Sisterhood Blog

Those Limelight-Seeking Orthodox Feminists

By Frimet Goldberger

  • Print
  • Share Share

It’s probably because I’m female — and Orthodox to boot — that, much as I try, I find it hard to relate to Jewish men who feel religiously unfulfilled unless they keep the center stage to themselves, and the women out of their club.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, the high-profile Haredi spokesman for Agudath Israel, implies in this humble-braggy and borderline sexist Forward post, that Orthodox women with spiritual wants that include more egalitarianism — especially in communal settings like synagogues — only seek to be in the limelight. This, he claims, he cannot relate to because “I just don’t like being on display.” Additionally, his wife and daughters “never looked to the synagogue for validation and fulfillment.”

Ladies, go find your validation and fulfillment elsewhere and leave this center stage for the men. Even the off-center stage belongs to men. Heck, every stage in Jewish life outside of the kitchen and the labor and delivery room belongs to men. It is just how it is. Blame Eve.

Why would you desire to rock the boat, anyway? To wrap those tefillin around your hands and place that black box on your head? Why would you want to lead services when you can pray comfortably from behind the mechitzah, alone in your thoughts? Why would you need to be front and center in order to have a satisfying synagogue experience? What a powerful experience it is to daven individually, Rabbi Shafran says, instead of with a minyan. It is just you and Hashem, and no one else. You can be left alone to connect with the Divine in a way that the Jewish men, stuck in the limelight, will never be able to.

“Still and all,” he continues, “I know that there are many Jewish women who are very different from me and my wife and our daughters, women who feel a need to attend services regularly and even to lead them. Although I consider Halacha and traditional Jewish custom sacrosanct, Judaism also demands of me to not judge others until I ‘stand in their place,’ and that applies no less here than anywhere.”

How fair of you not to judge, Rabbi Shafran.

I, for one, don’t go to shul that often, so I don’t have a huge personal stake in any changes, but when I do go, I sometimes feel uncomfortable. I recall a conversation I had with the Forward’s Editor-in-Chief, Jane Eisner, after Rosh Hashanah last year. She spoke about the egalitarian services she attends and sometimes leads, and I could not help but wonder how different my synagogue experience would be if I were able to be an essential part of it. Do I wish to join the Conservative movement? Not really. I love observing Shabbat to its fullest and embrace the Orthodox culture and its rich traditions. But I do believe there is room for flexibility and change within its realm, and making peace with women taking on public roles is central to that change.

A good model for his perception of Jewish life, Rabbi Shafran writes, is a band making music. “If the members of the mutual enterprise are producing the best music they can as a team, they will celebrate their own roles, not fancy those of their bandmates.”

Again, stay in the kitchen and off our stage, ladies. Bake the cakes and don’t begrudge us having our cake and eating it too. The Jewish life is most productive when both genders keep to their preordained roles and don’t covet that of the superior gender.

Or, as I see it, a good model for Jewish life is not making sweeping decisions for others based on one’s own preferences. Another good model for Jewish life is to accept that, in 2014, Orthodox gender roles are becoming increasingly fluid. It is certainly unfair to suggest that anyone who desires to take on a leading role is “identifying prominence with meaningfulness,” or hungry for the limelight.

Yes, yes, I know, I’m just seeking the limelight for arguing that Jewish traditional roles can be “updated,” without being completely ignored. But consider this, Rabbi Shafran, “a meaningful Jewish life is in fact not about particular roles but about how well we fulfill them.” Those aren’t my words; they’re yours.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Agudath Israel, limelight, Jewish, Avi Shafran, men

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.