Calling All Secret Feminists!

There is a place for every man and woman in feminism. Furthermore, there is a place for every Jewish woman in feminism.

Some Jewish women would have you believe otherwise, but I reckon that’s because they have been brought up in a world where to be a feminist is to be a bra-burning hippie. But it’s not like that any more.

These Jewish women are secret feminists, they don’t know how much they could do for women if only they called a spade a spade: they are strong, they run their own homes, they are spiritual, and they are caring and yet they do these acts under the proviso of “I am not a feminist but.. .” In normalizing their behavior, and perhaps by even calling themselves feminists, these Jewish women will help to dispel the widely misconceived theory that feminism has no place in Orthodox Judaism.

This post is thus a call to arms! Let’s ask our leaders—female and male– to stop using that six-word phrase and to recognize that being a feminist needn’t have negative connotations. Everyone can reclaim the word “feminism” for themselves, as I have done personally.

How can we do this?

The core of the problem, in my opinion, is the feeling that to be feminist means excluding from your life the traditional elements of femininity, particularly within Judaism. People suppose that one cannot bake a challah and be a feminist, or light candles on Shabbat, or even wear a skirt and be a feminist. It is the idea that my rebbetzin (my rabbi’s wife) put to me recently that “the rise of the feminist movement has the danger of marginalizing women who are simply happy to be feminine.”

That danger simply does not exist.

You do not have to attend a partnership minyan to be a feminist, you do not have to know how to read Torah or even want to know how to read from the megillah on Purim. You do not need to be Caitlin Moran or Emmeline Pankhurst, or to wear trousers, or to even be a woman, to call yourself a feminist.

Feminists come in all shapes and sizes and I for one would now call myself a feminine feminist – though the two are certainly not mutually exclusive. I wear dresses sometimes, I paint my nails, I bake cakes, I want to be a wife and mother (eventually), but these traditionally “feminine” things are not more or less important to me than my ambition to be a barrister, my interest in politics, my love of reading, of learning, and of discussion. There’s no need to be afraid of feminism if your brand of feminism is different from someone else’s. Women are strong and empowered in so many different ways, feminism exists to help you share that with the world; JOFA consequently exists to help you share your take on feminism within the Jewish world. Just like any other open-minded idealistic movement there is no, and cannot be, one absolute JOFA doctrine, and everyone is be able to contribute in their own way.

There are so many boundaries which have been broken for women nationally and internationally in the secular arena, yet within Orthodox Judaism those walls are only just starting to fall. I want to learn, and would love for all girls to be taught, how to say Kiddush: not because I am a feminist but because I am Jewish and it is just as important for me to say Kiddush as it is for any other Jewish person. I want to see a Bat Mitzvah program in my synagogue which caters to girls who want to learn about all aspects of being a Jewish woman, girls who are planning to run households alongside full time jobs and who might, dare I say it, want to teach their sons how to bake challah one day.

These Jewish women, learned and practicing; more secular and less; are not just dreams. Many Orthodox Jewish women live this life and are just afraid to call it feminism. If this sounds anything at all like the life you live, or want to lead, as a proud Jewish woman then do not be afraid to call yourself a feminist.

We aspire to behave like the women in our scriptures. We are caring like Ruth and brave like Miriam, we are passionate like Esther and wise like Deborah, but barriers have been put up to prevent us from wanting to be all of these things at once. So let’s call ourselves feminists and behave like the feminists in Jewish history, in our own way. Together we can tear down these walls in memory of the women of our history, in celebration of all the brilliant Jewish women of today, and for the bright and spiritual Jewish women of the future.

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