So, here's the scene...
-- A sizable portion of the male chareidi population in Israel learns all day and does not work.
-- Charieidi families, like all other families, need to purchase food, clothing, etc.
-- Due to various factors (education, the economy in general, etc.), it is difficult even for chareidi women to find employment.
-- Chareidim (like all other communities) want to boost employment in their community.
With me so far? Good, because here's where it starts to get tricky.
-- The chairman of the Shas party arranges for a government call center to open near where chareidim live and employ chariedi women in Northern Israel.
-- Said government call center handles various different services, including health care organizations and pharmacies.
So, the calls start coming in. The women answer them, direct them to where they are supposed to go, whatever. Services are being provided and the women bring home a check, and all is right with the world.
Of course, I wouldn't be bringing this up if the story ended there. As you might expect, there is a fly in the ointment. As it turns out, some of the women have been getting calls regarding "virility pills." Older men are calling in asking questions about Viagara, Cialis or some of the other erectile dysfunction medications that are available. This has caused some problems for the women who view the calls as indecent and obscene. While I suppose it is possible that some of the calls could be what you or I would truly call obscene, I'm willing to bet that the vast majority (if not all) of them were actual honest calls for information about treatment for a medical condition. Since the call center handles calls for medical organizations and pharmacies, such calls are probably to be expected. Rav Asher Idan describes just such a call:
“She answered a call that was supposed to go to a pharmacy,” recalls Rav Idan. “On the other end of the line was a man of about 60, who wanted advice on pills designed to increase virility. He asked her what it does. Because she was unfamiliar with the product he had to explain it to her and then proceeded to ask detailed questions. Only when she realized what he was referring to did she hang up on him.”
Rav Idan then proceeded to state that answering such calls when not in her husband's presence* is a violation of the prohibition of giluy arayos (sexual immorality).
I think it's quite sad that people who are calling a health center about a legitimate health concern are considered "obscene" and "indecent."
I think it's also quite sad that these women are so sheltered that they had no idea that erectile dysfunction exists.
I think it's also quite sad that discussing health matters in a professional setting is considered as violating the boundaries of sexual immorality.
The bottom line is that people should not work in fields where they are unsuited to work. For example, I know that despite the fact that I like to cook, I can never work as a chef in a fancy restaurant. Why? Because of the prohibition of cooking meat and milk together. It would be disingenous of me to look for employment in that field and then say "oh, I can't cook this dish" and "oh, I can't cook that dish." Employers should make reasonable accomodations for employees, but if a bona fide criterion for the job is going to interefere with your religion, then you simply cannot take the job. If these women feel that they cannot truly work in a health center because answering bona fide questions regarding male health issues is obscene/indecent, then they should not work there.
Or, perhaps better, they should learn that not everything relating to male sexuality is obscene -- and learn to handle such calls professionally.
That being said, I'd like to end the post on a lighter note. Here's what one "leading askan" said about the incident:
“Employing charedi women should not be taken for granted,” a leading askan in the North told Hebrew website NRG. “Because of modesty issues rabbonim do not recommend women work outside of the home – only in cases where the financial situation is pressing and the woman needs to go out and get a job. Such cases require halachic clarification and a she’elas rov.”
Isn't that priceless? They set up a system where men don't work, forcing the women to work. Now this guy wants to say that women should not work either -- unless they get a hetter (permission) from a rav. And all this in a call center that was set up specifically to emply chareidi women. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.
* I'm not sure why it would be any better (or worse) if she answered such calls if her husband was there.
** Would they say it's obscene or indecent for one of them to call their male OB/GYNs with a gynecological question?