Sisterhood Blog

Must-Reads on Judaism and Gender

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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Two fabulous Jewish magazines have new issues out that are must-reads for anyone interested in Judaism and gender.

The first is Lilith’s new issue, which proclaims, in big black letters on a red background, that “Boys are the New Girls.”

It’s an interesting premise, highlighting the much-needed attention paid lately to boys. Boys — and men — are unfortunately missing in action from Jewish life in liberal (i.e. non-Orthodox) precincts. In this New York Times article back in February 2006, I explored this issue as it relates to the Reform movement, which was the first major Jewish institution to grapple with the gender imbalance in its youth groups, camps and synagogues.

The new Lilith issue includes, among other items on the topic, essays on what it means to be a Jewish man today by Rabbi Steven Greenberg (the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi), a provocatively titled essay, “Bottoming for God,” by Forward contributor Jay Michaelson, a look at King David as a model of manhood by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Manhattan’s Congregation Ansche Chesed, and a piece on not fitting into stereotypes of boyhood by self-proclaimed “wimp” Paul Zakrzewski. The Lilith package also includes an interview with Sally Gottesman, who is co-founder and board chair of the organization Moving Traditions, which is developing a program to reach adolescent Jewish boys.

The new issue of the semi-annual journal of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) is devoted to a treasure trove of essays and articles looking at the concept of modesty from many perspectives.

Scholar Devorah Zlochower, a marvelous teacher, pens the cover article examining “Dress, Gender and Jewish Law,” looking at Orthodox dictates as to how women (and men) must dress in the context of different eras in Jewish history and different Jewish legal decisors’ points of view.

Raquel Ukeles, a professor of Islamic and Jewish Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, reflects in the JOFA Journal on modest dress in both religions’ cultures, Karen Miller Jackson examines the importance the Bible places on clothing, through examining the Adam and Eve passage, a midrash on Ezekiel, and in the Joseph narrative, which in both the written Torah and its rabbinic commentaries is rich with associations and interpretations of the importance of various aspects of Joseph’s garb.

Rabbi Ysocher Katz, director of the Beit Midrash Program at the rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, writes about the unexpected multiplicity of perspectives on tzniut, or modesty, in Chasidic literature.And writer Nessa Rapoport takes a light-hearted but serious look at how directives about modesty are communicated to Orthodox Jewish girls and their parents. She argues for an appreciation — rather than suppression or diminution — of the beauty of young women.

As someone who was once a young woman myself, (though not then aware of Orthodox perspectives on femininity and modesty,) when I didn’t see myself as beautiful, I say that anything that helps women — and men — feel beautiful, strong and precious in the eyes of ourselves and God is a good thing.

Set aside an evening or two to read the new issues of Lilith and the JOFA Journal. They will enrich your thinking about what it means to be a Jewish woman or man today.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Steven Greenberg, Sally Gottesman, Raquel Ukeles, Nessa Rapoport, Lilith, Jay Michaelson, Jeremy Kalmanofsky, JOFA

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Comments
Joe Feld Fri. Dec 4, 2009

I recall Dr. Trude Weiss Rosmarin on the Jewish Spectator writing at the time the Conservatives voted to count women for a minyan. The president of a Conservative Sisterhood was awoken early one morning and asked to help make a minyan. She replied words to the effect, 'I only voted to be counted on Shabbos and Yom Tov, not on weekdays ! The Torah considers the work a woman does in her family and home far more important for the proper functioning of society than rushing off to daven with a minyan. Obviously women are fully free to attend any weekday service they want and in Yekkish circles many women attend Selichos for instance, but a woman can't be required to play a man's role. Women may be able to 'take charge of' the Liberal synagogue, but men are far less able to take charge of the Jewish family -- and the family NOT the synagogue is the foundation of Jewish life.

Claire Tue. Dec 8, 2009

Joe, Many women today work full-time or part-time, they do not spend all their time with their children at home, this is an outdated view that is not relevant for many women. Even many orthodox religious women work part-time and put their children in a kindergarten and some women have nanies to help them. Women's roles have changed over time and many women who do not have children or have grown up sons and daughters who can take care of themselves, may be able to daven in minyan.

La Otra Tue. Dec 8, 2009

Joe, can you please explain why men "are far less able" to take charge of the Jewish family? Kinda insulting to men, doncha think?

And if the the family is the foundation of Jewish life, then what foundation do single Jews, divorced Jews, childless Jews and Jews by choice have? I wonder if you bothered to roll your words around in your head a bit before you wrote them.




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