The following is a synopsis of the talk I gave yesterday at Limmud Modi’in titled, “Orthodox Feminist Narratives":
Orthodox women have complicated lives – beautiful and enriching, certainly, but also very complicated.
To be sure, there is a lot of beauty in being an Orthodox woman. You are encouraged to have a rich family and community life, to create relationships that are busy and sincere. You are often part of a larger synagogue or communal system that provides meaningful routine and structure. Indeed, your life is a constant search for meaning and genuine religious expression. Your week is punctuated by Shabbat, which ideally involves festive ritual gatherings, singing, prayer, joyful relaxation, and elaborate meals with friends and strangers. Your lifecycle events are swathed in ceremony that links you to ancient heritage and hopefully to God. When you give birth, you get lots of food. When you sit shiva, you get lots of food. You never have to be alone if you try hard enough, and at key moments, you are unlikely to ever be hungry. You are busy and loved and adored, as people sing your praises every Friday night and at every bar mitzvah. You are thanked excessively for keeping the home. You are adored for your inner beauty – sheker ha-chen v’hevel hayofi (loveliness is a lie and beauty is hollow) – revered for your kindness and supported in your efforts to be good to all.
This beauty, however, has a flipside. In exchange for all that internal beauty, women are indeed expected to keep that beauty to themselves. Covering up is key – covering your body, covering your hair, covering your voice, covering your passions, covering your difficult feelings, covering your aspirations. You may have the desire to lead – to lead services, to lead synagogue, to lead the seder – but you have few if any approved outlets for that desire. You may desire to express yourself in singing, dancing, or writing a commentary on the Talmud, but you have to be careful and search hard to find outlets for those desires, if they exist at all. You may want to be a professional swimmer, gymnast or figure-skater, but those are not options for religious women. You may deeply desire to be a communal and spiritual leader, the rabbi of your shul, but that is a really challenging career path for orthodox women.
At home, life is likely even more complicated. Sure, you had a Jewish education and know lots of great things, but when you sit down at the Shabbat table, your husband takes over. He runs the family ritual, he owns all the knowledge, and he is in charge of everything from buying the lulav to blessing the children. Sure, many Orthodox men help today – though it’s still called “helping” – but we know that the onus for cooking, cleaning, and making Shabbat is primarily on you, you may consider it a measure of your worth as a Jewish women, and while you slave...
I'll be speaking this week at two great events: “On single-sex versus coeducation in the religious school: Undoing the quagmire” at a conference at Yad Ben Zvi titled, "Education for girls and processes of modernity in Jerusalem: 1854-2014," International Academic Conference Marking the 160th Anniversary of the Evelina de Rothschild School," Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 1:30-3:00 http://www.ybz.org.il/?CategoryID=141&ArticleID=1774 And “Orthodox feminist narratives” Limmud Modi’in, Thursday, June 12, 2014, 4:00-5:00 http://www.limmudmodiin.org/program Really excited about both!! ...
I was meant to give a 2-minute presentation about my book, The War on Women in Israel, at this week's Jewish Book Council "Meet the Authors" conference. Unfortunately, I had to cancel my trip to NY. Instead, the JBC asked me to create a video, which they would link to on my author page on their website. Here is the video I made. My first ever video-preview. What do you think?
The book is scheduled for release in September. Contact me to receive an advance review copy, or pre-order your copy from Amazon...
In advance of this week's Jewish Book Council conference, I wrote a series of posts at the JBC blog as their "Visiting Scribe". (Don't you just love the Jewish Book Council...) Two of the posts are sneak-peaks of my upcoming book, The War on Women in Israel, set to be released in Sept (pg), and one is with Dr Chaya Gorsetman about our award-winning book Educating in the Divine Image. Take a look:
7 Places Where Religious Radicalism Threatens Women’s Well-Being in Israel
Women being arrested for praying out loud at the Western Wall – it’s a story so shocking that it has managed to make headlines around the world. But the Western Wall is just one piece of a larger picture of religion and gender in Israel today. In fact, the threat to women’s well-being in Israel today, which comes from an increasingly radical religious power structure, finds expression in many areas. On public streets, on buses, in the government, in the army, in the courts, and in hospitals, women’s bodies are the objects of public scrutiny, debate and even violence.
Below are seven places where women's bodily well-being has been threatened in Israel because of growing religious radicalism:
Read more here
10 Inspiring Ways That Women Are Fighting for Justice in Israel
In my previous post, I described seven frightening trends of religious radicalism in Israel threatening women’s well-being and in some cases women’s lives. Despite this dire report, there have also been some inspiring actions by women’s groups and other social activists fighting for human rights and change in Israel. The most interesting developments are those that come from religious feminist groups, fighting for change from within the religious world. But the work of religious feminism is tremendously bolstered by social activist NGOs working on a variety of fields. Below are 10 examples of inspiring campaigns by Israeli NGOs to reclaim women’s rights in the face of religious threats:
Read more here
10 Ways You Can Promote Gender Equality in Your Local School
Gender messages are all around us. From images in schoolbooks to images on bus ads, from conversations on the train to those on the big screen, from clothing conventions learned at school or on Fifth Avenue – everywhere we turn, we are subsumed in messages about what it means to be a “correct” or “normal” woman or man. Just this week there has been a heated debate on our Facebook feeds about whether there is room in our society for women to express anger without being dismissed for not being perky enough. Gender is everywhere.
In our research, we have been especially interested in how these gender messages get transmitted in Jewish educational institutions. Schools are big parts of our adult lives – as parents, community members, and former students ourselves. And certainly schools are a big part of our children’s lives. Events taking place in school today are likely to impact our culture for years to come For that reason, we...
The following is the introduction to a paper I wrote for the Argov Center comparing the Orthodox feminist movements in Israel and the US:
The women’s movement arrived at the American Orthodox community long before it arrived among religious women in Israel. Already in the 1970s, American women were gathering for all‐female prayer groups and holding protests outside the homes of agunot (“chained women” – women denied divorce by their recalcitrant husbands), while these issues did not reach Israel until the 1990s. Yet, when feminist consciousness finally reached religious Israeli women, the issues were no less burning, although often in a different order of priorities – or different altogether – than those in the Diaspora. Issues of women’s study and scholarship were more central in Israel than women’s prayer groups, which never fully took off in Israel. Women in Israel also contended with new issues, such as whether religious girls should aspire go to the army or national service, or whether the school system should teach girls gemara or the more watered down “toshba” (“oral law”). Even issues of clear overlap between American and Israeli activists, such as the agunah issue, have found expression in different ways, highlighting the fascinating differences between struggle against Jewish communal authority in the Diaspora versus the struggle against Jewish state authority in Israel. Meanwhile, although agunot in Israel are trapped in some frightening ways due to the state‐rabbinic monopoly on personal status issues in Israel, they also have more tools in their arsenal, such as lobbying, legislation, and the prison system.
Today, there is more overlap between the two groups than ever before, with very similar overall agendas. There are also some indications that Israeli religious feminists are headed towards more radical positions on some issues than their American counterparts. The issue of women and the rabbinate actually started in Israel, and developed without much incident, as opposed to the “rabba” drama that ensued later in New York. Also interesting are the recent calls for civil marriage in Israel coming from agunah activists, in alliance with non‐Orthodox groups, which have set the groundwork for a struggle that has broad impact on all of Israel. Similarly, the recent struggle against the exclusion of women in public spaces in Israel has drawn many Orthodox women into a fight that (perhaps unbeknownst to some of them) is headed towards calling for separation of religion and state, a struggle that can have far‐reaching consequences for Israeli society and the Jewish people at large.
An examination of these two movements provides a fascinating glimpse into the dynamics of change within a traditional society, and the struggles faced by women raising feminist consciousness in a patriarchal culture that they call their own. It is also an important story about the Israeli‐Diaspora relationship, about the synergy, overlap and tensions between two vital centers of the Jewish people, in which the issues are similar and in dialogue with one another, but challenges and solutions sometimes find expressions in distinct ways.
READ THE ENTIRE...
Whenever I hear the term "kallah teacher", I cringe.
Maybe it's the result of my own experience meeting with the kallah teacher of my community before I got married 22 years ago. The sexless, humorlous rebbetzin taught us all the religious laws involved in going to the mikveh before having sex. There was nothing in the entire experience that actually suggested that sex was going to be a wonderful, enjoyable experience for women. It was more like, this is what halakha tells you to do to get clean (excuse me, "pure", as rabbis like to insist, as if there is actually a difference). There was nothing in the classes that taught us about intimacy, sexuality or our own sensuality.
Maybe it's the way in which kallah teachers tend to morph halakha and OCD. Preparing a woman for marital intimacy by teacher her to obsessively count, internally check and scrub, pluck and rub your skin until its raw before dunking naked in front of the strange woman who declared your body "kasher". (Very romantic.)
Maybe it's the whole notion that all you have to do in order to be happy in marriage and life is to follow the rules. Don't think, don't feel, don't experience. Just go through the handbook and everything will fall into place. Maybe that's the big lie here, passed down from generation to generation of women, like a recipe for gefilte fish. Just do what you're supposed to do, like everyone else, and everyone will be happy. That's how it works, right?
Maybe it's the fact that we're still doing "kallah" teachers rather than courses for men and women together. I mean, sure, my now-husband had a class for grooms in the living room with the rabbi while the brides sat in the kitchen with the rebbetzin (symbolic?). But then men are pretty much learning a watered down, kind of passive version of what the women are learning. It's kind of like, "Hey guys, your wife is going to be doing all this internal-cleaning-purity stuff that you don't really want to know the details about. Just humor her and buy her flowers and everything will be fine. She'll let you know if she needs you to show her undies to the rabbi." It's preparing women for a gendered life starting in the bedroom and continuing everywhere else.
It's possible that kallah classes have gotten better since I got married-- after all, there are all sorts of programs out there that supposedly train women to be a different kind of kallah teacher. And then there are women who are "trained" to look at the stained undies instead of men. Whoo-hoo.....Can't wait to ask a WOMAN these questions instead of a man.....Um, no.
Pardon me if I'm skeptical about all of this. First of all, just because a kallah teacher is sweeter, younger, nicer or more "trained" than my stubby rebbetzin was, the fundamentals of what she is teaching have not changed. It's all still a very bad version of...
A new Facebook group that I started last month for Orthodox feminists exploded this week over, of all things, the issue of men’s empowerment.
A young Orthodox woman and columnist from Atlanta named Eden Farber posted a very upset update about a recent event in her parents' modern Orthodox synagogue -- a “Man Seder”, an all-men’s event boasting beer and steak to help prepare men for the task of leading the seder. The Facebook group, which is called, “I’m also fed up with the way women are treated in Orthodoxy” (currently nicknamed “FedUp”), is exactly the right place for such discussions about events and practices that harbor an overly gendered Judaism. The group is for people like Eden who are grappling with women’s exclusion and silencing, people who are trying to figure out how to promote social change in their homes and communities.
Many of the 800+ members responded to Eden’s post similarly with a lot of anger and feelings of betrayal – “It is a men's club for ages”, wrote one woman; “What the hell is the point of turning religion into the he-man woman haters club? Is this Judaism or the Little Rascals?” wrote one man. Others attempted to understand. One woman wrote from Atlanta, “It just so happens there are far more opportunities for women than there ever were before, and it's only progressing. Just because a shul is supportive of women's initiatives, though, doesn't mean men can't have a social gathering to promote camaraderie. If they want to get together to eat steak and drink beer that shouldn't be threatening to any of us as Modern Orthodox females.”
Apparently this entire conversation got back to Atlanta. After all, it’s an open group – a setting that continues to be debated in the group as we decide if we are a kind of support group or more of a public forum for advancing social change. Some people of Atlanta have been very upset by this conversation, which I understand. Rabbi Adam Starr, the young rabbi who ran the event, is a lovely, open-minded, pro-women rabbi who has brought life to the community and advanced new initiatives for women, including a monthly women’s prayer group that, by the way, was instigated through tremendous efforts of Eden Farber. Some people are upset that the rabbi is under public attack for doing what is deemed a wonderful service for the community. I totally get that, and I feel his pain for sure.
Still, I think that this debate raised a really important issue of men’s empowerment and men’s privilege. The underlying power dynamics were highlighted on the blog of a man defending the men’s seder, under the name of “Chopping wood” – perhaps a hint that this is a space for idealizing retrograde images of male muscling. The blogger not only mocked the whole notion that Orthodox women may be legitimately upset about gender issues in Orthodoxy, but defended the men’s seder for precisely the reason why so many people found...
The new FB group I started in March called "I'm fed up with the way women are treated in Orthodoxy", also called "A home for Orthodox feminist and friends", has quickly taken off, with over 750 members and a constant buzz of activity. Yesterday's hot topic, for example, was a discussion of the Ryan Gosling pic you see here, a critucal satire of women in Parnership Minyan, part of the "frum Ryan Gosling" Tumblr. (The pic was created by Danya Lagos who joined the heated debate on the FB page!). The group has women and men of all ages from around the world, and not just Orthodox Jews either. Interestingly, there have been several posts from people who began with, "I'm not Orthodox so I'm not sure if I'm in the right group...." but all members have been welcome to share their stories, experiences and insights.
The group is intended to be a place where people can safely express their own feelings and perspectives on women in Judaism. This has clearly met an important need given the rapid growth of the group. We had an intense debate last week about the title of the group, with some people saying that "I'm fed up" is too "angry", and that the group risks being just a kvetch-fest. The debate also included the question whether to make the group open or closed, since an open group risks becoming fodder for attack ("unsafe"), while a closed group has that risk of becoming an echo chamber. After lots of weighing in, we decided to keep the name because we really do need a place where we know it's okay to be angry or frustrated without being immediately told that we have to be perky, and to keep it open so that whoever needs to find us will. At the same time, we created a way to post anonymously as "plonit almonit" for particularly delicate postings. And we wrote very clear guidelines for discourse to ensure that nobody feels attacked or shamed or unwelcomed. That is a very challenging task on FB, since we all know how quickly passions can rise and tempers can flame. But it's really, really important to maintain this group as a safe-space for sharing.
And by the way, the group is not "just for kvetching", although I don't want to minimize the value of sharing. There is a lot of support, empathizing, and analysis as well. Another interesting discussion currently going on is about "Why I'm still Orthodox". Jacqueline Nicholls, Leah Sarna and I all recently wrote blogs on this subject (unbeknowst to one another!), and so it seems to me like this is something that the people of the group grapple with as well. The group can help people figure out how to answer that question for themselves.
The group is partially inspired by the success of the Hebrew group, "Ani feministit datiya..."("I"m a religious feminist and I also have no sense of humor), which has become a really important place for...
Repair the World selected this blog as one of the four Jewish Women's blogs that are changing the world..... That is SO COOL!!
I love Repair the World, by the way. They do awesome things around the world and help advance social activism and social change. You should check them out
The Israeli media loves International Women's Day so much that they put women on the covers -- even in the business sections -- and have lots of advertisements for perfume and other things that will "make women in you life feel special". Yediot even blasts the exciting news that "Women are writing Yediot" for this special edition. This, of course, points out the problem with International Women's Day: There are 364 other days of the year when women ought to be writing and being featured for their work.... Perhaps more than a bottle of perfume, women would prefer equal pay for our work and for our writing to be featured regularly as regular staff, not just as a special "women's thing".
So here are some sobering statistics about women in business and leadership in honor of Women's Day:
* Out of the top 100 publically-traded companies in Israel, only 8 are headed by women (8%). Of the top 500 largest companies, 27 are headed by women (5.5%)
* 89% of Boards of public companies have women on them -- sounds like progress? Well, put it this way: 11% of boards are are all-male. In total, only 17% of board members of the top 100 companies are women
* Of the top 500 companies, only 22 (5%) have more than a quarter women on the Board of Directors
* Only 2% of Boards have women at the helm
* The entire financial industry has 19% of women in managerial positions
* In Israeli-government owned companies, only 7% of managers are women
* In Israeli hospitals, twice as many male doctors than female doctore have senior positions
* Of the 19 Israeli billionaires, only one is a woman (Shari Aroson). These billionaires, by the way, own about 60% of the GDP of Israel.
* Only 9% of women in Israel are satisfied with their salaries.
Yeah.... forget the perfume. And forget the celebrations. All these media moguls are patting themselves on the back thinking that they've done a great thing by having women writers and women on the cover one day a year. There are 364 other days a year, and still a long way to go before we can really break out the champaign for Women's Day.