Many members of the Jewish community are scratching their heads these days about the seemingly bizarre decision by the board of the Riverdale Jewish Center to keep on Jonathan Rosenblatt as their communal rabbi despite significant evidence that he has been acting inappropriately in his leadership role. To be fair there are people like Dr Steven Bayme who, according to the New York Times , decided that they cannot morally justify staying in such a synagogue, despite four decades of commitment, and for that they should be commended. And yet, despite what seems like an obvious history of violations of some basic moral and Jewish tenets, the board is retaining Rosenblatt, making victims of sexual abuse and their allies question the ethical backbone of the entire Orthodox community.
In fact, though, we should not be so surprised by the support that Rosenblatt has gotten from some of his balabusim and some of his peers. There is a long list of sexual predators and other Torah offenders who have received enviable support even as their sins come to light. Motti Elon, for example, who was convicted of sexual assault against his male students, has a strong following in Israel and abroad, and is frequently invited as a lecturer around the country. Marc Gafni , another long-time sexual offender, is considered a celebrity in many places, while his offenses barely find mention in his bio or on his Wikipedia page (“Best-selling author” it is). Michael Broyde , whose bizarre crimes of fraud were not sexual but nevertheless far out of the bounds of Torah, seems to be leading a new minyan of followers. And while Barry Freundel is largely condemned for his outrageously hurtful crimes of mikveh voyeurism, he had many vocal supporters before the undeniable evidence against him came to light, and many voices of support during sentencing – including Orthodox machers and pundits declaring, “It’s not rape” and therefore he should have gotten a much shorter sentence.
It is not only in the Jewish world where high-profile sexual predators find high-profile support. It has taken dozens of testimonies of women and several decades before anyone began taking seriously the allegations against Bill Cosby – and he still has some major celebrity supporters. Accusations against Dominique Kahn-Strauss were dismissed by some of his peers with a jovial, “Everyone knows he likes women.” And in fact all we have to do is look to the Supreme Court where Clarence Thomas has been sitting silently for over two decades despite powerful testimony about sexual harassment against him. It seems as if it is often easier for men in positions of power to wiggle out of accusations of sexual abuse than it is for victims to be believed.
This dynamic has a lot to do with bystander phenomenon. As Judith Herman wrote in her trail-blazing book “Trauma and Recovery,” all that abusers need from the world is passivity in order to continue abusing. Intervention, which benefits the victims, is much harder to receive than passivity. The default position of the observing world, of...
The annoying thing about the Internet (or one of them) is that when ridiculous posts go viral, the kind of posts that are full of lies and misconceptions, you may find yourself in the no-win situation of figuring out how to respond. This is especially true when those posts are about you, or about something you know something about, like your life or your body. The choice to engage with trolls and haters means drawing more attention to them. It also means that you actually have to spend time reading the drivel and letting it enter your brain in order to formulate the right response. It means diverting your energies away from your creative work in order to fight off the nutters. However, the choice not to engage means that they win, because they get the last word. It’s a lose-lose for the good guys.
Such is the case this week with the rubbish being tossed about over at Cross-Currents — a publication that touts itself as “a journal of thought and reflections, from an array of Orthodox Jewish writers”—about the removal of women’s images and names from public spaces and media. A rabbi wrote some really idiotic thoughts about why he thinks it’s okay for him to demand that his world be rid of women’s faces, names, voices and bodies. And some other men responded. And then the original poster complained that people were being mean to him (has he seen the kinds of vitriol that feminist bloggers have to deal with ? Suddenly it’s a problem when you’re on the receiving end, huh). And then another man responded about why erasing women is bad for the Jews. And somewhere outside of this discussion, women were reaching for their buckets. I can still hear the hurling.
Still, here I am responding. So I would like to make a few things clear. First of all, if a group of people is having a discussion about the lives of another group of people in a setting where that other group is not represented, there is a problem. Imagine a conference on Jewish history or anti-Semitism where there were no Jews present. Jews would never take such a conversation seriously, and would more likely be up in arms and calling their Congresspeople. That is how the Cross-Currents conversation looks to some of us women. A site that hasn’t had a woman writer in months if not years (I scrolled back as far as I could to find a woman writer and there were none on the horizon), if such a site publishes a bunch of men talking about women, why should anyone care? What possible interest could such a conversation have? I mean, what kinds of relevant or interesting ideas can anyone expect them to have? They do not even recognize the exclusion of women in their own midst, and certainly don’t view it as a problem, so of course we cannot expect them to have deep insights about excluding women. Sure, it is so easy...
Introducing Safe Sanctuaries: A three-part mini-telecourse, just in time for the high holidays, exploring the meaning and experience of feminist synagogues with some of the greatest Jewish feminist spiritual teachers of our time:
What do feminist synagogues look like?How do you create them?Do they exist?
Sundays August 30, Sept 6, Sept 209:30-10:30 AM LA time, 12:30-1:30 PM NY time, 7:30-8:30 PM Israel time, 5:30-6:30 UK time, 2:30 AM-3:30 AM Melbourne/Sydney time
Sessions are live and recorded, and can be viewed at any time
WEEK 1: LITURGY (AUG 30)
What is feminist liturgy? What are some of the challenges in our liturgical traditions for advancing gender inclusion? What do we do about God language? What are specific challenges around the High Holidays?
Prof Rachel Adler
Rabbi Dalia Marx
WEEK 2: THE SANCTUARY (SEPT 6)
What does a feminist sanctuary look like? Is it possible to have feminist sanctuaries that have partitions? What else should a community do to advance gender inclusion, across denominations?
Shira Ben Sasson Furstenberg
WEEK 3: THE COMMUNITY (SEPT 20)
What does a feminist prayer community look like? What does it mean to create gender inclusion outside of the sanctuary?
Dr Tova Hartman
Rabbi Dr. Judith Hauptman
Dr Debbie Weissman
Image: Youtube Screen Capture
(Read the rest at The Forward)Over the past week, two men heading religious institutions in Israel have been added to the notorious roster of suspected sex predators in the religious Jewish world.
Rabbi Ezra Scheinberg was caught by police two weeks ago at Ben Gurion airport trying to avoid arrest on charges of rape, sexual harassment and indecent assault. Ten women have come forward so far and the police expect more complaints now that the court lifted the ban on releasing his name. According to the complaints, Scheinberg would rape women who came to him for spiritual counseling, and told the women it was part of their healing treatment. The police conducted a search of his house and removed computers, cell phones and other equipment.
Scheinberg, the 47-year-old founding head of Orot Ha’ari yeshiva in Safed, is considered a leading religious Zionist kabbalist and was known for his mystical “blessings” and abilities to “see” into people’s souls. He was considered a protégé of the late chief rabbi Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, father of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the current chief rabbi of Safed. Eliyahu has since disassociated himself from Scheinberg, and ordered him to leave Safed and resign from his yeshivah post. Judge Uri Shoham allowed the publication of the rabbi’s name in order to “encourage other complainants, who have requested not to expose themselves until now, to testify about what the suspect did to theme. There is also room to warn the public against him.”
According to police reports, Scheinberg, who is married and has eight children, had a confrontation with one of his accusers earlier this week, in which he said the sex was consensual. The woman in turn called him “impure.” The woman wrote in a letter to Scheinberg , “Thank God I am free of you…Thanks to your arrest, we can lift our heads again…We know you’re the evil one and we are fine, that you are twisted and we are straight, you are impure and abominable and we are the victims…After all these years of your intimidations, we are no longer scared. Your scare-tactics no longer work on us….If you had one drop of integrity of justice, of truth you would ask for our forgiveness. But your heart was always made of stone”
Although Orot Ha’Ari students originally responded with shock, they no longer seem to be backing their former rabbi. His books have been thrown in a big trash can, and staff are calling him “an abomination”. . One of his former students wrote a scathing testimony accusing Scheinberg of being “an actor who fooled us all,” a rabbi who was never around the study halls of the yeshivah, and about whom “nobody could tell you what he did with his free time–and he had a lot of free time.” The student added that nevertheless, “he knew how to present the image of the highest tzaddik [righteous man].”
The most significant backtrack is of Safed Chief Rabbi Eliyahu, who went from being Scheinberg’s top ally to his greatest detractor. “The...
There was a sense of subdued determination among the 450 people swarming the halls of the Wohl Conference Center at Bar Ilan University during this year’s Kolech conference. Some of the attendees had been coming to Kolech conferences for years, while others had not been born when Kolech, Israel’s premiere religious feminist organization, was established in 1998. Still other Orthodox feminists told The Times of Israel they did not attend the July 13 event because it was no longer necessary for them to be there.
However, judging by the range of topics covered, the unapologetic perseverance driving Orthodox feminism today leaves no stone unturned and no stained-glass ceiling unshattered.
The lives of Orthodox Jewish women have changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time. Just six years ago, no Orthodox women had received rabbinic ordination, only a handful of “partnership minyanim” (Orthodox synagogues that promote women’s inclusion) existed in Israel, sexual abuse was still largely swept under the rug, and Jewish lesbians were still a small and mostly unseen community.
In fact, at the 2009 conference, participants were surveyed about what title they would theoretically give a woman rabbi – rabbanit, rabba, and “important woman” were all on the list. The title of “maharat” had not yet been invented: Back then, it was all still hypothetical.
READ the rest at Times of Israel...
"Elana Sztokman is one of the most proactive Jewish feminist thinkers on the scene today. An award-winning author of three books on gender equality in the Jewish world, a PhD in sociology and a former executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Association (JOFA), Dr. Sztokman seeks the edge. This past spring, she inaugurated a course, Dynamics of Jewish Feminism, via webinar for a worldwide reach. Judith Plaskow, Rachel Adler, Blu Greenberg and Letty Pogrebin were among the more than 30 distinguished panelists over the course of 8 weeks. Energized by the response,Szotkman has now embarked on a second course, DESIRE: Sex, Judaism and Feminism . Susan Reimer-Torn interviews her for the Sisterhood.
"Susan Reimer-Torn: What made you decide to offer a webinar on Sex and Desire?Elana Sztokman: I realized that almost all our feminist conversation lead to sex. We manage to dance around the issue. We do talk about slut-shaming, for example, or excessive modesty demands. But what are those really about if not owning women’s sexuality? Girls’ and women’s sexuality are some kind of communal property that needs to be purely maintained. When we talk about inequality in marriage and divorce and the agunah issue, it all comes down to cultural practices that see a woman as the property of a man — with all that entails. Talking about our own desires explodes that basic assumption. It lets women take back ownership of our sexuality, ownership of our bodies."
Read more: http://forward.com/sisterhood/311669/desire-sex-judaism-and-feminism/#ixzz3gK6347Rv...
"Help! Our 'Half-Jewish' Daughter is Becoming Frum
"Both my wife and I are half-Jewish, and raised our kids as mostly cultural Jews. For the record, our kids are technically Jewish because my wife’s mother was Jewish. This past year while away at college, one of our daughters became increasingly drawn into the Chabad and has told us that she wants to both keep kosher and observe Shabbat this summer and plans on studying in Israel next spring.
"We want to support her in wherever her heart and mind goes and are excited to learn from her. But we are also aware of the second-tier status of women in certain Orthodox sects, including the Chabad, and are worried this particular path into Judaism might get in the way of her ambitions. Seesaw, how do you suggest approaching her about this? We suspect this might be a crucial moment and want to get it right.
Elana Maryles Sztokman writes:
"Help Her Rememeber Her Old Self Too
"There are many beautiful aspects of Orthodoxy, and of Chabad, that can be very attractive to young people coming from non-Orthodox backgrounds. The richness of traditional practices, the seeming tranquility of Shabbat meals, the communal singing, and the escape from secular pressures around material culture and body. All of these can be very alluring, especially to a 20-year-old forging a vision of her own life. The problem is that the allure itself can be entrapping. Orthodox language, especially language aimed at convincing non-practicing Jews to embrace Orthodoxy, is often absolute and black and white. The lifestyle is often presented (especially in places like Chabad) as an all-or-nothing endeavor. And the demands to keep the most extreme formulations of religion are often engulfed in a combination of super-suave marketing and God-pressure. As in, “God has asked this of you, and even though it looks strange it will give you the greatest high.” So to speak.This pressure is especially felt with women, who often go from surfing on the beach or having creative career ambitions to putting on long skirts and scarves and giving up all former iterations of the self in favor of frenetic motherhood.
Read more: http://forward.com/opinion/spirituality/310436/help-her-rememeber-her-old-self-too/#ixzz3gK8azoNr...
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A few months ago, I was at a conference on Jewish feminism at Bnai Jeshurun in Manhattan, speaking on a panel about visions for the future. We talked about a lot of typical feminist issues – gender wage gaps, women’s leadership, sexist cultures – and it was all interesting and important. But right before the panel was about to end, the panelist to my left, an impressive woman named Rachel Tiven, asked for the microphone one last time. “I promised my friend I wouldn’t lose my nerve to say this,” she said. “So here goes: If you want to do something really feminist, go home and have sex. Have lots of great sex with the person or people of your choosing. That is what feminist liberation is about.”
This comment took everyone by surprise. But the sort-of nervous laughter was an indication not only of shocked awkwardness but also of the strange place that sex has in our society, all around us in commercialized forms but nowhere comfortable for real, serious engagement. The more her words echoed inside of me, the more I realized how right she is. We don’t really talk about what good sex is, what healthy sexuality is, about our deepest desires. And for many people, especially women, that often translates into a kind of trap, of feeling caged in to a life in which our desires and our sensualities never really see the light of day. We never really free our sexuality.
A lot of this has to do with sexism, and with lingering messages about what makes correct womanhood. So much of sexism and patriarchy in Judaism is about how society owns women’s sexuality. The ubiquitous discussions about modesty, for example, which have morphed into a society-wide obsession with women’s clothing choices and an astonishing spread of slut-shaming practices even in secular schools, is a reminder that women’s sexuality is still considered communal property. The idea that anyone with authority can take it upon himself or herself to police women’s and girls’ bodies, at proms or in bus ads, remains frighteningly persistent.
Practices of gender segregation, which are couched in language of “modesty”, also turn women’s bodies into objects of sexual gaze rather than women’s own personal flesh, the tool with which we live our lives and breathe and love and feel.
Read the rest at Jewrotica
Image: Yeshivat Maharat
The past two weeks have been historic for Jewish women. Orthodox women in both Israel and New York were ordained as clergy – although with a variety of titles from Maharat to Rabba to Rabbi, but effectively all as rabbis. While Yeshivat Maharat is now the veteran institution with five years of experience at this, Yeshivat Har’el appears more liberal in calling women “rabbi” or “rabba.” Israeli Orthodoxy thus effectively caught up with and then surpassed American Orthodoxy, creating a bizarre and beautiful historic twist in which organizations seem to racing against one another to demonstrate the greatest commitment to women’s advancement in religious Judaism.
The advancement of Orthodox women is part of a historical narrative around women’s leadership in the Jewish world. All the denominations have roots in the conception of Jewish leadership as exclusive men’s clubs. The fight for women’s inclusion in the rabbinate began in earnest with the feminist movement of the 1960s – although in reality it began much earlier. The first Reform woman rabbi, Sally Preisand, was ordained in 1972. The first woman Reconstructionist rabbi, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, was ordained in 1974. The first Conservative woman rabbi, Amy Ellberg, was ordained in 1985. The first woman rabbi in Israel, Naamah Kelman, was ordained in 1992. Three women received private ordination from Orthodox rabbis before Yeshivat Maharat opened: Mimi Feigelson in 1994, Evelyn Goodman-Tau in 2000 and Haviva Ner-David in 2004.
The ascent of women has been slow but gradual – and nevertheless invigorating. There are few areas of the Jewish feminist movement that can show such clear markers of impact as the struggle for women’s rabbinic leadership. Even if the struggle is far from over – with high-status positions still male-dominated, and issues of equal pay, work-life balance, LGBT inclusion, and others still painfully unresolved – the fact that women have gained titles is extremely significant. Titles are a vital step to being seen, heard and respected, which are vital for women to be included as leaders.
Actually, though, the story of women’s rabbinic leadership begins earlier than third wave feminism. The very first woman rabbi, Regina Jonas, was ordained in Germany in 1935. And the truth is, Jewish history is replete with women who served as rabbis – informally and without being ordained – before denominational divides had fully taken over Jewish life. Chana Rochel Wernermacher became “rebbe” of Ludmir (1805-1888). Pearl Shapiro, the daughter of the Maggid of Koznitz, prayed with tallit and tefillin, and held court like any other rebbe (1768-1848). Merish daughter of Eliezer of Lizhensk, served as a rebbe in her community, as did Freida and Devora Leah, the daughters of Rabbi Shneir Zalman Liadi, the founder of the Chabad movement. Gershon Winkler’s beautiful book, “They Called her Rebbe: The Maiden of Ludomir,” has an extensive compilation of women in the shtetls of Europe who served as rabbis. Women have often served as leaders, just without recognition and without systematic impact on women’s lives.
Remembering the history of women’s struggles for...