Hasidic Women Want to Join All-Male Jewish EMT Squad
New York - Most Orthodox Jewish women avoid touching men except direct relatives. They don’t sit next to men on buses or even at weddings. They have separate swimming hours at indoor pools. But for an emergency birth, Orthodox Jewish women will usually turn to the all-male volunteer ambulance corps known as Hatzolah.
Now a group of women in one of the country’s largest Orthodox Jewish communities is proposing to join up with Hatzolah as emergency medical technicians to respond in cases of labor or gynecological emergencies.
The proposal for a women’s division has stirred up criticism within Orthodox Jewish circles, with one well-known blog editorializing that it amounts to a ‘new radical feminist agenda.’ And when a prominent elected local official, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, spoke about it on his weekly radio show, he was criticized for even bringing the subject up.
Rachel Freier, a Hasidic attorney who is representing the women in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, said there is a need for emergency services that adhere to the community’s customs of modesty, calling for the sexes to avoid physical contact unless they are related.
‘It has nothing to do with feminism,’ Freier said. ‘It has to do with the dignity of women and their modesty.’
She is careful to avoid framing the proposal as a critique of Hatzolah, whose work she says they respect. Instead, she says it is a matter of reclaiming a ‘job that has been the role of women for thousands of years’ — that of midwife. ‘We are so proud of Hatzolah,’ she said. But, she added, ‘they can’t understand what a woman feels like when she is in labor.’