The religious woman living today faces a unique reality, in which she accepts and internalizes Western values such as self-fulfillment, individual autonomy and freedom of choice, while maintaining a commitment to tradition and Jewish law. These two worlds often conflict with one another, raising for many a sense of dissonance and duality. In this study I have tried to address how modern orthodox women, living with this tension between tradition and modernity, deal with the resulting conflicts in their identities. I particularly focus on two arenas in which this issue is expressed – sexuality and family planning. I have also looked into the effect of the involvement of male religious authorities in these matters.
The study includes 12 in-depth interviews with modern orthodox women aged 24-32. Participants were recruited using the ‘snowball’ method. The recruitment approach received a very positive response; many women welcomed the chance to make their voices heard on the subject. Participation in the study was completely voluntary. Following the narrative paradigm which argues that a life story is a reflection of one’s identity, the study was conducted through an open interview asking for the participant’s life story. At the end of each interview participants were asked deepening and clarifying questions according the narrative that they had unfolded. All of the stories were tape-recorded, transcribed, and then analyzed. The interviews were analyzed following the ‘square model’ developed by Lieblich, Silber and Tuval-Mashiach, focusing on categorical content and formative analysis, and a holistic content analysis.
My findings indicated tha women felt a strong need to repress their own desires in order to please others. . In addition I found four main areas in which women experienced friction between their identities: sexuality, family planning, Nida, and head covering.
In the field of sexuality, conflicts appeared around ‘Shmirat Negiah‘ during adolescence and then again in pre-marriage relationships. Furthermore tensions appeared around having sex for the first time and the choice of contraception.
In the field of family planning I found four possible scenarios for consultations with Rabbinical Authorities on the subject of postponing pregnancy. Here women described feeling badly about choosing pregnancies that were influenced by religious sentiments. Most of the mothers in the study described an additional pregnancy that was chosen from a different place, giving more weight to their personal needs and desires.
In the field of Nida women described difficulties with the rigidity of the halachic system and negative experiences with rabbinic consultation on this issue. On the other hand they described very different experiences of the encounters with female halachic authorities who offer alternative approaches in the area ofNidah.
Head- coversing is another area where women felt that their personal voices or independent existence was taken from them. For some, exposure of part of the hair mediated this experience.
Holistic analysis of the women’s stories allowed for a deeper understanding of the development of the identity of each individual participant in the study, and of the place of identity conflict within this process. Holistic analysis produced a division of the sample into two groups, women who told their stories while maintaining a coherent and continuous identity and women told their story, while experiencing recurrent conflicts in various centers of identity. The latter group was further divided into three sub-groups according to their position in the religious world: those who remained in an existing religious world, those who created a new religious language and those who chose to leave the religious framework altogether. Explanations and implications of these findings are discussed in detail in the Discussion Chapter.