Jewfem Blog

Watch a vid-preview of The War on Women in Israel

I was meant to give a 2-minute presentation about my book, The War on Women in Israel, at this week's Jewish Book Council "Meet the Authors" conference. Unfortunately, I had to cancel my trip to NY. Instead, the JBC asked me to create a video, which they would link to on my author page on their website. Here is the video I made. My first ever video-preview. What do you think?       The book is scheduled for release in September. Contact me to receive an advance review copy, or pre-order your copy from Amazon

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"The War on Women in Israel:" Get an advance peak at the JBC blog!

In advance of this week's Jewish Book Council conference, I wrote a series of posts at the JBC blog as their "Visiting Scribe". (Don't you just love the Jewish Book Council...) Two of the posts are sneak-peaks of my upcoming book, The War on Women in Israel, set to be released in Sept (pg), and one is with Dr Chaya Gorsetman about our award-winning book Educating in the Divine Image. Take a look:   7 Places Where Religious Radicalism Threatens Women’s Well-Being in Israel Women being arrested for praying out loud at the Western Wall – it’s a story so shocking that it has managed to make headlines around the world. But the Western Wall is just one piece of a larger picture of religion and gender in Israel today. In fact, the threat to women’s well-being in Israel today, which comes from an increasingly radical religious power structure, finds expression in many areas. On public streets, on buses, in the government, in the army, in the courts, and in hospitals, women’s bodies are the objects of public scrutiny, debate and even violence. Below are seven places where women's bodily well-being has been threatened in Israel because of growing religious radicalism: Read more here   10 Inspiring Ways That Women Are Fighting for Justice in Israel  In my previous post, I described seven frightening trends of religious radicalism in Israel threatening women’s well-being and in some cases women’s lives. Despite this dire report, there have also been some inspiring actions by women’s groups and other social activists fighting for human rights and change in Israel. The most interesting developments are those that come from religious feminist groups, fighting for change from within the religious world. But the work of religious feminism is tremendously bolstered by social activist NGOs working on a variety of fields. Below are 10 examples of inspiring campaigns by Israeli NGOs to reclaim women’s rights in the face of religious threats: Read more here   10 Ways You Can Promote Gender Equality in Your Local School Gender messages are all around us. From images in schoolbooks to images on bus ads, from conversations on the train to those on the big screen, from clothing conventions learned at school or on Fifth Avenue – everywhere we turn, we are subsumed in messages about what it means to be a “correct” or “normal” woman or man. Just this week there has been a heated debate on our Facebook feeds about whether there is room in our society for women to express anger without being dismissed for not being perky enough. Gender is everywhere. In our research, we have been especially interested in how these gender messages get transmitted in Jewish educational institutions. Schools are big parts of our adult lives – as parents, community members, and former students ourselves. And certainly schools are a big part of our children’s lives. Events taking place in school today are likely to impact our culture for years to come For that reason, we...

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Orthodox feminist movements in Israel and the United States: Community struggle versus state struggle

The following is the introduction to a paper I wrote for the Argov Center comparing the Orthodox feminist movements in Israel and the US: The women’s movement arrived at the American Orthodox community long before it arrived among religious women in Israel. Already in the 1970s, American women were gathering for all‐female prayer groups and holding protests outside the homes of agunot (“chained women” – women denied divorce by their recalcitrant husbands), while these issues did not reach Israel until the 1990s. Yet, when feminist consciousness finally reached religious Israeli women, the issues were no less burning, although often in a different order of priorities – or different altogether – than those in the Diaspora. Issues of women’s study and scholarship were more central in Israel than women’s prayer groups, which never fully took off in Israel. Women in Israel also contended with new issues, such as whether religious girls should aspire go to the army or national service, or whether the school system should teach girls gemara or the more watered down “toshba” (“oral law”). Even issues of clear overlap between American and Israeli activists, such as the agunah issue, have found expression in different ways, highlighting the fascinating differences between struggle against Jewish communal authority in the Diaspora versus the struggle against Jewish state authority in Israel. Meanwhile, although agunot in Israel are trapped in some frightening ways due to the state‐rabbinic monopoly on personal status issues in Israel, they also have more tools in their arsenal, such as lobbying, legislation, and the prison system. Today, there is more overlap between the two groups than ever before, with very similar overall agendas. There are also some indications that Israeli religious feminists are headed towards more radical positions on some issues than their American counterparts. The issue of women and the rabbinate actually started in Israel, and developed without much incident, as opposed to the “rabba” drama that ensued later in New York. Also interesting are the recent calls for civil marriage in Israel coming from agunah activists, in alliance with non‐Orthodox groups, which have set the  groundwork for a struggle that has broad impact on all of Israel. Similarly, the recent struggle against the exclusion of women in public spaces in Israel has drawn many Orthodox women into a fight that (perhaps unbeknownst to some of them) is headed towards calling for separation of religion and state, a struggle that can have far‐reaching consequences for Israeli society and the Jewish people at large. An examination of these two movements provides a fascinating glimpse into the dynamics of change within a traditional society, and the struggles faced by women raising feminist consciousness in a patriarchal culture that they call their own. It is also an important story about the Israeli‐Diaspora relationship, about the synergy, overlap and tensions between two vital centers of the Jewish people, in which the issues are similar and in dialogue with one another, but challenges and solutions sometimes find expressions in distinct ways. READ THE ENTIRE...

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Women are Jews, too: My op-ed in Ha'aretz

Reform Jews - Lior Mizrahi/Baubau - May 30, 2012

Criticism of the right of women to pray openly at the Western Wall supports the monopoly of a radical fringe of Orthodoxy that believes that women should not be seen or heard anywhere. By Elana Sztokman | Oct.26, 2012 | 5:42 AM | 3 Reform Jewish women doing a practice run for a bat mitzvah. Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Baubau   When a woman is arrested, shackled, strip-searched, and held in a cell, one might expect to learn that she committed a horrific crime of some sort, like a terrorist attack or breaking into the White House. The fact that Anat Hoffman’s crime for which she received this treatment was singing at the Western Wall has left many people reeling – but apparently not David Landau. In an opinion piece here,  Landau tried to justify the police's attitude, dismissing women’s prayer at the Kotel as a “cynical charade” and nothing more than a “stunt” to make Israel look bad. Landau’s entire essay, which is based on flawed thinking that dismisses women's religious experience and ignores the sentiments of most of American Jewry and of modern Orthodoxy, not only failed to convince, but actually works to justify institutional hostility towards women.   In trying to argue that women’s prayer groups are offensive and should be banned at one of Israel’s holiest sites, Landau likens women’s singing to “a few Armenians encroaching onto one minute of the prayer-time demarcated by ancient accords for the Greek Orthodox,” and adds, “Wars were launched for less.” He might as well have said that women’s singing in prayer is akin to serving pork to the Chief Rabbi. The portrait he tries to paint is one in which the female voice is a mortal enemy of Judaism, that a female presence when “Jews” – read, men – are in prayer is enough to start a war. There are a few things wrong with Landau’s troubling analogies. For one thing, his unfortunate analysis places women completely outside of Judaism, beings whose presence is damaging to Jewish men, who are seen as the normative ones in terms of religious practice. Landau's androcentrism is used to justify the notion that the police apparatus should have the right to do whatever it takes to ensure to protect Jewish men from encroaching, interfering, offensive women. If the sound of women’s voices is experienced as an offense this grave, then women’s very presence becomes the opposite of “authentic” Judaism, a presence that can never be remedied other than making women completely silent and invisible. At the risk of stating the obvious, I would like to note that women are Jews, too. Second, Landau makes the outrageous claim that Orthodoxy is the state’s religion and that everyone in the world just has to accept that. The primary defect in this assertion is that this issue is not about Orthodoxy but about a radical fringe of Orthodoxy that believes that women should not be seen or heard anywhere. Landau would be wise to remember that many Orthodox communities...

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My first article in Slate: No Touching

As Israel’s military becomes more religious, women are having a really hard time showing men how to hold a rifle. A soldier from the 'Karakal' Battalion during training near the Israeli-Egyptian border in 2010 near Azoz, Israel. Female soldiers have made tremendous strides in Israel over the past two decades. According to the IDF, women make up 33 percent of the whole armed forces; female officers with the rank of colonel grew by 100 percent in the past 13 years, from 2 percent of all colonels in 1999 to 4 percent today; and the share of female officers with the rank of lieutenant colonel has grown by 70 percent in the last decade, from 7.3 percent of all lieutenant colonels in 1999 to 12.5 percent today. Perhaps most significantly, in March 2011 the IDF appointed Brig. Gen. Orna Barbivay as the first-ever female major general. Women are still a small minority of officers, but their numbers are rising. This is a significant change, a result due in large part to a landmark court case brought by Alice Miller in 1995 to open up pilot-level courses to women. Although Miller won, it wasn’t until 2000 when the government officially changed the Military Service Law, which now reads: “The right of women to serve in any role in the IDF is equal to the right of men." As a country with mandatory conscription since its founding in 1948—the only country in the world in which women are also subject to this conscription—these advances are significant. Gone are the days when women are relegated to jobs of making coffee and typing men’s memos. Although, according to the IDF, only 93 percent of all roles are open to women—despite the change in law—women are located in far more areas of the Israeli military than ever before.   With progress come problems, and female advancement in the IDF is particularly problematic for religious men. Rabbis have voiced opposition to a female presence in the army since the establishment of the state. Religious women have always been allowed to claim exemption from military duty if they elect to do national service instead, such as volunteering in hospitals and schools. Debates over army versus national service are fixtures in religious girls’ schools, especially in 11th and 12th grade. These debates are not just, or at all, about individual choice or preference—religious girls (and their families) seek out rabbinical opinions for guidance. One of the most popular sites of the religious Zionist public (meaning the religious community that believes in the existence of the state of Israel and traditionally does serve in the army, rather than the ultra-Orthodox who do not believe in the state and do not serve) is full of queries from girls to rabbis about whether they should do the army or national service.   READ MORE

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My Daughter, The Soldier

[crossposted from the Lilith Blog] Photo courtesy of the author, Avigayil Sztokman is third from the right. It was a two-hour drive, mostly through endless desert on all sides, to get to my daughter’s army base. She had been inducted into the Israeli Defense Forces only a month earlier, as part of Israel’s compulsory service, and had just finished basic training. We were on our way to her swearing-in ceremony, and were thus looking for a compound that was not listed on any map and had no road signs indicating its location. We took a wrong turn about five minutes too early, and landed at a different cluster of unmarked army bases heavily guarded by kids in uniform holding big guns. I suppose I should stop calling my 19-year-old daughter and her contemporaries “kids”, since they are now charged with protecting the entire nation from attack. “Look for the row of palm trees on your left,” a soldier on duty directed us nonchalantly, “around seven kilometers down the road.” We miraculously found those palm trees on the first try – I suppose one of many miracles involving the daily function of the IDF – or perhaps due to the fact that in this particular miracle, we were guided by the more obvious and familiar queue of cars in the middle of the desert filled with parents on the way to watch their children become soldiers. There were 120 soldiers being sworn in to the Intelligence Corps that day, two all-women units of forty, and one coed unit. In Intelligence, soldiers are not supposed to reveal too much about what they are doing, so I really have no way of verifying why some groups are single-sex and others are mixed. Perhaps it’s a reflection of a deeper ambivalence about women soldiers – on the one hand equals, but on the other hand, still at times relegated to “women’s” jobs. Or maybe that’s an unfair characterization – despite the fact that there still exists the “women’s corps” in the army, making one wonder what everything else is, and despite the fact that some of the most important jobs in the army, pilot notwithstanding, are still closed to women. Nevertheless, the young women in all units fulfilled the same roles and tasks throughout the ceremony as the men, running and saluting and holding their guns the same way. And even though it was a coed space, the women outnumbered the men. So it was an event of excellent soldiering in which women dominated. Indeed, looking at the rows of soldiers from a distance, there was a sense of equality, not only between men and women, but among everyone. This is in fact one of the great legacies of the IDF. It is a times a wonderful social equalizer, in which kids from all backgrounds train and serve side by side, wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, doing the same 40 push-ups. And it’s an institution in which everyone has the same opportunity...

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Battling Over Women's Bodies in Modi'in

  This Sukkot, there is a religious battle going on in the city of Modi’in, Israel, and as often happens in such battles, it is being fought over women’s bodies. It actually started this past Passover, when the open, mixed city of Modi’in was inundated with visitors from the neighboring ultra-Orthodox town of Modi’in Illit, also known as Kiryat Sefer. The primary attraction for the visitors was Park Anabe, a beautiful expanse that sits 200 meters from my house. While it’s taken 10 years to complete, the park is now filled with playgrounds, grassy knolls, treks, a bike-path, an amphitheater and most importantly, a 14,000 square liter lake with fountains, fish and a variety of boating. Park Anabe is a central part of Modi’in life — members of my family visit regularly — and contributes significantly to the sense of quiet tranquility that characterizes Modi’in. Since the lake opened in 2010, that tranquility has been interrupted each Passover and Sukkot when thousands of haredi visitors flock to Modi’in to use the park, which offers wholesome entertainment, can accommodate large groups of people, and is mostly free (only the boating and ice creams cost money). But the masses of haredi visitors, who bring with them a culture that is anything but sanguine, often make it difficult for Modi’in residents who are not haredi to find a patch of grass to sit on. For the most part, Modi’in residents have expressed a mixture of annoyance and understanding about the situation. They’re irritated at what feels like a major cultural disruption but happy that they are living in an open city in a democratic country. That the park is free and that it is such a great attraction is nice. Lucky us. But the holidays end up feeling like a massive invasion. For those weeks when we cannot use our own park, is this just a small price to pay for quality of life? Such were the general sentiments until last Passover, when haredi visitors started to make demands of the women on Modi’in. Suddenly, things began to change. First, a woman who was performing in the park was asked to leave the stage by haredi audience members — a request to which she unfortunately acquiesced, setting a bad precedent. Then, a well-known local reporter went to the park dressed in her usual clothing (jeans and a tank-top), and was made to feel uncomfortable by other park-users. She then wrote about the experience in the local newspaper. Calls to charge entry or close the park to non-residents were posted on blogs and Facebook, but Modi’in mayor Haim Bibas did not heed the calls. At least, not at first. This anxious détente came to a head a few weeks ago, when the mayor of Modi’in Illit, Yaakov Gutterman, announced that from now on the archaeological sites in Modi’in Illit would be closed to non-haredi visitors. Why? He said that it was because of the way non-haredi women dressed. In other words, Gutterman did not want...

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The battle against gender segregation in Israel -- Michele Chabin in The Jewish Week

Women, Religious Freedom Groups Stake Victories  New Jerusalem bus ads featuring women read, "It's Nice to Know You: Jerusalem is a Town for Us All." Grass-roots campaign in Jerusalem reverses some haredi-imposed gender segregation and discrimination. Tuesday, August 14, 2012Michele ChabinIsrael Correspondent Jerusalem — Passing through Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station a few months ago, Rachel Jaskow decided to stop at the station’s synagogue and pray Mincha. Making her way to the very end of the departure level, Jaskow, a Modern Orthodox Jerusalemite, found the synagogue but only men praying there. Then she noticed a tiny room — separate from the shul and the size of a walk-in closet — designated as the women’s section.  When Jaskow, who is active in the Israeli women’s movement, entered the room, she was “absolutely appalled” by its condition,” she told The Jewish Week. “There was trash; it was dingy, dirty, and there were three huge boxes crammed with old religious newsletters. I was angry and called the rabbi and said, ‘Is this the women’s section or a garbage dump? How can anyone pray here?’” Although it took the rabbi a bit of time to fulfill his promise to make the room usable, today it’s no longer a storage room.  Though the tiny space is still completely detached from the minyan next door, it’s cleaner and the boxes are gone. The shul’s ultra-Orthodox rabbi has been making an effort, Jaskow said, and that’s a step in the right direction. While no one who knows Jerusalem intimately would call it a tolerant or pluralistic city, there has been some significant progress during the past year, according to community activists.  .....   Feminist activist Elana Sztokman, interim executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, observed that the momentum for change “is coming from a lot of different directions,” and that seems to have made the movement particularly effective. “It’s not so much more activist as it is more strategically activist,” Sztokman said. The result: “The governmental bodies seem to be paying attention and so have some companies that have changed their ads in response to pressure.” But at the same time, Sztokman said, “within the haredi community, there is also a backlash in the opposite direction. A kind of digging in the heels. The more public the movement becomes, the more signs seem to be going up. Backlash. So it seems to me like there are two simultaneous trends in opposite directions.” READ MORE HERE

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Why Hebrew needs some gender-neutral language

Ido Plazental, a history and civics teacher at Ziv High School in Jerusalem, has an innovative way of raising gender awareness among his students: He addresses them all as female. Native English speakers who are not familiar with Hebrew may miss the inventiveness of this form of speech. In Hebrew, as in many European languages, there is no such thing as a gender-neutral way of speaking. In Hebrew, you can’t say, “I’m playing with my friend” without revealing whether your friend is male (haver) or female (havera). All objects, people, pronouns and verbs must be in either male or female. This means that in order to address a group of people, “you” has to be either the male “atem,” or the female “aten,” which generally leaves one part of the group excluded. Although some people play with the generally awkward he/she combinations, the predominant custom among most Hebrew speakers is to use the male form to address mixed groups. And while we may like to believe that when Israelis use the all-male form, they really mean to address men and women, in practice that is not always the case. Many radio announcements will use female verbs to let you know that they are specifically addressing women. This is especially pronounced in the road safety advertisements. The Transport Ministry actually has different texts aimed at getting women’s attention versus getting men’s attention. I would like to offer some kind of intelligent analysis of the two versions, but I am so irritated by the fact that the only time people remember the women is when they want to suggest that we are are bad drivers, that I can barely even listen to the spot. Claims that the male is by default just gender-neutral are dubious at best. This is just another example of women made invisible to make life more convenient for men Read more:

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On Segregated Buses, a Choice that Isn't

Dr. Hanna Kehat’s mother did not ride her local bus for three years. The 78-year-old lifelong resident of the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood Mea Shearim lost her bus because Haredi extremists would stone the bus every time it rode down her street. So Egged simply stopped the route, forcing her and many of her car-less neighbors to walk distances to find a different bus. “Women in her community are being completely neglected – they are at the mercy of the sikrikim,” Kehat told The Sisterhood, referring to one of Israel’s the most extreme ultra-Orthodox sects. Today, however, the bus has returned to its route, thanks to one change: Police intervention. The question about what role the government plays in protecting Israeli citizens from Haredi violence came to the fore last week, when the Interministerial Committee to Prevent the Exclusion of Women, headed by Minister of Sport and Culture Limor Livnat, released its findings. Among the most controversial conclusions of its three-month long investigation is the committee’s recommendation to support a 2011 High Court ruling that deems gender segregation on public transport a matter of “choice.” Although the committee also recommended a hotline for complaints, writing clear guidelines for bus drivers and putting immovable signs on buses reminding passengers that they have the right to sit wherever they want, many anticipated that the committee would find a way to declare segregation in buses illegal. Kehat, the founder of the Orthodox women’s group Kolech points out that the issue of Haredi women’s choice remains dubious. “Kolech receives all the complaints of Haredi women who cannot complain in public,” she said that women who speak out risk being ostracized from their communities. “To talk about the community choosing means the men are choosing,” Kehat said, who said she was saddened that Livnat adopted this language. Read more:

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