Feminism Comes in Many Different Forms

“Why don’t you learn to read the megillah,” asked my husband a few months before Purim.

I thought about it for a minute and shook my head.

Thanks to a long-held fear of public speaking and a voice that’s best heard only in the confines of my car, standing up in front of a crowd and reading the megillah isn’t a long-held desire of mine. Nor do I really want to get an aliyah in a women’s tefillah group or partnership minyan. I don’t really want to carry a Torah around the women’s section either.

I say all of this while still proudly identifying myself as an Orthodox feminist. For me, feminism isn’t about leading prayers, saying kiddush, or reading from the Torah. I am content to sit and support others who want to take a starring role.

“Why do you care so much about feminism if you don’t actually want to lead anything?” my husband asked after I dismissed his suggestion.

The question made me reflect on why I care about women being able to participate in ritual; why I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance was starting in the UK; why I always went out of my way to attend women’s megillah readings on Purim and women’s shiurim, classes. And why I felt strongly that women should serve as leaders in at our local synagogue – strongly enough that I ended up joining the board.

To me, Orthodox feminism is about recognizing that everyone – both male and female – feels spiritually fulfilled in different ways. For many women, this means taking a leadership role, giving divrei torah or getting aliyot. For some, it’s about listening to Torah reading or the megillah from the centre of the room and not from behind a partition. For others, it’s learning from the seforim, books, they want, and not from those prescribed for them.

There are so many ways for women to feel involved and included within Orthodoxy. And we need our communities to think of women as equal participants and not observers of the action from the side lines. Women today are too accomplished, too educated, too present to be forgotten.

On a Rosh Hashanah not long ago, our family attended a local synagogue’s overflow service. The minyan was held in a room that didn’t belong to the synagogue, and that was turned into a temporary prayer space. The bima, podium, and cantor were placed in the middle of the men’s side, making it hard for all but the first row in the women’s section to hear Torah reading and the prayers. After the first day of the holiday, I approached the organizer, asking if perhaps the bima could be placed in the middle of the room, next to the mechitza, enabling the women to hear better.

The organizer was polite and open to hearing feedback, although his response wasn’t to my liking.  It’s a great example of how the women weren’t taken into consideration in advance, in this case before the room was set up. Perhaps if the organizers had thought about this then there would have been less reluctance to change the status quo during the holiday.

I know that the next time we choose to join a makeshift minyan, I will get in touch with the organizers before it is set up in order to ask how the room will be organized and to make sure that the women will have the same access to the service as the men.

That is feminism just as much as making kiddush on Shabbat, or leading a prayer group. Orthodox feminism needs more than one type of feminist. What role will you play?

Don’t miss out on the 3rd Annual JOFA UK Conference on June 28. Buy your tickets here.

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