Sisterhood Blog

'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.


Let's Lower Stakes in Breastfeeding Debate

By Amy Newman

Screenshot via Youtube

In her recent post “Similac’s Failed Formula to End the Mommy Wars,” Sybil Sanchez implies that breast vs. formula is a topic on which we cannot agree to disagree, because she views the public health ramifications as dire. Like Sanchez, Mayim Bialik, and millions of other middle-class moms, I watched the popular Similac video. The ad responds to the fact that as new mothers, our parenting choices — breast vs. formula, stroller vs. babywearing — become central to our identities, and pit us against other mothers who choose differently. The tear-jerking (and cringe-inducing, with all its suburban status symbols) video urges us to look past our differences and focus on what unites us.

Sanchez dismisses the “breast is best” mantra as hurtful (which it is), but suggests that we replace it with the even more alienating #normalizebreastfeeding. (I used to just be less-than-best. Now I’m abnormal. My preferred infant-feeding hashtag is #isupportyou.) Like the moms in the Similac ad — and like so many of the women I encountered during my first rocky weeks as a mother — Sanchez sees the question of breast vs. formula as extremely high stakes. Even while they claimed to support everyone and judge no one, the lactation consultants who tried to help me produce more breastmilk made it clear that it was crucially important that I make this work. Under their guidance, I hooked myself to a pump eight times a day, took prescription pills not approved by the FDA, ate all the magical foods, and listened to their promises that this would ensure a secure bond with my baby (while other people cuddled him because I didn’t have the time). The lactation professionals tell us that the benefits of breastmilk are wondrous, and the dangers of “artificial baby milk” (thank you Mayim) are potentially disastrous.

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Sorry Rabbi Shafran, Being Overworked Isn't Feminism

By Sharon Weiss-Greenberg

via Getty images

Last time I checked, making sure that you were able to put food on the table to feed your children wasn’t feminist, it was parenting. Working long hours for low wages because you weren’t permitted to earn educational degrees wasn’t feminist, it was surviving. In a system where men are encouraged to learn in lieu of working while their many children are not properly nourished, it is a problem that needs solving, not a model to be touted or emulated.

While I sincerely believe that Rabbi Avi Shafran had the best of intentions in his article “How Ultra-Orthodoxy Is Most Feminist Faith,” what he depicts as a thing of beauty, including personal sacrifice, selflessness, and other virtuous character traits, overlooks a systemic problem, that of an increasing population living below the poverty line. While Arab poverty has been decreasing, haredi poverty is on the rise.

There are two areas that need to be addressed by Rabbi Shafran’s piece.

  1. The relatively new trend of most men learning without any sort of income, as opposed to an elite cadre of men.

  2. The need for feminism or empowerment to be value driven.

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Similac's Failed Formula to End the 'Mommy Wars'

By Sybil Sanchez

Screenshot via Youtube

The Similac parenting video that recently made the rounds is indeed funny and tear-jerking, but it also left me infuriated. How can anyone disagree with the message that we are all parents first, whether we work, stay home, breastfeed, pump, or formula feed? Well, I will tell you how — if the message is tainted by the messenger.   Let me stipulate up front and as loudly as possible: This is not a judgment against parents who formula feed or anyone else. But, it’s disingenuous for a formula company to equate the quality of our intentions with the quality of our choices or options. It veils the fact that it’s the corporate tactics of this company and others like it that contribute to why so many mothers end up unwillingly formula feeding.

 

Digging even deeper, it’s the capitalist greed of companies promoting profit over health and wellbeing that is the root cause of parenting wars, not our social tribalism as parents. As Jews, we have our own internal wars, of course, so perhaps it’s helpful to draw a parallel. Rather than uniting against the outside forces oppressing us with anti-Semitism, we frequently turn our tension inward and simply attack each other.

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What Happens to Sexually Active Orthodox Singles?

By Hannah Katsman

illustration by Lior Zaltzman

When it comes to singles and sex in the Jewish community, Orthodox spiritual leaders have a dilemma. They can pretend it’s not happening, or they can open a difficult dialogue with their constituents.

Last week, the Israeli rabbinic organization Tzohar attempted to address this issue in a groundbreaking conference, “In the First Person: Sexuality within the Family and Religious Society.” Tzohar trains rabbis to perform participant-friendly wedding ceremonies at no charge. Its female volunteers teach Jewish and secular brides the Jewish laws surrounding immersion in the mikveh (ritual bath) before and after marriage. The event was attended by the female volunteers, and the wives of Tzohar rabbis.

“Many singles today feel that it’s their right to express their sexuality,” said panelist Rabbanit Chana Henkin, director of the Nishmat seminary for women, calling sexuality among Orthodox singles the elephant in the room. “Despite our discomfort with the topic, educators and community leaders must be prepared to discuss these issues openly.”

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'Because I Didn’t Count, I Counted Myself Out of Judaism'

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. Long-time activist and founding editor of Ms. magazine, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, talks about her estrangement from Judaism and how she found her way back.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin

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

I was 15-years-old when my mother died in 1955. I’d been one of the first girls to become a bat mitzvah within Conservative Judaism. I was a graduate of the Jamaica Jewish Center’s confirmation class, its Hebrew school and its Hebrew High School. I’d also spent a couple of years at the Yeshiva of Central Queens. Yet, back in the day, none of that mattered.

On the first night of the shiva, my father, prior to the memorial service, “counted for a minyan,” the quorum of ten required public prayer. Though our house was full of Jews, most of them were women, my mother’s friends; there were only nine men. Nine real Jews.

My father asked someone to call the shul and request a tenth man. I begged him to count me in. I reminded him I’d been Jewishly educated according to his demands. I knew the kaddish by heart. And the person being memorialized was my mother.

My father said, “Assur. It’s forbidden.”

At the moment when I most needed the comfort of my faith and the embrace of my community, I was excluded, simply because I was a girl. I didn’t have the Y chromosome. The shul sent us a tenth man who couldn’t read Hebrew and had never met my mother.

From that moment, because I didn’t count, I counted myself out of Judaism and remained estranged for more than fifteen years — until Jewish feminism changed our world and made it possible for a woman like me to feel like a real Jew.

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Baking Challah As a Feminist Act

By Elana Sztokman

via wikicommons

The first thing I did when I finished reading Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner David’s new book, “Chana’s Voice” is to set out to learn how to bake challah. Haviva’s writing is like that; she inspires you to open your heart and approach yourself to new possibilities. For Haviva, baking challah is one of three stations on her journey through Judaism and gender, the other two being sex and Shabbat. In order to begin my quest I called my friends Dr. Ariella Zeller and Chaim Kram who, like Haviva, bake challah every Shabbat in an entirely egalitarian way (Ariella’s job is the white bread, Chaim’s job is whole wheat; In Haviva’s house her husband Jacob has taken over the challah-baking entirely). As my friends taught me their tricks of the yeast, we discussed feminism, food, and Haviva’s book.

The experience of sitting in my friends’ kitchen preparing for Shabbat while exploring gender issues felt like the perfect reaction to Haviva’s book, and in fact to her entire life work. It was communal, conversational, relationship-centered and real. Haviva’s vision for Judaism and the world, as chronicled in this book, is a personal voyage through significant Jewish symbols and stations, one that for Haviva is swathed in courage, integrity, and an authentic search for meaningful connection to God within the fundamental parameters of human dignity and equality. “She took us on her journey,” my friend Ariella said after she read and loved the book, “and I felt like I was completely with her.”

The book uses the theme of “CHaNaH”, an acronym for the three commandments supposedly “given” to women – Challah, Niddah (menstruation) and Hadlakat Nerot (Shabbat candle-lighting). From the title alone, which implies a rather retro, essentialist, difference-oriented feminist approach with echoes of anti-feminist apologetics, I would not have picked up the book. Yet, the book itself is exactly the opposite of what the name implies. Haviva’s message is about embracing the values in the so-called “women’s” mitzvoth and creating a world in which men are taught to embrace those values too – whether that means men baking and immersing, or reinventing wedding ceremonies. For Haviva, the journey is about looking for the value in what has traditionally been “women’s culture” and bringing it out into the wider world.

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Looking Beyond Michelle Obama and Angela Merkel

By Mijal Bitton

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman greeted President Obama as he arrived with first lady Michelle Obama in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

Michelle Obama’s wardrobe is always a popular topic of conservation and speculation. This week, however, it assumed center stage in the international and national news covering the American diplomatic visit to Saudi Arabia’s new ruler, King Salman. True — the press covered the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, the affect of the late Saudi king’s death on oil prices, and questions over American foreign policy toward strategic allies with radically different human right values. But amidst all these crucial and far-reaching international discussions the subject of Mrs. Obama’s appearance — that she did not wear the veil, that her clothes were loose, that she was frowning at points, that her choice of style differed from other occasions — was what garnered attention and Internet chatter.

As it happens, the emphasis on Mrs. Obama’s appearance is the second time this month that the international press focused on the physical presence of a powerful and important woman.

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'Mommy, Can Men Be Rabbis?'

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. Below Rabbi Daniel Brenner, chief of education and program for Moving Traditions, remembers his initial confusion over women’s roles in Judaism.

Rabbi Daniel Brenner

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

In 1999, when I started working as a rabbi for a small reconstructionist community in Princeton that had originally been founded by Rabbi Susan Schnur (Senior Editor of Lillith), I heard a great story about Judaism and gender. Rabbi Bob Freidman was the first man to serve as a rabbi after Schnur had left. The first time he stood before the congregation, one of the children sitting before him was utterly confused. Turning to her mother, she asked: “Mommy, can men be rabbis?” It might have been the first time in the history of the Jewish people that such a question was posed. Hearing that story rocketed me back to the moment that I was first confused about gender and Judaism. It was 1982, and I was in the North Carolina mountains with my family for a Chavurah movement retreat. Rabbi Lynne Gottlieb, in a flowing white sleeveless dress and matching tallis, was leading the Shabbat davenning. I was twelve years old and I was confused about what to make of a woman in a tallit, much less a woman rabbi. “Daddy, can women be rabbis?” I asked. My Yeshiva-boy-turned –feminist-university-professor father said, without hesitation “Yes, and they should be counted in a minyan.” That was the moment that I realized that a sea change was starting to take place regarding Judaism and gender, a change that is still stirring the waters and making waves.

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


Remembering Forward Stalwart Fani Jacobson

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.

Before newspapers outsourced their circulation needs to databases and fulfillment agencies, before readers could blog their immediate dissatisfaction — people like Fani Jacobson at the Forverts, ext. 622, handled the incoming telephone calls demanding to know (in the more polite iteration of the query) precisely why they hadn’t received their paper? To handle the callers — and not lose subscribers — you’d have to be possessed of zip code trivia and have the grid of many a major metropolitan city imprinted on your psyche. Most of all, you’d have to be more than a bit in love with your readership. And as a multitasking circulation secretarial administrator, she did it all without a fancy official title.

© 1989 The Forward: From Immigrants to Americans (dir: Marlene Booth and Linda Matchan)

And it was Forverts West Coast distribution plans that determined Fani’s life-long employment with the Forverts, when in 1950 labor writer Harry ‘Herts’ Lang was granted permission to write and edit a Los Angeles edition of the paper. A widower, Lang needed help getting situated and his daughter Naomi, at the time a Forverts administrative assistant agreed to help him with the move — and gave her good friend Fani word of the job vacancy. Fani shortly thereafter left her position as a union communications and public affairs specialist with the New York Labor Party, and leaped at the chance to work in her beloved Yiddish.

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Joy Ladin On Gendered Mitzvot

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, Joy Ladin, author of “Through the Door of Life A Jewish Journey between Genders” discusses gender equality as an authentically Jewish value.

Joy Ladin

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

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of gender in my life as a Jew. Even as a young child, I was aware of hiding my female gender identity and pretending to be the boy everyone saw me as being. As a result, I was acutely, painfully aware of every aspect of Judaism in which gender played a role. In my family, Judaism was gendered female: my father was anti-religious, leaving my mother the sole guardian of Jewish custom, education and continuity. I think that is one reason I was so drawn to Judaism – it was a socially acceptable way to do something that I associated with being female. But aside from watching my mother light Shabbat candles, my participation in Judaism was done as a male. I attended weekday minyans with aged Eastern European men, studied for my bar mitzvah, wrapped myself in tallit and tefillin during daily prayers. It was thrilling to practice Judaism, but deeply uncomfortable to practice in ways that expressed a male identity I knew was false. That is why I often prayed alone: only when I talked to God could I be a Jew, a human being, without pretending to be male.

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


Leah Vincent on Prioritizing Human Dignity

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, Leah Vincent, author of “Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood,” discusses gender equality as an authentically Jewish value.

Lean Vincent

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

One thing we can do to advance gender equality in Judaism is challenge the myth that patriarchy represents a more “authentic” Judaism. Judaism has always evolved in response to its context. To paralyze Judaism in anachronistic gender inequality, is, ironically the “less authentically Jewish” act.

Judaism was built on then-progressive laws that prohibited shaming, hurtful speech, and sanctified extreme compassion, thoughtfulness and the empowerment of oppressed minorities. It is, at its core, a religion that prioritizes human dignity. A religion that is a natural champion for gender equality.

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One Woman Remembers Auschwitz on Return

By Wiktor Szary

Getty Images

(Reuters) - “The trains were jam-packed,” recalled Susan Pollack. “Old people, young, mothers, many children. My mother, brother and I. No one spoke.”

“It was hot, no air to breathe. Stench, moaning, that was the atmosphere. I think we were about 80 in the cattle wagon. When we arrived - and we didn’t know where we’d come to - when the doors finally opened, whoa, hallelujah, fresh air.”

The year was 1944, and Pollack had arrived at Auschwitz, deported from Hungary among a wave of Jews sent to their deaths.

Seven decades later, Susan, now 84, was one of around 300 survivors of the Nazi German death camp who made the trip from their adopted homes to commemorate its liberation by Soviet troops on Tuesday. Unlike many others, she was returning for the first time.

The trip from London, where she now lives, to Krakow, southern Poland, near the site of the camp, was no less daunting than the original one, said Pollack, whose surname was originally Blau before she married. She spoke to Reuters by phone before leaving London and again on arrival.

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Seeing the Holocaust Through Eyes of Women

By Sarah Breger

Ravensbrück. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

From sexual violence to pregnancies to “camp sisters,” women’s testimonies provide a more comprehensive view of the Holocaust. Beginning with her seminal “The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp” Rochelle G. Saidel, founder and executive director of the Remember the Women Institute, has dedicated her life to making sure these stories are heard. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, The Forward’s Sarah Breger speaks with Saidel on the importance of including women’s stories in the Holocaust narrative.

Sarah Breger: What prompted you to research women’s narratives in the Holocaust?

Rochelle Saidel: In 1980, I went to Ravensbrück concentration camp for JTA. I had only just discovered that this big concentration camp for women existed. WhiIe there I asked a question that seemed rather sensible to me — were there any Jewish women in this camp? Because it was in East Germany there was no evidence there had been any Jewish women in the camp. It was a communist shrine. After doing some research, I discovered that there were about 20,000 Jewish women [out of 130,000] there. I started working on this Jewish women of Ravensbrück concentration camp project which later became a book.

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Why Studying Women in the Holocaust Is Important

By Myrna Goldenberg

Jewish women in Budapest, October 1944. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1998, Commentary editor, Gabriel Schoenfeld, railed against the emergence of scholarship on women in the Holocaust, thereby bringing this still nascent field to the attention of readers, many of whom were academics. Schoenfeld was dismissive of feminist perspectives of the Holocaust, but he was, in fact, just as distraught over the growing number of university courses on the subject, which, he thought, would eventually “normalize” the horror of this catastrophic break in the values of the Western world.

In the 1980s — nearly two decades earlier than Schoenfeld’s rant — feminist scholars, led by Joan Ringelheim, asked the key question about the Holocaust that they had asked of other fields, namely, where are the women? There had been volumes of Holocaust memoirs by women from 1946 on, but not even a handful stayed in print. Volumes devoted to the history of the Holocaust seldom if ever referenced women. Photographs from the Nazi archives showed more men than women except when the photographs were of women who were stripped naked on their way to mass graves or to the gas chambers. Apparently, naked women were not ignored.

Women’s Studies scholars and feminist historians reflected on Polish-Jewish historian Emmanuel Ringelblum’s remark in his 1958 “Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto” that “the story of the Jewish woman will be a glorious page in the history of Jewry during the present war. And the Chajkes and the Frumkes will be the leading figures in this story.” He also pointed out the heroism of nurses as “ the only ones who save people from deportation without [asking for] money.” So, a few determined historians began to scour archives for material about “the Chaijkes and the Frumkes,” seeking out women survivors to hear their stories. Articles about women in the Holocaust sparked interest in out-of-print memoirs — especially those written right after the war. Many were republished, leading other women survivors to wrote their own memoirs.

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Elissa Strauss On Studying the Talmud While Female

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 pressing questions on gender and Judaism. Here Forward columnist Elissa Strauss talks about connecting to the Talmud for the first time.

Elissa Strauss

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

I’m thrilled to be able to say this happened at a good moment, rather than a bad one, and was a surprise. It was when I was studying Talmud for the first time as a not particularly religious, cohabiting (read: unmarried and sexually active) woman and felt like it was mine to wrestle with and be inspired by. This was in my first year as a fellow at LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture, a Jewish house of study for culture-makers at the 14th Street Y. I now co-direct the place so, needless to say, I fell in love with these texts and feel so grateful for all who came before me that challenged the idea that only one type of person could study these texts in one kind of context.

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Are Rape Fantasies Kosher?

By Sarah Breger

Podcasts hosts Dov Linzer and Bat Sheva Marcus.

Does Jewish law allow practicing the Kama Sutra? Is it a mitzvah to use a vibrator? What does the Talmud say about sexual fantasies?

It turns out, quite a bit.

The recently launched podcast, “The Joy of Text,” covers topics not usually discussed by your local Orthodox rabbi.

Hosted by sex therapist Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus (recently deemed the “Orthodox Sex Guru” by the New York Times) and Rabbi Dov Linzer, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT), the monthly podcast aims to have a “frank yet sensitive discussion of sexuality from a particularly Orthodox Jewish perspective.”

Sponsored by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and YCT, future episodes will include topics such as pornography, sex toys, role play and sex before or outside of marriage.

“I think that this podcast will be of interest to a very wide audience,” says JOFA Executive Director Dr. Sharon Weiss-Greenberg. “The podcast is meant to demystify sex — both in general discussion and within the framework of halacha, which is far more accommodating than most people are aware of.”

Listen to the first episode below:


Nancy Kaufman On (Not) Reading from the Torah

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, Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, discusses not being allowed to lein for her bat mitzvah.

Nancy Kaufman

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

When I became a bat mitzvah. I belonged to a large conservative synagogue in Brookline, Massachusetts and was told that my bat mitzvah had to be on Friday night and I would not get to read from the Torah like the boys did on Saturday morning. The year was 1964. I was pretty outraged and just didn’t get why I could not read from the Torah or, for that matter, have an Aliyah on Shabbat morning. To this day, I do not know how to read from the Torah and it is still something I want to learn and maybe even have a B’nai mitzvah!

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Retracing Ancient Jewish Threads

By Menachem Wecker

Gail Rothschild

The Three Fates famously spin, measure, and cut cosmic threads, which makes one of literature’s greatest scenes even more poignant in its reversal of that natural order. Penelope ingeniously outwits suitors hoping to usurp her husband Odysseus’s role when he doesn’t return from the Trojan War. Suspecting that her husband still lives, Penelope promises the nogoodniks eating and drinking away her estate that she will select a husband only after completing a mourning shroud. Each night, however, she surreptitiously unweaves the day’s work.

The deconstructionist act of unweaving is exactly how Brooklyn-based artist Gail Rothschild came to see her work after exhibiting four or five major sculptures a year at museums and universities across the country for years. Her projects, she says, tended to address the environment or feminist or labor history, and she tailored each piece for the particular community it was made for. But she came to question whether her views on art and social activism were correct and decided to seek answers in temporary solitary confinement in her studio — which, among other things, placed her on a path that would lead to mining Jewish history.

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