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”.
[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....
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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,...
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...
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...
Sylvia Barack Fishman
Dr. Sylvia Barack Fishman, chair of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University
There is more than one way to form a Jewish marriage. This was a central message emerging from a recent conference in Jerusalem called “New Understandings of Gender, Love and the Jewish Family,” co-sponsored by the VanLeer Jerusalem Institute, the Hadassah Brandeis Institute and the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University entitled. The conference offered a broad range of creative approaches to burning issues regarding familial relationships, and presented a flexible approach to persistent and arguably growing problems in contemporary Jewish life, including agunot, abuse and sexual violence.
“Gender, love and family are basic to our human and Jewish lives, and we are now living through a time of extraordinary — and confusing — changes,” said Dr. Sylvia Barack Fishman, chair of Brandeis University’s Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department and...
[CROSSPOSTED FROM TIMES OF ISRAEL] This week marks the ten year anniversary since the first time I read Torah in public. Simchat Torah 2002, my family and I had just moved to Melbourne, Australia, for three years, and I quickly found a warm home with the Orthodox Women’s Network. Dr. Jordy Hyman, Naomi Dessauer and Janet Belleli ran the group with skill and aplomb, and generously asked me if I would like to read the third aliyah on the holiday. It was thrilling and enthralling. To this day, whenever I get stuck on a cantillation, I think back to the passage I read then – “U’l’Yosef amar” – knowing that it’s all ingrained in my consciousness and my spirit from that very first Simchat Torah.
That Simchat Torah was a watershed moment for me. Even if it took me three decades to go from passive listener to active leader, I love...