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.
Adina Bar Shalom, the oldest daughter of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, founder of the Haredi College in Jerusalem that has 1000 students – mostly women – gaining professional skills to enter the Israeli workforce, writes in today’s Yediot about the quiet feminist revolution taking place in the haredi community. Here is my English translation of her column:
Every woman has a natural, quiet strength. So, too with haredi women, who have to be very strong in order to deal with life’s challenges. As such, she is able to grapple with the roughest problems and come out empowered. Anyone who is capable of living in “normal” society, going out to work, while maintaining the strict as well as the lenient [of Judaism] is a hero.
The haredi feminist is different from the secular feminism. Even though she doesn’t use the term “feminist”, she definitely wants equal rights, but as long as it does not contradict the Torah. A haredi woman is not interested in competing with her husband about anything, just to prove that they are equal. There are things that he is better at, and there are things that she is better at. Just like an expert in biology would not argue with an expert in chemistry, and vice versa.
Haredi society is in a very good place today, and progress has reached us as well, and helps us. The gates are already opened, and progress cannot be halted – for better and for worse. Our challenge is to maintain boundaries with open gates. Today, whoever wants to can learn anything. In the past, there were no frameworks or appropriate tools for haredi students – so we didn’t go [to college, presumably -- EMS]. Today, there are haredi frameworks everywhere. True, we are still at the beginning of the road and there are still uncertainties and we don’t always know what’s for us and how to choose. But this train has already left the station.
Personally, I am very happy when people who go out to get a secular education choose the academic route rather than professional training, since the academic route brings greater success as well as intellectual development. I certainly want to see haredi intellectuals. Why not? Why shouldn’t haredim lead in academia? I anticipate that in ten years’ time, the lecturers in the haredi (and even non-haredi) institutions will be haredi scientists, researchers and deans -- haredi men and women. Some of us have to sit in the world of Torah, to look for new interpretations and to write and to lead the people. But even those who are unable to do that in the world of Torah – I would like to see them do that in the life of this world [as opposed to the life of the World to Come -- EMS].
Collaboration between these two worlds will bring partnership in all areas. When we will have haredi scientists, haredi business owners, and haredi hi-tech endeavors, this collaboration will be a victory in all...
תקציר בעברית של הפרק השלישי בספר:
Chaya Rosenfeld Gorsetman and Elana Maryles Sztokman, Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools. (Hadassah Brandeis Institute 2012)
תקציר זה נכתב ע"י ד"ר אילנה סטוקמן
הסוגיה של חינוך נפרד לבנים ובנות לעומת חינוך מעורב תפסה תאוצה בקהילה היהודית-דתית באמצע המאה הקודמת, כאשר הרב יוסף סולוביצ'יק החליט שעל מנת להשתלב בחיים המודרניים, בית הספר שלו – בי"ס רמב"ם בבוסטון – יהיה מעורב. בתי ספר יהודיים-דתיים רבים הלכו בעקבותיו, וכך נולד הרעיון שחינוך מעורב פירושו יותר "עכשווי-מודרני" ודהיינו פחות דתי, ומאידך, שחינוך נפרד משמעותו חינוך יותר אדוק ונאמן לעקרונות התורה. על אף שרעיונות אלה לא התבססו במחקר – הרי לא ידוע אז ולא ידוע היום אם באמת קיים קשר מוכח בין חינוך נפרד לנאמנות לתורה – האשליה הזאת שלפיה הפרדה מינית משמעותה מסגרת יותר "דתית" תפסה יותר ויותר מקום בתודעה הדתית לאורך השנים.
בינתיים, בעולם הרחב, מחקרים חינוכיים ומדיניות חינוכית התחילו ללכת בכיוון הפוך. בשנות ה-70, סדרה של מחקרים הצביעו על תופעה אחרת בחינוך נפרד. הסתבר שכשנשים למדו במסגרות חד-מיניות, הן הפכו דווקא ליותר "מודרניות" – יותר קרייריסטיות, יותר חזקות, יותר למדניות, יותר עוצמתיות, יותר שאפתניות. התברר שבכיתות מעורבות, הרבה פעמים יש בעיה שבנים נהיים דומיננטיים, במיוחד במקצועות הטכנולוגיים ובספורט, והדבר מקשה מאוד על בנות להצליח במקומות כאלה. האפליה נגד בנות בכיתות מעורבות בתחומי המתמטיקה והמדעים הולכת ומחמירה לאורך השנים בבית ספר. כלומר, אם בכיתה א' קיים בעצם שוויון בין המינים, הפערים הולכים וגדלים בכל שנה. זה ממשיך גם באוניברסיטה, כך שהפערים הכי גדולים בין בנים ובנות בתחומי הטכנולוגיה נמצאים בקרב דוקטורנטים. וכמובן שדבר זה משפיע מאוד על היעדר נשים בקריירות טכנולוגיות. לעומת זאת, בכיתה של בנות בלבד, יש לבנות יותר הזדמנויות. הכל פתוח עבורן.
נמצא, אפוא, שמבחינת חינוך לבנות, ישנן סיבות מעניינות לקדם חינוך נפרד: העצמת נשים, קידום נשים במדעים, ושמירת נשים מדומיננטיות ואגרסיביות גברית.
לגבי בנים, חינוך נפרד יכול גם לפתוח אותם למישורים שנחשבים "נשיים" במסגרות מעורבות. במסגרות מעורבות, כמו שמדעים הרבה פעמים סגורים לבנות, כך גם מקצועות "עדינים" נסגרים לבנים – אומנות, שירה, ריקוד, ועוד. כלומר, לאו דווקא יש מקום במסגרות כאלה לבנים להיות רגישים, עדינים, אכפתיים, רכים, או אומנותיים. בחור שכותב שירה, שאוהב לטפל בילדים, שלא אוהב מדע, וכו', יכול למצוא את עצמו במצב קשה – כמו הבחורה החזקה והספורטיבית שאוהבת לטפל במכוניות או לבנות ערים שלמות מלגו. היתרון של המסגרת החד-מינית יכול להתבטא בכך שבמקומות כאלה יש לכולם גישה להכל – רק בבית ספר לבנות, שיעור הפיזיקה יתמלא בבנות; כמו כן, יכול להיות שרק בבית ספר לבנים, הבנים יעשו את כל התפאורה להצגה.
ברם, גם זה לא כל הסיפור. בשנות ה-90, סדרה של מחקרים התחילו לפקפק בממצאים הללו. אמנם במצבים מסוימים ישנו יתרון לנשים ובנות בהקשרים חד-מיניים, אבל במצבים אחרים ישנו יתרון דווקא במסגרות מעורבות. בכיתות מעורבות, מסתבר שגם בנים וגם בנות יכולים ללמוד להתמודד עם מצבים מאתגרים ושונים, כאשר לפעמים בוגרי מסגרות חד-מיניות מתקשים כשמגיעים ל"עולם האמיתי". בנוסף, בריונות קיימת גם במסגרות חד-מיניות. זה שאין בנים לא אומר שבנות "שמורות" מפני פגיעה. אלימות קיימת במקומות כאלה וכאלה.
לאחר חקירה נוספת, נמצא שישנם שני סוגי מסגרות חד-מיניות: מסגרות מעצימות ומסגרות מחלישות. ישנן מסגרות חד-מיניות שבהן בוגרים נחשפים...
Are you trying to make sense of all the talk and conflicting research about single-sex versus coeducation? Here's something to help you: A SPECIAL EXCERPT from Educating in the Divine Image -- the entire chapter on the subject of single-sex versus coeducation. Download the FREE chapter here
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