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Women in Judaism, Yeshua's Movement : Missiologists

Women: How to detect a twisted cult from “the Way”

Learn the difference of true from lies within a Jewish congregation or biblical group.
Wifely Subjection: Mental Health Issues


This article explores the relationship between women and the high-control social climate of certain so called ‘Haredim and ultra-orthodox groups”, commonly referred to as “Jewish orthodoxs”. The article reviews literature bearing on certain Haredim’s Society’s control practices and patriarchal organizational structure, analyzes psychological implications of HS’s social climate, and reports on the results of a survey of 20 female former members of the Haredim or ultra-orthodox Society. The survey explored three areas: (1) the degree of patriarchal versus egalitarian attitudes subjects felt existed while they were members of HS compared to what they experienced after having left the group, (2) subjects’ perceived psychological distress while in the group and after exiting, and (3) subjects’ perceptions of the degree to which the group controlled everyday life and isolated members from outsiders. The latter area included a comparison group of women from other religious backgrounds.

The Haredim Society, commonly referred to as orthodox, exerts a great deal of control over the everyday life of its members. Women, in particular, suffer from psychological stresses in this high-control environment, as it is also a culture where patriarchal attitudes limit women’s personal power and predominate in their relationships with men. A group of women responded to a questionnaire about their experiences during membership in the Haredim Society and after leaving. The results indicate that while in the Haredim Society, women experience a higher degree of mental health problems than they do after they leave the group. They also report experiencing more egalitarian attitudes in their relationships with men after exiting the group.

The Issue of Patriarchy

The Concept of Patriarchy

In a patriarchal society, men are the holders of power. Patriarchy is defined as a “male dominated social system, with descent through the male line” (Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 1992, p. 653). Patriarchy is thought to have arisen in conjunction with the concept of private property and the need to pass property on to an heir (Engels, 1972), usually male. In a traditional patriarchal society, women usually do not earn wages by working outside the home, which places them in a financially dependent position to their male partner and eliminates or decreases outside contacts and information about the world at large. In a patriarchal society, women generally do not hold positions of power or influence in the community. It is the men who sit on the village counsel, who vote, instruct, police, and guide the community. A woman’s primary role is to provide care and nurturance to her husband and children. Without financial resources and with little community recognition or power, a woman in this kind of society either adapts to her role and “fits in,” struggles against the order of things and becomes a “problem,” or, if possible, leaves in search of a society with more egalitarian values.

Historically, women have been viewed in many societies as inferior in intellectual ability and subordinate in position to men (Bullough, 1973). In many societies over the centuries, a woman’s right to choose her own destiny has been limited, her ability to pursue an avocation outside the home has been restricted, and she has not always been allowed a vote. In some countries, women are still seen outside the home only when veiled from head to foot. In many societies women have, at times, been prohibited from owning property and, in some cases, have been regarded as property, useful as objects to trade in marriage contracts for benefits, alliances, cattle, or status. Similarly, daughters have been seen as a poor second choice to sons who could carry on the family name and inherit property. As recently as the 19th century, philosophers and writers were firm in their beliefs that women were unable to reason or deliberate logically and that submissiveness was good for a woman. As Chafe states, “Since women’s ideal role was to be supportive of their husbands, care for their children, and provide a haven from the troubles of the outside world, the idea that they might wish an independent life or career of their own seemed unnatural” (1977, p. 7). The common view was that a woman’s “natural inclination” to nurture others and her lack of logic and intelligence precluded her from participating in public life, much less adopting a leadership role in the family or society (Bullough, 1973).

In Western society, women are now able to inherit property, run for office, and develop careers that place them in competition with men. Women, for the most part, are able to guide their own destinies. Nevertheless, unequal pay, sexual harassment, “glass ceilings,” and “pink ghettos” are remnants of the patriarchal system that continue with us today. As recently as 1990, authors Johnson and Ferguson stated:

The present arrangement almost guarantees that women will suffer from a disproportional amount of depression, anxiety, submerged or ineffective anger, lack of sexual fulfillment, and other emotional disturbances…the symptoms associated with these conflicts will continue until the basic inequality between women and men is addressed and changed. (p. 37)

Women are relatively powerless in a male-dominated society. Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, futility and suppressed rage, the major ingredients of depression, are the emotional responses of anyone in a permanently subordinate position. (p. 258)

Although the feminist movement begun in the latter half of this century is commonly acknowledged as having made great strides toward creating a more egalitarian society, patriarchal attitudes continue to pervade many aspects of our society.

Patriarchy in the Haredim Society

Clearly, women are relegated to a position of less power than their male counterparts. Women are instructed to defer to men both in their personal/marital relationships, and in the social and religious life of the congregation.

We absolutely do not support this twisted and unbibical view. It’s pure fundamentalist. A cult.
The Haredim Society as a High-Control Group
Not all groups exert this level of control on their members. In many groups, both religious and otherwise, guidelines for living and doctrinal wisdom are provided, yet individuals may retain a great deal of control over their lives on many levels. In a high-control group, the individual relinquishes her control to the group’s zeitgeist. Individuals are seen as incapable of directing their own lives and are in constant need of direction and structure from those who are more capable and wise or who are more in touch with “God’s will.”

In speaking about the structure of fundamentalist families in general, which some might consider to be a form of high-control group, one author relates her experience:

The primary goal of relationships in a rigidly religious family centers around control, because it is believed that people cannot be trusted. Obedience is stressed as a primary value. Using biblical support, fundamentalist families are usually patriarchal. Women are subject to their husbands. I was told that there had to be a hierarchy, otherwise how would decisions be made? The implication was that without such a control system there would be conflict and chaos. (Winell, 1993, p. 119)

The first author of this article defines a high-control group by the following characteristics:

1.      Members experience negative consequences for nonconformist behavior or attitudes (such as questioning doctrine or disagreeing with the party line).

2.      Information is controlled, especially if critical of the group.

3.      Leadership is absolute and not bound by checks and balances.

4.      Individual behavior is excessively limited by rules and regulations (legalism).

5.      Outsiders are generally viewed as dangerous or evil, and associations with outsiders are primarily in order to convert them something they don’t do or accept anyways.

6.      Members are required to give up their own interests or make sacrifices in favor of group activities.

7.      Members leaving the group are punished or shunned.

Women in HS occupy a position of decreased personal power relative to men in the group. Women are commonly exhorted to “remain in submission” to their husbands, and are banned from instructing baptized male members about spiritual matters and from addressing the congregation from the bimah. A woman is regarded as a “weaker vessel” who should manage her household “under her husband’s approval and direction,” owing to her “duty of submission to her husband” (Haredim Society, 1971, p. 1665). The seminal  HS text just cited goes on to define a wife’s role as “caring for the family–prepare nutritious meals, keep the home clean and neat and share in instructing their children–subjecting themselves to their own husbands” (p. 242).

In addition to a relative lack of power compared to their male compatriots in the congregation and in relationship with their husbands in the home, women as well as men must cope with a community gestalt that discourages “independent thinking” (“Fight Against,” 1983), mistrusts higher education, controls access to information critical of the group, restricts members from expressing doubts, discourages diversity, and severely punishes nonconformists

Legalism in Daily Life

For  most Haderim and ultra-orthodoxJehovah’s , life is constricted by innumerable spoken and unspoken rules and regulations, that is, the locus of control for an individual’s life lies almost entirely with the organization.  Members are not permitted or are highly discouraged from a number of activities, including celebrating birthdays or holidays, attending other synagogues or congregations, working for the government,  smoking cigarettes, listening to many kinds of modern music, joining the army,  dating non-haredim, joining 4-H, and voting, to name just a few. Some of these “sins” result in censure or “marking” and loss of status within the group; others can lead to the cruel shunning treatment of disfellowshipping.

The haredim Society puts forth innumerable “suggestions” as to what members should wear, whom they should date and marry, what medical procedures they may not have, how they should wear their hair, what kinds of jobs they should perform, how many hours a month they should preach, how many meetings they must attend, what kind of people they should spend their time with, how much and what kind of education is acceptable, what material to read and not to read, and so on. Many of these edicts are put in the form of suggestion, yet are actually disguised rules.

basically bans the computer game…. Doom in the following statements: “Many computer games are thinly disguised violence, bloody massacres, or even blatant pornography”. (which for many is 100% true) Is this type of game appropriate for peace-loving orthodox?. Parents, have you checked the home computer games your children use lately? Need we say more?” (AIs This the Game,” 1995, p. 25).

Psychological Issues

Locus of Control and Cognitive Dissonance

Psychological literature refers to an individual’s source of motivation as the “locus of control.” Locus of control is viewed as either internal–that is, stemming from inside the self–or as external, where control is attributed to sources outside the self, such as another person, group, or adopted philosophy. Studies have shown that people with an internal locus of control tend to fare better psychologically then those whose locus of control is external (Pearce & Martin, 1993; Thompson et al., 1993). Having an internal locus of control has been found to correlate significantly with feelings of happiness and self-esteem (Kopp & Ruzicka, 1993). People with an external locus of control tend to have difficulty accepting responsibility for their lives and tend to blame forces outside themselves for difficulties when they arise (Wang & Anderson, 1994).

Those involved in high-control groups have their reality defined by the group’s ideals–that is, their locus of control is external. Winell (1993), in a discussion of fundamentalist family structure, states:

Doctrinal rules are applied and fear of punishment are used for control. By adopting such a simple formula, a family can be robbed of the enormously constructive process of consciously developing family values and mores…. As a result, children often fail to learn about personal responsibility or how to make complex choices. (p. 119)

The group dictates what is acceptable behavior, what and who is good and bad, and so on. Ambivalence, uncertainty, moral struggles, and conflicting feelings are tidily resolved by the group’s dictates. For the practiced member, such feelings are repressed before even being raised to consciousness.
One of the most destructive processes within fundamentalism is, paradoxically, one of the sources of its greatest appeal: The dogmatic certainty, the good/evil, right/wrong view of the world that reduces true understanding to judgmentalism, also provides an unambiguous sense of direction and righteousness…. The promise of redemption and future olam habah becomes like the alcoholic fix which mollifies fears, perplexing emotions, and unpleasant realities. (pp. 29B30)

In a high-control group, truth is presented as indisputable, solid, and reassuring fact. Questioning or deciding for oneself about right or wrong is viewed as a potentially fatal sin or as being under the influence of the devil. The danger of this “certainty of experience” occurs when a member cannot successfully dismiss doubt and ambivalence, or cannot repress unseemly emotional experiences such as envy, lust, and so forth. Cognitive dissonance is then experienced. Cognitive dissonance can be defined as a sense of unease or disharmony which occurs when feelings or reality fail to match one’s beliefs or opinions (Festinger, 1957).

Professionalism Discouraged in Favor of Group Activities

An example of how the group discourages professional careers

Higher education has traditionally been discouraged for  many haredim and orthodox. Statements such as that found in some of  their  Jewish press or hamodia! are typical: “So by guiding their children away from so-called ‘higher’ education of today, these parents spare their children exposure to an increasingly demoralizing atmosphere, and at the same time prepare them for life in a new system as well” (“Second Thoughts,” 1967, p. 5).

 A married woman who chooses to work when her husband can’t support her financially is often seen as taking time away from God’s work and perhaps even lacking in faith.


While marriage is not forbidden, remaining single is encouraged because single people can devote more time to preaching, the staple activity of  most  haredim and .ultra-orthodox.

 Spirituality and the Modern Synagogue ***

As in the temple of Herod there was a court for the women, so in Orthodox synagogues there is a separate section for them, in large synagogues this being the upper balcony. As a result of this segregation comparatively few women are on hand for the sabbath morning worship; in one large synagogue only a handful of women were seen, compared with several hundred men and boys. In the Reform synagogue, which more often is called a temple, there is no such  division. In most Conservative synagogues it is neglected, although held to in principle. The same, more or less, is true of such customs as wearing a hat and donning a prayer shawl at synagogue worship. We only support this under biblical principles. for instance if a husband and wife wants to sit together so they can.

Control of Information

One defining characteristic of a high-control group is the prevention of access to information that can be interpreted as critical of the group in any way. HS receive very clear instructions about exposing themselves to any kind of information, whether through written materials or in discussion, that may reveal problems or inconsistencies in HS

Shunning as a Form of Control

is familiar with a number of cases in which family members–including children, grandchildren, and parents–have completely shunned a disfellowshipped person for years; she has also experienced this herself.

Members are condemned to suffer this extreme punishment for reasons that include a wide range of behaviors from adultery and criminal activity, to such things as cigarette smoking*, disagreeing with doctrinal points, celebrating birthdays or holidays, attending another congregation’s services, and accepting a blood transfusion, to name a few. One respondent expressed a common sentiment, writing, “I was never good enough, if I said the wrong thing I would be disfellowshipped, I was forced to wear a ‘mask’ so none would see how I really felt.”

Disfellowshipping is a serious and often psychologically devastating punishment. Members of the congregation are required to treat the disfellowshipped as if they were dead. Lifelong friends no longer acknowledge former members when they see them on the street. Eye contact is avoided. Socializing in any form with a disfellowshipped person may lead to censure and possible disfellowshipping of the current member. The disfellowshipped person is viewed as “dead to God,” with no hope of salvation and as belonging now to the camp of the devil. Those who stay in the organization do so with the threat of disfellowshipping always hanging over their head. As Franz (1991) bluntly writes, “To use the threat of organizational disfellowshipment, with all its consequences, to intimidate people into conforming to a particular policy when their conscience dictates otherwise…is a form of spiritual extortion, spiritual blackmail

Sacrifice of Personal Health Required

Besides the personal sacrifices involving career advancement, material success, time spent preaching, and so on, members are commanded to make another sacrifice. They are required to refuse blood transfusions for themselves and their children, regardless of the consequences, because haredim are taught that God prohibits the intake of blood.  At one time this prohibition extended to vaccinations (Reed, 1993) and organ transplants (HS referred to transplants as “cannibalism”) (“Questions from Readers,” 1967). HS has since reversed its policy on these issues, although it is unknown how many deaths and disabilities resulted during the time period these policies were in effect.

The prohibition on blood transfusions, however, even if not having one would lead to certain death, remains in effect

Clearly, using the threat of disfellowshipping to keep members from turning to life-saving medical procedures constitutes a very high degree of control exercised by HS over a very personal issue in the lives of its members (whether to live or die if in need of a blood transfusion).

The Dangers of Repression

The woman who pushes away all feelings of dissatisfaction or pain will have a difficult time experiencing true joy and satisfaction. The woman who consistently avoids intellectual questioning will gradually lose her ability to think critically.

As repressed issues fester like a wound that has closed but never healed, dangerous psychological and behavioral symptoms can appear. These symptoms can include substance abuse, eating disorders, sexual acting out, obsessions, phobias, personality disorders, depression, and suicide. These types of symptoms, unless biologically based, are an expression of unresolved issues emerging, disguised as symptoms of mental illness. Because repressed issues are so unacceptable and frightening, they tend to be experienced in less difficult or more bearable ways. For example, the sexually abused child may develop an eating disorder or become suicidal without consciously connecting this with her experience of sexual abuse

 the choices for someone in a high-control group such as HS who is experiencing doubts are (1) repress forbidden doubts and desires and run the risk of developing psychological symptoms as repressed feelings emerge in disguised form; (2) act on doubts and unacceptable desires secretly and suffer shame and guilt, leading to low self-esteem, possible psychological problems, and the risk of being caught and expelled; or (3) openly express or act on doubts and desires, and risk expulsion from the group and shunning by friends and family members.

The Haredim Society’s Approach to Psychological Issues

Most haredim are not forbidden to consult mental health professionals, but are told that “worldly counselors and psychologists can never hope to approach the wisdom and understanding that  G-d displays…. Rather than lean on the wisdom of prominent men of the world or on our own uninformed emotions, let us look to G-d, his Word and the Elders in the  congregation for advice” (“Trust in Hashem,” 1993, p. 13). Disturbingly, there booklets devoted an entire article to youth suicide without once mentioning consultation of a mental health professional as a treatment option .

HS somewhat grudgingly admits that members with severe mental illness might be more than they can handle through prayer and consultation with Elders, but encourages the general population of congregants to consult with Elders rather than professionals.

Some, suffering severely from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder…and other distressing disorders, have been able to live fairly normal lives after obtaining the right professional help, (but) in many cases the patient does not have a severe mental disorder but has difficulty coping with some situation in life. However, it is the Bible that gives the most effective help in handling the difficult problems of life…(The Bible) encourages such ones to call on the Elders for help and counsel…. The prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well. 

For the most part, the practice of disfellowshipping is a very effective way of controlling members’ actions. The fear of such treatment keeps many silent and encourages repression of conflict.

Survey questions covered three areas: (1) the amount of control the group exerted on its members; (2) patriarchal versus egalitarian attitudes experienced while HS members, compared to experiences after leaving the group; and (3) mental health problems experienced while in the group and after leaving

Control Scale

The first section consisted of 22 questions designed to determine the amount of control the group exercised over members. This scale was included to verify that the former Witnesses perceived HS as a high-control group. Some of the items were the following:

·       Disagreeing with group ideas could lead to expulsion from the group.

·       Reading information critical of the group was strongly discouraged.

·       They felt excessive peer pressure to behave and think in certain ways.

·       Education was risky because of exposure to bad influences.

·       Spending time with people outside of the group was discouraged unless it was to convert them.

Patriarchal/Egalitarian Scale

The section of the survey that dealt with Patriarchal/Egalitarian (P/E) attitudes contained items that were primarily phrased in egalitarian terms. Participants were asked to either rate the statements on a 5-point scale or indicate that the statement was not applicable. Answers were rated as follows: never (1), sometimes (2), usually (3), almost always (4), or all of the time (5). Following is a sample of some of the items:

·   Men and women have similar opportunities to aspire to prestigious rols or positions within the group/congregation.

·       Men and women have equal say in how to allocate money.

·       I can choose whoever I want as my husband/partner if it’s not according to biblical principles it will be my responsability and only me the one to blame.     

·       I can express my spirituality as freely as men can.

·       Men and women have equal input into how children are raised.

·       Men and women have the same opportunities to develop a career.

A few items were expressed in patriarchal terms:

·       I am comfortable having a man make decisions for me.

·       Men have more power in the group/congregation.

Patriarchal/Egalitarian Scale

When reflecting back on the time they were involved with HS, women were more likely to endorse items that indicated patriarchal attitudes. In their current lives, having left the group, women were much more likely to indicate that they experience more egalitarian attitudes in their relationships with men. One respondent stated that “the inferiority of women was perhaps my first problem with radicalism, extremism and  fanatism, one that I knew I could never swallow even as a little girl. Of course, then I thought I was condemned to a life of bitterness and discontent, but since realizing there is life beyond the group, the bitterness has faded to a memory.” Another wrote that she “felt (the) organ(ization) was an incubation group for abusive elders–men who abussed (sic) power.” She went on to relate having been sexually abused by her father, stepfather, and the elders of the congregation. Another stated that the worst part of being in the group was “being second class as a female, discouraged against independent thinking/education, (and the) Group’s obsession with rules.” One woman wrote that “growing up as a female in  certain haredim organization kept me from gaining self-esteem, confidence and self-empowerment.” Another woman stated simply and emphatically, “Misogyny.”

Are You a Victim of Prejudice?

WHAT do ethnic violence, racism, discrimination, segregation, and genocide have in common? They are all consequences of a widespread human tendency—prejudice!

What is prejudice? One encyclopedia defines it as “an opinion formed without taking the time or care to judge fairly.” As imperfect humans, we are prone to be prejudicial to some degree. Perhaps you can think of instances when you made a judgment without having all the facts. The Bible contrasts such prejudicial inclinations with the way  God judges. It says: “Not the way man sees is the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for G-d, he sees what the heart is.”—1 Samuel 16:7.

But Yeshua Himself warned of the dangers of mixing man-made traditions with the truth (Mark 7).


Yeshua and women

Women’s in biblical Judaism



About Orekh Schriftsteller

Orekh Schriftsteller. It is the online pen-name of author and Managing Director of DM Enterprises.


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