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Life Arts

Socialized into Subservience

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In her 2011 book, Unorthodox, Deborah Feldman writes about growing up in the nineties and the early years of this century in a Satmar community in Williamsburg, a rundown industrial area of Brooklyn, New York.

 

Derived from the Hungarian name for Saint Mary, Satmars are an off-shoot Hasidic sect established by a rabbi after WWII. Satmars believe that the Holocaust was God's punishment of Jews for assimilation and Zionism. Accordingly, they opposed the establishment of the state of Israel.

 

The rabbi's own rules for his particular followers are intermingled with those practiced by other orthodox Jews as well as people of other faiths. A number of the latter have long been practicers of the patriarchy, a worldwide system based on the oppression of women.

 

The theme that runs through Feldman's childhood and into her teen years is her questioning of the sect's narrow view of how a religious life must be lived and the practices, particularly restrictive for women, that adherents are required to follow.

 

Having been snookered into an arranged marriage to a mentally-challenged man, her British-born mother left the community when her daughter was still young. Feldman lived with her paternal grandparents, Bubby and Zeidy, because her father could not care for her since he, himself, relied on the community to look after him. As she grew older, she asked why the family had never sought support services for him:

 

"Bubby says that a problem child is a punishment; Zeidy says it's a test from God. To treat a problem is to evade the suffering that God felt you deserved." Also, "Bubby says, when you start figuring out why a problem is a problem, and you start putting terrifying labels on it, then suddenly, everyone knows there is a problem, and tell me, says Bubby, tell me, who will then marry all your other children, when you have a son with a medically diagnosed problem? Better not to know, she says. Better just to accept God's plan." [P.100]

 

In this instance, accepting "God's plan" enabled Bubby and Zeidy to marry off their eldest son -- no questions asked -- so that they could then arrange marriages for his younger siblings whose lives had been put on hold until he married.

 

Although Feldman does not connect the oppression of Satmar women with patriarchal tenets that had been well-established before the three major monotheistic religions emerged, there is an unmistakable similarity between the two.

 

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Now retired and a writer, I am a feminist and political activist, a radical Democrat (have come to dislike the term "progressive"), and a blogger. Have done political tours of Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, West and East (way back when)Germany, China, (more...)
 

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