Halakha and Feminism
Traditional Judaism can--and should--embrace feminism to allow for greater equality in Jewish religious life.
The following article is excerpted and reprinted with permission from On Women and Judaism, published by the Jewish Publication Society. Originally published in the early 1980s, its depictions of the state of feminism in general, and Orthodox feminism in particular, are somewhat dated. Nevertheless, this classic essay captures many of the important issues at the core of the encounter between feminism and Jewish tradition. Specifically, Greenberg argues for retaining an allegiance to Jewish law while also shaping it to be more inclusive of women and responsive to women's ethical claims.
We who are committed to traditional Judaism are standing today at the crossroads on the question of women. Feminism disturbs our previous equilibrium, for it makes a fundamental claim about women contrary to the model generated by halakhah [Jewish law].
Principles of Feminism
The feminist ideology can be summed up as follows:
1. Women have the same innate potential, capability, and needs as men, whether in the realm of the spirit, the word, or the deed.
2. Women have a similar capacity for interpretation and concomitant decision-making.
3. Women can function fully as "outside" persons, in broader areas of society beyond the home.
4. Women can and should have some control over their own destinies, to the extent that such mastery is possible for anyone.
Principles of Jewish Feminism
Let us reduce these broad statements from the level of generalization to a theology of woman as Jew:
1. A woman of faith has the same innate vision and existential longing for a redemptive‑covenantal reality as a man of faith. She has the same ability and need to be in the presence of God alone and within the context of the community. Such a woman is sufficiently mature to accept the responsibilities for this relationship and the rights that flow from these responsibilities. If these spiritual gifts do not flow naturally from her soul, she can be educated and uplifted in them in much the same fashion that Jewish men are.
2. Jewish women, as much as men, have the mental and emotional capacities to deal directly with the most sacred Jewish texts and primary sources. Jewish women are capable of interpreting tradition based on the sources. They can be involved in the decision‑making process that grows out of the blending of inherited tradition with contemporary needs.
3. Some women, as some men, are capable of functioning in the positions of authority related to the religious and physical survival of the Jewish people.