Jewfem Blog

Dr Judith Rosenbaum brings excitement about Jewish women’s historical achievements to HUC

  “This is the first time I have ever received a fellowship named for a woman,” Dr. Judith Rosenbaum reflected as she opened her first talk as the Sally Priesand Fellow at Hebrew Union College this week. Dr. Rosenbaum, who is the Executive Director of the Jewish Women’s Archive as well as a decorated and accomplished Jewish feminist historian, came to HUC to teach about Jewish women, feminism, and her mother. Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the death of her mother, Professor Paula Hyman, a pioneering Jewish feminist who broke many glass ceilings. Dr. Rosenbaum will be speaking on Shabbat about feminism, Judaism, and her mother’s legacy at the HUC synagogue in Jerusalem. And she brought along her 10-year-old daughter, Ma’ayan with her, making the celebration of Jewish girls and women a truly intergenerational project. “It is incredible to stand under Rabbi Sally Priesand’s banner,” Dr Rosenbaum told the HUC rabbinical students. “It means that Jewish feminism has really come into its next cycle, the next generation.” Rabbi Priesand was the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi in America – in 1972, as part of the Reform movement. For many years everyone thought that she was the first woman ever to be ordained. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, when records and archives opened up, the world learned about Rabbi Regina Jonas, a Jewish woman who was ordained in 1935 Germany. She served rabbinical duties even in Theresienstadt, and she was tragically murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz in 1944. “The people who knew Regina Jonas’ story did not share it with the world,” Dr. Rosenbaum remarked. “We don’t know why. Her story was almost lost to us.” Scholars discovered a small box that Rabbi Jonas has kept safe, which included many of her writings and sermons, Dr Rosenbaum explained. It was a treasure, without which we may have never truly known about her remarkable achievements.   HUC Dean Rabbi Naamah Kelman, who broke a lot of glass ceilings herself –  including becoming the first woman to be ordained as rabbi in Israel – provided more vibrant context about Dr. Rosenbaum’s visit. “Your mother was my mentor,” Rabbi Kelman said about Professor Hyman, who was the first woman dean of the Seminary College of Jewish Studies, first to chair a Judaic Studies department at a major university, possibly the first woman to hold a chair in Judaic Studies, and one of the founders of Ezrat Nashim, one of the first Jewish feminist organizations, in 1971. Then 1973 marked the first ever gathering of some 500 women sponsored by Network, a Jewish Students organization. It was called The Jewish Women’s Conference. "I like to describe it as the Big Bang of Jewish feminism," Rabbi Kelman said. “I was the youngest one there, all of 18 years old. That is where I met some of the most amazing women who become my friends and mentors over the years, like your mother,” she said to Dr. Rosenbaum.   Dr. Rosenbaum’s...

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JWA launches a new website

I'm a huge fan of the Jewish Women's Archive, especially their new Executive Director, Dr. Judith Rosenbaum. Today, JWA announced the launch of their new website, which is really exciting because this site is one of the most important resources out there for Jewish feminism. I especially love their Jewish Women's Encyclopedia, which was the brainchild of the late Moshe Shalvi z"l and Professor Alice Shalvi.  Here is the official JWA announcement:   The Jewish Women's Archives announces and welcomes you to the new The Jewish Women's Archive invites you to discover the all-new, just relaunched with a bold look and new navigation for easier browsing—and full of extraordinary stories. JWA provides the most extensive collection of materials about and stories of Jewish women, both celebrated and unheralded. You can read about the stories and struggles of the Jewish women who have shaped the American story, honor and learn from their lives, and ignite your own capacity to change the world. JWA offers knowledge, inspiration, role models, connection, community, and a treasure trove of resources, including classroom tools for educators, trustworthy information for researchers, and extensive collections and profiles for all. The website and its lively blog, Jewesses with Attitude, already serve 1.2 million visitors each year. “Eighteen years ago, the Jewish Women's Archive launched with a radical idea: to give Jewish women their rightful place in history and make their stories and achievements accessible to anyone,” said Founding Director Gail Reimer. “Now, the new enables you to access that material on any desktop or mobile device and navigate through it more smoothly than ever. I encourage you to visit and to share with your daughters, mothers, friends, students and colleagues. Please join JWA as we continue to share stories and inspire change.”

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A vision of Orthodox feminism

The Jewish Women's Archives published a three-part series in which Susan Reimer-Torn interviews Elana Sztokman about her vision for religious feminism. Here are a few excerpts: Much of the halakha regarding women legitimizes exclusion. So if a form of exclusion is halakhic, is it ipso facto legitimate? Elana Sztokman: There is a lot more room for women’s inclusion within halakhah than is currently practiced in many places. For example, issues such as women serving on synagogue boards, women teaching the congregation, women giving sermons, even women making announcements—these are practices that really have few if any halakhic obstacles and yet are not practiced widely enough in Orthodox life. We have a long way to go in order to maximize women’s inclusion in areas where there is no real halakhic issue before even getting to that question of areas where there may be more debate. Some of JOFA’s early financing came from progressive Jewish groups and some non-Orthodox women. Why do you think they were persuaded to contribute? How important is this alliance? Elana Sztokman: The alliance between Jewish feminists from different denominations is so important. It’s vital for us all to recognize that we’re on the same journey of working to build a Jewish life that is both loyal to our traditions and committed to values of inclusion, compassion, justice and equality. We may end up in different places and with different solutions—one prays with a partition and one doesn’t; one has women rabbis and one has women as Maharats—but those differences are much less significant than our shared values. We need to support one another in our struggles, because our real strength comes from this kind of collegiality and collaboration. SRT: Do you believe in hard-wired gender differences? ES: The discourse of gender differences is very problematic, and that’s why we have to be really careful when we talk about a woman’s “way.” The second we start talking about a “women’s way,” we run a risk of falling into old patterns and traps of seeing women as “less,” as “softer,” as less capable of dealing with pressure, as less assertive, as less logical, or whatever. When we start to couch this in language of brain differences, we are basically turning sexist attitudes into some kind of pseudo-scientific data. I highly recommend Cordelia Fine’s book, Delusions of Gender. She is a neuroscientist and psychologist and does an expert job of debunking the pseudo-science of gendered brain differences. So again, I want to reiterate that when we talk about women’s contributions to transforming society, it’s based on culture, not biology. If men are typically acculturated into a kind of sterile individualism, women are acculturated into relationships, caring, and other-centeredness. Both of these personas are part of the human spirit, and all human beings need access to both characteristics, that is, individualism and connectivity. So the point is that bringing a “women’s culture” into Jewish life is not about “femininity” as an essence but rather about restoring cultural balance to a world that...

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