Jewfem Blog

The Talmud says there are seventy faces to the Torah. I believe there are seventy faces to the person. I will try and share some of my seventy faces here with you. I am a teacher, writer, researcher, activist, educator, thinker, organizer, fundraiser, feminist, parent, spouse, daughter, sister, and friend. Or, if you prefer, I am an Israeli, American, energetic, opinionated, passionate, religious, determined and generally optimistic Jewish woman. It’s not quite seventy, but we’re getting there. I was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1969, went to the Yeshivah of Flatbush for 13 years (ES’83 HS’87), received my BA from Barnard College (BC’91) and a New York State Teaching Certificate in High School Social Studies, and moved to Israel in 1993, married (to Jacob) and with a baby (Avigayil, then four months). I have lived in Israel since then, except for three years spent in Melbourne, Australia where I served as Educational Director for JNF Victoria, among other things. I hold a doctorate in education from Hebrew University, and my dissertation is about the socialization of adolescent religious girls in school. I also hold a Master’s Degree in Jewish Education from Hebrew University. Over the years, I have worked – with or without pay – for a range of different institutions, some of which I helped found, and some of which I am still associated with. These include Mavoi Satum, the organization working on behalf of agunot in Israel, Beth Hatefutsoth, JNF Australia, Israeli Flying Aid, The Modi’in Women’s Council, Kehillat Darchei Noam in Modi’in, The Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies, The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, the Florence Melton Adult Mini School, The Bar Ilan Gender Studies program, the Efrata Teacher Training College for Religious Woman, Hebrew University, Kolech, Young Judea, Shevach High school, TRY Ramah, Hunter College High School, and others. Tanach Chai, “the chug that brings the Tanach to life” is also my baby. I am also working on an empowerment program for religious adolescent girls. I have taught high school, middle school, college students, graduate students and adults in New York, Melbourne and Israel. Subjects I have taught include Judaism, Tanach, American History, Gender and Education, Gender in Judaism, Women in the Bible, Bible and Jewish Identity, the Status of Women in Israel, Education and Community, Qualitative Research Methods, and academic writing. Actually, I also spend a lot of my time writing. My work has been published in the Jerusalem Report, the Jerusalem Post, the Australian Jewish News, Lilith, the Forward, Jewish Educational Leadership, and a bunch of academic journals. There are also half a dozen books out there in which I have a chapter. One day, I hope to have a book (or two) of my own out there as well…. I’m also completing a fascinating research project about the gender identities of Orthodox men. The Hadassah Brandeis Institute and the Van Leer Institute have generously supported this work, which I hope to finish writing soon. I live in Modi’in with my spouse, Jacob, and...

On the occasion of his 57th wedding anniversary, Moshe Shalvi did something a bit unusual: He produced a mammoth digital encyclopedia as a testament to his wife’s work. JOINT PROJECT: On the occasion of his 57th wedding anniversary, Moshe Shalvi produced a mammoth digital encyclopedia of Jewish women, as a testament to his wife, Israel Prize laureate Alice Shalvi. There are another 1,600-odd remarkable Jewish women who appear in the encyclopedia, but the project is in some significant ways mainly about Alice Shalvi. An Israel Prize laureate — scholar, feminist activist and social entrepreneur par excellence — Alice Shalvi has been instrumental in creating not one but four major institutions that have defined Israeli life and thinking about social issues, three of which have been critical in shaping the status of women in Israel. A professor of English by profession, she established the English department at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev in the late 1960s; from 1975 to 1990, she headed the then newly formed Pelech School for Girls, the first Orthodox feminist high school in Israel; in the 1980s, she became the founding chairwoman of the Israel Women’s Network, which was influential in promoting a spate of women-related legislation, including the formation of a Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, and in the 1990s she founded the International Coalition for Agunah Rights. Shalvi, 81, also served as the rector of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, has been active in Palestinian-Jewish women’s peace groups, and has appeared frequently on television and radio programs in Israel and around the world. For all this work, Shalvi was awarded the 2007 Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement, the country’s highest honor. Given all this, perhaps only a work of sweeping authority could serve as a testament to Shalvi. Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia was edited by Paula Hyman, the Lucy Moses Professor of Jewish history at Yale University and Dalia Ofer, academic head of Hebrew University’s Avraham Hartman Institute of Contemporary Jewry. The women presented in the encyclopedia are almost all inspiring, sometimes larger than life and at other times shocking in their invisibility. Entries include those on Nobel Prize winners Nadine Gordimer and Rita Levi-Montalcini, astronaut Judith Resnik and political leaders such as Bella Abzug — all of which appear alongside biographies of virtually unknown yet no less remarkable figures, such as 16th-century philanthropist Benvenida Abrabanel, American Revolution patriot Abigail Minis, 19th-century human rights activist Ernestine Rose and 16th-century Italian cantor and poet Devora Ascarelli. Upon the release of the CD — and a day after the Shavlis’ wedding anniversary — Elana Maryles Sztokman, a lecturer at The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and at the Efrata Teacher Training College in Jerusalem, met Alice and Moshe Shalvi in their home in Beit Hakerem, Jerusalem, where they talked about the Israel Prize, the new encyclopedia, women and marriage. Elana Maryles Sztokman: *The Encyclopedia of Jewish Women, which, if printed, would take up six large volumes, has 2,000 entries, including more than 1,600...

Fundamentalist Muslim women and fundamentalist Jewish women have a lot in common. Both groups live under the forced rules of ancient, male-controlled religious legal systems that place extreme emphasis on women’s body cover as the supreme symbol of righteousness and community purity. In conversations I have had with Muslim feminists over the years, the similarities between their work and the work of Orthodox feminists have been astounding. “I’m the first woman in my family to stop covering my hair,” one Muslim feminist told me, with unmistakable echoes of religious Jewish women discovering personal empowerment. The parallel issues between Jewish and Muslim women found a startling expression this week, as a haredi woman wearing excessive body cover was shot by Israeli police who assumed her to be an Arab terrorist. She was dressed in all black robes, and in addition to covering her hair with a black scarf, she also covered her face, with what looked like a Muslim burqa. The 43-year-old Jerusalem native was riding a bus in Kfar Saba on her way to the ultra-Orthodox community of Tel Mond, and apparently believed that her outfit was either necessary or appropriate for such a visit. Some people call this “modesty,” but that word, I believe, is a misnomer. Police asked the woman to stop, but she ran, so they shot her and detained her. She was not hurt and was laterreleased from custody. Read more

When my fifteen-year old daughter, Avigayil, came home with detention for skipping morning prayer, I was devastated. It wasn’t just that in her pluralistic community school, where there are supposedly choices for everyone, I did not think detention for missing prayer was a possibility. It was not just that the angry note from the principal came without warning, without even a prior phone conversation to discuss my daughter’s spirituality or attendance record. What shocked me most was the newfound knowledge that Avigayil had no interest in prayer at school. If the people of our synagogue got wind of this, I thought, they would undoubtedly say, the principal must have the wrong kid.

Whenever I see “Clinton” in a newspaper headline, I have to read down a bit to see if the story is about Bill or Hillary. Now that’s novel. The fact that the news is actually more likely to be about her than about him is even more unusual. In a county that has never had a woman president, vice president, or chief of staff, the fact that Hillary Clinton is the first woman running for president, whether or not she even wins, is already history in the making.>

As I watched the incredible courage and grace of “Aleph”, the rape accuser of former president Moshe Katzav, at her press conference, one of the questions that kept flying through my mind was, Is this whole affair good or bad for women? Last week in Israel was a zinger for women. The appeal of Katzav’s plea bargain was alternating in the media with excerpts of the women’s stories. Meanwhile, Haim Ramon, the first convicted sex offender to be brought into the government was appointed vice premier – the same job that Ehud Olmert took shortly before then PM Ariel Sharon went into a coma, a position like that of US Vice  President that seems powerless until something unexpected happens, like sudden death or a stroke. I’m torn between an intense desire to see Olmert go home for his corruption and incompetence, and a newfound terror that if he steps down, we will have a convicted sex offender for Prime Minister.

June, the month inundated with lovely transitional moments, can be a parent’s nightmare. As a mother of four, my diary this time of year is packed with end-of-year performances, parties, graduations and all forms of celebrations. While once such events were saved for major milestones like diploma graduations and weddings, now I am expected to show up at all minor events as well, from gymnastics shows to fourth grade art displays – and even a painful but fun mothers versus daughters end-of-year basketball match. (The fourteen-year olds beat us easily, and my knees are still protesting.)

What does women’s menstruation have to do with disengagement?

Everything, it would seem from recent arguments within religious Zionism.

This is not surprising, of course. As usual, religious nationalist power struggles take place over the female body.

[Significantly, I submitted this essay to the AJN and was ignored. It’s probably in their slush pile, along with I would bet most of their submissions by women]

The greatest myth in the Jewish world is that there is such a thing as "the way things have always been".

Over the past few weeks, the communal debate around Melbourne's new minyan, Shira Hadasha – which, significantly, in the Jewish News, has thus far been a male-dominated debate about women's roles – has offered glimpses into the multiple ways that this fallacious assumption creates erroneous if not absurd dialectics.

I've decided to subscribe to Post-Adulthood. Being an adult is overrated, and frankly, I'm over it. I've had enough of all the trauma of working and paying bills and shuttling little ones around. I'd like to usher in an entire new era of Post-Adulthood-ism, where society no longer promotes this utterly oppressive, ridiculously demanding, and overly complex philosophy around becoming an adult. I think we should just scrap the whole thing.