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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Meet Naomi Pelled, third generation Jewish feminist

The following is a guest blog post by Naomi Pelled, the new Technical Director of "A Jewish Feminist", and a self-described third-generation Jewish feminist.  When I was asked to work with Elana on the tech side running and recording a Telecourse series on Jewish Feminism, I was delighted.  I thought how fascinating it would be, a series on issues affecting Jewish Women from every walk of life, and where I could listen and learn from some world renowned Jewish Women, who have expertise in many pressing women's issues.  I had always considered myself a feminist, following in the footsteps of my mother and her mother before her, but I wasn't an ‘active feminist'. When we met, Elana gave me a copy of her book, 'The War on Women In Israel'. I thought to myself, what a great new Shabbat reading book, but feared that it would irritate my Israeli husband, who is so closed when it comes to Feminism.  This is not because he is anti-women's rights, but because he grew up in the Israeli religious school system and is very naive about these issues. I started reading the book on Shabbat and realised that there are so many news items in Israel, that I take for granted, which I should actually be questioning and not just accepting.  I was so proud as a religious Jewish women, that I have my own mind and do not vote according to what my husband says, but was struck by the number of religious women, whose political affiliations are controlled by their husbands, to the detriments of their human and women's rights. I always believed in woman's rights and equality between men and women. Before making Aliyah, I worked for corporations in HR.  One aspect of my role was to enforce HR governance, working to ensure men and women were paid fairly and equitably to one another. I grew up in the UK, the youngest of three children, and the only daughter.  My mother separated from my father when I was two and a half years old.  My mother never remarried and says her life is far less complicated without a man.  My father, on the other hand, remarried within eighteen months. My mother demonstrated that she was self-sufficient and an emotionally intelligent woman who could hold down a full time job, be a single mother, look after her children and do all home duties, to a high standard.  She was a great role model.  She taught us all that she, as a woman, could be a successful teacher and sensitive mother.  My elder brother, helped around the house with vacuuming, cooking and clearing away and babysitting for me. He has grown up to be a great dad, who shares all household responsibilities from caring for the children, as soon as they woke up, to cooking and cleaning.  He is involved in many other tasks that 50 years ago would have been considered a woman's duty, When I see my father now I see...

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Have you signed up for the Jewish Feminist telecourse yet? What are you waiting for?!

Have you signed up yet for the “Dynamics of Jewish Feminism” telecourse? Still deliberating? Well, here are SEVEN great reasons to join that will help you make up your mind: Engage with the best and the brightest. Hear Prof Judith Plaskow (author of “Standing again at Sinai”) talking with Prof Rachel Adler, (author of “The Jew who wasn’t there”) discuss and debate what Jewish feminism means.Take on the hard issues. Send in your own questions to Lilith founder Susan Weidman Schneider and feminist artist Jacqueline Nicholls as they debate “s*lut-shaming” in Jewish lifeBreak open taboos. Be part of the conversation on sexuality in Jewish life, with experts Talli Yehuda Rosenbaum, Rabbi Haviva Ner David (founder of the Reut mikveh), and Carrie Bornstein (Mayyim Hayyim)Help make change. Find out how women like Debbie Gross, Lori Weinstein (Director of Jewish Women International), Debbie Gross (founder of the Crisis Center for Religious Women) and Yudit Sidikman (founder of El-Halev) address sexual abuse and violence against women.Demand action. Learn what veteran agunah activists Dr Susan Weiss and Dr Susan Aronoff are working on to fix this problem.Envision the future. Be part of the conversation where Rabbi Naamah Kelman(HUC) , Nancy Kaufman (NCJW) and author Letty Cottin Pogrebin discuss and debate women’s leadershipConnect with others just like you. Be part of an online community like no other, a group of like-minded Jewish feminists from around the world So what are you waiting for? Sign up today!

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Baking challah with Haviva

The first thing I did when I finished reading Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner David’s new book, “Chana’s Voice” is to set out to learn how to bake challah. Haviva’s writing is like that; she inspires you to open your heart and approach yourself to new possibilities. For Haviva, baking challah is one of three stations on her journey through Judaism and gender, the other two being sex and Shabbat. In order to begin my quest I called my friends Dr. Ariella Zeller and Chaim Kram who, like Haviva, bake challah every Shabbat in an entirely egalitarian way (Ariella’s job is the white bread, Chaim’s job is whole wheat; In Haviva’s house her husband Jacob has taken over the challah-baking entirely). As my friends taught me their tricks of the yeast, we discussed feminism, food, and Haviva’s book. The experience of sitting in my friends’ kitchen preparing for Shabbat while exploring gender issues felt like the perfect reaction to Haviva’s book, and in fact to her entire life work. It was communal, conversational, relationship-centered and real. Haviva’s vision for Judaism and the world, as chronicled in this book, is a personal voyage through significant Jewish symbols and stations, one that for Haviva is swathed in courage, integrity, and an authentic search for meaningful connection to God within the fundamental parameters of human dignity and equality. “She took us on her journey,” my friend Ariella said after she read and loved the book, “and I felt like I was completely with her.” The book uses the theme of “CHaNaH”, an acronym for the three commandments supposedly “given” to women – Challah, Niddah (menstruation) and Hadlakat Nerot (Shabbat candle-lighting). From the title alone, which implies a rather retro, essentialist, difference-oriented feminist approach with echoes of anti-feminist apologetics, I would not have picked up the book. Yet, the book itself is exactly the opposite of what the name implies. Haviva’s message is about embracing the values in the so-called “women’s” mitzvoth and creating a world in which men are taught to embrace those values too – whether that means men baking and immersing, or reinventing wedding ceremonies. For Haviva, the journey is about looking for the value in what has traditionally been “women’s culture” and bringing it out into the wider world. Read more:

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My feminist struggles with Yom Kippur

“I always say I’m sorry when I’ve hurt someone,” a man told me proudly in a recent conversation, a reflection that seemed appropriate in advance of Yom Kippur, which is so focused on repentance. “It’s the most important thing,” he said, looking me squarely in the eye with a mixture of impassioned education and nuanced reprimand. He is right, of course. And this is the season, I suppose, for all that — for remorse, apologies and open hearts. There is something beautiful and tender about all this, as members of the Jewish community engage in genuine and sincere introspection. Still, I looked at this man, an Orthodox leader who is esteemed in his community and has a regular spot on the podium and the bima to speak or lead services, and thought to myself, “You never apologized to me.” Like all Orthodox men who are so easily counted and heeded, who have a voice and a place and are free to participate in the community practically any way that their hearts desire, he has never asked for forgiveness from the women and girls in his community, the ones who sit upstairs behind glass, or in the back behind the curtain, desperate for even a glimpse of the activity in the sanctuary. I have never heard an apology like that from an Orthodox man. I have never heard of a rabbi get up in shul and say, “On behalf of all the privileged men, I’m sorry to all the women for all the silent suffering that you have endured for so many generations as the community stripped you of your voice and your power.” I realize that this is a very un-Yom Kippur-like thought for me to have; so much ego, so much wanting, so much self-centeredness. A proper Yom Kippur reaction would have been more self-effacing, and magnanimous, more embracing and accepting, more gracious and grateful. That’s what women — especially Orthodox women — are so well-trained in doing, not only on Yom Kippur but all year round. We are taught to put our own egos aside for the sake of the collective, to ask for little if anything for ourselves, to not want so much but to just do for others. To even think that perhaps men should apologize to women sounds so, well, unfeminine, doesn’t it?  READ MORE AT THE JEWISH WEEK      

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