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”.
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...
[Published on JTA] MODIIN, Israel (JTA) — With the news that Rabbi Barry Freundel, a prominent Orthodox rabbi, has been arrested for peeping at the naked bodies of his female congregants through a secret camera in the mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath, many disturbing questions are being raised about the implications of his suspected transgressions: Does it matter that Freundel is an Orthodox rabbi? Is he just a regular (alleged) creepy pervert? Or did his position of power — and the culture surrounding it — contribute to the acts of which he stands accused?
Did Rabbi Barry Freundel’s position of power — and the culture surrounding it — contribute to the acts of which he stands accused?
On the one hand, there are some really lovely and good-hearted Orthodox rabbis who have nothing to do with Freundel and abhor the entire story; they do not deserve to be demonized by association. One bad apple — or rabbi, as it may be – shouldn’t spoil the whole basket. Furthermore, there are sex offenders in pretty much every culture, religion, ethnic group and social class. Violence against women is ubiquitous, unfortunately, so perhaps the particulars of the offender’s social context are not relevant.
On the other hand, one cannot help but notice the multiple layers of power, authority and gender hierarchy involved in this story. After all, the scene of the alleged crimes was a mikvah, where women are naked, exposed and reliant on a system of intricate rules about their bodies that have been determined by men. Jewish women traditionally use the mikvah to immerse — fully nude — following menstruation or during conversion, and in some cases to mark significant life events. The practice of ritual immersion is usually overseen by female attendants, except in the case of Orthodox conversion, when three male rabbis also must be present to give approval.
If the allegations against Freundel are true, they confirm the worst suspicions about the status of women in Orthodoxy: that the all-male rabbinical clubs support their own members in their efforts to control women’s bodies all the time. Freundel, after all, is suspected of using his authority to grab what he wanted from unsuspecting women.
Moreover, Freundel may have targeted female converts — the subset of mikvah-goers who are most at risk of abuse. These very women often do not have enough security in their social position or Jewish knowledge to question the strange demands made by rabbis in the shower room. Thus the scandal raises disturbing questions about the social structures that give men like Freundel unfettered power over Orthodox conversion. (Freudel himself has been extremely active on the conversion issue in recent years, maintaining control of the Rabbinical Council of America’s Conversion Committee and speaking widely as an expert on conversion.)
Read more: http://www.jta.org/2014/10/21/default/op-ed-what-the-freundel-scandal-says-about-orthodoxy-1#ixzz3GoGXgpwA...
Last year, I participated in the AJC Conversion Colloquium, a meeting of some 75 Jewish leaders on the Israel conversion crisis (that is, stories of conversions being reversed and not accepted, etc), in which Freundel was one of the "star" speakers, given a large cushy time slot to share his approach to conversion. He promoted himself as the key person to resolve the whole crisis btwn Israel and the US, made himself out to be the one "rescuing" converts by brokering secret deals with the Israeli rabbinate. (Seth Farber was infuriated at the whole thing, as his entire life work was trampled on, and he and Freundel had a very memorable shouting match, but Farber did not formally get the floor, so he lost. Anyway, that's a whole other thing.) So Freundel, who headed the RCA's conversion committee, said something that still sticks with me -- about how "There are people walking around the streets of Israel who think that they're Jewish and probably aren't". And to me - i was like, why should you care that way? What does that even mean that we are thinking about a Jew walking on the streets of Israel who you have determined may not be Jewish? I couldn't get past this imagery. It all smacked of a kind of megalomania, a need to stand at the gates and determine who goes in and who does not. I remember listening to that and thinking, this entire conversion thing is all wrong. Too much obsessive rabbinic control over the people -- especially women, who constitute 80% of converts.
But at the time, that's not what I said. When it was my turn on the panel (I was one of three women speakers in the whole day), I pointed out that gender was the "elephant in the room" at the heart of the entire discussion. How the overwhelming majority of speakers were men, how decisions were made exclusively by men, how the ones disproportionately affected by these decisions were powerless women, and how disturbing it was that a roomful of men could sit in this sterile place making determinations about women's lives without having women in positions of power. My comments went nowhere (except to Gary Rosenblatt's story about the event), and the day continued as it was, ignoring gender and allowing men with power to engage with one another and forget about their gender privilege and those whose lives they were controlling.
I keep thinking about this, about the layers and layers of rabbinic male control over women, over our bodies and our status and our "permissibility" and our inclusion and our identity. And i'm thinking, really enough. The whole system is wrong. It's all wrong. We are allowing men to be gatekeepers over women's lives and identities and enough is enough. Enough is enough. This story validates our worst fears coming true. The entire conversion system is quite possibly one big male sexual fantasy. It's time to uproot the whole system from its core....
I just chatted with an RCA rabbi who has been personally pleading with the RCA for the past TWO YEARS to take Freundel off of the conversion committee because there are apparently MANY testimonies to the fact that he manipulated and abused female conversion candidates.
"I knew he was abusive to converts and I had been trying to pressure the RCA to deal with it for 2 years...... His abuse included intimidation, manipulation, forcing them to work as free assistants in his office to 'expedite' their process......He doted way too much on certain girls he picked as favorite.....If i had a nickel for every young female conversion candidate who came to my doorstep because she was afraid of him, felt manipulated by him or whatever, i'd be a rich man...Too many of them were afraid to come forward for fear of having conversions stopped or revoked... oh, and the best part...he would go to them and ask them for money to the tune of thousands of dollars so he could make sure their conversions 'continued to be recognized'." The RCA, rather than deal with Freundel, ostracized the complaining rabbi, dubbing him "not orthodox" and dubbing the women "crazy".
The rabbi is now talking anonymously to reporters. This story is indeed confirming the worst suspicions of the Orthodox leadership and the systematic abuse of women....
I've spent the past few days on Facebook (yeah, that's pretty much it), writing and chatting about the Freundel scandal. Feel free to friend me there and engage with me. I will upload some of my posts here as well. In the meantime, I am sharing an interview I did with Elanit Jakabovics, the Kesher Israel president and hero of this whole episode. I interviewed her in 2012 shortly after she became the first female president of the shul. Here is the interview, which was originally posted on the JOFA blog:
Interview with Elanit Z Rothschild Jakabovics
Elanit Z Rothschild Jakabovics was recently elected as the first woman president of Kesher Israel Synagogue in Washington, DC. Elanit, a 33-year old management consultant with Grant Thornton and a mother of two originally from Staten Island, is not only the first woman but also the youngest president in the shul, whose rabbi is Rabbi Barry Freundel. JOFA Executive Director Elana Sztokman sat down with Elanit to hear about her new position, and to hear about ways that other women can be inspired to follow suit in their own shuls:
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME SHUL PRESIDENT?
The technical answer to this question is that a slate was proposed to the shulmembership in early June 2012 and was voted on at the annual membership meeting at the end of June. My term began on July 1, 2012. Coincidentally enough, I was placed on modified bed rest the last week in June and didn’t make it back to shul for Shabbat until my son’s brit on August 11. I was able to attend some meetings between July 1 and August 4 (when my son was born) during the week, since I drove and stayed off my feet for the most part, but I didn’t really go out on Shabbat, nervous my water would break during my walk. to/from.
I think the answer you’re looking for, however, is that I was on the Kesher Board since 2004 and shul president was never a role that many ran towards. So, just based on experience at the shul and a few other variables, it sort of fell in my lap.
In 2011, the Board revised its by-laws to explicitly allow for female presidents. See here for a copy of the by-laws and the psak halakha by Rabbi Freundel about it: http://kesher.org/governance/documents/CongregationKesherIsraelBy-Laws-FinalAmendedJune2011.pdf
WAS THIS SOMETHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO?
Yes and no. I was intrigued by the possibilities but was nervous about the implications and responsibilities that it entailed. Remember, Kesher Israel is a small synagogue, with only two paid employees, so almost everything that is done is by volunteer. The role of president at Kesher isn’t just a role where you get to sit and think about the long term vision of the shul. There are a lot of day-to-day operational/programmatic issues to take care of. Not one day goes by where I’m not taking care of something else that is shul-related.
HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR JOB?
It’s better than anticipated. I enjoy the relationships and connections I am making with people I did...
THE FOLLOWING IS A GUEST POST BY NOTED AUTHOR AND EDUCATOR YAEL UNTERMAN
I heard Yael Unterman speak about her book a few months ago and found her narratives to be captivating, intelligent and insightful. Yael Unterman is a lecturer, author and creative Torah teacher. Her first book, Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar was a finalist in the 2009 National Jewish Book Awards. Her second book, The Hidden of Things: Twelve Stories of Love & Longing, was published in 2014. Her website is www.yaelunterman.com Enjoy!
In my book "The Hidden of Things: Twelve Stories of Love and Longing”, I spin tales of Jewish women and men who are lacking and searching (as do most of us who have any kind of pulse). These seekers of mine are Orthodox. One might suppose that Orthodoxy pushes in the opposite direction, requiring conformity and simple faith, but for me it is here that some of the most interesting and fruitful tensions arise between the old world and the new, forcing me willy-nilly to encounter the clash of values and make personal existential decisions born out of that encounter.
The second story in my book, “Species”, tells of Hannah, a 30-year-old single teetering on the brink of changes in her life. Tired of being boxed in by matchmakers and society, of feeling weak, she is crossing various red lines and feeling increasingly attracted to feminism. When she goes to stay on a modern Orthodox kibbutz for Succot, she takes her set of arba minim (the four species waved at Succot) to shul, loving the mitzvah, the smell and the feel of the plants. Standing in the women’s section, she notices she is the only one with a set, and is saddened by the fact that she does not have women’s companionship in this mitzvah. As she shakes the set with gusto and sings the Hallel, she wonders if she stands out, and whether it is arrogant to be the only woman there with a set.
At that moment, something rather dramatic occurs. An etrog is hurled over the partition at her, followed by another and another, and then the men start yelling and cursing and lobbing more and more diverse items at her, joined by the women. In the midst of this mayhem, the rabbi seems most concerned to get back to the orderly prayer service. Finally, Hannah, battered and bruised, picks up her lulav and begins swinging back, inspired by the feminist cause, and shouting that she is not doing anything wrong, on the contrary this is a mitzvah. At the same time, she calls out to her attackers to stop, to see her, to accept her and give her support. She does not want to be the outsider – single, feminist, other – she craves the love and acceptance of the community.
I leave the story’s end to readers to discover. But I will share that when I read this story out at a book launch in a private house in London,...
HBI and Dr. Laura S. Schor, board member and former chair, hosted a reception in Israel on June 9 that brought together scholars, artists, authors and activists, all who have been connected to HBI over the years. Elana Sztokman, HBI author and former scholar-in-residence, wrote about her reflections after attending.
HBI changed my life. That’s not drama; it’s fact. I thought about it last week when Prof. Shulamit Reinharz, Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI) co-director, asked the guests at the 3rd Israeli Gathering of Friends of the HBI to share one thing to which they are thankful to HBI. As I thought about it, I realized – and then shared publicly – that the list of things I have to thank HBI for grows each year. In fact, I said, HBI support completely altered the trajectory of my life.
Susan Weiss and Ronit Irshai, with Haim Sperber
As I waited to share my story, I soon learned that many people in that room had similar and inspiring stories. Each of the presenters offered a creative and vital contribution to our understanding of women’s lives and histories, and each one had benefited from HBI support with research, dissertation support, scholar-in-residence opportunities, artist-in-residence opportunities, translation funding, and of course the publication of books.
My relationship with HBI began in 2006 when I received the Junior Research Award for a study of the identities of Orthodox men. This work grew into my first book, which HBI generously published under the title, The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World, a title that I love, that Prof. Sylvia Barack Fishman, HBI co-director, helped me formulate. HBI launched the book in 2011 and sent me on a whirlwind book tour in early 2012, thanks to the incredible generosity of former HBI board chair Dr. Laura Schor. This book won the 2012 National Jewish Book Council award in the category, Women’s Studies. Then, HBI published my second book, co-written with my colleague Dr. Chaya Rosenfeld Gorsetman, titled, Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools, which went on to win the 2013 JBC award in the category, Education and Identity. This has all been an incredible experience, propelling me into a whole new level of academic and communal engagement via research and writing. I am enormously grateful to HBI and indebted to the organization for sending me on this incredible journey, and for turning me into a writer.
CONTINUE READING HERE...
I'm a huge fan of the Jewish Women's Archive, especially their new Executive Director, Dr. Judith Rosenbaum. Today, JWA announced the launch of their new website, which is really exciting because this site is one of the most important resources out there for Jewish feminism. I especially love their Jewish Women's Encyclopedia, which was the brainchild of the late Moshe Shalvi z"l and Professor Alice Shalvi.
Here is the official JWA announcement:
The Jewish Women's Archives announces and welcomes you to the new jwa.org The Jewish Women's Archive invites you to discover the all-new jwa.org, just relaunched with a bold look and new navigation for easier browsing—and full of extraordinary stories. JWA provides the most extensive collection of materials about and stories of Jewish women, both celebrated and unheralded. You can read about the stories and struggles of the Jewish women who have shaped the American story, honor and learn from their lives, and ignite your own capacity to change the world. JWA offers knowledge, inspiration, role models, connection, community, and a treasure trove of resources, including classroom tools for educators, trustworthy information for researchers, and extensive collections and profiles for all. The website and its lively blog, Jewesses with Attitude, already serve 1.2 million visitors each year. “Eighteen years ago, the Jewish Women's Archive launched with a radical idea: to give Jewish women their rightful place in history and make their stories and achievements accessible to anyone,” said Founding Director Gail Reimer. “Now, the new jwa.org enables you to access that material on any desktop or mobile device and navigate through it more smoothly than ever. I encourage you to visit and to share jwa.org with your daughters, mothers, friends, students and colleagues. Please join JWA as we continue to share stories and inspire change.”...
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...
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...
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...
There is a rumor going around that Orthodox feminists are just Conservative Jews in disguise, or perhaps in denial.
I’ve heard this idea in many settings. I was at a dinner last year honoring Jewish feminists when a woman at my table — a Conservative rabbi and prolific writer whom I greatly admire — reproached me. “Why do all you Orthodox feminists think that what you’re doing is so amazing?” she demanded. “The women in the Conservative movement have been fighting these battles for 40 years. You are just barely catching up.” Last month, my dear friend Hillary Gordon echoed similar sentiments in a blog post she wrote about my recent book event in Jerusalem. “Why can’t the Orthodox recognize that other women have come before them and fought the same fight?” she asks. “Why is it that because it was done by Conservative or Reform Jewish women it is not legitimate according to the Orthodox?” Almost the exact same line appeared a couple of weeks ago in the comment section of Frimet Goldberger’s blog post about Orthodox feminists. Frimet dared to write that Conservative Judaism is not an option for her, to which a commenter replied, “Do I detect some judgementalism in those words?? ….Is there a suggestion here that the Conservative observance of Shabbat is less ‘full’ or somewhat deficient from the more authentic Orthodox one??”
Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/#story-1#ixzz2tkoqSCyl...
Weighing in about the tefillin-and-girls firestorm in an op-ed at Ha'aretz:
"No Jewish man has ever been subjected to this kind of examination and ownership. No man has ever been told that he is not “sincere” enough to put on tefillin – to wit, Chabad rabbis all around the world chase Jewish men begging them to wear tefillin, even if only for ten seconds, with nary a passing thought about whether they will ever do it again. Comparing the treatment of men’s “motives” and women’s “motives” around this commandment highlights an awful violation of women’s inner sanctity. It’s high time for the religious community to eliminate this language of women’s motives from its public discourse once and for all."
Read the entire op-ed here...
The Jewish Women's Archives published a three-part series in which Susan Reimer-Torn interviews Elana Sztokman about her vision for religious feminism. Here are a few excerpts:
Much of the halakha regarding women legitimizes exclusion. So if a form of exclusion is halakhic, is it ipso facto legitimate?
Elana Sztokman: There is a lot more room for women’s inclusion within halakhah than is currently practiced in many places. For example, issues such as women serving on synagogue boards, women teaching the congregation, women giving sermons, even women making announcements—these are practices that really have few if any halakhic obstacles and yet are not practiced widely enough in Orthodox life. We have a long way to go in order to maximize women’s inclusion in areas where there is no real halakhic issue before even getting to that question of areas where there may be more debate.
Some of JOFA’s early financing came from progressive Jewish groups and some non-Orthodox women. Why do you think they were persuaded to contribute? How important is this alliance?
Elana Sztokman: The alliance between Jewish feminists from different denominations is so important. It’s vital for us all to recognize that we’re on the same journey of working to build a Jewish life that is both loyal to our traditions and committed to values of inclusion, compassion, justice and equality. We may end up in different places and with different solutions—one prays with a partition and one doesn’t; one has women rabbis and one has women as Maharats—but those differences are much less significant than our shared values. We need to support one another in our struggles, because our real strength comes from this kind of collegiality and collaboration.
SRT: Do you believe in hard-wired gender differences?
ES: The discourse of gender differences is very problematic, and that’s why we have to be really careful when we talk about a woman’s “way.” The second we start talking about a “women’s way,” we run a risk of falling into old patterns and traps of seeing women as “less,” as “softer,” as less capable of dealing with pressure, as less assertive, as less logical, or whatever. When we start to couch this in language of brain differences, we are basically turning sexist attitudes into some kind of pseudo-scientific data. I highly recommend Cordelia Fine’s book, Delusions of Gender. She is a neuroscientist and psychologist and does an expert job of debunking the pseudo-science of gendered brain differences.
So again, I want to reiterate that when we talk about women’s contributions to transforming society, it’s based on culture, not biology. If men are typically acculturated into a kind of sterile individualism, women are acculturated into relationships, caring, and other-centeredness. Both of these personas are part of the human spirit, and all human beings need access to both characteristics, that is, individualism and connectivity. So the point is that bringing a “women’s culture” into Jewish life is not about “femininity” as an essence but rather about restoring cultural balance to a world that...
Some Hebrew-language musings on the connections between Kolech and JOFA, or on the need for cross-oceanic collaborations in religious feminism.
כתבתי מאמר בעברית באתר קולך בנושא כנס JOFA.... על שיתוף פעולה ועל הכוח שבא מחשיבה ופעילות משותפת. אשמח לשמוע תגובות http://kolech.org.il/show.asp?id=63941
ברור לי שיש כאן צורך גדול להדק את הקשרים בינינו וליצור דרך לשיתוף פעולה. פשוט חייבות. אין דרך אחרת. אנחנו זקוקות אחת לשנייה עבור ההצלחה של כולנו
השנה היתה שנה מאוד מרגשת עבור הפמיניסטיות הדתיות: שלושה כנסים בנושא דת ומגדר התקיימו תוך מספר חודשים ברחבי העולם.
הכנס הראשון של JOFA-UK החדש, התקיים בחודש יוני בלונדון;
כנס השני, של ארגון 'קולך', התקיים בספטמבר
והכנס השלישי, כנס JOFA, התקיים בניו יורק בתחילת חודש דצמבר השנה (2013)
הרצף הזה של כנסים המיועדים לדון בנושאי דת ומגדר בזה אחר זה בפינות שונות בעולם הביא איתו הזדמנות מיוחדת לבחון את הקשרים בין תנועות האחות הללו. התוצאות בינתיים הן מרתקות, ואולי אפילו מרגשות.
אין ספק ש JOFA ו'קולך' הינן ארגוני אחות במלוא מובן המילה. כמו שתי ישויות שנובעות מאותו מקור, כאשר כל אחת עם אישיות הייחודית לה. ההקשר דומה אך קצת שונה, והרצון משותף לבנות בית חדש וחזק על בסיס ערכים משותפים.
במשך השנה שחלפה היו לנו מספר אירועים שפעלו לחזק את הקשרים בינינו ואת החזון המשותף. נציגות JOFA ו'קולך' נפגשו מספר פעמים במפגשי היכרות, לשמוע אחת מהשנייה ולדון בסוגיות משותפות, כגון מנהיגות נשים, נושא העגונות ומסורבות הגט ועוד. בירושלים, חנה קהת אירחה את נשות JOFA, ואח"כ סוזי הוכשטיין אירחה את הקבוצה.
כשחנה קהת היתה בניו יורק בנובמבר שעבר 2012, הרמנו ערב של וועידת פאנל בנושא מעמד הנשים בארץ, יחד עם בלו גרינברג, ג'יין אייזנר, סוזן ווייס וננסי קאופמן, כולן נשים יהודיות פמיניסטיות מובילות (ואיזה כייף היה להפיק אירוע שבו כל הדוברות היו נשים! קיבלנו על זה ביקורת – למה לא שמרנו מקום לגבר – אבל בשבילי זאת היתה אפליה מתקנת, והיה פשוט נפלא לראות פאנל מלא בכח נשים! אני יכולה להבטיח שקהל של כ-75 איש לא היו משועמם!).
לסיכום, שני הארגונים נמצאים כבר יותר משנה בתהליך משמעותי וענייני לגבי חשיבה, לקראת חזון משותף ואולי גם פעילות משותפת. וכל זה קורה בשנת הכנסים, כך שפעילות זאת צברה תאוצה וקיבלה אנרגיות חדשות.
שמחתי מאוד לראות שמספר נשות וועדת ההנהלה של JOFA הגיעו לכנס 'קולך' בספטמבר, ושבלו גרינברג נשאה דברים בנושא נשים מסורבות גט. לי היתה הזכות, יחד עם חנה קהת, להוביל שיחה בלתי-פורמאלית בנושא שיתוף פעולה בין-ארגוני. שמענו מנשים וגברים על הצורך לבנות את הקשרים הללו, ללמוד מניסיונות של אחרים מרחבי העולם, וליצור מנגנונים לתמיכה הדדית בקרב אוכלוסיות המובילות שינוי מגדרי בעולם הדתי.
בכנס JOFA בשבוע שעבר, היו נציגות/ים רבות/ים מהארץ, ביניהן/ם פרופ' תמר רוס, הרב דניאל שפרבר, דבורה עברון, ד"ר רוני עיר-שי, נורית יעקובס-יינון, רחלי ווסרמן, סוזן ווייס, נשים מנשות הכותל ועוד. היו גם דוברות מ'קולך': ריקי שפירא-רוזנברג וביטי רואי, וריקי סקרה את הפעילות החשובה של 'קולך' במיוחד בנושא נשים במרחב הציבורי. מאוד שמחתי שריקי באה לדווח על הנושא הזה, נושא שהוא לא מובן מאליו שהוא נמצא בתודעה של נשים אמריקאיות.
גייסנו כסף במיוחד עבור הדיון הזה, ויותר מזה, הצלחנו לוודא שהנושא הזה יהיה חלק מהאג'נדה של כנס JOFA. אני רואה בזה...
Zelda R Stern and Elana Sztokman's oped from The Jewish Week about the significance of the Maharat graduation:
"Orthodox women are making history in front of our eyes. On June 16, three women will be ordained to serve, in effect, as Orthodox rabbis, given the title of Maharat (an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning leader in legal, spiritual and Torah matters).
They will graduate from Yeshivat Maharat in New York City, the first and thus far only women to receive institutional ordination as religious and spiritual leaders in the Orthodox world.
To a certain degree, this is not really news. Women have been working in Orthodox clergy position for years. And a handful of women have been privately ordained by Orthodox rabbis over the years. But next month’s graduation will mark the first time Orthodox women will be formally and publicly ordained with institutional recognition for the profound role women rabbis can play in Orthodox communities.
Maharat women will perform virtually all the same pastoral and spiritual functions as men, plus a few. Orthodox women are often more comfortable approaching women about personal, intimate issues than they are approaching men. Maharat women will deal with those issues and have the potential to re-engage women in communal life — women who until now have felt that they have no leaders. As one young Orthodox woman recently told us, “When my husband doesn’t come to synagogue, the rabbi asks about it. But when I don’t come, he doesn’t even notice. I need a woman rabbi who I can connect to, who can take an interest in my spiritual life.”
Read the rest at The Jewish Week...
Deborah Weinberger and Beth Hurvitz: Pioneering Women Co-Presidents of Hebrew Institute of White Plains, NY
When Beth Hurvitz, a fifty-two-year-old Senior Vice President of Visa and single mother of a thirteen-year-old daughter, was asked to become the first woman president of her synagogue , the Hebrew Institute of White Plains, she agreed on one condition: that her friend and colleague Deborah Weinberger would share the job with her. Deborah, a mother of three who works for Camp Ramah, teaches aquatics in Briarcliff, NY, and single-handedly built the synagogue thrift shop into a bustling source of revenue for the synagogue, readily agreed. Thus Deborah and Beth became not only the first women presidents of their Modern Orthodox synagogue, but also the first co-presidents. And they couldn’t be happier. In an interview with JOFA Executive Director Elana Sztokman, these two impressive women share their love for the job, for the community, and for one another. It’s an inspiring story of Orthodox women making change through partnership and care.
Tell me a little bit about yourselves
Beth: I have been living in New Rochelle, NY, and have been a member of the Hebrew Institute of White Plains my entire life. In fact, I was even named at the synagogue!
Deborah: I grew up very differently from the lifestyle I’m living now. I grew up in New York City in a Conservative synagogue and went to Hebrew school, and I never knew this model of an inclusive, Modern Orthodox community existed. In my world, there was either Reform, Conservative or Lubavich, and nothing like this. When I first moved to White Plains with my husband and we had a baby, suddenly I was getting these meals from strangers – I had never experienced anything like that! That was amazing – many friendships started because of those meals – and it’s why I decided to get involved in the synagogue community. I sat on a few committees, starting with the new members committee, I ran a shabbaton, and then Beth and I launched a retreat, so that’s how our relationship started. From that point, it became apparent that we had complementary skills and talents, and we also had a really good time working together.
Beth: It was very clear that we could work well together. Deborah knows everyone in the synagogue. She constantly keeps us in check to make sure we’re doing the right thing. Being the president of the synagogue is different than running a business. It’s about doing the right thing, building a community and making sure everyone has what they need.
Deborah: It’s more like customer service, making sure our congregants feel heard and appreciated. Beth has all kinds of business skills and she’s a natural problem-solver. She is also a single mom by choice. I couldn’t manage a goldfish alone!
Beth: Deborah has three amazing children and an amazing husband. She also runs the thrift shop in the synagogue and she has totally revitalized it. Today it brings in...
Brandeis University Press authors win 2013 National Jewish Book Awards
By Dana Trismen February 7, 2013 Section: Arts, Etc.
Brandeis University Press has recently boasted a series of successes, with two authors nominated as winners of the 2013 National Jewish Book Awards. Anita Shapira’s “Israel: A History” won in the history category, while Elana Maryles Sztokman earned a win in women’s studies for “The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World.”
Brandeis University Press is a member press of the University Press of New England (UPNE), which publishes in various fields, the majority of which are related to Jewish culture, thought and Israeli studies. Yet, the published books cover diverse subjects and viewpoints on topics such as politics, history, gender and philosophy. While their focus may be on the Jewish experience, their “goal is to illuminate subjects of all stripes with intelligence, curiosity and care,” according to the University Press website.
“My book was published by the Hadassah Brandeis Institute, an organization at Brandeis University led by Professor Shulamith Reinharz and Professor Sylvia Barack Fishman, that focuses on scholarship in issues of gender and Judaism,” Sztokman said. Originally granted a research scholarship, she then submitted a proposal to be published, a request that was granted. “The people at HBI are phenomenal,” she said. “[They are] wonderful scholars and really incredibly supportive of emerging voices. I feel really lucky and privileged to have received their support.”
Sztokman’s book, “The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World,” examines gender identities of Orthodox men.
“I wanted to know, when Orthodox Jews say things like, “Be a Man,” or “Today you are a man” (said at every bar mitzvah on the planet), what do they mean?” she said. “What does it mean to be an Orthodox man?” Her research drove her to interview many Jewish men, especially ones who belonged to synagogues called ‘partnership synagogues.’ These are places that have found a compromise between feminist ideals and Jewish law, allowing gender equality. “The men in these synagogues are deeply engaged in this gender struggle,” she said.
The idea for her book came to her during a conversation she had with an Orthodox Jewish man. She remembers him saying, “I could never go to a synagogue like that, because if women are doing everything, what’s left for men to do?” Sztokman decided this was actually an important point. “He was articulating something very poignant about society,” she said. “When women step into roles that were once exclusively owned by men, the men suffer from a crisis of identity. They no longer know how to define themselves as a man.” This drove Sztokman to write a book that addressed what men were going through, instead of exclusively focusing on women in this movement. “We have to pay attention to how men deal with this if we are going to successfully create equitable, compassionate communities,” she said.
Sztokman is very aware that Orthodox Judaism creates strict gender divisions. Men are allowed public actions...
Rabba Sara Hurwitz
Rabba Sara Hurwitz was the first publicly ordained female rabbi in the Orthodox community.
Three years ago this month, Rabba Sara Hurwitz made history in the Jewish world by becoming the first publicly ordained female rabbi in the Orthodox community. Since then, the 35-year-old mother of three has been working as Dean of Yeshivat Maharat, an institution dedicated to training women Orthodox clergy, as well as working as Rabba at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. The first three women are set to graduate this June with the title of Maharat — an acronym for “Religious, spiritual, Torah leaders” — marking yet another important milestone for women in Orthodoxy. Rabba Hurwitz spoke to The Sisterhood to explain what this all means.
THE SISTERHOOD: What has changed for you over the past three years?
RABBA SARA HURWITZ: The biggest change is the flourishing of Yeshivat Maharat, and the continuation of Orthodox women serving in communities. The graduation of the first three students this coming June fills me a tremendous amount of excitement and gratification. I have students currently working in synagogues, one in a school, one in a JCC and one in a Hillel. That’s real movement.
What kind of feedback have you received from the Orthodox community?
I think there has been noticeable change since I received my title. I’ve been doing a fair amount of traveling around the country and I think Orthodox communities are much more open to seeing women as spiritual leaders. In fact they are beginning to want it, to request it, which I think is a real shift.
Part of the ability of women to lead relies on rabbis who have the courage to hire women as interns and graduates. I’ve been seeing a shift in the number of rabbis who recognize the importance of having women and who are eager to have women. I’m really grateful for these rabbis who are helping women carve out positions as leaders in the community.
Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/170276/the-rabba-revolution-continues/#ixzz2LCIC4M5O...