I have been getting so many notes from women, from across the Jewish world, about my decision to become a Reform rabbi. Even though I know that this is really hard for Orthodox feminists, who are constantly trying to prove that they are Orthodox and not Reform, I have also been receiving a lot of camraderie along with mourning. The note that I am sharing here is in that category, too. But I have decided to share it because this story she writes about humiliating women happened YESTERDAY. In 2017. It is still okay to literally ask women to leave, to roll over, to abandon her own needs and spiritual practices, because men come first. We need to air these stories.
"Hi Elana. Mazal tov on your choice, I truly wanted to reach out and tell you this story, because I finally understand your choice. When you first announced it, I admit that I was sad. I wasn't disappointed in you, I totally supported you doing what worked best for you. I just felt my heart break that this would be used against Orthodox feminists, who would say 'See? A little feminism and you leave the Torah' and tighten restrictions more. But then my friend, an Orthodox Jewish woman with kids, was humiliated today, with her husband being told to ask her to leave [the sukkah] (my friend was sitting right there, but no one spoke to her) because women and children do not have a 'chiyyuv' [obligation] and men who have that chiyyuv might need the seats. Even though there were other empty seats, it was offensive my friend was taking up seats that in the minds of some rightfully 'belonged' to men, men who weren’t in the restaurant or who might not even exist."
And it hit me. It finally hit me why you left. It's because intelligent men who learn plenty blatt Gemara [page of talmud] can decide my friend and her beautiful children are not really people, and don't deserve basic courtesy. They're just...appendages to be stored away at the convenience of men who aren't even there. My friend's Judaism isn't as vital as a potential male's Judaism, she should be considering men and making herself smaller so she doesn't take up room. In what world is 'Reform' more problematic than advocating women be so invisible that they sacrifice for potential men? The cudgel is there, no matter what we do. Those advocating the silencing of women will silence even modestly dressed Orthodox women for eating in public. You're just saying 'I won't take it anymore.' Good for you."
When i say "compassion first", this is what I mean. A world in which it is considered "okay" to humiliate women because of how a particular man reads halakha, that is not a world built on compassion. It is not a world that is built in the Divine image. And it is not Torah.
Amanda Borschel-Dan writes a comprehensive and honest report on the issue of counting women in Jewish prayer.
Here is how she quoted me:
“Not counting as a person standing before God is the deepest offense you can lodge at a person. You know, when some guy starts counting heads and you are standing right there, you literally do not exist. Your body. Your soul. Invisible,” said Jewish feminist writer and researcher Dr. Elana Sztokman, author of “The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World.”
What do you think about that?
Crossposted from the Lilith Blog
I recently investigated the following question: Does the Bible pass the Bechdel test? You know, this is the test about how pro-women a dramatic production is. The test is simple, and sets an admittedly low bar. In order to pass, the film, show, or play has to have at least two named women as characters, and the two have to talk to one another about something other than a man for more than 30 seconds. I was curious how the Bible fares.
The answer? Out of the 24 books of the Bible, only one book passes: The Book of Ruth. The relationship and conversations between Ruth and her widowed mother-in-law Naomi are the sole example of named women talking to each other about something other than a man. These exchanges are also among the most poignant in the entire Bible, and present such a compelling model of compassion and care that they are credited with initiating the lineage for King David, and hence the Messiah. There is much to adore about the Ruth-Naomi relationship, and women—especially feminists—have been claiming this story as their own for some time. At all my daughters’ bat mitzvah ceremonies, I invoked these passages as examples of what I see as core Jewish values. When Naomi was left destitute in the foreign land of Moab following the deaths of her husband and sons, Ruth dropped everything to stay with her m-in-l. Ruth’s signature declaration of loyalty—“Wherever you go I go; your people are my people and your God is my God”—continues to inspire a vision of love, care and compassion, as well as a deep abiding friendship between women.
I was very surprised to learn that there is a midrash suggesting that the two women were secretly lesbian lovers. I discovered this recently at a phenomenal play, “God’s Girlfriends,” which presents a dramatic, feminist interpretation of three key women’s stories in the Bible; one of which is the Ruth-Naomi story. The play presents these stories—the other two being Sarah and The Concubine on the Hill—entirely from the point of view of the women. This did not strike me as a radical premise, until I realized that the female perspective is completely absent from the Bible.
Certainly women appear in many riveting biblical stories. The story of Sarah is a shallow aside to the narratives of her husband Abraham and their son Isaac, whom she birthed when she was 90 and whom Abraham was willing to sacrifice on the altar for his God. We never really know what her experience of motherhood was like under those circumstances. Similarly, the little-known story of the concubine on the hill is one in which we are told nothing of the woman’s thoughts or feelings. The unnamed concubine decided to leave her husband/master, only to be dragged back home through a contract between her father and her husband. On the way home, they pass through a village in the tribe of Benjamin, where her husband...
Listen to this fabulous podcast about Vashti, the woman who preceded Queen Vashti, by Hannah Turquoise Reich Radio National Australia (spoiler -- I'm in it :-) )
In Canberra, Australia, after I gave a talk at the Jewish community about gender and religion in Israel, I dialogued with the community Rabbi Aron Meltzer (pictured here) about the women in the Jewish community generally. A man in the audience then got up and said, “There is no such thing as Orthodox feminism.” He argued that Orthodoxy and feminism cannot coexist, that any woman who is still Orthodox cannot possibly be feminist, and that only by joining the Reform or Progressive movement will women ever find equality. Community president Yael Cass reminded the guy that even the progressive movement still suffers from sexism and gender inequality. And I pointed out that leaving Orthodoxy is a very painful choice for many women for whom orthodoxy is their whole lives. I also told him that he needed to be nicer to Orthodox women (and possibly women generally – after all, a man telling a woman that he is more feminist than she is, well, that’s already suspect.) I also quoted my friend Dr Susan Weiss who likes to say that we are all compromising with the patriarchy – Orthodox women, Jewish women, women running for president – we are all compromising.
Then a woman named Sarit raised her hand and said that actually she would like to see the Orthodox minyan become more accommodating to women. (The small community holds two services, one Orthodox and one Progressive.) The rabbi said he fully concurred, as others in the audience nodded in agreement. The rabbi talked about having two young daughters and about his concern about their engagement with the services. Another woman disagreed, saying she is very happy to stand in the back and cut the cake for the Kiddush while the men do all the ritual work. But Sarit responded that this kind of disengagement feels wrong for her. The rabbi encouraged the discussion and said that the new structure in planning will have a partition down the middle and will explore other ways to encourage women’s involvement.
I went over to Sarit after the event to congratulate her on speaking out and leading the change. She said, “Oh, I’m not a leader. I’m not going to do that.” I found that surprising and perhaps not surprising, given the kind of Sheryl Sandberg-esque descriptions of women’s lives, especially those who hesitate to ‘lean in’. I told Sarit that she doesn’t have to call herself a leader or any other label, but that she should just keep speaking out about what she wants. She was hesitant.
The next night, my last night in Canberra, I went out to dinner with some of the amazing women of the community, including Yael, Sarit, and others (Anita Shroot, Barbara, Judith Eisner, and Di Hirsch). As this is the country’s capital, the community is composed of extremely intelligent, professional, serious and smart women. Over vegan Vietnamese food, we talked about challenges of dealing with naysayers and haters. I shared some of my experiences with anti-feminist men and...
“Passover,” Arthur Szyk, 1948. Yeshiva University Museum.
There is no holiday that brings out the screaming in my head as much as Passover.
There are two sets of noise that take hold of my brain at this time of year: the pre-Pesach (Passover) trauma and the Seder night trauma. Or as I have come to experience it, the trauma created by women’s stuff, and the trauma created by men’s stuff.
Growing up, the pre-Pesach anxiety began as soon as Purim was over. We were only allowed to eat from a pre-determined collection in the kitchen, we were on a schedule around what rooms were already sterilized, and my mother’s mood went from the usual cold and cranky to the downright hostile. Nothing was ever right, we walked on eggshells, and life was insane and frenetic. Although I often wonder how many of my traumas are from religion and how many are from my particular family, in this particular case I have come to learn that this kind of thing was going on not only my own house but also in many Jewish homes around the world. Even women of privilege engage in the panic. (I’ll never forget the time, years ago, when a mother frantically came to pick up her daughter from a play date around a week before Pesach, saying, “Hurry, I have to rush home and watch my cleaning lady do the kitchen.”) Pre-Pesach insanity, it seemed, was the Women’s Way, no matter how you celebrated the holiday.
I’ve been living in Israel for over 20 years, and it is still astounding for me to watch how this culture takes over Jewish women’s lives, no matter what kind of religious observance they adhere to during the year. Conversations in shops, on the street, and online, revolve around Jewish women of all backgrounds managing the minutia of obsessive cleaning, shopping, and cooking. There seems to be an uncontrolled lust for women comparing themselves to one another—who started cleaning and cooking earlier, who is having more guests, who is more efficient, who is more creative, and ironically also who has more time-saving hacks. Facebook doesn’t help, by the way.
Growing up in Orthodox Brooklyn, I found this pre-Pesach cleaning-cooking-hosting-mania was compounded by the other assault on women’s bodies: clothing shopping. Our job, as religious girls, was not only to manage the kitchen, but also to look gorgeous as we did it. We prepared our shul and Seder outfits meticulously and expensively, down to the last perfectly-matching accessory. But let me tell you something: there is nothing quite as dysfunctional within the female experience as surrounding yourself with copious amounts of food and then forbidding yourself from eating it. Women’s and girls’ table conversation, once we finished serving, invariably revolved around calories, points, fat content, carbs, gluten, GI, cellulite, whatever. (Each year, the measures for what we should or shouldn’t eat changed, led by trends announced by The New York Times. This added to women’s competition...
This was the Dvar Torah I delivered at the Toronto Partnership Minyan, March 5, 2016:
The “half shekel” is a fascinating story. In this community custom, which began in the desert and continued throughout the Temple periods, Jewish adult men would have a half shekel to the priest leadership during the month of Adar each year, in advance of the new fiscal year, which began on the first of Nisan. According to the Mishna (Shekalim, chap. 4) the courts would post reminders regarding this tax a month earlier, on the 1st of Adar.
The practice can be viewed in one of three ways. It can be seen as a tax, as a charity, or as a spiritual practice.
Viewed as a tax, the half shekel was a collection that enabled the new leadership to provide services for the collective. According to the Mishna, the half shekel tax was used to purchase the animals which were used for the communal sacrifices. The leftover funds were used for a variety of communal purposes, including providing salaries for the judges and maintenance of the Temple and the city walls )Mishna Shekalim chapter 4).
The tax view gives it a bit of a cynical rendering. In political theory, what gives a governing entity authority is the ability to incarcerate and to tax. It is an expression of “Consent of the governed” – that is, if you can convince people to part with their money, you have authority. In that sense, if this is a tax, it is about giving authority to the priests by giving them the ability to tax, thereby creating a powerful financial component to the central religious authority.
Viewed as more of a charity, the practice is more utopian and less cynical. It is perhaps the original charity offering of the Jews. Put differently, it was the Jews’ first collective budgeting tool – like a precursor to the Federation system or to giving circles. It is about coming together to embrace giving to create a collective enterprise. Perhaps it had echoes of the kibbutz – pooling what you have in order to create a communal life built on a shared ethos. It gave everyone an equal part in the collective.
The constancy of the donation, built on a vision of horizontal equality, may have been natural in the desert, where there was actual equality. Everyone had the same tent, the same lifestyle, the same expectations, the same amount of rain. Nobody was getting rich off of the manna or building gold-plated bathrooms. Among Israelite men, equality was the given. The half-shekel practice in later generations – even when conditions changed towards more stratifications –idealized the equality-among-brothers, maintaining an echo of desert life in the community’s consciousness. Thus, even in temple times, when socio-economic differences existed, the Torah insisted on equal half-shekel donations to remind people of fundamental human equality, at least among free Jewish men. “The rich [man] will not give more and the poor [man] will not give less than the...
What an amazing week I had at Limmud UK last week. I was privileged to be there as part of the UJIA Israel delegation, courtesy of Dr Helena Miller, Director of Research & Evaluation at UJIA and Dr Michael Wegier UJIA Executive Director. It was an exceptional privilege to be a presenter at Limmud, where I delivered five talks, facilitated two panels, including a film, met dozens of phenomenal people from around the world -- some of whom I knew only from Facebook! -- participated in several really interesting informal discussions in the bar and over meals, including a "dine and discuss" group over dinner facilitated by Dr. Miller, and overall felt really lucky to be in the company of so many amazing Jewish educators, activists, thinkers, and community members.
I was live-FB-ing the conference (as you might have noticed, I don't really do much tweeint; FB is really where to find me). Below are some of my recaps from the four day event:
DAY #1of Limmud:
Saw some people, briefly IRL like Sara Averick Eve Sacks Keith Kahn-Harris Devora Steinmetz, Bevery Gribetz, Allison Kaplan Sommer, Manny Waks Alan Meerkin Helena Miller (and others i'm surely forgetting)......
Gave two sessions -- the first on "Rabbis who abuse", teasing out the ways in which Jewish communal life enables abusers and disables victims, and why high profile abusers often receive high profile support. (sad that this session coincided with Dan Brown's session on Jewish philanthropy that i wanted to go to.)
The second session on religion and state in Israel, on issues like marriage, divorce, conversion, mikveh, and control of public spaces reflect a growing religious radicalism in israel backed by law....
Neither of these for the faint of heart....Tomorrow's session, "A revolution of dolphins", about Orthodox feminism, will be much more uplifting, hopefully..
Anyway, I had some really great exchanges and discussions over dinner and in the bar-lounge and in corridors, and I'm looking forward to more tomorrow.
Part of me wants to stay up and do fun late-night things. But after so much traveling following by intense teaching, my eyelids and my muscles rebel. More tomorrow.....
Still looking for some people: Amanda Borschel-Dan where are you? Gabrielle Birkner looking for you too.......
LIMMUD DAY #2:
Loved meeting people IRL, some of whom I had only met on Facebook (!), like a lovely breakfast with Danya Ruttenberg and Robyn Tessler Shames discussing feminism, creative processes and parenting.... meeting Nadia Jacobson Eve Sacks Manny Waks Dyonna Ginsburg..... Also enjoyed seeing (briefly) Levi Lauer Sally Berkovic and Jacqueline Nicholls. Went to some great sessions: watched Manny Waks' really intense film "Code of Silence" about what he and his family went through because of his experience of sexual abuse in Yeshiva College...... Levi Lauer on the really difficult and heart-wrenching topic of prostitution and sex trafficking. Dyonna Ginsburg on Israel's history of international development work.....
AND, gave a talk called "A revolution of dolphins", about the public and private revolutions of Orthodox feminists. Despite some technical...
By Allison Kaplan Sommer, in Haaretz:
"Historically, notes feminist scholar and former JOFA executive director Dr. Elana Sztokman, Simhat Torah, together with Purim were the two holidays that the early women’s tefilla movement in the 1990’s latched onto because these were considered exceptional times of the year, and it was easier to convince women that it would be acceptable to read from the Megilla and the Torah. Simhat Torah became the most influential of the two, she says, because “I think that reading from the Torah has been the most impassioned area of empowerment for Orthodox women.”
Sztokman’s major step on her personal feminist journey took place the first time she read from the Torah on Simhat Torah. “It was an entry drug, those Torah readings ... My father was a Torah reader and a chazan, so for me, reading from the Torah was the pinnacle of participation. Once you learn to read Torah, you never look at the text the same way again … Reading from the Torah gives you a real connection. It altered everything for me - it changed my relationship to being Jewish - you are standing at the center, you own the tradition and the heritage. You can’t go back.”
Read more: http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/routine-emergencies/.premium-1.677715...
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
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...
"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...
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...
[Cross-posted from The Jewish Week]
This week would have been the 85th birthday of Adrienne Rich, the Jewish feminist poet who died three years ago leaving behind a tremendous legacy of ideas and words that helped shape many people’s gender identities and inspired the work of feminist activism.
Adrienne Rich narrated her life and our world through her poems. Her poetry chronicles her transformation from bored, repressed suburban wife to restless, passionate, lesbian feminist activist. Her descriptions of the inner lives of women – radically spoken at the time from a woman’s point of view – were revolutionary then and continue to resonate today. As women (and others) struggle to break free from societal expectations of gender, Rich’s voice gives power and credence to the process of social change and discovering freedom. She embodied the personal as political.
She did not merely narrate feminism; she also urged it along with power and vision. Her impact on the evolution of the feminist movement can be felt in the many tributes to her since her death, which testify to the sometimes very personal ways in which her writing affected people, liberated women and often validated the desire to live fully and embrace their passions and identities. The Jewish Women’s Archive also paid tribute to her last month as part of Poetry month.
Still, I think that in the Jewish world, her impact has perhaps not yet been fully actualized. We still have a lot to learn from her. Her poetry leaves signposts for Jewish feminist activists, bits of power and encouragement along the way.
One poem that articulates the mission in a way that particularly relates to Jewish life is “The Roofwalker” (1961), where Rich wrote of the “half-finished houses”. She asks, “Was it worth while to lay--/with infinite exertion--/a roof I can't live under?/All those blueprints/ closings of gaps/ measurings, calculations?/A life I didn't choose/ chose me: even/my tools are the wrong ones/for what I have to do.” This resonates deeply with me, and possibly with others who are trying to make changes around gender within Jewish life. I also feel that the life chose me, of fixing the roof of the half-finished house that I am not sure I can live under. It is half-finished because Jewish women have not been fully able to make our mark on the culture. And the “measurings, calculations” remind me of all the Talmudic and halakhic discourse with which the Jewish house is built. There are other, better tools out there, and Rich reminds me to search for them and use them.
Adrienne Rich also brilliantly revealed the ways in which gender oppression take place on the female body. In the poem "Tear Gas," she wrote "The will to change begins in the body not in the mind/My politics is in my body." Her book, “Of Woman Born,” goes even further in unpacking the myriad societal constructs around motherhood. Indeed, in Judaism the female body is at the center of incessant discourse...
The following is a guest blog post by Naomi Pelled, the new Technical Director of "A Jewish Feminist", and a self-described third-generation Jewish feminist.
When I was asked to work with Elana on the tech side running and recording a Telecourse series on Jewish Feminism, I was delighted. I thought how fascinating it would be, a series on issues affecting Jewish Women from every walk of life, and where I could listen and learn from some world renowned Jewish Women, who have expertise in many pressing women's issues. I had always considered myself a feminist, following in the footsteps of my mother and her mother before her, but I wasn't an ‘active feminist'. When we met, Elana gave me a copy of her book, 'The War on Women In Israel'. I thought to myself, what a great new Shabbat reading book, but feared that it would irritate my Israeli husband, who is so closed when it comes to Feminism. This is not because he is anti-women's rights, but because he grew up in the Israeli religious school system and is very naive about these issues.
I started reading the book on Shabbat and realised that there are so many news items in Israel, that I take for granted, which I should actually be questioning and not just accepting. I was so proud as a religious Jewish women, that I have my own mind and do not vote according to what my husband says, but was struck by the number of religious women, whose political affiliations are controlled by their husbands, to the detriments of their human and women's rights. I always believed in woman's rights and equality between men and women. Before making Aliyah, I worked for corporations in HR. One aspect of my role was to enforce HR governance, working to ensure men and women were paid fairly and equitably to one another. I grew up in the UK, the youngest of three children, and the only daughter. My mother separated from my father when I was two and a half years old. My mother never remarried and says her life is far less complicated without a man. My father, on the other hand, remarried within eighteen months. My mother demonstrated that she was self-sufficient and an emotionally intelligent woman who could hold down a full time job, be a single mother, look after her children and do all home duties, to a high standard. She was a great role model. She taught us all that she, as a woman, could be a successful teacher and sensitive mother. My elder brother, helped around the house with vacuuming, cooking and clearing away and babysitting for me. He has grown up to be a great dad, who shares all household responsibilities from caring for the children, as soon as they woke up, to cooking and cleaning. He is involved in many other tasks that 50 years ago would have been considered a woman's duty, When I see my father now I see...
Here are 7 tips for how to make the most of your Dynamics of Jewish Feminism telecourse:
Watch with friends! Invite your friends over -- you know, the ones who you are ALWAYS talking to about these things -- plug into a nice big screen, find comfy seats and make a fresh batch of coffee. And the added bonus: you get to split the registration fee! A win-win.
Shut everything else off. Take a little break from your cellphone, your email, and shuttling your kids around. Turn this into "me-time", a little present for yourself
Ask questions. This is your chance to engage directly with some of your favorite Jewish feminist writers, leaders and activists. Make the most of it by sending in your own questions before the webinar. Send in questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Save the recording. If you can't watch live, you can make a time to watch any time.
Join the conversation. Sign in to the group conversation and find out what other people are thinking, too.
Collect the reading list. You will be receiving lots of book and article recommendations. It's a treasure chest for Jewish feminist readers!
Tell others about it. Tell other people about it -- colleagues, co-workers, community members, neighbors -- and find out who shares your interest in Jewish feminism.
To register, click here
For more information, contact Elana at email@example.com...
Have you signed up yet for the “Dynamics of Jewish Feminism” telecourse? Still deliberating? Well, here are SEVEN great reasons to join that will help you make up your mind:
Engage with the best and the brightest. Hear Prof Judith Plaskow (author of “Standing again at Sinai”) talking with Prof Rachel Adler, (author of “The Jew who wasn’t there”) discuss and debate what Jewish feminism means.
Take on the hard issues. Send in your own questions to Lilith founder Susan Weidman Schneider and feminist artist Jacqueline Nicholls as they debate “s*lut-shaming” in Jewish life
Break open taboos. Be part of the conversation on sexuality in Jewish life, with experts Talli Yehuda Rosenbaum, Rabbi Haviva Ner David (founder of the Reut mikveh), and Carrie Bornstein (Mayyim Hayyim)
Help make change. Find out how women like Debbie Gross, Lori Weinstein (Director of Jewish Women International), Debbie Gross (founder of the Crisis Center for Religious Women) and Yudit Sidikman (founder of El-Halev) address sexual abuse and violence against women.
Demand action. Learn what veteran agunah activists Dr Susan Weiss and Dr Susan Aronoff are working on to fix this problem.
Envision the future. Be part of the conversation where Rabbi Naamah Kelman(HUC) , Nancy Kaufman (NCJW) and author Letty Cottin Pogrebin discuss and debate women’s leadership
Connect with others just like you. Be part of an online community like no other, a group of like-minded Jewish feminists from around the world
So what are you waiting for? Sign up today!...
The first thing I did when I finished reading Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner David’s new book, “Chana’s Voice” is to set out to learn how to bake challah. Haviva’s writing is like that; she inspires you to open your heart and approach yourself to new possibilities. For Haviva, baking challah is one of three stations on her journey through Judaism and gender, the other two being sex and Shabbat. In order to begin my quest I called my friends Dr. Ariella Zeller and Chaim Kram who, like Haviva, bake challah every Shabbat in an entirely egalitarian way (Ariella’s job is the white bread, Chaim’s job is whole wheat; In Haviva’s house her husband Jacob has taken over the challah-baking entirely). As my friends taught me their tricks of the yeast, we discussed feminism, food, and Haviva’s book.
The experience of sitting in my friends’ kitchen preparing for Shabbat while exploring gender issues felt like the perfect reaction to Haviva’s book, and in fact to her entire life work. It was communal, conversational, relationship-centered and real. Haviva’s vision for Judaism and the world, as chronicled in this book, is a personal voyage through significant Jewish symbols and stations, one that for Haviva is swathed in courage, integrity, and an authentic search for meaningful connection to God within the fundamental parameters of human dignity and equality. “She took us on her journey,” my friend Ariella said after she read and loved the book, “and I felt like I was completely with her.”
The book uses the theme of “CHaNaH”, an acronym for the three commandments supposedly “given” to women – Challah, Niddah (menstruation) and Hadlakat Nerot (Shabbat candle-lighting). From the title alone, which implies a rather retro, essentialist, difference-oriented feminist approach with echoes of anti-feminist apologetics, I would not have picked up the book. Yet, the book itself is exactly the opposite of what the name implies. Haviva’s message is about embracing the values in the so-called “women’s” mitzvoth and creating a world in which men are taught to embrace those values too – whether that means men baking and immersing, or reinventing wedding ceremonies. For Haviva, the journey is about looking for the value in what has traditionally been “women’s culture” and bringing it out into the wider world.
Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/213828/baking-challah-with-haviva/?#ixzz3QPv7q9ZF...
Shayna Rehberg is an unlikely superstar. A 30-year-old religious mother of four originally from Texas and now living in Safed, Shayna walked onto the stage of Israel’s popular singing competition show, Kochav Haba [Next Star], donning her headscarf and long skirt, and made it to the next round following a rendition of Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic”. She impressed the judges perhaps less with her singing — which at times was lilting and commanding and at other times withdrawn and fragile — and more with her life story. She told the judges, and thousands of viewers, that she had stopped singing for ten years because of religion.
“This is like coming out of the closet,” Judge Harel Skaat sympathetically told her, adding that it was no different from his own experience of coming out as gay. “You’re coming out of a cage, even if it’s a self-imposed one.”
This exchange with Harel Skaat was not only beautiful for its empathy, but also incredibly revealing and insightful about the dynamics of being an Orthodox Jewish woman.
The powerful idea that emerged from this exchange is that the custom of women not singing hurts women. It’s a restriction, like Ariel’s curse in The Little Mermaid, of silencing not only voice but also passion and even personality. Singing is a vital expression of life. Music has profound spiritual and emotional meanings. A life without singing can be a deeply painful one, especially for a person who has a special voice. Orthodox Judaism would never consider imposing such a rule on men. It would never enter anyone’s mind to say that a man who loves singing should stop singing. And yet, this is what Orthodoxy does to women all the time.
In her interview, Shayna said, “I decided that kol isha is not erva” — that is, that the halakhic description of women’s voices as causing sin is wrong. This was such an inspiring model of empowerment. It is a close-up view of what it means for women to talk back to their culture. I don’t know if the audience realized how hard this is. To be hearing for years — for your whole life, perhaps — about what women’s bodies and voices are or aren’t, and then to wake up and decide that your culture is wrong, well, that’s an incredible moment of awakening.
There are a few more interesting points to this performance worth harping on. One is about her marriage. When one of the judges asked her what she had to overcome in order to be able to sing, her response was a shocking, “I filed for divorce.” The implication here, even though not stated explicitly, is that her husband was not letting her sing. This was not surprising for me to learn, even if the public admission had some of the audience booing. But this was also a huge admission of truth. I belong to several different online forums for religious women, and there are constant posts in the style of, “I would...