This JewFem blog focuses on feminist issues in Jewish life. It tackles Jewish education, synagogue life, Israel, Jewish community, bits of pop culture, and more. This blog is written by Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman, writer, educator, and researcher, contributing writer at the Forward Sisterhood, author of the book, “The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World”.
"It’s no secret that women have a hard time supporting one another. Sure, we’ll bring each other lasagnas and casseroles when we’re sick, and we’ll give each other warm hugs as we listen to one another kvetch. But real support, the kind where we stand behind one another and say, “This woman is my leader; I trust in her vision, and I am willing to follow her,” well, not so much. As Facebook Chief Operating Officer and “Lean In” author Sheryl Sandberg has pointed out, when women are successful, we all tend to attribute their success to luck or to pluck rather than to intelligence and worthiness. The more women have ambition and vision, the less they are considered likable, by women and men alike. When a woman does well, she tends to hear things like, “You must be lucky,” or, “You’re obviously persistent,” as opposed to, say, “You’re a skilled, intelligent visionary.” We tend to be more comfortable with women as soft, submissive and servile than we are with women of power.
Jewish women — and yes, even Jewish feminists, even Orthodox feminists — need some rethinking and retraining in how we support one another. We need to take a page from Sandberg’s playbook. Orthodox women face most of the same issues that she has been talking about, plus more. I would argue that the very qualities that make Orthodox women so remarkable — the ability to manage regular weekly four-course gourmet meals for 20 while working full time and helping a bunch of kids with homework and soccer — also keep us from raising our chins. We’re so busy managing the pitchifkes, or day to day items, of our lives that we forget to see ourselves and other women as great leaders.
It’s time for Orthodox women to unlearn this. We need to create social and communal structures that teach us how to empower one another, how to back one another, and how to form communal-feminist scaffolding for one another’s success and advancement. We need to unlearn an entire lifetime of conditioning that has made us doubt other women’s worthiness. We need to practice letting go of our dismissive, small-minded micro-managing and start embracing words and practices that strengthen and bolster one another’s work and vision. This does not happen automatically or naturally; these are behaviors that need to be taught and learned. It’s about undoing decades of internalized sexism. That takes work."
Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/190237/lean-in-orthodox-style/#ixzz2t7G7TdLB
Some Hebrew-language musings on the connections between Kolech and JOFA, or on the need for cross-oceanic collaborations in religious feminism.
כתבתי מאמר בעברית באתר קולך בנושא כנס JOFA.... על שיתוף פעולה ועל הכוח שבא מחשיבה ופעילות משותפת. אשמח לשמוע תגובות http://kolech.org.il/show.asp?id=63941
ברור לי שיש כאן צורך גדול להדק את הקשרים בינינו וליצור דרך לשיתוף פעולה. פשוט חייבות. אין דרך אחרת. אנחנו זקוקות אחת לשנייה עבור ההצלחה של כולנו
השנה היתה שנה מאוד מרגשת עבור הפמיניסטיות הדתיות: שלושה כנסים בנושא דת ומגדר התקיימו תוך מספר חודשים ברחבי העולם.
הכנס הראשון של JOFA-UK החדש, התקיים בחודש יוני בלונדון;
כנס השני, של ארגון 'קולך', התקיים בספטמבר
והכנס השלישי, כנס JOFA, התקיים בניו יורק בתחילת חודש דצמבר השנה (2013)
הרצף הזה של כנסים המיועדים לדון בנושאי דת ומגדר בזה אחר זה בפינות שונות בעולם הביא איתו הזדמנות מיוחדת לבחון את הקשרים בין תנועות האחות הללו. התוצאות בינתיים הן מרתקות, ואולי אפילו מרגשות.
אין ספק ש JOFA ו'קולך' הינן ארגוני אחות במלוא מובן המילה. כמו שתי ישויות שנובעות מאותו מקור, כאשר כל אחת עם אישיות הייחודית לה. ההקשר דומה אך קצת שונה, והרצון משותף לבנות בית חדש וחזק על בסיס ערכים משותפים.
במשך השנה שחלפה היו לנו מספר אירועים שפעלו לחזק את הקשרים בינינו ואת החזון המשותף. נציגות JOFA ו'קולך' נפגשו מספר פעמים במפגשי היכרות, לשמוע אחת מהשנייה ולדון בסוגיות משותפות, כגון מנהיגות נשים, נושא העגונות ומסורבות הגט ועוד. בירושלים, חנה קהת אירחה את נשות JOFA, ואח"כ סוזי הוכשטיין אירחה את הקבוצה.
כשחנה קהת היתה בניו יורק בנובמבר שעבר 2012, הרמנו ערב של וועידת פאנל בנושא מעמד הנשים בארץ, יחד עם בלו גרינברג, ג'יין אייזנר, סוזן ווייס וננסי קאופמן, כולן נשים יהודיות פמיניסטיות מובילות (ואיזה כייף היה להפיק אירוע שבו כל הדוברות היו נשים! קיבלנו על זה ביקורת – למה לא שמרנו מקום לגבר – אבל בשבילי זאת היתה אפליה מתקנת, והיה פשוט נפלא לראות פאנל מלא בכח נשים! אני יכולה להבטיח שקהל של כ-75 איש לא היו משועמם!).
לסיכום, שני הארגונים נמצאים כבר יותר משנה בתהליך משמעותי וענייני לגבי חשיבה, לקראת חזון משותף ואולי גם פעילות משותפת. וכל זה קורה בשנת הכנסים, כך שפעילות זאת צברה תאוצה וקיבלה אנרגיות חדשות.
שמחתי מאוד לראות שמספר נשות וועדת ההנהלה של JOFA הגיעו לכנס 'קולך' בספטמבר, ושבלו גרינברג נשאה דברים בנושא נשים מסורבות גט. לי היתה הזכות, יחד עם חנה קהת, להוביל שיחה בלתי-פורמאלית בנושא שיתוף פעולה בין-ארגוני. שמענו מנשים וגברים על הצורך לבנות את הקשרים הללו, ללמוד מניסיונות של אחרים מרחבי העולם, וליצור מנגנונים לתמיכה הדדית בקרב אוכלוסיות המובילות שינוי מגדרי בעולם הדתי.
בכנס JOFA בשבוע שעבר, היו נציגות/ים רבות/ים מהארץ, ביניהן/ם פרופ' תמר רוס, הרב דניאל שפרבר, דבורה עברון, ד"ר רוני עיר-שי, נורית יעקובס-יינון, רחלי ווסרמן, סוזן ווייס, נשים מנשות הכותל ועוד. היו גם דוברות מ'קולך': ריקי שפירא-רוזנברג וביטי רואי, וריקי סקרה את הפעילות החשובה של 'קולך' במיוחד בנושא נשים במרחב הציבורי. מאוד שמחתי שריקי באה לדווח על הנושא הזה, נושא שהוא לא מובן מאליו שהוא נמצא בתודעה של נשים אמריקאיות.
גייסנו כסף במיוחד עבור הדיון הזה, ויותר מזה, הצלחנו לוודא שהנושא הזה יהיה חלק מהאג'נדה של כנס JOFA. אני רואה בזה...
Often, when I take a moment to remind myself what I’m grateful for, I think about my grandmothers. My life is so much different than theirs were – although in some ways still very much the same. I cannot help but stop in awe at the opportunities that I have that they probably would have loved to have.
I especially think about my paternal grandmother, Beatrice Maryles Fink, z”l, who was a woman ahead of her time. She was one of a handful of Orthodox Jewish women who, in the 1930s, studied at Hunter College on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and received bachelors’ degrees. A few years ago, a friend of mine told me that her mother was part of that group as well, the ones who used to walk over the bridge from Brooklyn to get to college. They were as religious as they were serious about their secular learning, and despite many contrary stereotypes, they had no problem attaining advanced degrees while remaining fervently Orthodox. My grandmother’s degree was in math, of all things. Like I said, a woman ahead of her time.
Her problems came when she dated. She used to tell us stories about how she hid her achievements from her dates, so as not to intimidate men by appearing, heaven forbid, smarter than them. In the end, she married my grandfather, Cantor David Maryles, z”l, who apparently was proud of having a smart wife. She was “old” at the time of their wedding (26 years old, I believe), and also taller than him – a big taboo in those days as well – but he did not seem to have been bothered. In every photo I’ve seen of them together, he looks deliriously happy.
The story unfortunately did not have such a happy ending. My grandfather died at the age of 39 of leukemia, leaving my grandmother to care for five boys under the age of 12. She lived with her father-in-law for many years, working part-time as a bookkeeper to try and make ends meet. My father, who at 12 was officially the “man of the house”, also helped support the family from the time he became bar mitzvah. Wealthy they were not. From what I understand, it was more like just scraping by. So much for the power-woman with a degree in math who could conquer the world.
Still, my grandmother held on tenaciously to her own intellectual dignity. She found every opportunity to take classes, and had fascinating contributions to make to every conversation, always commenting on social trends and human behavior. I think that it’s her imprint that made me interested in sociology so many years later. Her idea of a great birthday present was always a book. I still have a shelf at home lined with books that she gave me, all of them inscribed to me in her impeccable handwriting. I did not read most of them at the time, just as I did not appreciate her while...
Elana's newest book, Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools, won the 2013 National Jewish Book Council Award in the category of education and identity!
Order your copy today!
Zelda R Stern and Elana Sztokman's oped from The Jewish Week about the significance of the Maharat graduation:
"Orthodox women are making history in front of our eyes. On June 16, three women will be ordained to serve, in effect, as Orthodox rabbis, given the title of Maharat (an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning leader in legal, spiritual and Torah matters).
They will graduate from Yeshivat Maharat in New York City, the first and thus far only women to receive institutional ordination as religious and spiritual leaders in the Orthodox world.
To a certain degree, this is not really news. Women have been working in Orthodox clergy position for years. And a handful of women have been privately ordained by Orthodox rabbis over the years. But next month’s graduation will mark the first time Orthodox women will be formally and publicly ordained with institutional recognition for the profound role women rabbis can play in Orthodox communities.
Maharat women will perform virtually all the same pastoral and spiritual functions as men, plus a few. Orthodox women are often more comfortable approaching women about personal, intimate issues than they are approaching men. Maharat women will deal with those issues and have the potential to re-engage women in communal life — women who until now have felt that they have no leaders. As one young Orthodox woman recently told us, “When my husband doesn’t come to synagogue, the rabbi asks about it. But when I don’t come, he doesn’t even notice. I need a woman rabbi who I can connect to, who can take an interest in my spiritual life.”
Read the rest at The Jewish Week...
Excerpt from Elana's op-ed in The Jewish Week
"When my daughter was in kindergarten, her teacher decided that it would be nice to get mothers more involved in the class. So she invited us to what she thought would be a fun evening with a stylist who specializes in teaching people how to set their tables more elegantly. I made a futile attempt to explain to this lovely young woman why a women’s-only evening to teach proper table-care was throwing women back a generation or more, and that, by the way, fathers are parents, too.
The teacher could not comprehend how something as innocuous as a get-together for table-setting mothers could be taken as offensive, and I eventually dropped the discussion rather than reduce her to tears. Clearly, this was her first encounter with some basic ideology of the movement for women’s equality."
Read the rest here
“Men come to the partnership synagogue for a whole host of reasons, the overwhelming majority of which have nothing to do with feminism.” -The Men’s Section
The Men’s Section is about the men’s side of partnership minyanim in Israel–their reasons for joining and their difficulties after joining. The author was clearly distressed by her own findings, which even I admit were surprising. Partnership minyanim are generally seen as being the “next step” to equality and gender balance. Admittedly, her research is Israel-centric, but one thing was clear: men weren’t joining out of a sense of feminism. In fact, what we know as the ideal of feminism was actually one of the difficulties men had with the minyanim!
Many of the men interviewed reported that they didn’t feel a sense of community in their old shuls, or they felt an emotional disconnect, or that they felt constant pressure to be perfect (the “man-on-man gaze”), or that they were dissatisfied with the hierarchies. Note that none of this has anything to do with women. In fact, many of the problems reported by men were with the women–that they had their own incorrect “women’s trope,” or that they didn’t come on time. The fact that women were never taught the trope as meticulously as men were wasn’t discussed, and as Sztokman observed, women were expected to prepare meals for shabbos, and take care of the children, and still show up on time and stay throughout the service. She found that these men will let women into “their space” via the partnership minyanim only if they are willing to abide by the same rules by which the men were socialized. The irony is that these are the very rules and patterns that the men hoped to escape by joining these minyanim.
Sztokman shows they are replete with the same social hierarchies that one might find in any mainstream Orthodox shul. Feminist deconstruction of gender and manhood was not a concern, and it seemed as if the women were there as sort of an afterthought. In fact, when one of the members had a non-egalitarian member of his family come in for his son’s bar mitzvah, many of the members argued that they should rescind women’s leadership positions. As one woman said, “we all fix things up in our home before the mother-in-law visits. How is this any different?” It was obvious that, as strange as it seems, egalitarianism wasn’t a very pressing item.
Read more here: http://jewschool.com/2013/02/17/30144/men-being-nice-another-look-at-partnership-minyanim/...
Deborah Weinberger and Beth Hurvitz: Pioneering Women Co-Presidents of Hebrew Institute of White Plains, NY
When Beth Hurvitz, a fifty-two-year-old Senior Vice President of Visa and single mother of a thirteen-year-old daughter, was asked to become the first woman president of her synagogue , the Hebrew Institute of White Plains, she agreed on one condition: that her friend and colleague Deborah Weinberger would share the job with her. Deborah, a mother of three who works for Camp Ramah, teaches aquatics in Briarcliff, NY, and single-handedly built the synagogue thrift shop into a bustling source of revenue for the synagogue, readily agreed. Thus Deborah and Beth became not only the first women presidents of their Modern Orthodox synagogue, but also the first co-presidents. And they couldn’t be happier. In an interview with JOFA Executive Director Elana Sztokman, these two impressive women share their love for the job, for the community, and for one another. It’s an inspiring story of Orthodox women making change through partnership and care.
Tell me a little bit about yourselves
Beth: I have been living in New Rochelle, NY, and have been a member of the Hebrew Institute of White Plains my entire life. In fact, I was even named at the synagogue!
Deborah: I grew up very differently from the lifestyle I’m living now. I grew up in New York City in a Conservative synagogue and went to Hebrew school, and I never knew this model of an inclusive, Modern Orthodox community existed. In my world, there was either Reform, Conservative or Lubavich, and nothing like this. When I first moved to White Plains with my husband and we had a baby, suddenly I was getting these meals from strangers – I had never experienced anything like that! That was amazing – many friendships started because of those meals – and it’s why I decided to get involved in the synagogue community. I sat on a few committees, starting with the new members committee, I ran a shabbaton, and then Beth and I launched a retreat, so that’s how our relationship started. From that point, it became apparent that we had complementary skills and talents, and we also had a really good time working together.
Beth: It was very clear that we could work well together. Deborah knows everyone in the synagogue. She constantly keeps us in check to make sure we’re doing the right thing. Being the president of the synagogue is different than running a business. It’s about doing the right thing, building a community and making sure everyone has what they need.
Deborah: It’s more like customer service, making sure our congregants feel heard and appreciated. Beth has all kinds of business skills and she’s a natural problem-solver. She is also a single mom by choice. I couldn’t manage a goldfish alone!
Beth: Deborah has three amazing children and an amazing husband. She also runs the thrift shop in the synagogue and she has totally revitalized it. Today it brings in...
Dr. Ruth Calderon is starting a revolution in Israel.
The new Knesset member on Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party is a Talmudic scholar who built two secular batei midrash (houses of learning), Elul and Alma, both of which are among the most significant educational institutions at the center of the Jewish secular renewal in Israel. And this week, in her introductory speech at the Knesset, she did something astonishing: She taught a passage of Talmud.
This was remarkable for several reasons. First, Israeli society has been trained to associate traditional Jewish sources with the ultra-Orthodox community, whose entire belief that only elite orthodox men can truly understand Talmud is at the heart of some of the most heated debates about social and economic issues in Israel. Suddenly, we had a secular feminist breaking all of the molds and expectations by owning the text. Moreover, she taught the text — a passage from Ketubat 62b about Rabbi Rechumei, who forgot to come home to his wife on Yom Kippur. And she taught it with the tenderness and care of someone who deeply loves the text.
The ultra-Orthodox community is already terrified at this reality. “She is challenging our entire way of life,” the Kikar Shabbat website wrote this morning, as if to say that a secular woman to be embracing Talmud this way goes against many of their sacred assumptions.
What’s more, Dr. Calderon brilliantly wove the text into a message about these very secular-religious rifts in society. Using the finesse of a movie director, she likened Rabbi Rechumei and his wife to secular Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Israelis, each one living a different life and not understanding the other. It was an interpretation that used the Talmud as a source of wisdom and insight for contemporary issues. The very presence of an incredibly brilliant female Talmudic scholar teaching a (still) predominantly-male group, with her grace, virtuosity and erudition, was an arresting sight.
But it’s not just what she taught but also how she taught. Her reading of the text was enlightened, inspired and real. She brought the story to life, connecting it to the human condition, making it relatable and present. Her reading of the words was literal, which clearly troubled the Shas Speaker of the Knesset, who rudely interrupted her and offered a much more midrashic, “traditional” and, in my opinion, stretched, reading. In one of the greatest moments of the talk, while Knesset members loudly chastised the Speaker for interrupting, Dr. Calderon gracefully turned to him and said, “That’s okay. I’m always happy to share words of Torah.” That kind of gentility is not something that is often seen in the Knesset. It was at that moment when I realized the enormity of the change she is ushering in. This is not just about teaching Talmud but about challenging the entire social discourse in Israel. Dr. Calderon is a great rebbe, now Knesset member. The possibilities are captivating.
Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/171283/the-knessets-feminist-turn/#ixzz2LCEBxYcm...
The induction of the new Knesset this week raised some crucial issues for women in Israeli society, but you’d never know it from following the news. The blogosphere was abuzz this week, but not with stories about the significant strides made by women — for example, the record number of women Knesset members and party leaders; the fact that the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party, the only religious party with women on its list and gender issues in its platform, now holds a key position in coalition negotiations; or the fact that negotiations hinge in large part on demands for mandatory conscription of haredi men, a plan with serious implications for women in the status of women IDF. All of these issues may potentially affect women’s lives and status in Israel, but apparently they’re all, well, boring. The real news, apparently (even here at the Sisterhood) was what Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s wife wore to the inauguration.
There are many good reasons why Sara Netanyahu’s dress should not be news. For one thing, she is not a lawmaker and therefore should not be the focus of the story. The news of the day should have been about 120 incoming legislators, 48 of whom are completely new to the institution and 27 of whom are women. It should have been about issues on the national agenda and the civic mission of the new Knesset, not on spouses’ clothing.
Second of all, if Sara Netanyahu had any relevance on the events of the day, it is related to her ideas and influence on the most powerful man in the country. It took Netanyahu several days after the elections to contact Naftali Bennet, the head of Habayit Hayehudi, reportedly because Sara doesn’t like him. If we want to discuss Sara’s role in the Israel, we should be talking about why she doesn’t want Bennet in the coalition, and how her taste in politicians — not her taste in clothing — will impact Israel’s government.
Finally, and most importantly, the discussion of Sara’s attire reduces our public discourse, especially about women, and drags us all into the gutter. This whole story is more of a reflection about us as a society than it is about Sara’s taste. What does it say about our values when, on the day when we are forming a new government that will impact every aspect of our civic lives, all we are interested in is the so-called fashion police? Consider how shallow it is to care more about style than substance as we empty our minds and completely undermine our lawmakers. After all, if we are asking them to represent us and then demonstrate an undying commitment to rubbish, how will our lawmakers interpret “the needs and interests of the people” when it comes to creating legislation on our behalf? One can only wonder. How can we ask them to take us seriously when we don’t take ourselves seriously?
Significantly, several lawmakers from different sides of the...