Sisterhood Blog

Sara Netanyahu's Jackie O Moment

By Sarah Breger

Screenshot vis Youtube

In one of the most entertaining campaign video so far, Sara Netanyahu channels Jackie Kennedy and takes the Israeli public on a (virtual) tour of the prime minister’s residence. Set to a soundtrack that includes Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” and the House of Cards credits theme, Sara leads TV home makeover star Moshik Galamin around her Jerusalem home making sure to point out the fraying rugs, peeling paint, jammed windows and even a bouquet of dead flowers. “This looks like the kitchen of a Romanian orphanage from 1954!” Galamin exclaims upon seeing the dated kitchen.

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Where Are the Queer Spaces for Jewish Women?

By J.E. Reich

During the periods I’m single, I anticipate with a well-practiced dread for when my mother will rally me to finally meet a nice Jewish girl. There is always the plea for a JDate account, the rare slip of the name of so-and-so’s daughter who my mother thinks is gay and who might be single (and who definitely lives in New Jersey), and the breakneck onslaught of commentary about how it can’t be that hard to meet a lesbian who happens to be a member of the tribe. (“You live in Brooklyn,” she’ll say, as if this is the elixir for her woes.)

Although I am ardently vocal about my reluctance to exclusively date Jewish women — the inherently survivalist practice seems discriminatory in the wake of social progressivism within the last half century — doesn’t mean I’m not open to it. So every time I have this conversation with my mother, my endnote is this: I rarely date queer Jewish girls because there isn’t a particular place — or what is commonly referred to as an LGBT-friendly “safe space” — where I can actually meet them.

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Being a Good Listener Left Me Alone on Valentine's Day

By Rachel Delia Benaim

Lior Zaltzman

Many people might be weirded out that their blind date took them to a two hour lecture on monsters and mythical creatures at Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum. I loved it.

It was afterwards when I actually had to start talking to my date that things turned south rather quickly.

He had been talking a lot when he picked me up from work- a real gentleman I must say- to travel to Brooklyn for our date, but at first I didn’t think much of his babbling. He was a ball of energy — he covered everything from local NYC politics to his favorite childhood memory within our first half hour together.

This was my first time on a blind internet date, and I have to say, it could’ve been worse. Jordan, as I’ll call him, had a shadchan, an Orthodox matchmaker, contact me via Facebook messenger. Her message read that there was an eligible bachelor, Jordan, who had read one of my articles and was interested in pursuing a relationship with me. He asked the matchmaker to look for me on YUConnects and SawYouAtSinai, two Orthodox online dating sites, but alas I didn’t have a dating profile on either of them. She knew it was presumptuous, but she was wondering if I wanted to go out with him, or if I wanted to know more.

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A Monster Love Story

By Judy Bolton-Fasman


I met my first boyfriend Monster by way of the Hebrew Home for the Aged when I was sixteen and he was eighteen. His great-grandfather had a room across the hall from my grandmother. My mother and his grandmother were often the only relatives visiting the retirement home. They started talking about this and that and soon planned to fix up their children.

Monster’s grandmother brought his high school picture for my mother’s inspection. A portrait really — retouched in rosy-cheeked pink and framed in a heavy dark wood. He was exactly the kind of boy she had in mind for me and for her. Monster’s grandmother saw the proofs of my high school yearbook picture — raw and unfinished and scarred with acne. Monster called anyway.

Rugby-shirted, tall with dark curly hair, he was was the handsomest, most grown up boy I had ever seen. He asked if my big sister was home when he picked me up. That first date lasted eight years.

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Rivke Basman Ben-Haim's Credo

By Chana Pollack

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

Yiddishland the world over celebrates poet Rivke Basman Ben-Haim’s upcoming 90th birthday next week at Tel Aviv’s Leyvik House. Arriving in the newly founded state having survived the agonies of Kaiserwald and Stutthoff concentration camps, the Vilna born Basman was among the ten young writers belonging to the emerging artistic literary elite of Israel’s Yiddish writers known as “Yung Yisroel.” Founded in early post-war Israel, with the nascent state still unsure what to make of a language they clearly hoped would remain in the diaspora — it was up to their Tel Avivian father figure, noted Yiddish poet of world reknown, Avrom Sutskever to guide them through their Israeli inner-diaspora.

A distinctly cultivated individual, exuding Central European warmth and charm under Mediterranean skies, Basman is recollected by fellow Yiddish writer and current Forverts editor Boris Sandler, as having brought a unique ‘womanly warmth and an intimate coziness’ to the mostly male Friday night gatherings of Yiddish writers in the 1990s at Leyvik House.

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Black German Woman Discovers Grandfather is Nazi Villain

By Avner Shapira (Haaretz)

Photo by Sven Hoppe

In the mid-1990s, near the end of the period during which she lived in Israel, Jennifer Teege watched Steven Spielberg’s film “Schindler’s List.” She hadn’t seen the film in a movie theater, and watched it in her rented room in Tel Aviv when it was broadcast on television.

“It was a moving experience for me, but I didn’t learn much about the Holocaust from it,” she tells me by phone from her home in Hamburg, mostly in English with a sprinkling of Hebrew. “I’d learned and read a great deal about the Holocaust before that. At the time I thought the film was important mainly because it heightened international awareness of the Holocaust, but I didn’t think I had a personal connection to it.”

Indeed, it was not until years later that Teege, a German-born black woman who was given up for adoption as a child, discovered that one of the central characters in the film, Amon Goeth, was her grandfather. Many viewers recall the figure of Goeth, the brutal commander of the Plaszow concentration camp in Poland – played in the film by Ralph Fiennes – from the scenes in which he shoots Jewish inmates from the porch of his home. But Teege, who had not been in touch with either her biological mother or biological grandmother for years, had no idea about the identity of her grandfather.

The discovery came like a bolt from the blue in the summer of 2008, when she was 38 years old, as she relates in the memoir “Amon,” which was published in German in 2013 (co-authored with the German journalist Nikola Sellmair), and is due out in English this April under the title “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past.”

Teege is scheduled to visit Israel next week to take part in events marking the book’s publication in Hebrew (from Sifriat Poalim), at the International Book Fair in Jerusalem, the University of Haifa and the Goethe Institute in Tel Aviv.

She opens her book by describing the 2008 visit to a library in Hamburg to look for material on coping with depression. While there, she happened to notice a book with a cover photograph of a familiar figure: her biological mother, Monika Hertwig (née Goeth). She immediately withdrew the book, titled “I Have to Love My Father, Right?,” and which was based on an interview with her mother.

“The first shock was the sheer discovery of a book about my mother and my family, which had information about me and my identity that had been kept hidden from me,” Teege says. “I knew almost nothing about the life of my biological mother, nor did my adoptive family. I hoped to find answers to questions that had disturbed me and to the depression I had suffered from. The second shock was the information about my grandfather’s deeds.”

Thus Teege embarked on a long personal journey in the wake of the unknown family heritage. But in the first half year after the discovery at the library, she relates, “I lapsed into silence, I slept a lot and I wasn’t really functioning. Only afterward did I begin to analyze the situation and try to understand the characters of my mother and my grandmother. I only started to learn more about my grandmother at the end. Today I understand that I went through the process step by step, peeling away layer after layer. But in the first months I had no idea what to do.”

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Dazzled by Sara Netanyahu

By Benny Ziffer (Haaretz)

Illustration by Eran Wolkowski/Haaretz


I went to Jerusalem last week to meet the First Lady, Sara Netanyahu. I was hoping to get to the bottom of the serious case of Sara-phobia that has overtaken the country. For a long time now, she has occupied a completely disproportionate role in the public discourse. Whenever I mention her name in conversation, my interlocutor will automatically pull out some recycled bit of derogatory gossip, always presented as having come straight from the source, and recount the story in a near-ecstatic state of excitement and without the humor typical of gossipers: “Get this, I once waited on her table, and she left without paying!” or “I swear, I was their neighbor and I could hear her shouting through the window!”

The phenomenon is familiar from the world of popular religion, in which people will attest, with utter certainty, to the miracles worked by some ordinary Joe or to having seen the Virgin Mary, and their stories quickly gain unstoppable momentum. It was with this same utter certainty that men were once accused of heresy and women of witchcraft, and the mob was not satisfied until the “guilty” parties were burned at the stake.

In “The Barber of Seville,” Rossini has the villainous Don Basilio sings the “La Calunnia” aria, about the calumny that begins as a little breeze, a whisper, a hiss, that softly enters people’s ears, heads, brains, where it spins and grows until it comes out of their mouths full-force and flies off from there, now a mighty thunder, a tempest that causes you to freeze in terror as the sound of cannon fire reverberates in the air, leaving the humiliated victim to be trampled by the masses and killed.

And then a man steps out of the masses to proclaim: I met this woman, the object of all this gossip, and I found her to be very pleasant and hospitable and unusually feminine, by Israeli standards. If I hadn’t been too shy about it, I would have told her that she was an attractive woman. The two hours in the company of this woman that everyone loves to hate flew by, as when you find yourself entranced by a good actress playing a classical role of a queen or a great woman. She played the part for me in a way that left me agape. I found Sara Netanyahu to be someone who has a major presence. Somebody for whom I would gladly trade any number of dull and self-righteous men and women from our public and political sphere.

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Mayim Bialik Insists 'I'm Not Anti-Vaccine' — But Is She?

By Anne Cohen

Mayim Bialik really, really wants you to know that she is not anti-vaccine. The actress took to Facebook on Tuesday to dispel what she called the “hysteria and anger” around her stance on the controversial subject.

The “Big Bang Theory” star and proud science nerd (she has a Ph.D. in neuroscience) has been accused to be rooting for the anti-vaxxer camp. In a post for Sisterhood published last week, Bethany Mandel pointed out that the Bialik had posted an angry rebuttal to a pro-vaccination piece on her Facebook page. The post was deleted only hours later.

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Is 'Gett' a Realistic Portrayal of Israeli Divorce?

By Rachel Levmore

Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz), Carmel (Menashe Noy) and Shimon (Sasson Gabay) in GETT. Courtesy of Music Box Films


At first glance the subtitle of siblings Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz’s new film “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” seems odd. The film, after all, is about the divorce proceedings for Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz) and her husband (Simon Abkarian). But by the end of the film you see how apt the subtitle is — like many women seeking divorces in Israel Viviane finds herself, her conduct, her motives, her obligations as a wife, her faithfulness, her very essence as a woman on trial.

As a rabbinical court advocate many people have asked if what happens on screen, proceedings of the Israeli Rabbinical Courts are usually closed to the public, is accurate. The answer is yes.

I have witnessed all of what took place in the film Gett. What is unlikely is that all of the incidents would be concentrated in one specific woman’s case. Nevertheless, it is probable that one or more of the troublesome situations will arise in any given woman’s plea for freedom. Note—any woman, who unilaterally sues for a Jewish divorce, having previously married in an Orthodox ceremony whether in Israel or the Diaspora, may find herself a victim of get-refusal.

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Women Fight Back Against Jerusalem Modesty Signs

By Allison Kaplan Sommer (Haaretz)

A sign in the entrance to Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem. Photo by Wikimedia Commons / Lisa Mathon

Modesty signs in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem are a common sight.

The forbidding black headlines generally read, “Please do not pass through our neighborhood in immodest clothes” – with a detailed description of the dress code to be obeyed by women lest they risk “offending” or “violating the sanctity” of their surroundings.

Most tourists come back with snapshots of such signs. But what may be a quaint custom to a visitor is, at best, an inconvenience and, at worst, a threat of violence to the women who live their lives in Israel’s capital.

Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, after all, are not remote villages, but central parts of a busy metropolis. Many of these neighborhoods contain – or are adjacent to – public health clinics and government offices that women from across Jerusalem must frequent, and shouldn’t have to change their clothing in order to do so, for fear of being verbally or even physically harassed as a result.

Laura Wharton, a member of Jerusalem City Council, has complained to the municipality and mayor Nir Barkat about the signs in the past on the grounds that they are illegal, with no success. “I didn’t get a serious answer. I was brushed off.”

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My Great Talmudic Love Affair

By Rachel Rosenthal

Illustration by Anya Ulinich.

From when I was a little girl until I went to college, every Valentine’s Day, I would find a small gift and a card from my parents (or really, my mom) waiting for me at my spot on the kitchen table. Even after I moved out, first to go to college and then into my own apartment, I always knew that as February 14th approached, I could expect an envelope — usually red or pink — in the mail, containing a cheesy if sweet card, promising me that for my parents, I would always be their Valentine.

Despite the dependable hearts and teddy bears, however, I did not grow up in a house where there was an emphasis on love stories and fairy tales. My second wave feminist mother worked full time in high-powered jobs throughout my entire childhood, and if there was cooking to be done, we knew that the person to turn to was my father. Even the story of my parent’s engagement was not exactly the stuff of great romance. Instead of shiny diamonds and sweet smelling roses, my father proposed to my mother in a desperate attempt to get her to stop crying over her perceived lack of job prospects. So while I certainly spent my fair share of time dressing up as a bride or a princess, I don’t remember ever dreaming of my wedding, or hoping that a prince would come sweep me off my feet. Instead, I was going to be a strong, independent woman who built a relationship with a true partner. Love at first sight was nothing but a fantasy.

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Israeli Media's Sexist Election Coverage

By Tiki Krakowski

A political cartoon depicting Tzipi Livni, Stav Shaffir, Merav Michaeli and Shelly Yachimovich sitting around a kitchen table while Yitzhak Herzog washes dishes. “First things first,” Livni says, “we’ll give him the right to remain silent.” Screenshot via Facebook.

In some ways the past few years have been very good to women in Israeli politics. A fact that is reflected in the current election campaign. Many of the parties have women in the top ten spaces on their lists for Knesset. Women are both major players in the political arena as well as an important target for political advertising (see for instance, the Jewish Home’s and Yesh Atid’s ads aimed at women). Even Ultra-Orthodox women, who are perceived to be traditionalists and submissive, have belied that perception, taking their political futures into their own hands by founding their own party, B’Zchutan. It’s a whole new world and it has been for a while.

The reaction of the Israeli media to this new reality however, is not quite so new. It reeks of misogyny at its worst and confusion at its best. A great case study for this is the media reaction to former Justice Minister and co-chair of the Zionist Camp, Tzipi Livni. Last week, the right-wing commentator for Maariv, Nadav Haetzni, wrote, “… is Tzipi Livni, who left her party, the Likud, in 2005 with Ariel Sharon, stealing a third of the seats belonging to Likud voters.” Note, that in his version of events it is Tzipi Livni who is leading Ariel Sharon away from his rightful place with the Likud. Livni is a familiar target in Haetzni’s columns. Though there are other figures that he damns with deception, it is Livni who comes up again and again. More than any man, she is the true threat to the State of Israel. He feels betrayed by her. Never mind that many a man has changed political parties and allegiances. And never mind that Livni has often made the jump along with men. How dare this woman betray her Revisitionist heritage? His hatred of her truly borders on the irrational.

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When Women Wear Kippahs

By Aurora Mendelsohn

This week the Forward delved into the world of yarmulkes or kippahs with “Show Me Your Yarmulke: Everything You Wanted To Know About Jewish Headgear.” Alas, the list concentrated on the style choices of men, mostly ignoring a whole subsection of the kippah wearing public: Women. From the classic doily to pink suede, here are some options for religious headgear for women and who wears each one.


Doily

1) I know I have to cover my head but I don’t want to wear a kippah- that is for men. Plus my grandmother wore a doily. It is lacy so everyone will know it is for women.

2) If I am too uncomfortable with pinning it directly on my head (with a bobby pin because kippah clips are for men), I will fold it in half and pin that on. Maybe part way down my hair so it looks like a hair bow and no one will think it is a kippah.

3) If I am under 20 I’ll fold it in quarters and pin it halfway down my head so it looks like a floating hair decoration.


Satin Kippah

1) I am late to arrive at a bar mitzvah and they are out of doilies. I will make sure to fold it in half and bobby pin it back.

2) I have to go up to the bimah for an honor and they made me wear a kippah from the basket. I will take it off as soon as I sit down.

3) I grew up Classical Reform. No one wore a kippah, not even the male Rabbi. I will fold this one.

4) I am at funeral and forgot to bring my own kippah.


Wire beaded kippah

I want to wear a kippah but worry it might seem masculine. I can pretend it is a big hair clip if I feel awkward.

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LISTEN: Yeshivat Maharat's Dasi Fruchter on Sacred Space

By Bob Goldfarb

Courtesy of Dasi Fruchter

Jewish ritual adds a holy dimension to everyday life. Dasi Fruchter, who is studying for the Orthodox clergy at Yeshivat Maharat, creates sacred space through new practices that draw on traditional elements. Over Presidents’ Day weekend she will speak about her approaches to ritual, community-building and leadership at Limmud NY 2015. The Forward’s Bob Goldfarb talked with her about her work.


Laser Sharp Hilde Somer

By Chana Pollack

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

Hilde Somer and her immense musical talent was “discovered” while fleeing Hitler’s Vienna with her family on an ocean liner bound for the US in 1938. Then an 8-year-old refugee with an uncertain future she would become a vibrant pianist and legendary supporter of contemporary composition.

A child piano prodigy, Somer began her musical education under her mother’s tutelage and continued with a retinue of recently arrived Jewish immigrant talent starting with Polish Jewish pianist, (and former student of Franz Liszt), Moritz Rosenthal before she entered Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music to study with Bohemian Jewish pianist and fellow refugee, Rudolf Serkin. (Additionally, she was known to have taken private classes with acclaimed pianists such as Wanda Landowska and Claudio Arrau.)

While Somer played standard classical romantic pieces — she was to become known as a major supporter and performer of 20th century compositions. Her contemporary repertoire was wide ranging from Villa-Lobos to Copland. She is recorded performing Janacek among others, and is known to have premiered piano concertos by cutting-edge composing artists of the 1960s such as Henry Brant.

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'Who Wants to Sit and Watch Without a Voice?'

By Sarah Breger

On February 8, B’nai Jeshurun will hold a day of learning to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Judith Plaskow’s groundbreaking book, “Standing Again at Sinai.” In the lead up to the event, The Sisterhood is asking participants questions on issues surrounding feminism and Judaism. Here, Rabbi Lisa Gelber remembers remembers being the sole girl to lay tefillin in Hebrew school.

Rabbi Lisa Gelber

Is there a specific moment when you realized gender matters to you as a Jew?

When class-time was dedicated to putting on tefillin, I borrowed my father’s and brought them to Hebrew school. As I stood alone among the boys learning to wrap tefillin, I thought how bored my female classmates must be. Who wants to sit and watch without a voice?

Outside those few class sessions, there was no place for tefillin in my community. After my Bat Mitzvah, I further experienced what it’s like to be present without the opportunity for religious and spiritual leadership.

Several years ago, another mom approached me in shul. We had not seen each other in over 25 years. As we chatted, she shared her powerful childhood memory of me learning to put on tefillin with the boys (one I had long forgotten!). Those moments so many years ago actually gave me the opportunity make a difference.

One of my favorite photos is of my infant daughter snuggled against my chest in a carrier, my colorful tallit (a gift of former congregants) enfolding her and her tefillin clad mommy. Now five, I’m blessed that her Jewish world is one in which she is learning to practice, reflect and lead with respect for diversity and a commitment to her voice.

Tell us how you would answer in the comments and register for Meet Me at Sinai here.


Is Anti-Vaxxer Mayim Bialik a Model Jewish Mom?

By Bethany Mandel


This week actress Mayim Bialik, wrote a forceful post, on Jewish parenting site Kveller, in favor of breastfeeding after a Similac commercial about the “Mommy Wars” went viral. I more or less agreed with her pro-nursing arguments, being a pregnant and nursing mother to a toddler myself, but did see why so many accused her of being judgmental and preachy.

What moved me into a tizzy, however, were her (true) statements regarding the medical benefits of breastfeeding over formula. She wrote, “It’s not the same as cloth versus disposable diaper choices or deciding which baby shampoo to use. This commercial undermines medical and scientific fact under the guise of ‘It’s all the same, don’t judge.’” Bialik — though you wouldn’t realize it from her staunch defense of “scientific fact” — does not vaccinate her children.

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Is Sara Netanyahu Our Mary Todd Lincoln?

By Judy Maltz (Haaretz)


Ever since she first appeared on the public radar nearly 20 years ago, Sara Netanyahu has been a popular target for the Israeli press.

The latest scandal to plague Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s third wife, first reported on by Amir Oren in Haaretz, involves allegations that she pocketed thousands of shekels from deposits on empty bottles that were returned, on her orders, to Jerusalem supermarkets over several years, even though the bottle deposits were state property.

Last week, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira announced his decision to turn over the bottle deposit affair, popularly known now as “bottlegate,” to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who will rule on whether to open a formal investigation into the matter.

Married to Netanyahu since 1991, the 56-year-old child psychologist is no stranger to scandal. Last March, she was sued for abusive behavior by the former manager of the Netanyahus’ official residence, who had previously served as her personal bodyguard. In 2010, a former housekeeper in the Netanyahu home sued her for unpaid wages and a list of other matters. Indeed, reports about Sara Netanyahu’s problematic behavior toward household help and her lavish spending habits have been circulating in the media ever since her husband’s first term in office, starting in 1996.

Does the media especially have it in for Sara Netanyahu, or have they always picked on Israeli first ladies? Both are true, says Dr. Ilan Ben Ami, Israel’s foremost expert on the wives of prime ministers. “The Israeli press has always targeted the wives of its prime ministers, but there’s no doubt that the sheer volume of allegations in the case of Sara Netanyahu is unprecedented,” he says.

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'The Lone Feminist Voice'

By Sarah Breger

On February 8, B’nai Jeshurun will hold a day of learning to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Judith Plaskow’s groundbreaking book, “Standing Again at Sinai.” In the lead up to the event, The Sisterhood is asking participants questions on issues surrounding feminism and Judaism. Here, Orthodox feminist activist Elana Sztokman talks about the need for Jewish feminists to speak out in order to build community.

Elana Sztokman

Is there a specific moment when you realized gender matters to you as a Jew?

My interest in gender in Jewish life formed upon my first encounter with an agunah, a chained woman. It was 1995, I was a young, religious mother involved with a group of women who raised money for diapers and supplies for mothers who were struggling financially, and in that work, we met a woman who, aside from being broke, was also waiting for a get, a Jewish divorce, from her abusive husband. The more I came to know the woman and learn about her circumstances, the more I came to understand how gender perceptions and gender imbalances are at the core of so much of what we think of as Jewish law or tradition. The deeper you dig, the more you realize how enormous this problem is. Since then, my interests have expanded beyond divorcing women and extended to all aspects of Jewish life and Jewish education. The Jewish community — in particular the Orthodox community but not only — needs a rethinking and a significant restructuring of ideas around gender identities and relationships.

What’s the one thing we can do to advance gender equality in Judaism?

The most important thing we can do to advance gender equality is to speak out. I have met so many feminists who feel that they are the lone feminist voice in many settings — on shul committees, on PTAs, around the Shabbat table. Many feminists speak out less than they would like because of the fear of being perceived as narrow or single-minded (qualities that would be seen as positive in contexts other than feminism!). Women say, “I feel like everyone’s rolling their eyes when I start to talk, like they all know what I”m going to say before I open my mouth.” So the most important thing is for ALL the feminists out there to keep speaking so that we know that we’re not alone, so that we can connect with one another and give one another strength.

An important byproduct of speaking out is that it gives a powerful response to those who say that feminism is marginal, or just a few people here and there. I hear this a lot especially in the Orthodox community. But I know it’s not true. I meet feminists everywhere I go — and yet, everyone still feels alone. The more we speak out, the more we will find one another, connect with one another, and know that we’re not alone — and be able to say to the world, we are a vital force in the Jewish community and need to be heeded and heard.

Tell us how you would answer in the comments and register for Meet Me at Sinai here.


Inheriting a Tradition That Doesn't Want Me

By Sarah Breger

On February 8, B’nai Jeshurun will hold a day of learning to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Judith Plaskow’s groundbreaking book, “Standing Again at Sinai.” In the lead up to the event, The Sisterhood is asking participants questions on issues surrounding feminism and Judaism. Here, Princeton University student Maya Rosen talks about overcoming the sexism of Talmudic sages.

Maya Rosen

Is there a specific moment when you realized gender matters to you as a Jew?

As a senior in high school, I learned Avot D’Rabbi Natan, a Geonic commentary on Pirkei Avot, with a friend over Skype. It was the first time I had a chevruta outside of school, and I loved how both my chevruta and the text were intellectually rigorous and playfully imaginative. The second chapter of the book contains an extended discussion of al tarbeh sicha i’m ha’isha [do not converse excessively with a woman]. The rabbinic sages elaborate extensively on the prohibition and relish relating stories about the ills that befall a man who does not heed this advice. I had been bothered by issues of gender in Judaism for years, but this was the first time I realized that the problem was not only a sociological reality but historically, legally, and traditionally entrenched misogyny. It is hard to feel like an intellectual inheritor of a tradition that is vocal about its distaste for your taking part in the conversation. However, the more I continued to learn, the more variability I found among texts. Very little of what we find in texts, misogyny included, is the only view in our tradition or the way something has always been. It is okay to feel deeply hurt by the sexism of our sages. But these same sages also taught me something else — how to feel so embedded in a tradition that my participation in the system is not a question of “if” but rather of “how.”

Tell us how you would answer in the comments and register for Meet Me at Sinai here.


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