Author Archives: Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

About Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) is the leading organization advancing social change around gender issues in the Orthodox Jewish community. JOFA expands the spiritual, ritual, intellectual and political opportunities for women within the framework of halakha (Jewish law), by advocating meaningful participation and equality for women in family life, synagogues, houses of learning and Jewish communal organizations to the full extent possible within halakha. The core JOFA belief is that fulfilling this mission will enrich and uplift the entire Jewish people. JOFA.org

JOFA Kickstarter Celebrates Women Scholars

Screenshot 2014-06-12 22.46.57 copyFor millennia, it has been taken for granted that the place for Jewish women was in the home and in the kitchen. And of all the public arenas that women were discouraged from entering, the Beit Midrash (study hall) was on the top of the list. Many Jewish women never even had the opportunity to engage with a page of Talmud.

While that reality has changed for most modern Jewish women, we owe a great debt to those pioneers who cleared the way for thousands of Jewish women to engage in high level Torah and Talmud study.

To celebrate a few of these women, JOFA has teamed up with six young Jewish women artists to create a poster featuring six such educational leaders from the 19th and 20th centuries. These posters are available now through a Kickstarter campaign ending July 14.

Meet the scholars:

Nechama LeibowitzNechama Leibowitz (1905-1997) Nechama Leibowitz was born in 1905 in Riga, educated in Berlin, and moved to Palestine in 1930. She taught at many schools including Tel Aviv University, where she was appointed a full professor. In 1942, she began distributing stenciled pages of questions on the weekly Torah portion, They reached a vast audience and were eventually translated and published. She was awarded the Israel Prize for Education. Though her thoughtful, literary approach to the Bible revolutionized Torah study, she humbly insisted, “I only teach what the commentaries say. Nothing is my own.” Her tombstone is inscribed, “Nechama Leibowitz: teacher.”

 

Henrietta SzoldAfter graduating high school in Baltimore, Henrietta Szold established the first American night school to teach English and vocational skills to Jewish immigrants in Baltimore. After moving to New York, she became an editor for the Jewish Publication Society. At the age of 49, her first trip to Palestine sealed her life’s mission: the health, education, and welfare of the Yishuv. In 1912 she founded Hadassah, which became the largest and most powerful Zionist organization in America, and which now boasts 330,000 members worldwide. Starting in 1933, Szold also ran Youth Aliyah, which helped save 30,000 children from Nazi death camps.

 

Ray FrankRachel “Ray” Frank was born in San Francisco to Polish immigrant parents at a time when Jewish communities were just beginning to emerge in the West. She taught bible studies and Jewish history in California, where she quickly garnered a large following. She rose to prominence after delivering a series of sermons in Washington for the High Holidays and was soon dubbed “the Jewess in the Pulpit,” and later, “the Golden Girl Rabbi of the West.” Although she had no rabbinic aspirations, Ray Frank’s presence in the pulpit made space in the collective imagination for public female religious leadership.

 

Flora SassoonFarha “Flora” Sassoon was born in Bombay to a family of influential tradesmen from Baghdad known as the “Rothschilds of the East.” By the age of seventeen, she knew Hebrew, Aramaic, Hindustani, English, French, German and had a thorough knowledge of Jewish texts. She wrote on Rashi, lectured on religious education, read publicly from the Torah, and her expertise in Sephardic doctrine and practice was unparalleled. According to historian Cecil Roth, she “walked like a queen, talked like a sage and entertained like an Oriental potentate.”

 

Bessie_Gotsfeld

Born in Poland, Beilka “Bessie” Gotsfeld immigrated to New York with her family in 1905. In 1925, she founded the precursor of AMIT, an organization connecting religious women to the cause of Zionism and expanding educational and vocational opportunities for religious women in Israel. Gotsfeld became the Palestine representative of the organization, eventually settling in Tel Aviv. She worked to establish three urban vocational schools for adolescent girls and two large farm villages that provided Jewish children, Holocaust survivors, and new immigrants educational programs and resources.

 

Sarah Schenirer

Born in Krakow to poor Hassidic parents, Sarah Schenirer left school after she turned thirteen and became a seamstress. After World War I broke out, she started to teach Jewish studies to a group of girls. This blossomed into 300 schools now known as the “Beis Yaakov” network, and by the time of her death approximately 35,000 girls were learning at Beis Yaakov schools. In her will, she wrote: “My dear girls, you are going out into the great world. Your task is to plant the holy seed in the souls of pure children. In a sense, the destiny of Israel of old is in your hands.”

 

Get your copy of the Sukkot poster before the Kickstarter campaign ends on July 14.

Posted on July 1, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Facts from the Field

photo of carol newmanSome big issues for orthodox feminism have come up in the news lately. Did you see that women will soon be allowed to monitor kashrut in institutional kitchens in Israel? JOFA Board member Carol Newman wonders how new this actually is.

I wonder who the rabbis thought was in the kitchen all these years. I have been married for over fifty years and have made more meals than I could possibly count. I’ve cooked for my family, for extended family, for guests, and even for organizations that asked me to host events. No one ever came into my kitchen asking to see the mashgiach.

So what is this all about? My brother-in-law, Marcel Lindenbaum, says the rabbis are afraid of change and therefore what we are seeing in so many instances is a rabbinate that wants to keep things exactly as they are. I maintain that change has already happened. The rabbis simply fear change that has to do with empowering women in Judaism.

In her new book, “The Kind Mama,” Alicia Silverstone explains her refusal to give her son a brit milah. Her rationale suggests a lack of God’s omnipotence: “my thinking was: If little boys were supposed to have their penises ‘fixed,’ did that mean we were saying that God made the body imperfect?”

picture of BeldaJOFA Board member Belda Lindenbaum responds with a popular midrash.

I believe that we were not born “perfect” for a reason, sometimes difficult to understand. I do believe that there are instances, and this is one of them, where we are asked to complete the work of “perfecting.” It began with Adam naming the animals and culminates in the act of procreation where men and women create new life. Bread, a staple of life, is given to us in the form of wheat, but it is humans who harvest, grind, knead, and bake the wheat flour to make the bread. We are partners and perfectors in the act of creation.

Sounds like there’s more than one way to be a “kind mama.”

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Posted on May 15, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Fasting for Two: Who Makes the Call?

This Thursday (March 13) many Jews will fast from sunrise to sunset in commemoration of Esther’s fast before she approached the king, unbidden, to ask for compassion on her people. The Fast of Esther is one of the four minor fast days in the Jewish calendar. At the JOFA conference in December, Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold presented a session called Fasting for Two: Who Makes the Call? in which she contributed a much-needed woman’s voice to the conversation.

For centuries, halakhic questions around pregnant and nursing women fasting have been asked by women and answered by men. This session will explore the sources surrounding fasting from the female perspective. What does it mean to study these sources with a woman who is a halakhically knowledgeable member of the clergy who has actually experienced pregnancy and nursing? The answers may surprise you.
Rachel Kohl Finegold

Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold recently joined Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim as the Director of Education and Spiritual Enrichment. Previously, she served for six years as the Education and Ritual Director at Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation in Chicago. Rachel (pronounced “Rakhel”) is a founding member of the Orthodox Leadership Project, serves on the editorial board of the JOFA Journal, and was recognized as one of Chicago JUF ‘s “36 Under 36.” Rachel received her B.A. in Religion from Boston University and completed the Drisha Scholars Circle. She recently graduated as part of the inaugural class of Yeshivat Maharat. Rachel lives in Montreal with her husband, Rabbi Avi Finegold, and their three young daughters.

Session handout available here.

The Jewish world is full of debates. Get the latest in MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.

 

Posted on March 10, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Purim Picks for Feminists of All Ages

There’s a serious side to Purim costumes and masquerades: Who do we want to be? Who do we want our children to be? With these questions in mind we’ve assembled some of our choices for costumes and other Purim fun. Hope you enjoy!

Purim is the perfect holiday to encourage girls to dress up as (and grow up to be) something other than a princess. Why not an engineer? Get them started early with this Goldie Blox game.

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Girls might get so excited by creating and building, that they’ll want to dress up in construction worker costume! It’s definitely a nice break from all the fairy princesses.

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Send your friends some delicious treats this holiday with a “Mini Megillah” Purim box, with all the necessities for a Purim celebration. (Use code AFPUR14 for 10% off orders over $50, before 3/16.)

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But Purim’s not just costumes and games! Learn to leyn (chant) Megillat Esther by using JOFA’s Megillah leyning app. And find out where women’s and mixed Megillah readings are happening around the globe with the Project Esther Megillah Reading Directory!

P.S.: Check out Goldie Block’s awesome video for more inspiration.

Posted on March 5, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Let’s Get The Conversation Started: LGBT Jews and Orthodox Communities

Parent-Photo-300x200

Parents at work at the World Café at the first ever gathering of Orthodox parents of LGBT children.

On Keshet, an anonymous group of parents reflects on their difficult journeys accepting their children—and the challenges their communities pose.

“We are not going to tell you it was easy absorbing this news from our children. We had the same hopes for our children that you have for yours. But as hard as it has been for us, it has been a much more difficult journey for our children. We now see our children as very brave for having told us, their friends and extended family, about who they are. As most have described it to us, it was a frightening and lonely experience to hold on to this secret, and most have held on to it from a very young age. We have come to respect how difficult it was for our children to find the strength to come out of the closet in a seemingly unbending Orthodox world.” Continue reading here>>

Posted on February 22, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

A Feminist Ryan Gosling for the Shomer-Shabbos Crowd

Inspired by the ubiquitous Venmo ads on the NYC Subway, comedian and former yeshiva student Eitan Levine came up with these:

lucas likes tefillin

Lucas’s take on Genesis:

lucas venmo snake

 

Lucas prefers mehitzah minyans where women participate within the scope of halakhah:

Lucas has a partnership minyan

 

Lucas loves Jewish feminist literature, too!

venmo lucas red tentSee more from him on lucasthejewishfeminist tumblr and @Eitanthegoalie.

Lucas could learn more about women wearing tefillin and partnership minyanim.

Don’t know the Feminist Ryan Gosling? Give yourself some cultural education and a few good laughs.

And of course, we couldn’t help ourselves:

venmo lucas JOFA membership

Posted on January 30, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

New, Beautiful Video! Moving Highlights of the JOFA Conference

This week’s JOFA Conference, with 1000 participants from 125 cities in seven countries, over 50 sessions on topics as diverse as mikveh, money, sexual abuse, education, LGBTQ inclusion, Women of the Wall and more was, as we wrote yesterday, a huge success. The conference, the eighth since 1997, gave participants skills and inspiration for promoting change.

We are delighted to share this great video recap from The Forward.

Do you believe feminism and Orthodoxy are compatible? Share your thoughts below!

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Posted on December 12, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Good Reasons to Institute Civil Marriage in Israel? We’ve Got Thousands.

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!

 

Posted on October 30, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy