Charedi parties mandates, however they have no representation in the Knesset.
Just as the Chasidic community won’t make do with a Litvak delegate, and just as the Sephardic community won’t be satisfied with an Ashkenazi delegate, so too women cannot be satisfied with just Charedi men to represent them! This isn’t implying anything negative against our current representation or against men in general. It is simply that women have special needs which men cannot always understand. We all know this clearly from our homes, since it is hard to represent something that you are not.
Today, Charedi women are found in many spectrums of the public sphere, including in business and politics. Women represent the Charedi community’s needs within almost every commercial company in Israel. Charedi women enter the Knesset as lawyers, legal advisers, academics, publicists, strategists who perform extraordinarily, respectfully and without tainting their Charedi identity.
The main purpose of having a woman Knesset member or councilwoman in a local municipal council is not for honor or power. This is a position of great importance to service the public in a worthy manner in order to take into account the public’s interest of promoting laws and regulations which will benefit all Charedi women. We are sure that there are many women who can fulfil this position excellently, honestly and with the utmost devotion for the welfare of the entire Charedi society.
The lack of representation doesn’t end in the Knesset. It is present also in the local municipalities, especially within Charedi cities where the women hold many positions except for the ones that make the decisions which impact their everyday lives.
So what exactly do you want?
To simplify it: we want representation of Charedi women in the Charedi parties. We would be more than happy to see women integrate in non-Charedi parties should they represent the entire public faithfully.
Why is your campaign run by the secular media
We are holding meetings and activities for Charedi women in Charedi areas. We have written and publicized more than once through the Charedi digital media which is more open to changes. We are using the secular platform in order to reach the high ranking decision makers, lawmakers and judges to activate changes in policy as Charedi women are the only group in the state of Israel that are forbidden to take part in the world of politics. Unfortunately, there is no other alternative. Any desire to fix injustices is like going up against a brick wall because institutions which have authority over the Charedi press fund it and control it. In order to start making changes there is a need to make an uproar from the outside.
If you're not satisfied with the current arrangement why don’t you just establish a Charedi women's party?
Absolutely no! From the start, we were not for a women’s Charedi party. Since this is not about any of us personally running for Knesset but rather a genuine desire to improve the conditions of women like us, we feel that a real change has to be the recognition of their rights, their unique voice and needs by the Charedi establishment. We demand that woman be part of and not a separate entity of the Charedi society.
Why don't you turn to the Rabbi leaders of your community?
We have attempted to involve the Rabbi leaders through the Charedi Knesset members which are supposed to bring forth the voices of the public. In the last elections we have written letters to every Charedi Knesset member from Shas and Yehadut Hatorah and requested representation. We have not requested to be the woman representative, we have just asked that there will be a women present. We wanted to present requests which we received from many Charedi women but who are afraid to expose their position to the public. We have never received any official reply from any of them.
A female Knesset member, isn’t that forbidden according to Halacha?
This matter has indeed been of great interest to us and very relevant to the discussion. We have approached Rabbis to get an answer, and this is the answer we received:
Those who object most often will quote the Rambam: “One does not place a woman for kingship, since it says ‘put upon yourself a king'(Kings 1;5) which is spelled in the male form Melech rather than Malka, the female form. Additionally “any tasks within Israel you only appoint men”. However in the commentary to the Rambam’s words there are many reservations. The poskim state that the source of the Rambam’s words isn’t clear, since this halacha isn’t mentioned in the Mishna or Talmud. In accordance to this there is the Psak of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igerot Moshe 10 part 2;42) that the “male king” only refers to kingship, and doesn’t include other public assignments and positions
The will of the nation rules: there is another Halachic discussion on the words of the Rambam “One does not appoint but only a man” How is it then that Devorah the prophet was anointed as a judge? The answer is that one cannot force this appointment on the public, however if the public accepts her and chooses her, like in the case of Devorah the prophet, where the people of Israel chose to go to her for justice, then this isn’t a forced appointment from an authority above. In other words, people “voted” for her and willed upon themselves her decisions. In such a circumstance this is not considered a forced appointment.
As mentioned, the sages of our generation have ruled that the appointment for a position in a democratic system isn’t an appointment of rulership at all: it’s temporary and unstable, doesn’t pass on to one’s offspring’s and is dependent on the consent and acceptance of the public. If the public is not satisfied they can remove the candidate from his/her power.
Women and the public from the Halachic perspective: There are other factors which are taken into consideration such as tzniut (modesty) and phrases from the Torah such as “the glory of the daughter of the king is inside”. This is a notable and significant issue and needs to be discussed with regards to any position that Charedi women hold today. These considerations do not regard only to the issue of Charedi Knesset members, but of the manner in which women take an active role in the public sphere.
The Rambam also wrote that the woman shouldn’t leave her home more than twice a month (Mishne Torah Hilchot Ishut 13;11) and nowadays, women leave their houses all the time and this is not considered a disgrace. Various poskim like the Tzitz Eliezer and Harav Auerbach, already mentioned that since it is the current reality where the women are present in the public sphere, it is enough to change the Halachic position of many issues, such as the Halachic question concerning a man being behind a woman. In a world where the line between the outside and indoors are fading, any woman who holds a public position has either her words and pictures all over the media sites, opinion columns and Facebook. There is no reason why she cannot be a Knesset member. This publicity which includes the Knesset also includes her and her friends.
If you would like to delve deeper into this issue you can read a booklet which was written by a Charedi Rabbi. He discusses the matter thoroughly from a Halachic point of view.
Why are you acting against Charedi Knesset members?
We haven’t come forth to act against the current Charedi representation, but to assist Charedi parties to convey the treatment and care for the needs of Charedi women. It is clear to us that the Charedi Knesset members are not acting against Charedi women or ignoring them on purpose, however they are unaware of the different needs. It is only natural that it would be challenging to service an entire population that is not like you. Up until now, some of the members of the Charedi parties have rejected us completely, but there have been a few brave ones who haven’t rejected the idea entirely of a woman who takes part in politics and have admitted quietly that it might be possible.
Why do you choose to use the tactic of not voting as your threat? It creates antagonism within the community.
woman’s right to vote isn’t something that should be taken for granted. It was acquired after a long and hard struggle of women in the beginning of the 20th century, a struggle which took place in many countries, including the Jewish settlement in Israel before the establishment of the Jewish state. The right to vote is not a small matter and is meaningless without full knowledge that there is someone who represents your community. The community of Charedi women got used to the fact that men are supposed to fight for them. Since this is not what’s happening in practice, it is about time women will be part of the decision makers. The whole idea of democracy is that if you are not satisfied with your representative, you can use your right to vote to change him. This is not a threat, these are the rules of the game.
They say that you are not really Charedi…
So they say….this is actually a good sign since this shows what poor claims they’ve against our justified request. It wasn’t for naught that we used Sara Schenirer Ah”l as a role model and her image is on the logo that accompanies us through all our endeavors. Sara Schenirer established the firth Charedi girl’s school in Poland. There was an upheaval from the community against Schenirer’s activities which were revolutionary in her time. It was told that she would collect the stones that were thrown on her and tell her students “with these stones we will build Beis Yaakov”. In retrospect, Sara Schenirer gained the community’s and Rabbinical consent, after she already began her activities and didn’t back down in spite of the humiliation and threats that she had undergone. We are all graduates of Beis Yaakov, from Charedi families and communities that include Sephardic, Litvak and Hassidic women. We are all part of the the Charedi sector and love our communities nevertheless. We are expressing criticism and objection in order to make things right.
Who is worthy of representing the Charedi women?
The female Charedi Knesset member, like all other Knesset members, has to be professional, talented, eloquent, a person of action, loyal to the public, embedded with a sense of purpose and G-d fearing. Just as we mentioned, the purpose of this call isn’t necessarily to promote any one of us. Any woman that would be accepted by the Charedi parties would also be accepted by us.
What would a Charedi female candidate promote?
A Charedi female candidate is foremost a messenger on behalf of all of Israel. From her unique world perspective she will promote the needs of Charedi women and also women who are not Charedi. She will ensure appropriate and fair pay at workplaces, scholarships, will provide accessible health services, support after childbirth, daycare and anything that would improve the lives of women as a whole and particularly the Charedi women to enable them to live more joyous and better quality lives.
What do you feel towards the public discussion that evolved?
We are happy that this issue is on the agenda and that it is spoken of and heard. It is now discussed in the corridors of the Knesset, at synagogues, in the streets and homes – either spoken of loudly or in hushed tones. It is just unfortunate that instead of dealing with the request itself – having women representatives in the Charedi parties- the discussion is diverted to irrelevant issues while attempting to tarnish the reputations of the brave women who exposed themselves. Nevertheless, we still believe that a discussion is the beginning of change and we are curious to see how things will turn out.
There is an understanding today, that women are a unique part of society; therefore it is permitted and desired that there be a female representative who will service women faithfully. This principle is gaining a stronger hold throughout all sectors and is continuing to spread.
What do you do when there aren’t elections and how can one help?
“Nivcharot” deals everyday with raising awareness in the Charedi community, lawmakers and academia. We foster leadership and female activism, in learning groups that discuss the status of women, virtual and physical discussion groups, conventions, writing, lectures and other activities to bring forth changes in policy. One can assist us through donations or by purchasing our products from our store. By doing so, this will spread the message and help us be heard. If you are a Charedi man or woman and have a Facebook account, you can join our discussion group “Charedi Feminism”. You can also join our mailing list and get updates on events and conventions.