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Where are the Women in the Maccabeats Video?
Tue, 03/15/2011 - 20:00
Special to the Jewish Week

We love the Maccabeats. Like most of their day school friends, our kids have been singing “Candlelight” since December.

“Candlelight,” their big hit, is a smart and funny parody of the pop chart hit “Dynamite.” It is also an expression of Torah, with overt Hebrew lines sung unabashedly before millions of viewers on television and the Internet. This is fitting, as the Maccabeats are a product of Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of modern Orthodoxy. For all these reasons, the Maccabeats make us proud not only as Jews, but as modern Orthodox Jews. They show the world that you can take halakha seriously and engage in the best aspects of modernity.

Yet we were let down by the Maccabeats’ more recent release, their Purim song. Like “Candlelight,” the Purim song takes a number one hit and reworks it to tell the story of the holiday. The video is once again slick and professional, and the music is catchy. But in a song and video devoted to the story of Esther, there’s one major missing element: women.

Women are entirely absent from the Maccabeats’ rendition of the story, and from the Purim seudah (meal) at which it is told. Okay, there are a couple of girls in the video, most notably a baby who is meant to portray the Purim heroine. Aside from these literally infantilized presentations, women aren’t there.

One can argue that the Maccabeats are an all-male a capella group. There’s no reason they need to have women singing in their videos. And many in the Orthodox community might take issue with women singing in deference to the halakhic considerations of kol isha, the prohibition on men listening to women’s voices lest they become aroused.

Fair enough. But the Maccabeats’ failure to deal with the presentation of women sadly reflects a broader issue in Orthodoxy, namely the inability of so many Orthodox institutions to include women in their public culture.

Women are welcomed in the public life of Orthodoxy when that public takes place in the form of words, when their bodies—including their voices—can be separated from their minds. They have become important voices in the print culture of Torah, as evidenced by the phenomenal growth of advanced study institutes for Orthodox women in Israel and America and the publication of erudite works by Orthodox women scholars.

But the Orthodox community remains challenged to find a way for women, in their bodies, to participate in the public life of the community. If we can be modern enough to make a snazzy music video, can’t we also be disciplined enough not to reduce a woman to a sexual object when she ascends the podium? Or do we have to turn her into a baby and erase women’s presence from the video of a Purim seudah? (The image of a Purim meal full of men with young children and not a single woman present is simply preposterous.) Are we really no more advanced than Shakespeare’s England, where the parts of women had to be played by boys?

The most ironic aspect of the Maccabeats’ writing women out of the Purim story is not the fact that the Book of Esther is about one woman (Vashti) who refuses to be reduced to a sexual object, and another (Esther) who finds her voice. The real irony comes when one watches the video for the song that was parodied, P!nk’s “Raise Your Glass.” The video is a provocative salute to women’s empowerment. The song’s refrain is an exhortation to the marginalized of society to show their individuality:

So raise your glass if you are wrong,
In all the right ways,
All my underdogs,
We will never be never be anything but loud
And nitty gritty, dirty little freaks

Don’t allow yourself to be marginalized. Write your own story, show your power, raise your glass, raise your voice: That’s the point of the song.

To a potential Orthodox viewer of the video, the point is made with extreme images, including some that would offend their sensibilities. Yet in a most poignant irony, the Maccabeats’ video, which makes women invisible from a story to which they are central, is extreme in the opposite direction.

We’re sure the Maccabeats had all the best intentions in writing their song and making their video. They weren’t thinking about gender politics. And that’s precisely what disappoints us. The problem is not with the Maccabeats. It is with an Orthodox community—of which we are members and leaders—in which even the best-intended efforts still fail to meaningfully include images of women. (This is in powerful contrast to the Purim video by the Israeli group Ein Prat released a month ago, which is also set to the P!nk song, but includes women fully. It can be done. The Maccabeats just didn’t think to do it.)

If we are truly committed to living a life of commitment to Jewish law and engagement with the modern world, we can’t hide our faces when confronted with the question of the public portrayal of images of women. That is a betrayal of the message of Megillat Esther. It’s time for us as a community to hear the voice of Esther, and to welcome her into the public square.

Rabbi Josh Feigelson is the Campus Rabbi at Northwestern University Hillel. Natalie Blitt is a Jewish educator. They are married and live in Evanston, IL.

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The video is totally appropriate, to have women in the video would have been like building a school with non tznius uniforms in the middle of a chareidi neighborhood, which we know would never happen....

I'm Jewish, but not Orthodox, so I don't understand a lot of the terms being used in this discussion (my knowledge of Hebrew is very limited).

I mention my background, because I don't understand how the term "modest" equals the term "invisible". In modern Orthodox culture, why is it necessary for women to be completely absent from public view to be considered modest? Is it impossible for women to dress and act modestly and still be seen on youtube and in other public settings?

Did you intend this article to be funny? Hope so. And just wondering, what's with the joint byline? Who actually missed seeing the ladies, Josh or Natalie?

LOL.Just wondering: if the Maccabee ladies get their act together (the "Maccababes"?), will Natalie get her own byline?

This lack of women thing may not be so nefarious. This is a group of young orthodox men. The are likely unmarried and likely don't really know that many young women. I got the feeling that the girls (and young boys) in the video were siblings of group members. And while I love the Maccabeats, I suspect they are perhaps a bit geeky (in a good way). I think the lack of women is just due to circumstance. They do spend all their spare time singing with other men, afterall.

sounds like the authors of this article are so open-minded that their brains fell out. nebach. I will iy"H add them to my list of tefilot in order that they should have a speedy refuah sheleima.

Is this nonsense for real? With everything facing the Jewish people and the world in general, this is what bothers the authors: that an all-male Orthodox acapella group had no women in it to sing about Purim? If the authors are so worried about the status of women then lets see an article or activity to counter fgm, gender apartheid, child-marriage, spousal abuse, economic disenfranchisement and honor killings among real issues facing women around the world. If they want to stick to only things that effect the Jewish world, which quite frankly would be in violation of tikkun olam, then discuss the plight of the agunah since attacking orthodoxy seems to be their general purpose of this article.At least fighting for agunot would have some true life saving merit.

When you mention the Ein Prat video, do you mean "Raise Your Mask"? Yeah, they sure "included women fully". And not in the most tzni'usdik way, either.
There are many music videos done by girls and women with only girls and women featured. It does not bother me, as a guy, nor do I hear any other guys complaining about being precluded from girls' music videos. As a previous commentor said; stop stirring up Sin'as Chinam.

Young Israel in Atlanta does a really good job weaving women in and does it in a way that accounts for modesty issues. Their "Groggers Up" video is really creative and fun.

Can't we just enjoy their talent and contribution to the holiday? It is obvious that the reason they did not use adult women violates their beliefs. They are entitled to have their beliefs. Enjoy them and leave it alone.

We teach tolerance. I live in the Bible belt. We are surrounded by people who have different beliefs than us as we are one of the few Jewish families. So what? Respect their right to do so. On Glee, we saw this same song celebrated by two men in love with each other and we are taught to not discriminate against this. The Macabeats are celebrating Purim according to their values. Don't discriminate against them. If we are to teach tolerance and an appreciate diversity in our world, we should practice what we preach for our own people as well.

In our world of "preaching tolerance" my own child is going to be teased at prom because she does not want to do the dirty dancing that her peers are going to do. Why is it that the ones who stand for modesty- in regards to women- and high values are the first ones we try to tear down? Thank you Maccabeats for your high standards. I wish you were chaperoning the prom.

Loved the song and the Maccabeats!!. By the way, you can marry my daughters!!

As an student, this couple lost all of their moral authority as being the self-proclaimed Jewish "leaders" they claim to be after they couldn't find it in their liberal value system to say one bad word about the recent NU scandal wherein a professor invited a couple to come up on stage and get extremely sexual in front of 100 people.

That's not something this Jewish leadership couple could speak out against and be repulsed by, but the Maccabeats video is!?

People, let us all realize how we are incredibly affected by our surroundings!

Kol HaKavod.

This is "bait and switch" absurdity. Don't write 3/4ths of an article about the maccabeats being the problem, and state in the last paragraph that "the problem is not with the maccabeats."

They're a collegiate a cappella group. Not the RCA Board of Directors.

I think the author of this piece completely missed the point of the video. The whole story of Purim is about how Esther, a woman, hid her identity so that she could save the Jewish people. Esther wasn't up in anyone's face. She was modest and didn't take the spotlight.

Another point: This article basically says that everyone EXCEPT young Orthodox Jewish men get a voice. The author rejects the Maccabeats' voices simply because they did not mix their voices with women's. That approach is a great example of someone's liberal values actually turning fascist- "I will not accept you unless you do everything the way I say you should."

Another point: To say it's preposterous to have a Purim meal with only men and children is just straight forward ignorant. Many YU Purim meals are single gendered because we have separate campuses, AND a lot of Jewish people believe it's more proper since alcohol is usually served. We all know what happens on most college campuses when guys and girls get together and drink. Just because you think it's "natural" for people to hook up at parties does not give you the right to judge me for creating or participating in parties where that's less likely to occur. See my previous point.

Many Jewish communities across the world celebrate Purim differently. I think it would be great if a paper like the Jewish week would embrace a more pluralistic understanding of Judaism.

Yes there are separate sex seudot (there also are plenty of mixed) but how many of them have children at them!!!! It's bordering on creepy to have this frat boy atmosphere and then these little children partying with them.

And to address your first point, how would it be "up in anyone's face" to have modestly dressed women sitting at the same table as the men, sharing in the simcha? Yes, Esther hid her identity, yes she was modest, but she also had 2 very famous meals with, gasp, 2 men! at the same table!

Isn’t it a little ironic that the ones screaming out about orthodox disrespect towards women are by and large non-orthodox individuals. The overwhelmingly large majority of orthodox women don’t feel 2nd class at all. Hopefully the authors will take some of the respect which they reserve for women and apply it towards our timeless tradition. Those who speak of Orthodox values as reflecting archaic sexist norms due to the fact that it has failed to join the 21st century, are not only being disrespectful, but down-right mean spirited.

We are big fans of the Maccabeats. I don't have a problem with the absence of women in the videos and I think the use of a cute baby girl as opposed to some culturally imposed beauty queen was clever. My issue is the use of "He" when referring to God... This is my gender critique of the song.

"We’re sure the Maccabeats had all the best intentions in writing their song and making their video. They weren’t thinking about gender politics. And that’s precisely what disappoints us."

It disappoints me that all you can think about is gender politics when you readily admit that it wasn't the intention of the video.

Congratulations on finding a way to condemn something so constructive.

I think a lot of you are missing the point of this article. Yes, the Maccabeats may have valid "excuses" for the absence of women in their video. They are an all man's group, they probably do want to appeal to all sects of Judaism (or as broad an audience as possible) and they may even have had direct instructions from YU (who I believe provide the funding for their videos and recordings).

The point of the article did not seem to be to make sexists out of the Maccabeats, but to use their video as a sign pointing to some truth in the greater Modern Orthodox community. Yes the Maccabeats were probably following some "rules" (whether outspoken or implicit), the question is why are those rules in place? The authors (and yes there are 2, a male and a female, although many of the nay sayers who commented only seem to call out one) of this piece are correct to point out that women have slowly gained some voice in Modern Orthodoxy (just look at the "YU on the Go" pamphlets done for the Chagim and their minority presence there), but they are still shunned visually. Why is it unacceptable (a mentality that is confirmed by so many of the comments on this piece) for a woman to be seen in a Youtube video (especially in a video by a group that is quickly becoming sort of unofficial representatives of the entire Yeshiva University community, which is co-ed, even if they are housed on separate campuses)? Would showing women sitting (modestly dressed of course) around the same table as men really make subjects of them?

I'm sure we have all been to Shabbat and Yom Tov meals that include both men and women. Is that somehow inappropriate? Are any halachot being violated? Some might say yes, but I don't think that is the answer we would get in the YU and Modern Orthodox community. So why is it unacceptable for us on Youtube?

Again, the point is not why the Maccabeats did not include women, but why our community forces them to make that decision. This was a really interesting and thought out article.

this article was excellent purim torah!

Rabbis Josh and Natalie wrote...

"But the Maccabeats’ failure to deal with the presentation of women sadly reflects a broader issue in Orthodoxy, namely the inability of so many Orthodox institutions to include women in their public culture."

"Failure to include women in their Public Culture"...Hmmm. Who says that it is a Jewish value to include women in Public Culture?

"Modern" Orthodox? In which way are the "Ultra-Orthodox" not modern? They are alive today (which is of course Modern), use cell phones, fly airplanes etc. If you mean Modern Orthodoxy in the sense that they get their VALUES from modernity then nobody should be Modern Orthodox. The values of the Torah are eternal. They will be Holy and True long after this "Modernity" has passed. Where is there an internal Jewish source that says the promotion of women in a public space is a VALUE to which we should strive? If you want to be a post-modern american feminist couched in Hebrew termanology that is fine. But please, be intellectually honest and admit that when you look at the words of the Torah, the Talmud, Shulchan Aruch etc. you will find no place the says the Promotion of Women in Public is a Jewish value.

BTW: I had a hard time realizing how wonderfully feminist Vashti was given that I was busy reading in the Talmud (Megillah 12) where it describes her making Jewish women come to her naked to break Shabbat under threat of death. Thanks for pointing that out. (BTW LOVE Me the level of analysis done by the pseudo-intellectual feminist scholars. Primary documents! HA! Who needs them! I got me an agenda.)

Excellect Point! The Torah is not only the source of halacha (Jewish Law) but also the source of the values that we hold dear. It's not like we are suppose to take our values from the gentiles and then try to wiggle our way around, through, over or past the halacha. But it seems like that is what the authors and many responses are assuming. Where is the actual SOURCE that says jewish women in PUBLIC is something that we should promote?

You go "Ultra-Orthodox Lady!" (was your name suppose to be ironic? Either way, you go GIRL! in private of course :) Modesty is still a virtue even is some would rather give it up to copy men.)

Now there's a career that guarantees that you'll always be busy: criticizing Orthodoxy for being orthodox. Here's a suggestion: look inwards and keep off of the one branch of the religion that does and will always do what it always has done.

I want to reiterate the comments about Vashti. Vashti was not a feminist and she was not into women's rights. She was the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar who was vicious and cruel to the Jews. Digging deeper into our teachings will reveal the horrid things she did to the Jewish women who were her slaves. Vashti was evil. The megillah teaches us that she didn't appear before the court, not because she was standing up for women's rights, but because she had pimples. She was vain.

To the poster who used the term "feminazi", please don't use that term any more. I was taught by my father in law who was a holocaust survivor and partisan fighter that the only people we should call Nazis, are Nazis. That from someone who saw first hand. Please consider the sensitivity involved here.

Last point. In Torah, Sarah was missing from the meal in Avraham's tent. The angels asked, 'Where is Sarah' in order to point out the merits of her modesty. It actually took me decades to understand that. I just heard a great quote. Don't think that everything you know is all there is to know. Keep learning, keep growing, and we'll dance together in Jerusalem at the third Temple. And, that will be in the merit of the righteous women. We're doing what we need to be doing. :-)

To the authors:

Since you're so into learning profound lessons from P!nk lyrics, maybe you should learn from the preceding verse from that song -

"Why you so serious?"

Great article! Each time I've seen both of these catchy-and-fun videos, I've had the same thought -- frankly, I always think they're a group of (gorgeous) gay Jewish men celebrating Jewish holidays. Of course, if they were, they'd likely have invited some fabulous women to the party, but you get the gist.

While it makes sense that only the men are *singing* the songs in a video made by a men's a capella group, your larger point is so important about women's visibility in modern orthodoxy...thanks for raising this question.

I'm Jewish, although not Orthodox, so maybe I'm off on this. However, I did think that there were laws - and if not laws, norms in the community - about treating people with respect. It's fine to disagree with the authors, but I'm really shocked at the vitriol expressed here.

Message to Rebecca (earlier talkback):
That is sad, I am shocked to read it! Come to Israel ! There are still enough modern orthodox frameworks here that wouldn't dream of separating the sexes for a Purim seuda. Young Jewish singles should be getting together and meeting each other on every possible occasion!
Leonie Lachmish (mother of Shani, Queen Esther and vocalist on the Ein Prat Fountainheads "Raise Your Mask" clip).

Yes, I agree with this article. I think the Maccabeats are great, but my first though when I saw the video was about the opportunity missed by only having adult men in the video. I am confident that the Purim charachter roles could have been played by adults, in a tznioustic way, without breaching kol isha. I applaud the authors for writing this article.

Kol haKavod! I never thought I would see an Orthodox Rabbi (other than maybe Telushkin & Yitz Greenberg) go on record that women need to come into the public sphere and quit being "sexualized." I have always had an issue with Orthodox Judaism because no matter have wonderfully Rabbi Kenneth Brander could "explain away" the halacha, until I can publically, in a mixed setting, chant outload, read from Torah, etc., Orthodox Judaism is not the way for this women ... and I'm sure many, many others.

Our girls schools are bursting at the seams. :)

By publishing this article the Jewish Week is undermining its ability to approach controversy in a substantive way. Women in orthodoxy is an important issue, but framing the issue in the context of the fun and lighthearted maccabeats makes it difficult to take the rest of her point seriously. This drivel is why the Jewish week is often perceived to be the Newspaper that cried wolf. When non-issues are editorialized, the real issues get obscured in the follishness. I expected better. #GoMaccabeats

Thanks to those who have responded with substance. Here's our reply:

It's a disgrace that not a single woman appears in the clip, in which the traditional Purim meal is attended by a crowd of tipsy young men accompanied by a few small children. Jewish families world wide will be sitting down to a festive Purim meal on Sunday. Why is this family not in evidence in the clip? The participants in the clip look like a bunch of frat boys having a party with very young children. (One almost expects the police to burst through the door with warrants for their arrests). Insult is added to injury by the fact that Queen Esther is played by a two year old. Even if it is not correct to show women singing on video (and that is a matter for debate), it does not "objectify" women to show them in long shot, modestly dressed, enjoying a Purim meal with their families. The total erasure of women from the clip sends a chilling message to viewers. What are we, the Taliban?

The biggest shame of all is the opportunity that has been lost here. The goal of the maccabeats is presumably to make the message of the Jewish festivals appealing to the wider Jewish public. But the half million viewers who have seen the clip have seen a Judaism devoid of women. Is this the message that they, and Yeshiva University, wish to convey to the world?

Thank you! An apt comment and to the point! I hope people will read it!

hurray, bravo, keep saying this. the video was awful, they need to hear that.

Why not ask why there aren't African-Americans in the video?

To the authors of this article:

True - the Maccabeats video doesn't fit well with your wish for an egalitarian form of Jewish Orthodoxy.

It seems to me that you now have three choices:

1) Grin and bear it, stop trying to force another group to adopt your worldview, and quit being such whiners

2) Go out and form your own egalitarian Jewish singing group that will appeal to your segment of like minded cohorts

3) Just wish the Maccabeats hadn't arrived so that we could all continue learning such meaningful lessons in female empowerment from such wholesome role models like P!nk

I can't believe you decided to sign your real names to this article.

Bravo! Not only aren't there women, but a careful viewing would also reveal the absence of minorities, non-Jews, the physically and mentally challenged, and animals (particularly dolphins). There don't even seem to be Jews of color, from places such as Ethiopia, Yemen, Iran or India.

Thanks to authors for getting the ball rolling. I think we can now all agree that the Maccabeats are racist, sexist, exclusionist, speciest, Islamaphobic, and Ashkenazist.

Awesome!! LOL!!

is it just me or did this article of two desperate people with an agenda finding an excuse to rant about there gripes with a community who regardless wont read their article?

I totally fell for this--I feel like a fool! It must be a joke, peoples!

I don't understand why this rabbi has no respect for the orthodox homosexual community. These young men are doing an admirable job at expressing who they are.

Hahahaha! Touche!

Actually, I do agree with the writer's comments.
I am a reform Jewish woman who has never understood why in today's world, Orthodox Judaism still marginalizes women. In particular, the law of "kol esha" is ludicrous (sorry if I offend anyone here). I have found many men's voices equally "sensual", yet I am not prohibited from hearing Jewish men sing. Orthodoxy treats women as temptresses that divert men from prayer and holiness. Otherwise, why forbid women to sing among men, and why make women keep their natural hair hidden under hot and hideous wigs?!!!

I think the article makes a very good point, though I'm not sure the Maccabeats are the best example of the lack of women's presence in Orthodox Judaism (they are just making a cute video, after all). However, the intellectual snobbery, closed-mindedness, thoughtlessness, and frankly rudeness of some of the comments are astounding. Seriously guys? That's what Judaism is supposed to be about: free exchange and debate of thought. There's nothing wrong with saying you disagree, but to call someone a 'feminazi'? That's not only insulting, but is a personal attack. That's the kind of behavior that causes a chilul Hashem.

Firstly, we do not celebrate Vashti as a heroine. Her refusal had nothing to do with her respect for herself and her sexuality but rather was part of an ongoing power-struggle with her husband.

Secondly, we are orthodox jews!!!! have you been so colored by the disgusting music videos that have been produced in secular media that you cant even appreciate a video without woman in it??????? we as woman understand our role in this holiday, and do not need the Maccabeats to show us our place in this historical event by putting some girls dancing in a music video.

Seriously??? i hope this is Purim Torah.

It occurred to me that the Macabeats may have anticipated something akin to an article as this. I'm assuming this is what the Greeks crashing the party was supposed to represent.

Judaism is MORE than an identity, it's a religion. I would hope a publication that calls themselves the Jewish Week should know what Judaism is about.

Have you ever heard of Kol Isha or do you pick and choose which Halachot work or dont work for you? I think too much emphasis is put on attempting to achieve what men do .......of course you and other women can do something like this.....but for women's groups.....and it doesnt have to be publicized on facebook or any other public website. Esther Hamalka was Tzanua and although she had to make compromises in being the Queen, she would not have been in a competition with men . She didnt have to be in competition....she knew how important she was to the Jewish people. Once again as long as it is in the right enviorment....there are alot of wonderful things women can achieve and still feel special.

Wanted to point out that there is another purim parody video on youtube called "Groggers Up" done by the Young Israel of Toco Hills in Atlanta, GA. This is a modern orthodox synagogue and the video includes men, women and children and the women are front and center rapping!

Kudos to the Maccabeats for NOT caving in to "gender politics". It's not their fight and it doesn't need to be made into their fight.