Righteous Women Have Brains Too

My kids are voracious readers (thanks to G-d and the fact that we don’t own a television), and we are always looking for good stuff to give them. Last week my husband found the Hebrew version of Scientific American in the store, and he brought it home (for his own reading pleasure, too, of course).

I flipped through it myself, and an article about the top fifty scientific leaders caught my eye. One of these top fifty is Dr. Shulamit Levenberg of the Technion Institute of Haifa. She also happens to be an Orthodox woman and mother of five.

The short article on her in Hebrew was fine – except for the annoying attitude of the female author. “Gee whiz, she’s Orthodox and she has brains too” was the pervading feeling that came through the piece, especially in the first few paragraphs. I guess you need an angle, and the author of the piece started out by saying that when she first laid eyes on Dr. Levenberg she thought that she was looking at a Bnei Akiva madricha (counselor).

This attitude makes me angry. The author of the piece, if asked to write about someone of color, would probably never dream of starting out the article by saying something like – “when I first laid eyes on X, I thought I was seeing the cleaning lady”, but when describing someone Orthodox, no such sensitivity is deemed warranted.

H-e-l-l-o! We Orthodox women, in addition to dressing modestly and raising families, also have brains. Assuming that scholarly achievements are out of our reach is prejudiced.

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. soccer dad
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 17:50:50

  2. Lena
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 21:23:50

    I love that you don’t have a TV. I was raised with the mantra “TV rots your brain.” We were encouraged to do better things.

  3. bec
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 22:37:42

    that’s such a poor attitude. strangely, i know more orthodox women who are doctors and in other professions requiring semi-intelligence than non-odox men. but hey, what do i know? i just sit around and have babies.

  4. treppenwitz
    Feb 14, 2007 @ 09:32:28

    Yeah, yeah, yeah… now get back in that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans!

    [ducking the flying skillet thrown at my head] 🙂

    No seriously, I find similar attitudes even among the religious crowd and it bothers me to no end.

    For instance when ‘one of ours’ won the Nobel prize last year, everyone with a kippah (or other head-covering) was dancing in the street yelling “Hey, look… a religious yid won the Nobel!” The simple truth is that if we remove ourselves from the whole in such a consistent and predictable way, the non-religious crowd will do likewise (whether we like it or not).

    In my humble opinion, last year’s Nobel should have been celebrated as an Israeli and/or Jewish triumph only. Making it out to be also a religious Jewish triumph reinforced exactly the bias you are complaining about.

  5. aliyah06
    Feb 14, 2007 @ 10:06:48

    Thanks for posting this….I can’t stand it that religious women are considered either brainless fools or nut cases. I once spent (wasted?) some time on another forum where the nonreligious or Other-religous Jews spent all day talking about how “stupid” Orthodox women were and how they did nothing but have children, work minimum wage jobs while their husbands lived on the dole……needless to say, my examples of “me, lawyer; Nurit, CEO; Adina, doctor; Basya, another lawyer; Lori, successful multi-million dollar business owner/operator” etc. fell on deaf ears—they had their stereotypes and refused to be confused by any facts to the contrary.

  6. WaysofZion
    Feb 14, 2007 @ 16:36:12

    Thanks for posting this. People can be pathetic! I noticed the same as Bec around the city I grew up in!

  7. Iris
    Feb 14, 2007 @ 17:07:49

    The problem is not that religious women are stupid. The problem is this kind of stuff, reported at

    http://haemtza.blogspot.com/2007/01/barefoot-pregnant-and-in-kitchen.html

    which leads others to believe they must be stupid.

  8. Jack
    Feb 14, 2007 @ 22:38:26

    If you want my two shekels part of the problem comes from the impression that some charedim give off. Specifically that there is little to no value in non-Torah related proceedings.

    Combine that with the way that some isolate themselves from the secular world and the poor writing skills of others and you have a recipe for a misunderstanding.

  9. westbankmama
    Feb 17, 2007 @ 17:09:37

    soccerdad – yes, he does have a way of putting his foot in his mouth!

    Lena – yes, I find that not having a tv is good for the kids. Now I just have to monitor the internet 😉

    bec – yes, I think that there are certain jobs that particularly lend themselves to religious women – and they are not necessarily “traditional”

    treppenwitz – I have to disagree with you about the Nobel prize. That really was a feather in our cap – it is not just “another” prize.

    aliyah06 – I stay away from forums. I can’t see wasting my time when most people are not really openminded anyway.

    waysofzion – you are welcome!

    iris – the bias is very pervasive indeed

    jack – I guess that I can’t grasp that others lump all types of religious Jews into one group, and then base their perceptions of what the Charedim do (although I know Charedi professional women also).

  10. Ilana-Davita
    Feb 18, 2007 @ 09:07:38

    I quite agree with you. I think this attitude has to do wwith people being unable to distinguish one religious Jew from another. In addition it looks as if this bias did not disturb them. They are not ready to look into what people like Samson Raphael Hirsch or the Rav have written about being a Jew in a secular society. Shavoua tov.

  11. Ilana-Davita
    Feb 18, 2007 @ 09:08:07

    I quite agree with you. I think this attitude has to do with people being unable to distinguish one religious Jew from another. In addition it looks as if this bias does not disturb them. They are not ready to look into what people like Samson Raphael Hirsch or the Rav have written about being a Jew in a secular society. Shavoua tov.

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