Jewfem Blog

The present I got today.....

I discovered today by accident (in a long email thread forwarded to me that made an aside reference to this) that my cousin, Harry Maryles, wrote me an "open letter" on his blog two months ago condemning my decision to become a Reform rabbi because, well, it would be a terrible shame to do this despicable thing to my ancestors. "She is joining a movement that her parents, grandparents and great grandparents fought against," he claims. Maybe he is right. My grandfather, who he claims to represent, died in 1955, way before I was born, so who the heck knows. Anyway, he writes, "By joining the Reform Movement she is saying that their version of Judaism is as valid as that of Orthodoxy but better in the sense that it is more welcoming - and a far better place for feminists like her." That's right. That is exactly what I am saying. I'm wondering why he is not embarrassed by that, why all Orthodox rabbis are not completely ashamed that they represent such a culture that makes women feel that way. Anyway, he continues, "I would ask my cousin Elana, to re-consider her choices. Please please don’t do this. I ask you to reflect on your family and your heritage. The negative repercussions may be far greater than you anticipate. And doing this may end up being the biggest mistake of your life." Okay then. I posted this on my Facebook page. I explained as follows: I am putting this out there in case any of you are interested in getting an insider's glimpse into what some of us have to deal with in our lives. I'm not going to honor this essay with an actual response or defense or explanation of my life choices, in part because he didn't bother to actually write to me or tag me or speak to me directly, so I have nothing to reciprocate (I have written in the past about how much I hate being talked "about" instead of talked "to", and this whole thing about men talking to other men about me and what other men think about women like me just makes me bristle). But also, I am not responding in order to remind myself that just because a person happens to be a blood relative, it doesn't mean that they have any clue about you, your life, or the wisdom of your decisions. This is a good reminder of that. And also, it is a reminder that every time women seek to follow our own minds and our hearts, there is someone there to claim that we are actually owned by others, by our ancestors, by an abstract community, by some kind of other-worldly obligation. Wow, I am so done with that. That was last night. This morning I woke up to an incredible outpouring of love and support. Including from some incredible people whom I consider teachers and mentors. WOW!  What a gift. This is such an opportunity to be...

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So a funny thing happened to me when I posted about the editor of the Talmud; or, what to do when people think you’re crazy

oral tradition rambam 1

Once again, I’m recovering from The Internet. Specifically, from the Jewish blogosphere, especially the spaced dominated by Orthodox rabbis. And I’m not even talking about the issue of sexual abuse in the Jewish community, which is a topic gaining traction following the #MeToo movement. (See #GamAni) – after all, sexual abuse is hardly limited to one religion, one denomination, one social class or one community. It is everywhere. (I am recovering from that too, a subject of a different post....) I am talking about reactions to my post from last week about discovered the Stama Gemara, the editor of the Talmud. I know that my journey of leaving 40+ years of Orthodoxy behind and becoming a Reform rabbi is likely to make Orthodox rabbis unsettled. But sometimes I am still surprised at how this finds expression.    So, when I wrote about my experience of reading the Talmud as as a collection of stuff that was purposefully collected and manipulated to make us think that the conclusion of the text is one that is Correct and Received and Divine, it generated some hard reactions. And I discovered, once again, why it is such a dangerous thing to share honestly our experiences of healing, change, or awakening. The reaction so often just becomes another thing that you end up having to deal with. To be fair, I received a lot of very supportive and engaging responses. Many other Recovering Day School Graduates shared a similar process of unlearning messages that we received, ones that are harmful, dishonest, or purposefully manipulative. Others welcomed me to the world of Enlightened Folks, wondering what took me so long to get here. And actually, there were several really long and interesting threads on different pages, within Orthodoxy as well, which actually delved into the question of where the Talmud came from, how it is taught, and what it means to be educated with all this “God Language.” I think that these are genuinely useful, productive and engaging conversations. And then there was the other group. The Deniers. Or, more accurately, The Gaslighters. The ones who said I must be making this all up. It’s not true. This doesn’t happen. It is a surprising reaction. I was ready for the accusations of being a heretic. I am used to Orthodox rabbis talking about me as if I am not even Jewish, as if my ideas are so beyond the pale that I wouldn't even be rescued if I were at Sinai. That was mostly when I was an Orthodox feminist. But this line of attack -- as if to say, nobody is THAT strict -- was different. And was no less undermining. The first inkling of being cast this way was a comment on someone’s thread in which the guy, an Orthodox rabbi, wrote, “I literally laughed out loud when I read the part where she discovers that ‘there is an editor’.” Oh, haha, I guess that’s funny. Like, how could I be so stupid? And by...

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Where are women allowed to think and feel for ourselves? That is my question

Around this time last year, I had an exchange here on FB about head covering which eventually contributed to my feeling that Orthodoxy is a bad place for me as a woman. When I suggested to a woman who had written, "I have been covering my hair for 17 years and hate every minute of it", that perhaps if she hates something that much, she should find a way not to do it, the pushback was fast and furious. From Orthodox women! It wasn't about halakha per se. It was about the idea that I thought we should be able to follow our hearts. "If we all just did what we wanted, who would ever keep Shabbat? Or fast on Yom Kippur?" one woman wrote. "This is not a place for angry outsiders", the original poster wrote. I left the thread, and absorbed the clarity of the message. It's not that going with hair uncovered sends you to the role of "outsider" in Orthodoxy. It's the very notion of allowing yourself to think or feel for yourself. I told this story to a reporter last week from JTA who called me to ask if she could write about my decision to become a Reform rabbi. You can read some of the rest here.  

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Is Orthodox culture responsible for creating the Freundels of the world?

[Published on JTA] MODIIN, Israel (JTA) — With the news that Rabbi Barry Freundel, a prominent Orthodox rabbi, has been arrested for peeping at the naked bodies of his female congregants through a secret camera in the mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath, many disturbing questions are being raised about the implications of his suspected transgressions: Does it matter that Freundel is an Orthodox rabbi? Is he just a regular (alleged) creepy pervert? Or did his position of power — and the culture surrounding it — contribute to the acts of which he stands accused? Did Rabbi Barry Freundel’s position of power — and the culture surrounding it — contribute to the acts of which he stands accused? On the one hand, there are some really lovely and good-hearted Orthodox rabbis who have nothing to do with Freundel and abhor the entire story; they do not deserve to be demonized by association. One bad apple — or rabbi, as it may be –  shouldn’t spoil the whole basket. Furthermore, there are sex offenders in pretty much every culture, religion, ethnic group and social class. Violence against women is ubiquitous, unfortunately, so perhaps the particulars of the offender’s social context are not relevant. On the other hand, one cannot help but notice the multiple layers of power, authority and gender hierarchy involved in this story. After all, the scene of the alleged crimes was a mikvah, where women are naked, exposed and reliant on a system of intricate rules about their bodies that have been determined by men. Jewish women traditionally use the mikvah to immerse — fully nude — following menstruation or during conversion, and in some cases to mark significant life events. The practice of ritual immersion is usually overseen by female attendants, except in the case of Orthodox conversion, when three male rabbis also must be present to give approval. If the allegations against Freundel are true, they confirm the worst suspicions about the status of women in Orthodoxy: that the all-male rabbinical clubs support their own members in their efforts to control women’s bodies all the time. Freundel, after all, is suspected of using his authority to grab what he wanted from unsuspecting women. Moreover, Freundel may have targeted female converts — the subset of mikvah-goers who are most at risk of abuse. These very women often do not have enough security in their social position or Jewish knowledge to question the strange demands made by rabbis in the shower room. Thus the scandal raises disturbing questions about the social structures that give men like Freundel unfettered power over Orthodox conversion. (Freudel himself has been extremely active on the conversion issue in recent years, maintaining control of the Rabbinical Council of America’s Conversion Committee and speaking widely as an expert on conversion.) Read more:

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