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”.
Revered Leader Blocked Progress on Divorce and Equality
Painful Legacy: Thousands mourned the death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. But his teachings caused enormous pain for women.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the 102-year-old Lithuanian religious figure who died this week, is being hailed in some circles as the “greatest leader of his generation”. He may have been great to some men, but for women, his ideas and rulings were often the cause of enormous pain.
For example, he was a vigorous adherent of the most oppressive and retrograde views on the issue of agunot, or women who are denied religious divorce. He regularly promoted a 16th century opinion by the Maharshdam (Rabbi Shmuel di Medina of Saloniki) according to which a man may never be pressured in any way to give his wife a get, or divorce, ever. Moreover, he believed that if any pressure is exerted...
As of tomorrow, I will be working as Interim Executive Director for JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. This is incredibly thrilling for me, since this is of course an issue very close to my heart. The travel back and forth will perhaps be challenging, but sometimes we have to work hard and make unconventional decisions in order to get to the really interesting and exciting places in life....
Here's to the next adventure!!!!...
"Balance and Business: Integrating spiritual ideas with your professional life" was the title of a workshop I gave last week with Elana Rozenman's Professional Women's Networking group SuccessWorks. It was a fabulous group of professional working women in a variety of fields who shared experiences and ideas about maintaining our own spiritual balance in our professional identities. Elana Rozenman has been a leader in the field of women's professional empowerment in Israel, and it was a privilege for me to be invited to address this group and talk about these important issues.
Miriam Simon was kind enough to take some notes, and Sharon Altschul took photos, so I'm sharing some of those here.
What throws us off balance?
Abuse/Attacking/ Violence – screaming, shaming
Fear of Security, Self Worth, Money, Respect
Basic Needs Not Being Met
Fear of Mistakes
These fears flash...
The first thing I noticed when I walked into the offices of Lilith was the books. Piled up in every corner of desks, chairs, shelves, and the floor, the books were an almost unintended design concept. They tell the visitor that this is a place where people love to read.
Really, though, Lilith is a place where people love to *eat*. Well, maybe not eat so much as to work around the conference-table-slash-kitchen-table. My meeting with the Lilith staff took place around the table in the center of the office that was filled with all kinds of salads and baked goods that the multi-talented and multi-tasking staff members made. “Lilith is a place where people love to talk, and our conference table has always been a place where good talk happens over food--much like at a wonderful dinner table, or even a salon,” Lilith editor-in-chief Susan Weidman Schneider said. “Despite the...
It never ceases to amaze me how some so-called leaders will use women’s issues to advance their own agendas that have nothing to do with women. The overtly racist statements coming from the Shas government minister Eli Yishai last week in light of a Tel Aviv rape case were particularly troubling.
When the police arrested four Sudanese and Eritrean men last week on suspicion of raping a woman in Tel Aviv, some Israelis took this as an opportunity to indict the entire community of refugees that is concentrated in South Tel Aviv. I listened in horror to radio interviews with Tel Aviv residents talking about “those people” who have “taken over” the otherwise “normal” Tel Aviv — using language that is painfully reminiscent of my Orthodox Brooklyn upbringing, when we were expressly taught to cross to the other side of the street if we saw black...
I am still on a high from the responses I’ve received from participants in my book tour events. Jewish communities around America are wide-eyed in their search for meaningful frameworks to help them understand and unravel their Jewish and gender experiences. Many of the conversations revolved around community dynamics and tensions, while others went beyond Jewish life and started to unpack men’s and women’s experiences of grappling with societal expectations generally. In some cases, I found myself doing what the HBI people called “Sociology 101”, talking about how identity is formed through navigations vis a vis forces of surrounding cultural constructions. It seems to me that the Jewish community overall can use some Sociology 101 to help us separate our spiritual and/or halakhic needs from our fears of societal disapproval.
Here are some of my more memorable exchanges that have stuck with me:
“I thought my mother was going to hell...
"My story on The Men’s Section and Drisha panel is now up on The Jewish Channel and, in abbreviated form, online. You can see the abridged web version on YouTube using this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KcjppFILbRE&t=578s
The complete broadcast version can only be seen on The Jewish Channel, which is available on cable – channel 528 on Time Warner, channel 291 on Cablevision iO Optimum, channel 268 on RCN, channel 900 on Verizon FiOS and Frontier, channel 1 on Cox, channel 330 on Brighthouse, and on Comcast in the On-Demand menu under “Premium Channels”
The program is listed in the TJC Original Series category as “Weekly News 04-27”
Feel free to spread around the web video, record it off The Jewish Channel for your own use, or you can purchase a DVD of the episode from TJC for $50.
All the best and Shabbat shalom,
---Rebecca Honig FriedmanManager,...
Now that I’m on the last leg of my three-week book tour, the dozens of comments and questions that I’ve heard in different communities are starting to play over in my mind, some issues repeating themselves and others new and stimulating each time. Here are some of the issues that have dominated discussions, along with my responses:
Is there a difference between younger and older men?
A common assumption is that younger men are more “flexible” in their thinking than older men, and that the gender problem in Orthodox Judaism can be attributed to generational differences in attitudes. Actually, my research did not validate that finding. Anecdotally, some of the most open-minded men I interviewed were retirees and those with some of the most ossified ideas about women were in their thirties. Although I assumed this to be merely a counter-intuitive finding, it was actually explained to me by a discussant...
There have been some moments on my book tour when I felt like I’m on a journey revisiting my own life. Part observer, part social commentator, and part Jewish traveler, I seem to be making stops that connect in significant ways to voyages past.
The first striking moment was the discovery that Prof. Jon Levisohn of Brandeis University would moderate at my official book launch. Jon and I were very close friends when we were 14, and the truth is that even though we have only seen each other a few times over the past 20 years, he has a very special place in my heart. During that awkward period of adolescence when it’s easy to think that nobody sees you or understands you, Jon was a patient and kind listener, and a thoughtful, intelligent conversationalist. Actually, it seems to me that he still is all those things. His friendship was...
The strangest part of Monday night’s panel discussion of my new book, “The Men’s Section,” about partnership synagogues, wasn’t that the four-person panel was made up of all men.
All-male panels are so common — to wit, I passed by a poster at Harvard this week announcing an economic conference with no female speakers at all — that Joanna Samuels of Advancing Women Professionals has been asking Jewish men to take a pledge not to sit on all-male panels. (Several of the men on my book panel said that they had taken the pledge and actually felt odd sitting on this all-male dais at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.)
The really unusual part for me was that, although all the speakers are accomplished men with very impressive resumes and professional and communal achievements, their speeches had nothing to do with their expertise. Rather, they each talked about their feelings about partnership synagogues and...