The anti-feminist who stole Passover

Even from the right-leaning, Netanyahu-venerating paper Israel Hayom, I was taken aback by an op ed yesterday by Rivi Gutgold. I found it to be an anti-feminist assault that seems to pre-date Madmen and shatters any residual myth of the feminist Israel. It began:


With all due respect to the feminist world in which we live, the truth of the matter is that in the days before Passover, when it comes to most women, their world is divided into two: one includes the women whose homes have been spotless and ready for Passover for two weeks, their counters already protected by layers of aluminum foil, and the other world with women who can’t stop envying and talking about the women in the former.


What an edgy and irreverent barb at feminism – but if society is so “feminist,” why aren’t these women also talking about changing the world? The bold writer was oh-so clever to frame only two options for what “most” women do at this time: either to change the dishes for Passover on time, or at the last minute. Here’s how the ideal types talk:


The stringent ones make sure to conclude every session of girl talk with their take on the laws of Passover. For example: “Of course I finished. I only have to iron the napkin for the matzoh and prepare salt water for the eggs,” … These statements are heard in almost every Jewish home on Passover Eve.”


Who are these “most women,” and “every Jewish home,” filled with Betty Crocker-tinged tupperware parties? Where are the huge swaths of Israeli and Jewish society that I live in? One-fifth of Israel’s women are Arab/Palestinian and have nothing to do with Passover. And among Jewish Israelis, according to the mammoth study on religion in Israel by the Avi Chai Foundation and Guttman Institute, 46 percent define themselves as secular, which means they probably have their own personalized meaning for Passover, but have nothing to do with this specific experience she attributes to “most women.” One-third of Jews don’t keep Passover dietary rules at all according to the study, and probably only a fraction of those who do, change the household dishes.

She’s also left out every feminist woman and man who cannot fathom such antiquated role divisions that previous generations of feminists struggled hard to cast off. In my family, Passover transformation was an all-family task, one of the few, and it was exciting for that reason.

The wholesale dismissal of such huge portions of her country as if they just don’t exist, highlights one of the saddest problems in Israel: citizens pretending that the person right next to them is a non-entity, not worthy of consideration or inclusion in any form of national community unless that person becomes just like…Rivi Gutgold.

While I cherish my heartfelt Conservative Jewish upbringing, Gutgold’s text pushed me one degree further away from my heritage. It undoes decades of feminist Judaism and feminism in general that I embrace in order to adapt my heritage to my humanity. A feminist approach in my reading celebrates the souls of women in all their depth, complexity, contradictions and imperfections.

I cannot recognize either myself or Judaism in Gutgold’s women – who sounds to me like a male fantasy of selfless earth-mothers of flawless giving to their children and girly-friends – with a monopoly on the fine art of house cleaning!


Passover is therefore an excellent opportunity to appreciate the greatness and uniqueness of the woman in the Jewish home…The woman who provides her children, her friends and all people with exactly what they need on every level. The woman who knows that with all due respect to the feminist men who help in the house cleaning, no one can do what she does.


Of course, I don’t have to find my Judaism in her experience. I can respect Gutgold’s personal view and I would be happy to read this in a synagogue sisterhood newsletter. But writing in a national paper, with the hubris to speak about “most” women in Israel is inconceivable – it means that anyone who is not just like her, just doesn’t exist.

Let me humor Ms. Gutgold with a kitchen metaphor: The Judaism (and Israel) she describes here is like a tiny piece of dough that hardly covers a small corner of the pie pan. She’s trying to stretch it by force over the whole thing, but it just doesn’t work. So she rolls it with a rolling pin, pulling and pressing it thinner and thinner until it’s transparent and empty, and finally in her desperation she tears it apart entirely.

That’s when she reduces a woman’s Passover experience to the ritual chores, absent the profound meaning of liberation:


Because in every generation, every woman must look upon herself as if she personally had come out of Egypt… so too does she carry the primary burden of the holiday preparations.


Thanks Rivi, but I did not come out of Egypt in order to discover the beauty of my cleaning skills. I was liberated in order to free all those after me, if my solidarity and support for their struggle can make a difference – this is what I try to remember on Passover.