Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Orthodox Feminism

A week or two ago, my husband and I attended the book launch of Dr. Elana Sztokman and Dr. Chaya Gorsetman's book "Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools".  I don't know Dr. Gorsetman but I do know Elana and I know that feminism in the Jewish world is a subject near and dear to her heart.  She is smart, articulate and amazing so Elana, I may have to ask your forgiveness for what I am about to say.

Back to the book launch.  During the program, Dr. Gorsetman after being asked a question by someone about other movements went on to tell a story about a Conservative Jewish educator who told her that the book was a must have for her library as well.  Ok, fine, I'm a Conservative Jew and I know that gender differences exist in every school, from Jewish Orthodox to Catholic to Public.  Still, it kind of bothered me.  But, wow did it bother my husband.  He told me after the program was over that he needed to tell Dr. Gorsetman something so I said ok, I mean what was he going to say?

This is what he told her (and I'm paraphrasing but this was the gist) "Why can't the Orthodox recognize that other women have come before them and fought the same fight?  Why is it that because it was done by Conservative or Reform Jewish women it is not legitimate according to the Orthdox?"  In other words, you're not reinventing the wheel, even though you think you are.

On the ride home, we discussed another comment from the evening where Dr. Gorsetman told a story about an Orthodox Jewish woman who was a big neurologist - head of her hospital department AND an Orthodox Jew who attended an Orthodox shul.  One day she walked into shul, in to the women's side of course and said "I can't do this anymore" and subsequently just quit going to shul.  "This" was the fact that at her hospital she wasn't a 2nd class citizen who needed to be hidden away in order not to tempt men.

The shame of that was, as the two of us saw it, was that she quit going to shul as if there were no other Jewish options out there that could provide her with an alternative.  But again, somehow those options are just not legitimate.

So, what finally got me on my soapbox this morning?  Well, it was the Facebook story people were sharing about "I'm Orthodox and I wear tzizit" written by a woman.  You know what I sort of want to say?  Big deal!  I know, I know, in the Orthodox movement it is a big deal but come on people, get your head out of the sand, lots of women wear a tallit and even (gasp!) put on tefillin.  And the world  hasn't ended...yet.

I am not going to argue here the finer points of halacha and I know that a departure point between my orthodox friends and myself is that I consider Conservative teshuvot to be valid.  I may not like them all, I may not follow them all, but just like in the Orthodox world, halacha has evolved in the Conservative movement on homosexuality, women, even cheese.

30 years ago, when I was a camper at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, there was only one girl who put on tefillin and everyone thought it was wierd.  What an ultra feminist she was.  In fact, at Ramah at that time, girls could read Torah, have an aliyah, etc. but could only lead davening up to Barchu and except for Kabbalat Shabbat and Shir HaShirim, no girls led the camp wide davening on Fridays ever.

Growing up in Louisville, we had a very progressive rabbi, Rabbi Simcha Kling z"l who allowed women to fully participate.  I didn't even realize women weren't allowed to be rabbis, I just took it for granted that of course they could, why not?  I learned that wasn't the case and it wasn't until 1983 that women were allowed entrance into Rabbinical school at JTS.   Somebody struggled for that right and for the right to be counted in a minyan which was only allowed in 1973.

My point here is (and I'm sure you're saying to yourself now, what is your point already) is JOIN US FELLOW FEMINISTS, THE FIGHT IS FAR FROM OVER.  We have greater strength together, you can learn from us and we can learn from you.  Your struggles may have already been fought by us in the past so maybe we can help you.  Maybe you can help us learn how to make subtle changes, one step at a time so as to safeguard the community.

There are lots of issues in all of our communities:  equal pay, the glass ceiling at Jewish organizations, LGBT issues, a woman's right to choose (not just abortion but maybe she doesn't want alot of kids), gender discrimination in our schools (right, Elana?), unfortunately it is a long list.

C'mon ladies, don't let this be like the Mommy Wars where essentially we're all fighting for the same thing.  To live our lives with meaning, respect and help make the world a better place.