Orthodox Feminism For The 21st Century

A founder of the Orthodox feminist movement discusses issues confronting the movement now and in the future

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Oddly, I feel a measure of comfort in not knowing. Years ago I thought everything had to be equal; that less than equal meant sexism, discrimination, hierarchy, and disability. I now believe that distinctive roles can be compatible with equality and equal dignity, and that not everything in life has to be taken to its logical conclusion. Perhaps Orthodoxy may turn out to be the best testing ground for a theology of distinctive‑but‑equal gender roles. However, to serve as a credible model, Orthodoxy cannot be separate and unequal, neither in reality nor perception. With the exception of the agunah problem, which as an outright abuse and violation of Jewish ethics should have been resolved yesterday, the slow time frame of Orthodox decision making may be advantageous to all society.

The path that this journey-‑the transformation of Orthodoxy by feminism and the modulation of feminism under the impact of eternal Jewish values-‑will take is a function of the interplay between halachists, the lay community, and the sincere petitioning of feminists within Orthodoxy. Judaism has often adapted to innovations based on the dynamic interchange between individual needs and community sensibilities, between the questions and the answers in the halachic literature, between new societal norms and ancient traditions. The full dignity of women, as images of God, is an external idea that we must integrate into our heritage.

Orthodox feminists can add our voices, our pleas for change without worrying that we are too radical or too reactionary. Even as we press forward with our issues, we feel the reassuring cushion of community and halachah all around us, and we are emboldened to speak the truth, without fear.

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Blu Greenberg

Blu Greenberg is the founding president of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. She was also the Conference Chair of both the first and second International Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy. She is the author of Black Bread: Poems After the Holocaust, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, and On Women and Judaism: A View From Tradition.