Racheli Ibenboim is a Haredi lady of the Gur dynasty,” one of the most fundamentalist branches in the hasidic world. The Gur people, for one reason or another, are ever busy with ever more rules forbidding more and more “sexual temptations” of whatever kind. For example, not long ago a new prohibition was announced: A father shall not dance with his little kids at public events. Kids, apparently, have been declared to be sexual temptations. In the old days, only women were the “temptation” of the Gur hasids.
A few months ago, Ibenboim was the Jewish Home party candidate in Jerusalem’s municipal elections, but she was reportedly pressured to withdraw. Luckily, no rabbi knows that I’m in town and no rabbi has forbidden Racheli from meeting me — a man.
A man, God has said long ago — in case you didn’t know — shall never talk with a woman who is not his wife or mother. In addition: A woman, as every child of God knows, never shakes hands with men, unless he is her husband and she is not on her period.
Yet, when we meet and I offer Ibenboim my hand, she takes it.
Did she lose her marbles? Did she fail to notice that I am a man? I have no idea, and I’m very intrigued. And so, I ask her.
“Tell me, Racheli: How come a Gur woman offers her hand to a man?”
“I am a member of the President Peres Youth Forum, a place where there are many events attended by many people: Goyim from all over the world, people of all colors and shapes, and I had a big conflict because on such occasions people shake hands all the time.
I was thinking about it and I made a rule for myself: I will shake hands with men I meet in official affairs, provided I don’t know them personally.”
The rationale, she explains, is grounded in the ultra-Orthodox tradition, not something she has made up. She gives me an example: “Haredi women, when they board a bus, pay the fare by giving money to the driver, into his hands.”
Wow! Drivers are men and I should be treated like a driver. Or a goy. I love it!
“Tell me more about yourself,” I say.
“I was born in Tel Aviv,” she says. “I was the youngest kid. I think I was born by mistake. My brothers were much, much older than me.”
Her father was in the business of importing porcelain from Bavaria and she was given much freedom, “within limits,” to do what she pleased. She became an activist within her own sect. She arranged forums and events, and seems to have ruled her peers.
“At the age of 18 and one month I got engaged,” she said. “It was like in the movies, really: We got engaged after meeting each other for less than 20 minutes.
Let me say this: We were engaged less than 24 hours from the first time that I heard his name, and after less than 20 minutes of talking to him. Seven months later we got married. By the way, during these seven months we never met or talked, not even on the phone.
He is one of 14 children. And I remember, when I was at his family’s house and I looked at them, asking myself: Which of them would I like to marry? My answer was: None. This, of course, was a little problematic. Luckily, my husband, as I found out later, is a very impressive man.”
“May I ask a question, the sort of question all idiots would ask of you?” I say.
“You have never up to that point met a man. You have never up to that point touched a man. How does this work? You didn’t know your husband-to-be but you married him, a man, and you were supposed to have sex with him. What went on in your head? Were you scared?”
“Yes. On one hand it was very confusing, but on the other hand I knew I was not the only one going through this; every girl goes through this. All my friends go through this.
This is something that you are prepared to go through; it is a natural part of life, something very normal. It is accepted and expected in the world that I am part of. But I was very curious. I was asking myself: Who is this man that I got? What is he?”
Read more at: Forward