American Jewish Feminism: Beginnings
Contemporary Jewish feminism has made its impact on all of the major denominations of Jewish life.
New Feminist Rituals Proved Popular
Through their publications and speaking engagements, Jewish feminists gained support. Their innovations‑-such as baby‑naming ceremonies, feminist Passover seders, and ritual celebrations of Rosh Hodesh [the new month, traditionally deemed a women's holiday] were introduced into communal settings, whether through informal gatherings in a home or in the synagogue. In a snowball process, participants in the celebration of new rituals spread them through word of mouth.
Aimed at the community rather than the individual, new feminist celebrations designed to enhance women's religious roles were legitimated in settings that became egalitarian through the repeated performance of these new rituals. Indeed, one of the major accomplishments of Jewish feminism was the creation of communities that modeled egalitarianism for children and youth.
The concept of egalitarianism resonated with American Jews, who recognized that their own acceptance as citizens was rooted in Enlightenment views of the fundamental equality of all human beings. With growing acceptance of women in all the professions, the Reform Movement, which rejected the authority of halakhah [Jewish law], acted on earlier resolutions that had found no obstacles to women serving as rabbis. Hebrew Union College, the seminary of the Reform Movement, ordained the first female rabbi in America, Sally Priesand, in 1972, and graduated its first female cantor in 1975.
The Reconstructionist Movement followed suit, ordaining Sandy Eisenberg Sasso as rabbi in 1974. Although the issue of women's ordination was fraught with conflict for the Conservative Movement, it, too, responded to some feminist demands. In 1973, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly ruled that women could be counted in a minyan as long as the local rabbi consented. And the 1955 minority decision on aliyot for women [permitting them to be called up to recite blessings over the Torah reading] was widely disseminated, leading to a rapid increase in the number of congregations willing to call women to the Torah […]
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.