American Jewish Feminism: Beginnings

Contemporary Jewish feminism has made its impact on all of the major denominations of Jewish life.

Print this page Print this page

Amy Eilberg, who had completed most of the requirements for ordination as a student in the seminary's graduate school, became the first female Conservative rabbi in 1985. Women were welcomed into the Conservative cantorate in 1987.

Orthodox Feminism

Although the Conservative Movement was the center of Jewish feminist activism in the 1970s and 1980s, Jewish feminism has always been diverse in its constituency and its concerns. The case for Orthodox feminism was made most eloquently by Blu Greenberg in her 1981 book On Being a Jewish Feminist. Small groups of courageous Orthodox women established women’s tefilah (prayer) groups that respected all the halakhic constraints on women’s public prayers, and persisted in their activity in the face of rabbinic opposition.

Despite the fact that most Orthodox spokesmen deny feminist claims of the secondary status of women within traditional Judaism and disavow feminist influence, Jewish feminism has had an impact on American Orthodoxy, however unacknowledged. Girls are now provided with a more comprehensive Jewish education in Orthodox schools than was ever the case in the past. In altered forms that conform to Jewish law, feminist rituals such as celebrations of the birth of a daughter and bat mitzvah rites have found their place within modern Orthodox communities. And Orthodox leaders have felt strained to issue apologetic defenses of the "separate but equal" status of women in Judaism.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Dr. Paula Hyman

Dr. Paula Hyman is Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History at Yale University. Among her published works are Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History (University of Washington Press)and The Jews of Modern France (University of California Press).