[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 layning, and I always have. I can still recall sitting in the women’s section of The Young Israel of Flatbush when I was a teenager, listening to the Torah reading and trying to match the marks on the letters to the sounds I was hearing. (When I eventually learned to read Torah, I did it via tape recorder, and that’s why to this day, I have no idea what people mean when they refer to a “pashta” or “zakef katan,” but I can tell you how a little chupchik over the letter is meant to sound.)
The cantillations have always been a vital part of understanding the text. I have given numerous divrei torah over the years using textual insights based on cantillations. When, in Megillat Esther, for example, Esther is called to the king during the beauty pageant – “Ub’hagiya tor Esther bat Avihail dod Mordechai,” the music brilliant reflects her hesitation with a pausing, haunting, aching melody. I love that. I love reading the Torah with its transmitted music. It brings the whole heritage to life for me, and makes the narratives real.
Anat Hoffman of the Women of the Wall reads from the Torah at Robinson’s Arch outside of the Western Wall (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Still, until I actually learned to layn myself, I didn’t fully own the text as my own. It created a whole new set of connections for me. It was a crucial step for me in feeling like I was truly part of the community. For this, I would always be eternally indebted to the women of OWN Australia. I wouldn’t be who I am without the opportunities they gave me. I have layned many times since then and listened proudly to my children – both genders – layn. The layning has inspired in me hope that there is an active place for women in Orthodox life. It has inspired me to keep fighting for a better Orthodoxy, for one that fully appreciates the value of the women in the community.
[READ MORE AT THE TIMES OF ISRAEL]...
The women of the Orthodox community of Atlanta, Georgia, are going to be celebrating Simchat Torah like they have never celebrated before – and it’s all thanks to the hard work and vision of a young woman who led the way. Fifteen-year-old Eden Farber wanted more opportunities for women’s ritual inclusion, and spent the past six months working with her rabbi and community in a series of events that will be culminating with the first ever women’s Torah reading on Simchat Torah at the Young Israel of Toco Hills.
Eden, who studies frequently at the Drisha Institute and learns daf yomi, has been frustrated with women’s limited roles in synagogue, which she wrote in an article published in Fresh Ink for Teens last year:
What I don’t understand — it really does baffle me — is how we call ourselves Modern Orthodox. This patriarchal design we call a religious experience is not reflective of modern society; it’s as anachronistic as possible. The few allowances—the girls’ dvar Torah and the prayer for the State of Israel—take some of the sting out of the experience of invisibility, yet I still find myself perpetually irked. The caging restrictions are conducive to the small number girls present — why come when you mean nothing to the service?
Rather than rest on her laurels, Eden decided to speak to the women of her community about her concerns. With the help of her mother, Channie Farber, Eden sent out an email to some women in her community inviting them to her house to discuss the issue of women’s ritual inclusion in shul. Some fifteen women attended this meeting, and the energy, she recalls, was electric. “It was really amazing,” she said. “We discussed so many important issues – having more women scholars in residence, bringing the Torah to the women’s side during services, possibilities for women’s Shabbat mincha groups and kabbalat Shabbat. There is so much we can do, and it was very exciting.”
READ MORE AT THE JOFA SPOTLIGHT BLOG
The “Ushpizin”, literally “guests”, is a Jewish custom to invite the spirits of our ancestors into the Sukkah during the seven nights of the traditional holiday (eight in the Diaspora). The Ushpizin represent the commandment to open one’s house to poor people, as well as the more kabbalistic idea that each guest has a unique character trait or energy that we would like to invite into our lives, families, communities and world. The seven traditional Ushpizin are all men. Over the past few years, women have created parallel rituals to invite “Ushpizot”, women spiritual guests, each night a different woman. Although some Ushpizot texts use the seven women who are traditionally believed to have been prophetesses, others vary the names invoked based on women whose lives had particular meaning. The ceremony suggested below uses seven Jewish ancestral women based on particular traits that they embodied, with a suggested variation at the end.
DOWNLOAD USHPIZOT CEREMONY HERE
Ushpizot, Judaica by Enya Tamar Keshet http://www.enyakeshet.com ...
Revered Leader Blocked Progress on Divorce and Equality
Painful Legacy: Thousands mourned the death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. But his teachings caused enormous pain for women.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the 102-year-old Lithuanian religious figure who died this week, is being hailed in some circles as the “greatest leader of his generation”. He may have been great to some men, but for women, his ideas and rulings were often the cause of enormous pain.
For example, he was a vigorous adherent of the most oppressive and retrograde views on the issue of agunot, or women who are denied religious divorce. He regularly promoted a 16th century opinion by the Maharshdam (Rabbi Shmuel di Medina of Saloniki) according to which a man may never be pressured in any way to give his wife a get, or divorce, ever. Moreover, he believed that if any pressure is exerted by the woman, such as requests to compromise on financial settlements or custody issues, then the get will be considered invalid. Any children born thereafter will be mamzerim, or forbidden from ever marrying a Jew.
This position renders rabbinic judges completely helpless in cases of recalcitrance on the part of husbands. Elyashiv’s opinion effectively nullified the 1994 Law of Sanctions, a law passed in the Knesset with the support of the religious state establishment at the time, which gives rabbinic judges the power to enforce sanctions against recalcitrant husbands. These sanctions – which include revoking a driver’s license, revoking a passport, and in some cases imprisonment – are used regularly by rabbinic judges to help women level the playing field when it comes to exiting from Jewish marriage. But to Elyashiv, sanctions were not permissible, and the rabbis should never pressure a man to give a get. (It should be noted that many rabbinic rulings since the 16th century have taken a much more humane approach. Rabbi Haim Pallagi, the chief rabbi of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, ruled that if a husband and wife live apart for 18 months, the court must force the man to give a get).
Elyashiv’s retrograde approach played a strong role enabling men to blackmail women during divorce. It is this dynamic that facilitated the formation of the so-called “Agunah Fund”, a pool of money that the rabbinic judges have which they use to literally pay men in order to give their wives a get. The legality of this fund was unfortunately upheld by a 2010 High Court ruling, based on a petition brought by Susan Weiss of The Center for Women’s Justice.
One agunah named “Orit” whose story was reported in Maariv several years ago, suffered personally from Elyashiv’s refusal to allow the rabbinical court to help her. She described a marriage full of physical, emotional, and financial abuse, from which she had to escape in fear of her life. The rabbinical judges actually issued a “hiyuv get,” an order to give a get, but she never knew about it because...
Facebook is forbidden among Chabad teenage girls, as The Sisterhood told you — and as the Forward reports here. This reflects a blatant double standard, the report points out, because the movement has widely embraced technology to spread its message, but refuses to allow its own youth to use these tools.
But Chabad’s double standard in its relationship to secular society is only one part of the problem. It seems to me that the story of girls being forbidden from using Facebook and other internet tools is less about Chabad’s missionary stance and more about their view of women and girls. After all, it is only girls whose school is handing out $100 fines and having mothers’ monitor their computer use.
Moreover, the practice of banning girls from the computer largely revolves around one concept: modesty. The Facebook ban is just the latest in a long string of insidious practices in the Orthodox community — not just Chabad, to be sure — aimed at restricting women’s and girls’ freedom. These practices are promoted under the term tzniut, or “modesty,” but really are nothing more than classic misogyny.
Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/154558/what-banning-facebook-is-really-about/#ixzz1riBynrCb...
Pesach is one of my favorite holidays. I love the educational, creative possibilities of the Seder, the opportunity to debate, discuss and dramatize our collective history. Over the years, my family has done some wonderfully imaginative things at the Seder table — plays, original songs, games, colored dips, hand-made pillows, and even a puppet show about the exodus in which all the characters were variants of felt penguins. One year, we made our own Haggadah, using the kids’ drawings and writings connected to select parts of the book. For me, Pesach preparation is about creative education. It is the only holiday in the Jewish calendar where the whole point is to bring history to life in any and every possible way.
But you would never know it from the traditional lead-up to Pesach. When Jews meet one another on the street these days, conversations about “preparations” generally refer to how much cleaning has been accomplished. Even Shlomo Artzi, the Israeli pop star who can well afford to hire cleaning help, revealed in his column last week that memories of his mother handing him a vacuum cleaner before Pesach have remained indelibly etched on his Jewish soul. Today, he finds vacuuming to be a source of comfort, in the same category as chicken soup, the kind of activity that makes some people miss their mothers.
I have found myself trying to avoid talking to people this week because I really don’t want to hear some variety of this question: “So what are you up to in your house?” Meaning, how many rooms or shelves or chandeliers have you managed to scrub clean already. It’s so tired and predictable that I would rather run and climb up a few dozen stairs to reach the other side of the neighborhood in order to find a way not to enter into another one of the cleaning competition conversations.
It really is a competition. These conversations are not really about the holiday as much as they are women’s attempts to find approval from an invisible “they.” This is women looking to other women to grade our own okayness as Jewish women.
Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/154259/how-passover-pits-women-against-women/#ixzz1rA5NCkJB...
Purim is a holiday that is about women’s power, in its different forms.
Thinking about the roles of Queen Vashti and her successor Queen Esther in the Purim story highlights some of the dilemmas that women have faced throughout history. I therefore think it’s particularly apt that Ta’anit Esther is International Agunah Day, the day the marks the harrowing struggle of “chained women,” or women denied divorce.
Vashti and Esther were both married to a man, the same man, for whom women were objects to be adorned and used. This was arguably the prevailing culture at the time, but there are also gradations in the exploitation of women. (To wit, someone visiting the planet for the first time who puts on MTV would believe that our culture is no better today than it was then.) Moreover, King Ahasverus was particularly adamant in his use of women’s bodies to claim his own power. He summoned Vashti specifically “to show the peoples and the princes her beauty; for she was fair to look on,” he chose his next queen based on a beauty contest, and declared that peace in his entire kingdom was a function of women’s submission, that “all the wives will give to their husbands honor, both to great and small… that every man should bear rule in his own house, and speak according to the language of his people.”
Interestingly, Vashti and Esther dealt with the king differently. Vashti was defiant.
She refused to be put on display like cattle — and paid for it with her throne, with her status, and according to the midrash, with her life. Esther, on the other hand, played the game. She was silent for the first four chapters of the book, quiet, docile and pretty as the other dominating male in her life, Mordechai, called the shots and gained political standing. When Esther finally acted, it was by using her feminine charm, her sexuality, to woo the king into pleasing her and killing Haman. To save the Jewish people, she played the seductress. She may have stayed alive and kept her throne – but that’s not necessarily a blessing. She remained in her gilded cage, married to the megalomaniacal wife-killer, for the rest of her life. By being the “insider” in the system, she sacrificed her own freedom. Vashti, the quintessential fighter, may have lost her life, but she may have also kept her dignity.
Women face the insider/outsider dilemma all the time. Should we work hard and sacrifice our integrity (and money) to meet social expectations of female beauty in order to reap the significant social rewards of beauty and sexuality, or should we challenge the system, refuse to turn ourselves into seductresses, and force the world to deal with “real women,” as we are? For example.
In Judaism the insider/outsider dilemma is faced in the most harrowing way by agunot, women who cannot get a Jewish divorce because the system relies on male volition. To stay in the Jewish legal system,...
International Agunah Day, the day dedicated to remembering the plight of agunot, women denied divorce, falls on March 7, the Fast of Esther. This year, some feminist activists have written new midrashim about this important milestone:
Longtime agunah activists Rivka Haut and Susan Aranoff, have written the following midrash:
When Esther, the courageous queen, was charged by her uncle/cousin/adoptive father/husband to act to save her people, she first turned to the community for help, asking them to fast to support her efforts to save them. Fortified by their backing, she risked her life on their behalf, even exposing her Jewishness, hidden until then.
Today our halakhic way of life is degraded by having the agunah disgrace exposed to the scrutiny of the secular public, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The Epstein/Friedman agunah situation is in the public eye as no other case has been, thanks to new media capabilities and instant publicity. Like the Jews of Shushan, the community has done all it can to help. But unlike Esther, the rabbis who have the power to free not only Tamar but every agunah as well, remain in hiding. Despite the outpouring of community support, they are unwilling to risk possible censure by their peers, by acting to remove male power over women in marriage. They lack Esther’s courage.
The foolish King of the Purim story feared that if Vashti's defiance were known, every husband’s power to be master of his household, his wife, would be weakened. So he issued a decree that every man should be "sorer" in his house. We laugh at that. Yet our rabbis have enshrined that edict by allowing every Jewish husband to be "sorer b’veito" to have power over his wife.
Esther provided leadership. If only the rabbis would act as boldly and implement one of the various halakhic solutions and free agunot, to bring about La Y’hudim Ha-y’tah Orah V’Simchah V’Sason Vi- kar, Kein Tihyeh Lanu.
Feminist scholar and activist Bonna Devora Haberman also wrote a midrash for the occasion, with a slightly different emphasis:
Esther's courage to face the bombastic king and save our people from decimation inspire us in these pre-Purim hours. In the feasting and celebrating, however, the sublime savvy of her strategy has long eluded us.
At the outset, Vashti's bold refusal to be humiliated at the king's bidding triggers a royal backlash. The court decrees, the enforcement of patriarchy men are to rule firmly over women and households (Esther 1:22), and the trafficking of women from throughout the empire into male custody and sexual servitude in the capital city. (Esther 2:3-4)In a similar way, Mordecai's defiance of Haman's power invokes his edict to kill the Jews. Then as now, racism and misogyny join hands and clink cups at sumptuous tables.
Supported by capable Mordecai and her people, Esther risks her life and succeeds to convince the bumbling ruler that the murderous plot must not proceed. At the peak moment when the policy is to be decided about how to deal with...
I heard on the radio news that “women’s groups are furious” at Thursday’s announcement by Israel’s Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman that from now on women will not be automatically granted custody of children under the age of six in divorce settlements. Women’s groups are apparently planning on fighting to retain the current law that recognizes a mother as the default parent in early childhood. But I’m not sure that all feminist groups are of one mind on this issue. Some feminists may even welcome the decision; I know I do.
I had an intense argument with some feminist colleagues a few months ago about this issue. We were discussing Neeman’s deliberations around the 2005 Shnit Committee on divorce and parenthood that led up to today’s announcement. The committee had proposed eliminating the gender bias in favor of women, arguing that every case should be judged according to its own merit. A friend of mine who is a rabbinic pleader was very upset about this. She has witnessed enormous suffering of women in the divorce process in Israel, and has spent most of her career defending agunot, or women whose husbands refuse to grant them a Jewish divorce. “Custody in early childhood is one of the few areas of leverage that women have in the divorce process,” she said, “and now the government is taking that away, too.”
Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/149942/#ixzz1kDHo0zpX...
Equality for Jewish women is not a 20th century invention. A siddur, or prayerbook, from the year 1471 contains an alternative text to the much abhorred “shelo asani isha” blessing that thanks God for “not making me a woman,” a text that is not only misogynistic in content but assumes that the person holding the prayerbook is male. In this 15th century book, the text reads, “Baruch she’asani isha v’lo ish,” “Thank God for making me a woman and not a man.”
According to Professor David Kraemer, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the “siddur was produced by the scribe and rabbi Abraham Farissol for a groom to give to his bride in 1471.” Farissol lived in Italy from 1451–1525. The siddur, housed in JTS’ library archives, can be viewed here.
This is a significant discovery for several reasons.
First, it demonstrates the flexibility and ongoing evolution of the prayer texts, even when it comes to issues of gender. It is perhaps obvious that prayers are not fixed in stone — after all, there are so many variations in “nusach,” or version, that it would seem difficult to make the opposite argument. Yet, the staunch opposition in even the most liberal Orthodox circles to the slightest textual changes can be astounding.
In one partnership synagogue that I wrote about in my new book, “The Men’s Section,”* when a woman made a one-word change to the liturgy for the purpose of gender equality, replacing the Hebrew word for husband “ba’al” (literally “owner”) that appears in Lecha Dodi for the less degrading “ish” (literally “man”), she was effectively ostracized from the congregation. Similarly, the opposition to changing “shelo asani isha” is confounding. Indeed, when a young Orthodox rabbi recently wrote about his own decision to stop saying that blessing, the attacks on him were fierce. At least he now has some support from at least one like-minded rabbi, even if he’s been gone for a while.
Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/149018/#ixzz1ifsLjczy...
Adina Bar Shalom is often introduced as a rabbi’s daughter or a rabbi’s wife, but it’s really her own mind that makes her so extraordinary. A pioneering leader within Israel’s tight-knit Haredi community, the 66-year-old Bar Shalom has been making headlines by espousing courageous views about religion and state in Israel. She is emerging as a woman to be reckoned with, one who is not afraid to speak her mind and who promotes a powerful vision with a determined will in the face of some difficult realities in Israel.
Bar Shalom’s most recent news story involves the growing gender segregation in Israel’s public spaces. At an economic conference this week, titled “Women Talking Women,” she criticized the gender segregation of buses as an attempt to “exclude women from the public domain,” and said that it “violates Torah.” Bar Shalom, who is the eldest daughter of Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardic chief rabbi, said that she understand Halacha as a system that “treats women with the utmost respect.”
As a parent, I love the holiday of Sukkot, which begins Friday night. It’s a great family time – lots of al fresco dining, sleeping outdoors, enjoying fresh air, singing, cooking favorite foods, and experiencing a welcome escape from the weightiness of an excessively material life. There’s nothing like spending eight days inside four walls of canvas to remind us of the value of simplicity. As a woman, though, I find Sukkot to be one of the most difficult holidays we’ve got. It is laden with messages about gender differences and where women truly belong, and these messages seem to intensify each year.
[Significantly, I submitted this essay to the AJN and was ignored. It’s probably in their slush pile, along with I would bet most of their submissions by women]
The greatest myth in the Jewish world is that there is such a thing as "the way things have always been".
Over the past few weeks, the communal debate around Melbourne's new minyan, Shira Hadasha – which, significantly, in the Jewish News, has thus far been a male-dominated debate about women's roles – has offered glimpses into the multiple ways that this fallacious assumption creates erroneous if not absurd dialectics.
The day I took off my hat I felt liberated. After four years of marriage, during which time I accumulated an extensive array of berets, caps, scarves, snoods, and other popular and not-so-popular designs for hair-hiding, I walked out of my apartment with my own long brown mane completely exposed. I felt ten years younger. And I had the tingling sensation that I could actually feel who I was, once again -- rediscovering that part of me, that fresh and vivacious young woman who had somehow gotten lost beneath layers of cloth -- on the head, the arms, and the legs. I didn't even realize how missing I had been until I found myself again.
The most invisible members of society are sometimes among the most interesting.
It is perhaps with this idea in mind that publishers have recently put out books exploring "remarkable" or "thinking" Jewish women, including many fascinating, though almost unknown personalities.
In Remarkable Jewish Women, veteran authors Emily Taitz and Sondra Henry have compiled an encyclopedic tome of interesting women from Biblical to contemporary times. This collection is cleverly organized around intriguing categories such as "Struggling for change," "Pious women: from rebels to rebbes" and "Heroines of the Holocaust." The book is also beautifully laid out, with over 100 photos, diagrams and manuscripts enhancing the text.