Jewfem Blog

Disabilities as a Jewish feminist issue: Introducing our new online course

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of a brand new online course called “Embodied” on the topic of disabilities from a Jewish feminist perspective. The course is the brainchild of the brilliant feminist thinker, rabbinical student and disabilities advocate Ruti Regan, who not only proposed this course to me but also opened up a world of enlightening insights, and a visionary perspective on what it means to be a Jewish feminist. The topic of disabilities is not one that we hear frequently discussed in Jewish feminist conversations and settings. And as Ruti taught me, that is unfortunate. If we are going to take seriously the feminist agenda, there are several compelling reasons why the issue of disabilities should be on our radar: Feminism is about inclusion. It is about reaching out to the margins of society, to those rendered invisible or incorrect, and creating spaces to ensure their visibility. This idea, often described in language of “intersectionality” – that is, our multiple identities that render us marginalized – is one of the primary lessons from being a woman in society. It is about realizing that despite mainstream society’s  frustrating insistence that only certain types of people count, that the world is much more diverse. Our experiences of trying to empower women as seen and counted should give us the wisdom to ask who else needs reaching out to.Feminism is about bodies. There is an interesting and important overlap between social constructs of body in the feminist community and in the disabilities community. So much of our work as feminist – especially Jewish feminists – is about challenging notions of whose body is considered “normal” or “correct” or “normative”. Women’s bodies – in Judaism and beyond – are marked, measured, gazed upon, judged, controlled and corrected. We are constantly reminded that our bodies are threatening, and need to be covered and concealed. Much of the language about disabilities overlaps with these ideas – whose bodies need to be corrected, concealed and controlled. These issues find expression in some really tragic ways in areas such as sexuality and fertility. They also find expression in the language of life – whose life is worthy, whose life is worth saving, who deserves to live.Feminism is about deconstructing power hierarchies. On the most fundamental level, feminism is about challenging the social structures that create a class of people in power and another class of people who are acted upon. Unpacking these hierarchies is a basic feminist goal. As such, feminism should take a keen interest in allying with the disabilities community, in challenging notions of who has agency and who doesn’t, who has power or voice and who is objectified and spoken on behalf of. I am so grateful to Ruti for opening my eyes to these ideas and more, and for entrusting the Center for Jewish Feminism to facilitate this course. This six week course is structured around panel discussions with leading experts in the field of disabilities studies and Jewish life, including Ora Kalifa,...

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