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  Naomi Ragen

Naomi Ragen
author of ...

The Ghost of Hannah Mendes Jephte's Daughter Sotah (A Woman Under Suspicion) The Sacrifice of Tamar

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Naomi Ragen on Equal Rights for Women in Israel

Naomi Ragen is an American writer who has lived in Jerusalem for almost thirty years. She is the author of: The Ghost of Hannah Mendes, Jephte's Daughter, Sotah and The Sacrifice of Tamar. I interviewed the author via email in March 1998.

Question: Do women have equal rights in Israel? If not, what is preventing them from achieving equal rights?

Answer: No, women don't have equal rights. They are deprived of power politically, religiously, and socially. They've been prevented in the past of achieving equality by their own loyalties and by an unwillingness to buck the status quo. Women, who can contribute so much, feel the constant need to give without receiving. Moreover, they lack the tools to change the system. For example, religious women aren't taught Talmud, the source of all Jewish law. Thus, they are unable to argue for change within the rabbinnic system, not understanding the legalities and the language involved. The same is true of secular women.

Question: Why are there so few women in the Knesset today? Are women really represented?

Answer: They don't know how the political system works, and thus are unable to achieve the political power to make necessary changes.

Question: Do women get equal salaries as men in similar jobs? What holds women back in the labor market?

Answer: Salaries are unequal for the same jobs. Women don't know how to demand equal pay. It comes down to powerlessness and a failure of the system to educate women to take a more active role in determining what their place should be.

Question: Are there appropriate laws and legislation to allow women equal opportunities in the job market? (Child care, pregnancy leave laws, etc.)

Answer: I think the laws on the books are very generous ones. Women get maternity leave, they have their job held for them for a year; they can go home an hour early if they have small children....This is all very good. What is missing is the ability to force employers to give women high paying jobs, which are often denied because employers don't want to pay out these generous benefits.

Question: Should women be allowed into all I.D.F. branches, including in combat roles?

Answer: I don't think the army needs women at all, since most of them are simply working as clerks. I think it should be voluntary enlistment for women, and that they should be able to choose more interesting and responsible jobs. But I don't think equality is based on the right to equally endanger your life.... I don't think women should be put into combat units.

Question: Does Judaism hold women back in Israel?

Answer: As it is now misinterpreted by the rabbinnic establishment, certainly. The disgraceful state of divorce, the disgraceful way that religious women suffering from abusive husbands are ignored and told to keep quiet, the burden of supporting a family and caring for it while a husband "sits and learns" i.e. and in many cases simply "sits and warms" the bench. The lack of higher education available to religious women, the pressure for a religious girl to marry at seventeen or eighteen; the ban on birth control, all these things make women's lives static and difficult and sometimes unbearable.

Question: Have things changed in 50 years? Are women making progress towards equal rights?

Answer: I think at least women are beginning to be aware of what is wrong, and that is a necessary first step.

Ellis Shuman



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Last modified: July 26, 1999