Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Traditional Feminism?

Over the summer, I'm meeting bi-weekly with all of my conversion candidates for class/discussions. This week's topic is women in Judaism and Jewish Feminism (which sound alike, but are very different, albeit overlapping, topics). I've been sending them a few articles and such to read, to get the thinking/conversation going, and lo and behold* this came across my e-desk today:

There is plenty to criticize/disagree with here, but also some potentially interesting ideas. My students will get a chance to air their questions/thoughts/arguments on Thursday. Anyone in cyber-land care to chime in in the "comments" section?

* Zaddok Hakohen of Lublin said, "The first premise of faith is to believe that there is no such thing as happenstance...Every detail, small or great, they are all from the Holy One."


Missy said...

Not being Jewish, I obviously don't have any idea what traditional roles are supposed to be according to Jewish law. I do know that we struggle with some of the questions of women's roles in the Catholic Church. Some of the greatest points of contention are about why women can't become priests, why the Catholic Church doesn't allow contraception, and why the celebration of the mass seems to be very male-centric. It's interesting to me that Catholics are not alone in these discussions, and I would love to hear how those in your community respond to some of the points brought up. It might make for an interesting conversation to see how much the two religions actually do or don't have in common in regard to the role of women.

lizstrom said...

I've heard the line of argument expressed in this video before (indeed, one of the early issues of Ms. Magazine had an article by an orthodox woman making similar claims. Wish I could find that). Here's how it goes: Orthodox women are NOT oppressed or "second class;" after all they can boss around their husbands...who cares about handling the Torah,'s liberating to get to sit upstairs and chat with friends rather than actually participate in the service....

I just don't buy it. Orthodox Judaism says that certain people, because of their sex, can't participate in the most sacred rites of our religion. Period. Moreover, among very orthodox Jews, a woman can't even initiate a divorce.

I have no problem with women who are comfortable practicing this sort of Judaism. But let's at least be honest about the values it embodies.

Rabbi Jason Rosenberg said...

@Liz - even though, in reality, I agree with you, let me play Devil's Advocate for a moment. What do you say to an Orthodox woman who doesn't see these argument as specious? Who upholds these values? Do you tell her she's been brainwashed? That she's fooling herself?

lizstrom said...

Good question, and in all honesty I don't have a large pool of orthodox women friends to ask! But I don't see it as a question of anyone being brainwashed. Here's how I see it:

Orthodox Judaism gives women and men very distinctive roles in religious observance. Orthodox women make the argument that their role is "different" but not "second-class" (or at least some Orthodox women do...for all I know, others see women's role as secondary and are fine with that). I don't agree with that assessment -- here's a case where "separate" is not equal.

But I'm not claiming that Orthodox women are brainwashed or don't know their own interests. I simply disagree about the significance of things from which they are excluded. There were women decades ago who accepted their exclusion from the franchise making similar arguments (women have power in their special sphere, who needs to vote?) They, like the Orthodox woman in the video, are very much entitled to be satisfied with their role. But their satisfaction shouldn't discourage debate among others about what female exclusion from the instruments of political power and/or religious authority signifies about these societies.