Funny, I'm not wearing any veil . . . Have you seen a veil?
No, this post is not about wedding veils.
It's about the article, viewable in full here, which the Jewish Chronicle of London (my former employer) recently published about female Orthodox bloggers. Forgetting about the relatively minor factual errors in the article, the premise itself is one I'm getting pretty darn tired of seeing in media coverage about Orthodox blogs. The gist of the article (stated and unstated) is this:
Until blogs came along, the Orthodox community was so closed. There was no way to really get to know any Orthodox people! Orthodox women in particular were shut up in their homes with no one to talk to and their lives were state secrets! But now, thanks to the internet, we're learning fascinating things! Rebbetzins can have a sense of humor! Check it out at Renreb.com! Shomer negiah women have sexual urges? Oh my God! Who knew? Get the details at shomernegiah.blogspot.com! And, whoa, Orthodox mothers in the Five Towns have political opinions. This is breaking news. The veil has been lifted! It's a window into the Orthodox world! The internet is just amazing!
Now, I'm just as glad as the next person that Orthodox women . . . that Orthodox people . . . that people . . . have this wonderful bloggy way to express themselves. Yes, the blogging phenomenon is worth covering, because we do get to learn about people we otherwise wouldn't get to meet. I've made friends through blogging whom I otherwise probably never would have met, and have read blogs by people who live far away from me and live very different lives. Blogging makes it easier than ever to be exposed to different worlds.
But for a Jewish newspaper to make it seem like, before blogging, Orthodox women were so cloistered, their lifestyles so mysterious, is disengenuous. Yes, some communities are "closed," in that they are unfriendly to outsiders. But in many, if not most, Orthodox communities, the only thing stopping a Jewish person from getting to know some Orthodox people is the unwillingness to pick up a phone, call a local Orthodox synagogue, and say "hey, what time are services? Can I be hosted by an Orthodox family for lunch? Because I'd like to get to know some Orthodox people." That's it. It's not like Orthodox Judaism is a secret underground society and you need a password. You can (if you are Jewish at least), just call up Aish Hatorah or NCSY or pretty much any Orthodox synagogue and believe me, they'll be more than happy to introduce you to as many Orthodox people as you want.
What blogging has done is put Orthodoxy into people's homes without them having to make much of an effort. Instead of having to make a phone call and visit Orthodox people in their homes or educational institutions, instead of having to befriend a Rebbetzin or a shomer negiah woman or a mom in the Five Towns, one can now sit at one's computer and click their way into new worlds.
That doesn't mean that Orthodoxy has a veil over it. It just means that people outside Orthodoxy are often uninterested in hearing Orthodox voices unless they can do so without any effort. The door may have looked closed before, but it was unlocked. All you had to do to see what's happening at the party is open the door. But now blogging makes the party come to you.
I'm not claiming that all Orthodox people are open and friendly and interested in the outside world. And I realize that it is harder for non-Jews to get into the party, due to many factors. I'm just saying that any veils or walls or mysteries separating the Orthodox from the non-Orthodox Jews are created equally by those on both sides. It has always been true that if you wanted to know something about Orthodox Judaism, all you had to do was ask. And if you wanted to know a little more, you just had to ask some more. And if you wanted to know what it's like to be a Rebbetzin or a shomer negiah woman, you could have taken one out for some (kosher) coffee and danishes and asked.
Obviously those things take initiative, and time. And yes, for those who live far away from Jewish communities, the chances to meet Orthodox people are slim. [And if you aren't a Jew, it is indeed harder no matter where you live.] My point being that, when it comes to non-Orthodox Jews, any perceived "veil" is made up just as much of laziness or circumstances as it is by isolationism. The fact that so many Orthodox people create blogs is an indication that many of us are, and always have been, more than happy to talk about our lives . . . if we think there is anyone interested in listening.
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