“This guy bores me – should I keep in touch with him or break it off?” This allegedly routine question was raised about a week ago by one of the members of a private women-only Facebook group.
Surprisingly, however, the group we are talking about is a closed forum for ultra-Orthodox women, in which they open up and discuss anything from advice on a good relationship, through “negiah” (avoiding physical contact with a member of the opposite sex), to taboo issues such as contraceptive methods and abortion.
It’s no secret that the use of the Internet is growing even among the haredi society. The attempt to keep within the borders of the conservative discourse and maintain modesty has led to the creation of closed groups in which ultra-Orthodox women, many of them from Jerusalem, freely discuss personal, sensitive issues.
The discussions in the closed forums are aimed at consulting each other, exchanging opinions and seeking help. Religious men are allowed to participate in some of the discussions, while many are completely closed to men.
One of the most popular groups is a Facebook page called “Yeshnan Banot” (“there are some girls”), which is open to haredi and religious women and currently has about 2,500 members. The goal is clear: To discuss personal issues without male presence and in accordance with the haredi sector’s strict rules of discourse.
The haredi women talk to each other in detailed discussions with dozens of comments. They discuss matchmaking, joke about dates, consult with each other on violent parents and educators and on handling haredi pedophiles, and even delve into issues which are usually repressed by the haredi discourse, such as “niddah” (menstruation), pregnancy prevention, abortions and halachic bans and permissions in the relationship between a woman and her husband.
In one of the discussions, for example, a newlywed asked for advice for maintaining a good relationship with her husband during her menstrual period. “I find myself becoming frustrated each time,” she wrote. “He suddenly feels faraway, falls asleep the minute he gets into bed because he comes home tired from the yeshiva, and that makes me feel impatient towards him. It’s very frustrating.” The young woman asked her friends for tips for maintaining a feeling of intimacy at the times when her husband is forbidden to touch her.
Another woman said she was considering getting a divorce due to her in-laws’ interference in her relationship with her husband. “Would you fight and keep suffering? Or would you leave and start a new chapter in life?” she asked. In response, the other group members offered her advice on how to strengthen the relationship and avoid a divorce.
Another member told the group she had gone on a date with a yeshiva student who took her to an apartment hotel with no lobby. “I realized he didn’t choose the place for conversation purposes, to say the least. It was very embarrassing,” she said, inviting her friends to share other bizarre matchmaking stories.
The taboo issues which receive a surprisingly open discussion in the haredi women’s Facebook group include the procreation mitzvah. One of the members argued that the mitzvah is only imposed on men and that they must have a boy and a girl or, strictly speaking, two boys and two girls. For this reason, she said, “a woman doesn’t have to get married.”
In another discussion, one of the members said she had seen a well-known man in her neighborhood patting a girl on a playground in a suspicious manner. She thought he may be a pedophile and asked the other group members whether she should expose the story or just warn the children and carry on. The group members were divided over the issue.
To discuss or not to discuss?
Not every issues is accepted and supported by the group members. One fiery discussion held last week focused on the issue of abortions and contraceptive methods. Many of the women voiced support for the approach that the issue should not be discussed in the group and that each woman should personally consult a rabbi. Others agreed to discuss the issue and some expressed unequivocal support for using contraceptive measures and even for abortions.
“This is one of the things which you are the only person responsible for their results,” one of them wrote. “The rabbi won’t come to breastfeed the screaming baby who wakes up the neighbors and tears their hearts out. This is a very sensitive issue which must not be discussed in public in the closed haredi sector, but I believe it’s time to wake up and help young women who are burdening themselves mercilessly.”
In response, another member asked not to discuss these issues anymore. “We are raising issues here which we should be silent about,” she wrote. “As women who define themselves as haredi, this may not be the right forum for such conversations.”
She later warned against exposing the internal discussions. “Aren’t your husbands exposed to these groups? Because I know there are husbands and wives who share one Facebook page.”
The many reactions sparked by the discussion provide a peek into the changes in approach among some parts of the haredi society. Surprisingly, many of the group members support the approach seeking to bring up almost every issue.
“I have no one to consult,” one of them wrote. “I have no sisters, no female cousins, and I’m sure there are other girls like me here. The serious problem is among those who think we should be ashamed to discuss the menstrual cycle, contraceptive methods and similar things. If one woman succeeded in helping another woman, even with something small, may she be blessed.”
This opinion is shared by the group administrator, who explained that there were means to keep men away from it, but added that it was still possible that many men were reading the sensitive discussions. She encouraged the women to offer and ask for advice on any issue, “as long as we keep our language clean and proper.”