The War on Women in Israel: A Sto­ry of Reli­gious Rad­i­cal­ism and the Women Fight­ing for Freedom

  • Review
By – May 22, 2014

The War on Women in Israel offers a com­pelling look at the chal­lenges to gen­der equal­i­ty and women’s rights in Israel. Sztok­man divides her book into three parts. The first part focus­es on efforts by ultra-Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers and fol­low­ers, with the com­plic­i­ty of busi­ness and gov­ern­ment offi­cials, to block women’s images and pres­ence from the pub­lic sphere. These efforts include seg­re­ga­tion of men and women on pub­lic bus­es and extrale­gal enforce­ment of so-called mod­esty stan­dards on women in pub­lic per­for­mances and even on the streets. The sec­ond part exam­ines mat­ters of fer­til­i­ty, mar­riage, divorce, and con­ver­sion, all of which raise impli­ca­tions for gen­der equal­i­ty and for which gen­der-biased rules and prac­tices are devel­oped and enforced by offi­cial state actors — often ultra-Ortho­dox as well. The third and final part address­es the reac­tions from across a range of Israeli orga­ni­za­tions and com­mu­ni­ties – includ­ing protests, per­for­mances, orga­niz­ing, and law­suits – to these instances of gen­der inequality.

A par­tic­u­lar­ly impres­sive aspect of this book is the excel­lent, expert way in which the author pro­vides con­text for her myr­i­ad exam­ples. From the start, Sztok­man explains that the sit­u­a­tion in Israel is one exam­ple of the reli­gious rad­i­cal­ism that aims to force the pub­lic in many coun­tries to fol­low extreme reli­gious prac­tices, and she pro­vides some com­par­isons to sim­i­lar exam­ples in oth­er coun­tries. For Israel specif­i­cal­ly, Sztok­man pro­vides the his­to­ry of cur­rent and long-stand­ing dis­putes, describ­ing, in one instance, how seg­re­ga­tion on bus­es began in a small way and then expand­ed, and, from a broad­er per­spec­tive, how polit­i­cal accom­mo­da­tions for ultra-Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ties when Israel was found­ed in 1948 have led to con­tin­ued clash­es over women’s rights, with severe impli­ca­tions for women regard­less of their reli­gious affiliations.

Well researched and well writ­ten, this book is a work of advo­ca­cy for gen­der equal­i­ty and women’s rights. Sztok­man rec­om­mends a num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions – both in Israel and in the U.S. – for read­ers to sup­port on these issues. She com­mends indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions for suc­cess­ful advo­ca­cy and pro­vides many exam­ples of suc­cess­es as well as advo­ca­cy-in-progress. Read­ers will enjoy learn­ing about the issues, and may even be inspired to take action – in their com­mu­ni­ties, in Israel, and across the globe. 

Acknowl­edge­ments, Epi­logue, Notes, Prologue.

Relat­ed content:

Read Elana Maryles Sztok­man’s
Vis­it­ing Scribe Posts

7 Places Where Reli­gious Rad­i­cal­ism Threat­ens Women’s Well-Being in Israel

10 Inspir­ing Ways That Women Are Fight­ing for Jus­tice in Israel

Rachel Sara Rosen­thal is an envi­ron­men­tal attor­ney in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Orig­i­nal­ly from Greens­boro, North Car­oli­na, she grad­u­at­ed from Duke Uni­ver­si­ty in 2003 and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law in 2006.

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