Never in history has a Jewish Orthodox leader stood up and declared: mea culpa for the suffering we have inflicted on individuals – especially women – through our power structures and age-old, all-important, religious rules.
Mea culpa for short-term suffering in life, for example caused by a lack of self-determination. And mea culpa for long-term suffering in life and in the lives after, for example through transgenerational, destructive patterns. Suffering caused by a lack of air, reflection and the ability to self-regulate. In short, mea culpa for many human rights violations.
Mea culpa for the fact that we have imprisoned people in their being, functioning and thinking by presenting things as the absolute truth, which in reality are fluid or even questionable. Mea culpa for the rigid living structures we have devised. Not only to protect children and women centuries ago, but also out of self and dishonest interests. For example, to keep the communal machine running. Mea culpa for wanting to control people at all costs while instilling fear.
Never in history has anyone publicly taken the responsibility of uttering this. In the past few years, we’ve heard more apologies than ever before. For example, apologies for various types of wars or slavery. But when will the ‘beards’ take turn and apologize? Where is: we can do better, be better and progress better? We want better. We are ready for better.
No one has publicly demanded it so far. I am afraid that I’ll be the first to do this and also, while being at it, the first to apologize on behalf of all community leaders throughout history. Leaders also include tribal and family heads.
I realize that the majority of those male leaders would never want me to do that. That the majority would even want to silence me, curse me or would turn over in their graves if they could. But here I am, doing it. As a woman. As a freethinker. As a humanist. As a person who is partly formed by these kinds of perpetrators. Even though I don’t really have to do it.
The same applies to leaders of other faiths. Since it is my (birth) right to speak about the Jewish world, due to my Jewish roots, that will be my starting point. In addition, Judaism laid the foundation for a number of religious flavors that later emerged in other faiths, both with the variety of beautiful and humane basic principles and with all the horrific mechanisms that those faiths entail.
Note: God was not invented by the Jews. God already existed before. People even had many gods. The foundation that Jews laid is not necessarily completely rotten either. That is why I can speak of some ‘beautiful and humane basic principles’ that are enriching to individuals and to the collective. Yet somewhere in time, so-called prophetic, power-hungry and psychopathic, male leaders have risen. Leaders who have almost declared themselves to be gods and who have persuaded many people along the way.
Many individuals find a puppet show easier than thinking deeply and freely. Easier than stepping into their power and taking a suitable place for themselves, not a place assigned to them by the leaders and by others. Easier than fighting for something and losing a lot. Easier because, despite the disadvantages, this is still somewhat livable due to the additional advantages. Easier because people really seem to think that they are doing the right thing. This is how they participate constantly in the community wheel. If people think that they are special or chosen by being part of the group and that everything outside of it is unfavorably different or even pernicious, they will really stay in line and follow orders.
I believe that we can do better than that and that something much better awaits us. That could be the secularization we’re already familiar with, or something that’s still completely in the making. On many fronts, we have not yet reached the end of peace and optimization in terms of development.
Meanwhile, however, the facts are not pretty. The ‘beards’ in question live and continue to act without excuses, conscience and consequences for their actions. In fact, nowadays, they keep on going steadily without being ‘caught’.
Why I am publicly standing up and shouting mea culpa when I don’t have to is because I am extremely pessimistic about the times ahead of us. I think our civil society is far too naive towards these kinds of leaders. The men within the closed-up, religious environments are not going to apologize. They do not benefit from it, with possibly some exceptions from the younger generations of (ultra-)Orthodox men.
It is the women who will do it, who will literally correct what has been broken by these men over the course of centuries. Though even then, we will notice how persistent some (ultra-)Orthodox women can be at the extreme end of the spectrum. The well-known mechanisms of the law of the jungle will be nothing in comparison to this. That is why such a correction requires many women and a massive, interfaith support among all those women with all those different backgrounds.
That is the main reason why I contributed to the annual event in June 2022 of the Municipality of Rotterdam for example, focusing on harmful traditional practices. Or why I have studied literally hundreds of other people’ stories, with the most diverse religious backgrounds. Concrete example: the story of Halime who was married off to her cousin in a religious Turkish environment, documented in her book called Unwritten Traditions. Her story is just as much my story. Her struggle is as much my struggle… Only together can we face it.
Mea culpa, mea culpa. That is what we must hear to break the endless repetition of history. A conscious gesture that speaks for the (ultra-)Orthodox leaders. Mea culpa, mea culpa: I will continue to beat my fist on my chest until it will be heard, with tears in my eyes and concerns in my mind.
The Dutch version of this article was published by BNNVARA, Joop.