If God gave us Devora, the judge, Ruchie Freier should be a judge
November 19, 2017 11:48 AM   Subscribe

This is Ruchie Freier, a 52-year-old Hasidic Jewish grandmother who has blazed a trail in her insular religious community with so much determination that the male authorities have simply had to make room. Eleven years ago, she became one of the first Hasidic female lawyers in Brooklyn,and last November, she was elected as a judge to civil court. She has done so not by breaking the strict religious rules that govern ultra-Orthodox women's lives, but by obeying them so scrupulously that there are limited grounds for objection.
posted by ChuraChura (6 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I want very much to believe that this is a good step forward for women in ultra-Orthodox communities. Having an example to follow is great, and her work in court and with the ambulance service is admirable. Speaking as someone who doesn't do a lot of research on elected judges and has no shame about automatically selecting the female-looking name on the ballot, two things trouble me about Judge Freier (emphasis mine below):

A young defendant came up, accused of misdemeanor assault of his girlfriend... She reduced his bail from $2,500 to $250.

[H]er uncle and mentor, Judge David I. Schmidt, who held the seat she would win... retired in 2015, after his legal secretary sued him, claiming she was fired in 2014 for complaining about his inappropriate sexual comments in the office.

Forgive my gross generalization from snippets of a NYT article, but it's hard lately, when it has become so clear that very few men can be trusted in positions of power, to realize that many women in positions of power do not recognize the systematic actions men take to scare women away from public life. Or if they do, they're not inclined to hold those men accountable for their actions.
posted by All hands bury the dead at 12:37 PM on November 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

Not that I disagree with your larger point, but I don't think that's a particularly fair generalization to make. She's not responsible for her uncle's behavior; she won his seat after his retirement. And the broader context for the first quotation, I think, makes it clear that she's trying to move away from punitively high bail and towards a more just criminal justice system:
The New York City judicial system under Mayor Bill de Blasio is moving toward alternatives to bail, such as vocational training and supervised release, for low-level crimes. Judge Freier has embraced the trend. A young defendant came up, accused of misdemeanor assault of his girlfriend. Judge Freier inquired into his record, and found out that his past offenses consisted of stealing MetroCards and using marijuana. She reduced his bail from $2,500 to $250.

Another man, obviously mentall ill, stood before her. He had exposed himself and masturbated in a Popeye's restaurant. She took her time and decided to release before trial with mandated mental health treatment, even though the district attorney recommended he be held on $5,000 bail.

She is inspired by two things, she said later: the possibility of making a positive change for a defendant, and her own volunteer experiences within the ultra-Orthodox community counseling teenagers who had turned to drugs and other vices. She found time and time again that they were not bad children; they were just doing bad things.

"I want you to understand the importance of what's being offered to you in court," she told a 17-year-old who had been charged with possession of a knife, offering to dismiss the charges if he stays out of trouble for six months. "I want you to choose your friends, stay in school, do your schoolwork, and stay out of trouble, because you've got potential, but it's in your hands."
posted by ChuraChura at 1:52 PM on November 19, 2017 [15 favorites]

Thank you for posting this, ChuraChura.

The comment section on Ruchie's Vos Iz Neias? article is worth a peek as well. My last personal interaction with Orthodox Judaism was, oddly enough, in Cambodia. There was a Chabad in Phnom Penh, where I went to Shabbat dinners a few times until I realized how deeply uncomfortable the environment made me. The venue felt so laden with exhausting assumptions about what it means to be Jewish.

Judge Ruchie and the excellent film Menashe, released this year, are good reminders that the Orthodox also wrestle with Orthodoxy.
posted by waninggibbon at 8:45 PM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

There is a really interesting documentary about people struggling to leave the Chasidic community in Brooklyn called One Of Us, streaming on Netflix, which people might also find interesting.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:42 AM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is a wonderful article about a simply extraordinary person (and thank you), but this par:

Then Mr. Freier, who is now a mortgage broker, decided to go to college so he could earn money for the family. That was already a groundbreaking decision among the insular ultra-Orthodox, where even for a man to enroll in a secular university was rare. At his graduation, Mrs. Freier remembers saying to herself, “It’s my turn,” she recounted in a speech to an Orthodox Union women’s group in June. Her husband agreed. Over the next 10 years, she graduated from Touro College, and Brooklyn Law School. By then, she was 40, with six children.

I would have liked more detail!
Managing (or not managing) careers and kids is in the details for women.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:23 PM on November 20, 2017

It is extremely unlikely that Mr. Freier was ever taking care of the children and the household, even when she was in school. She talks about this a bit in the article. In their sect of orthodoxy, it is exclusively the woman's job to take care of the household and often the husband is not working at all - he is only studying Torah. Studying Torah is considered more important than saving a life and other commandments (mitzvot). For them to be breaking so much with tradition means it will be harder to make a good marriage for their daughters and so again, very unlikely that he was ever caring for the girls.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:30 AM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

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