I have not yet met either of these two writers but I am a big fan of them both and I read them whenever I can find them, for they each represent a fresh and a much to be admired trend within Orthodoxy.
Elana Sztokman is both a scholar of gender studies and an activist in feminist causes within Orthodoxy. This book is meant as scholarship but it raises a troubling question that I, for one, had never thought of before. The question is: How do Orthodox men deal with feminism?
There are now nearly two dozen "partnership minyanim" in Israel, America and elsewhere. In these minyanim women teach and read Torah even though they still sit behind a mechitsa. In some of them, they require both ten men and ten women for a quorum. It is obvious why women would want to join such a minyan. It is a way for them to achieve some measure of equality within the framework of halachah. The question that she studies in this book is: Why do men join such a minyan?
To her and to my surprise, she found that the men who joined these minyanim were not necessarily feminists. They joined for a host of different reasons, some of which had nothing at all to do with feminism. And she learned that at the core of these minyanim, as at the core of all social interactions and institutions, the issue of power is still central.
The men who attend these partnership minyanim may be nice, they may be accommodating, they may be generous, but at the end of the day, the power to permit and the power to allow is still in their hands. And at the core of their consciousness is their image of who is a real Jew. In their culture a real Jew is still the one who studies full time in the yeshiva, while the outside community — be it his wife, or his parents or the society — takes care of him. Until that ideal is reexamined, partnership minyan will not achieve much.
The men in the partnership communities have to deal with the reality of a new kind of woman now, a woman who is accomplished and powerful in the secular world, a woman who wants to bring a feminist perspective to the understanding of the Torah and the commandments and a woman who does not aspire to imitate what men do. She concludes, reluctantly, that until the men in these minyanim come to terms with this new reality, partnership minyanim will not really be equal partnerships.
Despite her pessimism, I can only hope that when we have more women like Dr. Sztokman, who are learned, articulate and committed to both equality and halachah, that things will eventually change.
Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman is a feminist thought-leader, anthropologist, and writer whose research and ideas help shape a vision for a compassionate society. She has published five books on gender in society, and today helps women amplify their own voices and find their power through Lioness Booksand Media. She coaches women through the writing process, edits, and ghost-writes women's books, and publishes women's writing through Lioness. She also speaks and consults with groups and organizations around the world on gender issues and women's experiences in the world. Would you like to schedule a chat? Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org