Jewfem Blog

The running joke in Dr. Shlomi Ravid’s family is that he is a chicken farmer who became a Jewish professional. Put differently, the socialist-Zionist (“sabre”) revolution and ethos has gone a full circle. Ravid, the 55 year-old soft-spoken, blue-eyed, grey-bearded, mildmannered founding director of the School for Jewish Peoplehood Studies at Beth Hatefutsoth does not possess a demeanor of a man out to change the world. And yet, in his inimitable gentle and caring way, Ravid is doing just that – inspiring virtually everyone he meets and works with to transform Jewish life. In fact, it is perhaps his very kindness that lies at the heart of his vision.

Over the past two days, I have had fascinating conversations with women in different cities, countries, and communities about the issue of women's participation in synagogue life, especially around the holiday of Simchat Torah. Better to be separate or in synagogue? Better to stand and watch or stay home and read a book? Did you dance with a Torah? Did you read from the Torah? How do these experiences make you feel? What do you think the future holds for women in Orthodoxy? Where do you think Orthodox feminism should be striving for? I would love to publish your impressions. So, women, I encourage you to write about itand I'll post on the blog. Write! Write! Write! The power is in the pen (or keyboard as it were). Publish a comment, or send in a full length post to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I'd love to hear!!! With wishes for a wonderful year, Elana

Another dire portrait of how the status of women continues to regress in the year 2008: Rabbi Shai Piron,hailed as one of the most liberal Orthodox rabbis in Israel, published a ruling in today's Ynet , that women are not allowed to dance with the Torah. The arguments are tenuous at best, and reveal the depth of anti-women sentiment and the rhetorical tools for keeping women down -- even in the most supposedly liberal corners of Orthodoxy.

Many years ago, I spent a Shabbat in Ramat Gan with my husband and two-year old child. On Saturday night, we had to take a bus home, which had come from the direction of Bnei Brak. When the bus finally arrived, I stepped onto the bus with my sleeping toddler on my shoulder. The bus was packed, and from my standpoint, all I saw were black hats and coats. I began to carefully walk down the aisle looking for a seat, and the men sitting stared back at me and did not move. One man began to get up for me but the man sitting next to him pulled his arm and shook his head, as if to say, I forbid you from getting up for this woman. Only in the back, where there were three or four rows of women, did a passenger get up and let me sit so as not to risk my childgetting thrown if the bus were to brake short. My child’s life was not considered important in the face of the real risk: that a man may have to sit near a woman. I have thought about this story many times recently, as the removal of women from public spaces in the haredi world has been given legal status through such things as Egged regulations and so forth. Stories of women getting beaten up for staying seated in the “men’s” section of buses and other places – some of which are now making their way through the judicial system – are of course reminiscent of the American antebellum south and Rosa Parks. This is not separation of the sexes but the elimination of women from public life. It is an entire attempt to pretend that women do not exist, or at least tocreate an artificial world in which women can be silent and invisible. The latest example of the elimination of women was this week at the Simchat Beit Hashoeva in Meah Shearim. As Ynet reported (hat tip: Joel Katz Religion and State in Israel):

Incidents of violence against women perpetrated in the name of Orthodoxy have been on the rise in both quantity and severity. A woman was recently beaten up in her home by supposedly "ultra-Orthodox" Jewish men claiming to be acting for the sake of God. These stories remind me of the Crucible, the insane witch hunts that plagued women for centuries. How far have we regressed... Here is the story from Ynet: In Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where the rule of law sometimes takes a back seat to the rule of God, zealots are on a campaign to stamp out behavior they consider unchaste. They hurl stones at women for such "sins" as wearing a red blouse, and attack stores selling devices that can access the internet. Hat Tip: Joel Katz Religion and State in Israel

Which comes first, community custom or the dignity of God’s creatures? That is the essence of the question about women having a public voice in synagogue, including reading from the Torah. The view that women’s dignity is paramount may seem like common sense, but that argument is somehow considered radical. Such is the experience of Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber, whose essay on the subject of Women and Torah Reading published this week on YNet and Kolech has incurred a disproportionate amount of hostility and ridiculous accusations that he is heretical, “Reform” (good heavens!) or a threat to the future of the Jewish people.

It’s astounding what smart women have to put up with. Professor Nechama Leibowitz – leading Bible scholar, 1951 Israeli Prize laureate, revered teacher of thousands around the world including rabbis, writers and professors, a woman who is considered an institution for her brilliance in Biblical interpretation and who made history for being the only woman allowed to teach Orthodox men Torah – was scolded by her mother for not wearing lipstick. “Who is going to want to marry you if you dress like that?” her mother would tell her. This story, along with many never-before published anecdotes about Nechama Leibowitz, is revealed in a new biography being released by Yediot Aharonot Publishers.

I must admit, I find Yom Kippur extremely difficult. Not because of the issue of asking forgiveness – as a woman, that’s the easy part. Women apologize all the time. We apologize for speaking to much, for speaking too loud, for not being helpful enough, for not going out of our way enough, for not being cheery enough, for not serving enough food or for not working hard enough. We apologize when we are angry, when we are upset, and when we see someone else is upset – after all, we assume it’s all somehow our fault. No, apologizing is not the problem. Forgiving is the hard part.

Even though the hot topic right now is clearly the economy, I would like to draw your attention towards some other notable events underway this week: Jewish Social Action Month, Tav Hevrati, and Bullying Prevention Week. Inspiring us to stand up and do something!

In the 15+ years that I've been a parent, I have probably been to over 100 parent meetings of different types. Since we've lived in four cities in three countries during that time, and since our four kids have switched frameworks a few times before finding the right match, I would say I have probably experienced close to 30 different schools and preschools as a parent. And from my informal observations, the one thing that is consistent across communities and continents is this: both teachers and parents at these meetings are predominantly women. Prof. Amos Rolider, an amazing educational researcher whose work I have citedelsewhere on the issue of school violence, recently conducted a fascinating study that confirms my observations. He claims that 95% of school events that require parents are handled by mothers. This is significant not merely because of the classic double shift that it places on women -- that women are doing a disproportionate share of childcare duties -- but also because of the implications for fatherhood. Kids need their fathers, Rolider argues with a passion for the common sense. Kids need active fathers, and fathers need to be around for their kids.