A Controversial Clarification

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helynsteppaApparently I’m right-wing now. Conservative, closed-minded, and a traditionalist. This is all very new to me given my highly liberal politics, feminist identification, reverence for human rights and idealism. You may be wondering what changed. Well, nothing really. You see, as I understand it, there’s a new movement forming between Conservative and Modern Orthodox Judaism.  This is evidenced through the rise of partnership minyanim, the Maharat movement and the very existence of organizations like JOFA, Mechon Hadar, Drisha, Women of the Wall, etc. However, there is a vital distinction that very few people are making: the difference between Orthodox feminism and halakhic egalitarianism.

The best way I can describe this difference is that Orthodox feminists see partnership minyanim as a good solution to women’s ritual exclusion, rather than a stepping-stone to full egalitarianism.  Orthodox feminists might not wear tefillin themselves, but they support the right of all women to wear it if they choose. Now pause. You may be offended, outraged, hurt or confused.

Here’s the thing: I will never believe that I am obligated to wear
tefillin
, or attend morning
minyan
, or wear
tzitzit
. However, I do want people to admit that women are still permitted to do these things and to make space for those who wish to do so. I will never try to eradicate all gendered aspects of Judaism. I simply want people of all gender identities to be recognized and respected in our history and communities. I will not stop identifying as Orthodox, rather I will balance my desire for inclusion and respect with my adherence and loyalty to tradition.

shutterstock_145952546 (1)

I have had the privilege of basically never encountering explicit anti-women, misogynist religious Jews (though I have encountered many harmful implicit messages and offensive statements). Frum (traditionally observant) life has always seemed positive and rich to me; something of which I wanted to be a part.  Perhaps that is why I am far less bitter or hurt than some of my sisters. While these women need to be heard, respected, and involved, I do not think that their pain should be the primary focus of Orthodox feminism.

Posted on July 9, 2014

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