Sisterhood Blog

Germany's Pioneering Female Rabbis

By Gabrielle Birkner

Getty Images
Alina Treiger at her November 4 ordination.

Alina Treiger made headlines last week, when she became the first woman rabbi to be ordained in Germany in 75 years. But Treiger, 31, is not the first woman rabbi to serve in Germany since World War II.

That would be Bea Wyler, who was trained and ordained at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary during. Her 1995 appointment to serve the Jewish community in and around Oldenburg, in northwestern Germany, caused considerable controversy — amid the rabbinical establishment’s refusal to accept a female rabbi into its ranks. The Ukrainian-born Treiger, whose rise has been more warmly received than that of her predecessor, will also serve the community of Oldenburg.

Treiger’s appointment has revived interest in Regina Jonas, Germany’s first woman rabbi, ordained in 1935 — nine years before she murdered at Auschwitz. “When I look at [Jonas’s] photograph I’m reminded of what a significant step this is,” Treiger told The Guardian.

Several more women, studying in Germany to become rabbis, are expected to be ordained in the coming years.

Mazel tov, er, Herzlichen Glückwunsch, Rabbi Treiger!


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Regina Jonas, Germany, Bea Wyler, Alina Treiger

What the Bush Family 'Fetus in a Jar' Says About the 'Culture of Life'

By Sarah Seltzer

By this afternoon the internet is quite beside itself — or perhaps befuddled is the better word — with the story told by George W. Bush about having to drive his mom, former First Lady Barbara Bush, to the hospital after a miscarriage. Apparently on the way she showed him the remains of the miscarriage — a fetus — in a jar she was taking with her. From that moment on, Bush says, he opposed abortion because he saw the miscarriage as the loss of a sibling.

Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory points out that the incident didn’t seem to have the same effect on Bush’s mom, who has said she’s pro-choice (as is his wife, Laura). Meanwhile my colleague Robin Marty at RH Reality Check notes an inevitable comparison to the behavior of former right-wing Senator Rick Santorum, who brought his wife’s deceased 20-week-old fetus home to cuddle and pose for pictures with the family before returning the body to the hospital.

There’s nothing wrong with mourning the loss of a pregnancy for any reason. But whatever your views about abortion are, there’s something decidedly strange going on with all this fetus-preserving and fetusworshipping in the name of anti-abortion views. This may be particularly true for those of us with a Jewish sensibility about death, coming from a tradition in which we’re instructed to bury our loved ones soon and simply — without delaying the end of their physical existence.

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On HuffPost, D-I-V-O-R-C-E Gets Some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

By Elissa Strauss

Divorce is almost always presented as a prickly topic, one that imbues it survivors with bitterness and regrets. And so when I first heard about The Huffington Post’s new section devoted to divorce, I expected ranting. But most of the contributors on the site appear to be reasonable and sincere grown-ups — a mixture of financial experts, religious figures and everyday people who have experienced divorce; their content provides readers with sound advice on how to move through a period time that is almost always difficult. They make divorce sound, well, okay.

As a child of divorce I have felt, even with my new husband, the shame associated with divorce. My parents’ divorce is not just sad, but a little embarrassing — as if it could have avoided if they had exhibited a bit more rationality and restraint. There’s a sense that they, and we as a family, failed.

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Haredi Rabbi Talks 'Kosher Feminism'

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Sunday was the enormous Lubavitch Kinnus HaShluchim, replete with 3,500 of the rebbe’s emissaries in Crown Heights for Shabbos and coverage in The New York Times, of the banquet meal at Brooklyn’s cruise terminal, the only space large enough to accommodate the crowd.

I write this while watching a live feed of the speakers. The shluchos, or female emissaries, have their own convention in Brooklyn in February. Shluchim are only sent out as married couples, and in the Lubavitch community both the husband and wife are regarded as full partners in the work.

Seeing this weekend’s convention reminded me of the speaker I heard at a recent Shabbos dinner, where Rabbi Chaim Miller spoke about “kosher feminism.” It was held at the synagogue where my husband and I were married, 20 years ago, which is being revitalized by a young Lubavitch shaliach named Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Haredi, Feminism, Emissaries, Chaim Miller, Chabad, Lubavitch

In Israel, Civil Marriage Is on the Horizon — But Only For a Few

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

L’Chaim! It’s nearly time to celebrate for the 60,000 Israelis who, until now, were unable to marry in their own country because they are not Jewish according to Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law.

And thousands of Jewish couples will be extremely jealous.

A new marriage registrar, expected to be approved by the Israeli government within days, will pave the way for civil marriage, which, until now, has been non-existent. Right now, valid marriages are only those performed by an official representative of the religious community to which the couple is affiliated — Jewish, Muslim, Druze or Christian.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Marriage, David Rotem, Israel, Civil Marriage, Chief Rabbinate

My Grandmother's Obsession Becomes My Own

By Marla Brown Fogelman

Beit Hatfutsot
A photo of some of the Jews of Nicandro.

It was because of my late grandmother and her 40-year obsession with a book called “The Prophet of San Nicandro” that I was sitting at Columbia University’s Café 212, in the middle of a bone-chilling December afternoon, having coffee with professor John Davis.

Davis, who holds the chair in Modern Italian History at the University of Connecticut, had agreed to meet with me several hours before his seminar on “The Jews of San Nicandro: A Curious Tale of Collective Conversion in a 20th Century Mediterranean Community.”

As I sat listening to Davis talk about how he first came across the existence of the San Nicandro converts, I thought how thrilled Bubby would be that a bona-fide scholar was resurrecting the improbable tale that had had such a hold on her for decades — of how a group of Catholic peasants in a remote southern Italian village came to practice their own form of Judaism during the rise of Fascism, and converted en masse after World War II.

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Rethinking That Infamous 'Glee' Photo Shoot

By Elissa Strauss

gq.com

I, too, thought “uh-oh” when I saw the now infamous “Glee” photo shoot in GQ — see our earlier, related post here — nodding my head in agreement to the chorus of critiques deeming it sexist and even pornographic. But then I remembered what I used to dress like in my early 20s and realized that perhaps I had been too quick to judge. Fine, I never wore underwear as pants while suggestively sucking on a lollipop like Lea Michele does in the photo shoot, but you could certainly say that my wardrobe as a married woman is considerably more modest that many of the Friday night get-ups I used to wear in my early 20s.

Because I am slow to learn, I had a similar knee-jerk reaction when reading Dodai Stewart’s response to the article “The Truth About Beauty,” by Amy Alkon on Pyschologytoday.com. I instantly sided with Stewart that the article, which encourages women to remain mindful of their outer-beauty and promotes the damaging messages put forth by mainstream women’s and men’s magazines.

Like Stewart, I was revolted by the closing line from Alkon’s piece.

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A Close Look at the Bigotries of Reality TV

By Sarah Seltzer

Jennifer Pozner’s new book, “Reality Bites Back,” is out this week. In its pages, she takes our favorite “guilty pleasure” genre of TV to task for racism, sexism and manipulation of its audience. Pozner spoke recently with The Sisterhood. Her satirical book trailer is below, and the interview follows.

Sarah Seltzer: How did your interest in paying close attention to reality TV develop?

Jennifer Pozner: I basically started monitoring reality TV in 2002 when “The Bachelor” began to air. I sensed a new backlash meme was about to start. People were saying “oh, it’s just a fad.” But I knew that wasn’t the case because of media economics. It’s really easy to think shows come and go based on what viewers want to see but that’s not true. It’s more what advertisers want to pay for and what networks want to design for their advertisers. And reality TV is up to 50-75% cheaper than scripted shows, and it nets networks hundreds of thousands of dollars of product placement. So I thought we’d see more of this kind of show. I was hoping I was wrong but unfortunately I wasn’t. And I thought someone had to write this book.

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Bill Seeks To Make Israel's Paternity Leave More Generous

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Until recently, only women in Israel received automatic parental leave following childbirth. The husband, while entitled by law to up to 6 weeks of leave, could only take off from work once the mother returned to work, and only after a period of six weeks from the birth date. But this may be about to change. According to a bill introduced by Kadima MK Robert Tiviaev, new fathers will be entitled to a seven day leave with pay, starting on the day that a new baby is born.

Tivaiaev explained that the bill comes from request from testimony of many men who appeared at the Knesset committee meetings on the subject, testimony which he believes is confirmed by research collected on paternity leave practices around the world.

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New Curriculum Highlights Work of Jewish, Female Civil Rights Activists

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Wallace Roberts, via JWA
Heather Booth plays guitar for Fannie Lou Hamer during the Freedom Summer Project in Mississippi, 1964.

When we think of Jews who played a role in the Civil Rights Movement, names like Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel immediately come to mind. Few of us would name Judith Frieze Wright, Heather Tobis Booth or Beatrice “Buddy” Mayer. A free, new online curriculum called “Living the Legacy,” written by Judith Rosenbaum and published by Jewish Women’s Archive is attempting to change that — by shedding light on Jews and the Civil Rights Movement through a distinctly feminist lens.

“Living the Legacy” is a robust guide to the questions Jewish teens today should be considering — not only about Jewish participation in the Civil Rights Movement of 50 years ago, but also about their own political identity and commitment to social justice and human rights.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Judith Frieze Wright, Heather Booth, Freedom Summer, Civil Rights, Beatrice Mayer

Our Rack: Yeshiva Girl YA; Bios of Bernhardt, Alcott

By Elissa Strauss

Some of the books on ‘Our Rack.’ (click to enlarge)

NON-FICTION

In “Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt Robert Gottlieb,” Robert Gottlieb trims away the fat from the storied life of the legendary actress, who was born Jewish and who was later baptized a Roman Catholic. Gottlieb presents a peppy and concise biography rooted in facts and recorded accounts. The book, the debut title in Yale’s Jewish Lives series, looks at the people and places central to Bernhardt’s rise. Read the Forward’s review here.


Novelist Elisa Albert has edited a book of literary essays on the complicated relationships among siblings. In “Freud’s Blind Spot,” writers such as Erica Jong and Julie Orringer examine the powerful yet often complicated bond between brothers and sisters. (Elisa Albert will be a guest on an upcoming Yid Lit podcast.)

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sarah Bernhardt, Our Rack, Nicole Krauss, Louisa May Alcott, Elisa Albert, Books

Does Tony Blair Sister-in-Law’s Conversion to Islam Highlight a Trend?

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

It didn’t come as a utter surprise to the British public when Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, decided to convert to Islam. The journalist, activist and all-around political gadfly demonstrated against the war in Iraq, and in 2008, she was on one of the first boats headed to Gaza to break the Israeli blockade. She made headlines when she declared Gaza “the largest concentration camp in the world.”

And now, just after starting her new job as a newscaster for Iran’s English-language Press TV, Booth says that she has become Muslim, after experiencing a “religious awakening” in the Iranian holy city of Qom.

But if her conversion wasn’t all that stunning, seeing the outspoken blonde, wearing a traditional Islamic headscarf has sparked spirited conversation as to why modern Western career women would be attracted to Islam.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Lauren Booth, Islam, Conversion, Tony Blair

Teaching My Daughter To Take Risks

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Together, my 11-year-old daughter, Naomi, and I took the plunge. Nervous and uncertain of what lay before us, we waded into the water of the Sea of Galilee and began swimming, alongside thousands of Israelis — young and old, all shapes and sizes.

The annual tradition of swimming across the Sea of Galilee predates the State of Israel. In 1944, a few dozen competitive male and female swimmers crossed a nine kilometer course. In the early years, the swim was only for the very athletic and competitive. Over the years, it has evolved and been transformed into a massive event, that enjoys corporate sponsorship by Speedo.

Early in the morning there are the competitive legs, with prizes and medals for individuals and combined times of swimming leagues from across the country. But the big event, open to the public, is the “People’s Swim.” It is anything but a race. Every few meters, there is a raft where swimmers can hang on, climb up, or take a rest. Teenagers stop and dive or do cannonballs off of the cruise ship anchored halfway across the course. Families swim together — some of them holding ropes and pulling younger children along on rafts. For locals, it is an annual tradition.

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Voting: A Family Affair

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Voting this morning I saw several parents with tots in tow, and it reminded me of the many, many times I took my kids to the polls. I took them strapped on to the front of me in baby carriers; I took them in strollers; I took them by the hand as toddlers; and starting when they were 2 or 3 years old, I let them move the metal lever from right to left and back again, once my vote was cast.

Well, those days are over.

Now we get to vote by filling in the oval next to the candidate of our choice on a paper ballot, as if we were taking the SATs. Then you take the ballot and go to a scanner and feed it in. That’s it. It is, as one neighbor said this morning, “about as exciting as going to the bank.”

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Israel's Dismal Gender Gap Index Ranking — and What It Means

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Sisterhood contributor Allison Kaplan Sommer recently wrote about how women working in Israel’s public sector earn less than their male counterparts. But gender inequality is not a problem relegated to the public sector, to be sure. According to data released recently by the World Economic Forum, Israel is ranked in 52nd place out of 134 countries in the Gender Gap Index — down from a rank of 45 in 2009. Actually, there seems to be a general downward movement. In 2006, Israel ranked 35th, and in 2007, Israel ranked 36th. Something is wrong with this picture.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2010, which collates research collected over the past five years, looks at the relative status of women in areas of education, health, economics and politics across the globe. The Scandinavian countries have consistently been ranked at the top of the list — this year, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland have taken the top four positions respectively. It is worth noting, however, that there has never been a case in which women’s status exceeded men’s status in any indicator. Put differently, in no country have women ever held a majority of parliamentary seats or made higher salaries on average than men.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Saadia Zahidi, Gender Gap Index, Pay, Gender Gap

A Too-High Tolerance for Hate Speech Against the Obese?

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

In recent months, there has been much ado over media smears, slights, and attacks on Jews, African-Americans, gays and other minorities. Journalistic careers have taken a hit in the wake of comments that have caused offense — Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez, Juan Williams, etc. — and spirited arguments regarding the fine line between free speech and political correctness seem to be continually taking place.

But the most recent furor over hate speech is unique because it is involves a group that is regularly disdained, ignored, discriminated against and insulted, but rarely fights back: the obese.

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'Mama Grizzlies': No Empathy for Their Sisters?

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Sharron Angle

Election season is heating up and women, as they so often do, are taking center stage. Our rights are being debated and female candidates from both parties are subjected to extra scrutiny. We’ve had a woman victim of a politically motivated curb-stomping in Kentucky, a candidate who doesn’t believe women are ever discriminated against, and female candidates debating motherhood’s role on the campaign trail.

This year, the Republicans have made news by fielding a group of candidates who are female and ultraconservative — Sarah Palin’s “Mama Grizzlies.” The most frightening of the “Grizzlies” is not the most well known — the erstwhile Wiccan and constitutionally confused Christine O’Donnell. My bet is that O’Donnell will lose her election and be known primarily as a punchline, at least for the next four years.

Instead, it’s Nevada senatorial candidate Sharron Angle, who is looking more and more likely to unseat Harry Reid. She is living proof that being a woman does not in any way guarantee empathy for your sisters. Angle, incidentally is the candidate who has hired decoys to distract reporters and who inspired a profanity and vitriol-laden outburst from Joy Behar the other day on “The View”.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sharron Angle, Sarah Palin, Christine O'Donnel, Mama Grizzlies

Israel's Wage Gap

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

If Israel’s government wants to improve the economic condition of women, it can start by looking at its own payroll. According to the public sector salary report that was just released, the majority of government workers are women — 64% — and yet women’s earnings in the public sector significantly trail those of men. Haaretz reports:

The average monthly salary for women was 24% less than the average for men. The average gross pay for women stood at NIS 11,498 [$3,158] while men averaged NIS 15,060 [$4,136] a month. The report further showed that while the proportion of women in the public sector workforce is growing from year to year, so is the wage gap. The fact that men are employed in higher-ranking jobs than women only accounts for some of the discrepancy.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Israel, Wages, Wage Gap, Salaries, Pay

Why No Heroines Among the 'Jewish Community Heroes'?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

When one of our favorite blogs, Jacob Berkman’s The Fundermentalist, over at JTA, throws down the gauntlet, we at The Sisterhood are happy to take it up.

In his post announcing that the Jewish Federations of North America-run Jewish Community Heroes contest has selected its five finalists, he notes that they are all male. Nominees for the contest are selected by popular online vote: This year, more than 311,000 votes were cast. A panel of 16 judges (six of whom are women) selected the finalists and will pick the winner, who is to be announced at the upcoming JFNA General Assembly, in New Orleans November 7–9.

My view of the contest is complex: On the one hand, this kind of popularity contest tends to be finessed by the well-organized, like the Chabad-associated nominees this year and last who are adept at using social media to generate support. On the other hand, we know many Jews who work selflessly to improve things for others and would be able to put the $25,000 grand prize to effective use. And the Jewish community is in real need of inspiration, so the idea of finding unsung heroes to highlight is, well, appealing.

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'How Much Do Women Cost?': Taking a Stand Against Trafficking

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

If some of the mannequins in Dizengoff Center seemed a little strange last week, it may be because they were not made out of plastic but out of real, live human bodies. In an effort to raise awareness about the trafficking of women in Israel, The Coalition Against Trafficking of Women has launched a campaign entitled, “How much do women cost?” in which women pose as mannequins in store fronts with price tags hanging on their bodies.

In one store front, under a sign that reads, “Women for sale according to personal tastes,” seven young women stand with ripped clothes and bruises, and tags that display their age, weight, measurements and country of origin. On the website of the popular clothing chain, Zap, a new category popped up called “Women To Go” that enabled visitors to “purchase” women in the same categories.

“The victims of sex trafficking do not get to rest all day long, and neither do we,” Uri Keidar, one of the founders of the coalition, told reporters. “The purpose of the campaign is to bring this issue to the public awareness and get people to develop strong feelings on the issue.”

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