Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jewish Feminism

A. Kelley

Assignment for January 25, 2008

Jewish Feminism is a branch of feminism that deals primarily with reforming various traditional Jewish religious practices in a manner that maximizes women’s equal participation while remaining within what is permissible by Jewish law. The core tenet of Jewish feminism is that women have, by tradition, been deprived of many of the same legal and religious rights that men within Judaism have, and, therefore, reform is necessary. Because not all Jewish religious practices come from what is believed to be divine edict, such religious practices as, for example, the mechitza, a partition between men and women used in some Orthodox synagogues and other specific religious gatherings, should be abandoned due to its origin being not in divine scripture but in tradition, or what Jewish feminists believe is an ancient rabbinical mis-translation of a prophetical verse stating that men and women shall mourn separately at the death of the Messiah. Another practice that Jewish Feminists wish to see ended due to their position that it is not demanded by divine law is the male-only minyan, traditionally a group of men who lead prayer and service at synagogue. As the verse in the Talmud that the male-only stipulation was based upon is believed by Feminist and other non-Orthodox Jews to state that women were not permitted to participate in a minyan to preserve the dignity of the service rather than for a divinely-stated reason, they support the concept of the partnership minyan, a minyan lead by ten men and ten women rather than ten men only. Recently, feminist-oriented Jewish services focused on revision in the law of the mechitza and the partnership minyan have appeared in Jerusalem under the banner of Shira Hadasha and are slowly spreading globally. Outside of Jewish service, Jewish Feminists seek equality for men and women under Jewish law. Jewish Feminists wish to be subject to all 613 mitzvot, or commandments, as under current Jewish law/tradition there are various such mitzvot that they are exempt from. Along these lines, Jewish feminists wish to reform Jewish conceptions regarding the rights of women in the Jewish divorce process, as in the most traditional denominations the rights of men generally outweigh the rights of women in such matters. Jewish feminists may or may not be feminists by modern feminist definition, differing from this standard given their religious devotion and specific, narrow reform goals; likewise, feminists of a Jewish ethnicity may or may not be involved in the Jewish Feminism movement.

Given the religious nature of many of the issues Jewish Feminism addresses, it’s difficult to state whether or not I can agree with these core values given my very limited knowledge of Jewish scripture. For any of their goals, I would say that I fully endorse any change that can be made safely within the bounds of Jewish religious doctrine, as I understand the need of the Jewish Feminist to balance their aspiration with change for their need to adhere to their faith. Whatever is rooted in tradition and not in divine edict appears to be perfectly acceptable to revise for greater female inclusion; in these cases it is only a matter of changing the minds of those in their religious community who are wary of such changes on the premises of their being merely new as opposed to a more serious form of opposition, such as charges of sacrilege. As for specific tenets of Jewish Feminism that I would endorse given sufficient theological knowledge to know whether or not they are acceptable, the revision or removal of the mechitza seems a worthy cause given that, at least from this outsider’s point of view, it seems to be a barrier to female religious experience within Judaism, and, as for another tenet I would feel comfortable advocating, equality under the 613 mitzvot comes to mind, as it indicates a willingness on the part of Jewish Feminists to accept responsibilities along with whatever newfound freedoms they may receive. In the end, therefore, I must say that, as long as what these women are striving for is scripturally compatible, I would see nothing wrong with calling myself a proponent of Jewish Feminism. Freedom can be found within worship, not just in the absence of worship, and I commend these women for accepting this and seeking to achieve a balance between two ideals.


On the web:


The links to various websites above have a substantial amount of information on books relating to the Jewish feminist movement. Being a distance learner, my small local library had no books relating to the subject, so I leave recommendations on this subject to those with firsthand knowledge of the literature.


There are few high-profile Jewish Feminists, nor is there a single leader to the movement, however, the two most prominent are likely Rachel Adler and Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, the founders of the modern form of the movement as stated by

1 comment:

Joyous Jewess said...

Jewish feminism encompasses many diverse beliefs and experiences. One useful web source that you do not list is Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution -- an online exhibit of the Jewish Women's Archive. The exhibit includes an extensive list of resources.