Hi, my name is Constance Bearman and I’m 12 years old. In the summer, I went on a Masorti summer camp called Noam, even though I am Orthodox. Of course, there were many things that were unfamiliar to me and that weren’t consistent with my personal beliefs, but before I went my mother and I agreed to go knowing that I ‘respect what they do, but it isn’t what I do,’ and I was perfectly happy with this, until it got me thinking.
I had never questioned the ways of Orthodoxy, or the general routine of my shul. I knew that women sat at the back together, and definitely weren’t as involved in the service as the men were, and I had accepted this without much thought. But after this summer camp, I started to question the justifications of this set-up in shul.
We are now in the 21st century, and women are very lucky to have equal opportunities in our lives to men, although this may not be true in all countries. I have often heard that ‘the role of the Jewish woman is to take care of the home.’ I think this is fine, but I don’t see why this should be the only role of the Jewish woman. Thousands of years ago, women rarely went to shul, and so their role was to bring up the children and take care of the home. But now, women are just as educated and spiritual, so why can’t we participate as well? Women who attend synagogue regularly are denied access to ritual and prevented from participating even though there is no halachic prohibition for them not to do so apart from the fact that it just has not been ‘done’ until now.
Take a typical Shabbat in my shul. The service will be run by a Rabbi, and laining will be done by men in the congregation. Not once is a woman asked or given the opportunity to participate. I do not want to be doing exactly the same things as men, and I want to make sure everything I do is within the laws of halacha. That is very important to me.
My ultimate question, however, is this: If there is no reason why certain things can’t be done or changed, why haven’t they been changed already? A friend of my mother’s was once told, ‘If you want to be doing more in shul, come to shul every morning at 6:30, then we’ll talk.’ This bothers me. After all, does every man in the congregation come to shul every morning at 6:30? No! Yet they still get to participate in the service. So why should women have to practically ‘prove’ our spirituality and dedication by coming to shul at 6:30 every morning if the men don’t have to?
I recently went to the very hospitable home of Dina Brawer and her husband Rabbi Naftali, as I had a lot of questions that my mother felt Dina and Rabbi Naftali could answer. And of course, mothers know best and she was absolutely right. I had so many burning questions that I definitely needed answering and I definitely got just that. I also found out about JOFA, and the amazing work that they do for people that feel the same way I do. I realised there was a whole community that felt the same way I do!
Having realised this, I am sure you are all reading the words of a very active and passionate new member of the JOFA community. Even though I don’t think I can make it to the International Conference in New York in December in person, I send you best wishes for what is going to be an amazing event!
Finally, I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to know that there are so many people that feel the same way I do, and to know that in the end we all want to achieve the same goal.
Avishalom Westreich and Pinhas Shifman, religious Israeli legal scholars of marriage and divorce law who presented compelling proposals at JOFA’s Agunah Summit in June, have published a new paper on the issue in which they argue for the adoption of civil marriage and divorce in Israel. The purpose, they argue, is to alleviate all the unnecessary suffering in Israel around issues of marriage and divorce, including that of the thousands of agunot stuck in unwanted marriages. In their paper they write:
“We propose adopting a uniform civil framework for marriage and divorce. Such a civil framework model would require advance registration and fulfillment of the necessary preconditions for marriage, thus constituting an all-inclusive, normative civil system that would handle all matters of marriage and divorce in Israel. In light of the significant weight and importance of religion in Israeli society, this model would grant full legitimacy to a wide variety of religious and non-religious marriage ceremonies, as well as a variety of divorce ceremonies and procedures. However, for purposes of state recognition, there would be just one civil law. those who wish to do so, especially if they were originally married in a religious fashion, would then be able to choose whether or not to continue litigating their marriage and divorce disputes in the religious courts, provided that these courts remain committed to the fundamental principles of civil property law, and to equal implementation of the right to divorce.”
To read the rest of the paper, click here
And don’t forget: Solutions for the agunah problem will be presented at the upcoming JOFA conference. Register today!
Jewish feminists have a lot to say. We have been grappling with issues of gender inclusion in Jewish life for a long time, wrestling with our sometimes competing pulls and ideals for years. Centuries, I think. Maybe since the beginning of Judaism. Maybe since the creation of Eve. So there’s a lot we like to talk about — need to talk about.
Like my friend Tammy. Tammy loves Jewish life, the sounds, colors, and connections that she experiences in her synagogue community and in her Jewish traditions. But going to shul has become a struggle. Climbing the stairs to the women’s section of her Orthodox shul, where women’s presence is an afterthought or a mystery – Tammy has to drag each foot to climb each stair. She’s searching for another way. Whether that means a different synagogue, a new community, or transformations from within, she knows that she needs a change. And talking to other women who are on the same journey – perhaps different locations on journey, perhaps further along or further back – has become critical. We talk, we listen, we laugh and we cry, and we support one another as we figure it all out. That sharing of experiences, stories, reflections and dreams has become a crucial component of the grass-roots drive towards communal transformation.
That’s why we have this blog. For all the women like Tammy out there who are seeking connection on their journeys. This is a place for a free and open sharing of experiences around gender in Judaism. It’s the space for women and men of all ages and backgrounds to write about how they grapple with their lives as seekers of fairness, justice and compassion within the Jewish tradition. The written exchange is a vehicle for personal and communal empowerment. It’s writing as a tool for social change. It’s also a tool for love and support for those who are willing to share their vulnerabilities – and their strengths. This is a place where we welcome the struggle, and learn to love each other for it.
I just want to acknowledge that we’re not the only space on the internet for Jewish feminist blogging. In fact, we love the Jewish feminist blogs out there – the Lilith blog, the JWA blog, the Sisterhood blog, and the many individual women and men who courageously put forth their Jewish feminist voices every day. I’m a huge fan of the writers out there, and I’m so excited that JOFA is joining this fabulous club.
I would add that The Torch is perhaps slightly different in that JOFA focuses primarily on religious experiences, and on the particular struggles of Orthodox feminists. However, it’s really important to note that even though that’s our primary focus, it is not an exclusive focus. In fact, one of my own core beliefs is that Orthodox feminists have an enormous amount in common with other Jewish feminists, and also with religious feminists of other faiths. This is, in my opinion, an under-explored aspect of Orthodox feminism, and I would love to use this blog as a space to build those connections in different ways. Life and blogging is about finding and creating links and bonds. I’m very excited to do that here.
What unites us here is a feminist consciousness. We love unapologetic, daring commitment to gender equity. It’s what brings us together and motivates us.
Hence the name the Torch. It’s our fire, our passion, our refusal to have our voices squelched. Here, our fires are free to burn. Like those of the amazing women before us, from Deborah to Beruria to Glückel of Hamelin to Blu Greenberg to Rabba Sara Hurwitz. We are proud to be part of a millennia-long journey, and proud of all the women before us who have passed the feminist torch to us.
We welcome your submissions. The more voices, the better! We especially enjoy reading on topics related to gender in: religious life, family life, Jewish education, Jewish thought, halakha, Jewish history, bible or Talmud, Jewish professional or organizational settings, politics, business, spirituality, sexuality, body issues, art, and pretty much any area of your life. If you think you have something to say, please send it in! If you don’t consider yourself a feminist but think you have a contribution to make to the discussion, send it in! We welcome that exchange as well.
Please email your pitch to: firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to comment and share.
Looking forward to the conversation!