Anti-Semitism In My Own Back Yard
Being A Mom in the Midst of War
Hanukkah's Hottest Hebrew Hotties
Jews Far More Promiscuous Than Muslims
What Makes A Family?
Why I Screened Myself for Breast Cancer Markers
Police Shackle Anat Hoffman
Defending Michelle Obama's Arms
Why I'm Nostalgic for Hasidim
What's Wrong With Modern Dating?
The Case for Premarital Sex
When DIY Was More Than DIY
Sisters in Skivvies: A Graphic Review of 'Unterzakhn'
Chabad 'Likes' Facebook, But Not for Girls
Meet the 'First Lady of Fleet Street'
Video: Meet Chaya Mushka, Yet Again
'Raising a Bilingual Kid Is Harder Than I Expected'
Nir Hod's Anguished 'Mother'
Attachment Parenting's Star Evangelist
A Male-to-Female Jewish Journey
How Men Cornered the Baby Manual Market
Bubbe Cuisine Goes Local
Editorial: Defending Contraception
Should You Be Blogging Your Baby's Illness?
Video: Where Fashion Is Frum, Not Frumpy
The Case for Jewish Daycare
Saying Farewell to Filene's
The Bintel Brief Takes Comic Form
Editorial: Where Are the Women?
Video: Mah Jongg's Jewish Journey
Podcast: Adrienne Cooper's Musical Life
America's Most Influential Women Rabbis
My inbox was flooded with emails from outraged readers this week from pro-choice and civil liberties groups demanding action on abortion coverage in health reform. It felt a little déjà-vu. After the healthcare reform process, which brought us Bart Stupak and months of controversy over whether abortion would be sidelined as a different kind of health procedure that shouldn’t be covered, I thought we’d reached an unpleasant, but complete compromise.
But this week the Obama administration, of its own accord, decided to honor the “spirit” of that compromise by banning abortion coverage in almost all cases (rape, incest, life-threatening situations excluded), from high-risk pools — that is, for people who probably need this coverage the most.
An Israeli judge this week convicted Sabbar Kashur, a 30-year-old Jerusalem man, of rape and sentenced him to 18 months in prison. But his real crime was lying.
Kashur met a Jewish woman in September 2008 in downtown Jerusalem. He told her that he was single, Jewish and interested in a romantic relationship. The woman in question, must have never heard of “The Rules” (or common sense, for that matter). According to the court indictment, the pair “then went to a nearby building and had sex.”
The woman was outraged when Kashur immediately dressed and left her, and even more upset when she found out he was an Arab, and filed her complaint against him. He was charged with rape and indecent assault. Since the woman admitted the sex was consensual, Kashur asked for lenience and a sentence of community service.
But the judge ruled that:
As executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, Erin Saiz Hanna is front and center in the fight for women’s ordination in the Catholic Church. It’s been an uphill battle; just last week, Church officials warned that ordaining women as priests was as serious an offense as sex abuse.
Founded in 1975, the Women’s Ordination Conference is the largest national organization working to ordain women as priests, deacons and bishops. The Conference insists that while there is wide and growing support in America for women’s ordination, that level of support is not matched by decision-makers in the Vatican.
Sisterhood contributor Elissa Strauss interviewed Saiz Hanna about the roots of the Church’s ban on women’s ordination, how recent controversies within the Church have impacted the group’s efforts, and what she sees as parallels between the Conference’s cause and that of those who would like to see Orthodox women ordained as rabbis.
When I arrived last week for a writing residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I sat with my fellow new students in a basement room getting “oriented” and kvetching about the poor quality of the accommodations. But as we began to introduce ourselves and each other during a “getting to know you” game, I noticed a distinct lack of “witz” and “berg” and “man” as suffixes for people’s surnames.
Suddenly, I realized that I might be the sole member of the tribe — and I felt a whole lot more than seven hours from New York City. For me, a born and bred on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, with extended sojourns in Cambridge, Mass, being that removed from a hub of Jewish activity isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence.
On a recent Friday afternoon, here in Phnom Penh, my husband, Jeremy, and I went to visit the family of one of his former employees, Mak Lavin. Jeremy started an NGO called Digital Divide Data (DDD) that is based here, so, as I wrote in my last dispatch, we and our two young children are spending the month in Cambodia.
Several months ago, the family whom we were visiting experienced a tragic accident. The father accidentally touched a live electrical wire, and was electrocuted. His four sons, including Mak Lavin, ran over to try to help him and were all killed by the electrical current. Five members were killed — leaving behind a wife, two teenage daughters, a daughter-in-law and four young children. Jeremy had not been in Phnom Penh since the accident, and so he wanted to extend condolences in person.
Recently, Ruth Rosen wrote in the Ms. Magazine blog that the “women’s pages” of the 1950s and 60s have been reincarnated on the Internet. While she acknowledges the differences in content between those women’s pages (society, cooking, and fashion) and today’s “women’s pages” (analytical coverage of events, trends or stories overlooked by mainstream news), she argues that the designation of separate women’s sections keeps us tied to the assumption that women’s stories don’t belong on the front page.
In response to Rosen, Kim Voss wrote in to remind us that the “women’s pages” of the 1950s and 60s were more than just “society, cooking, and fashion” fluff. She argues that by mixing bits of the progressive in with the traditional, women’s page editors were able to get their serious content about women’s liberation published and reach women previously unexposed to feminism. I would add that The American Jewess was taking this approach way back in 1896. Its editor, Rosa Sonneschein, was mixing progressive feminist content with homemaking, health, and beauty tips.
Mention circumcision in a crowd — even a virtual crowd — of liberal Jews (or liberal anything, I guess) and it never fails to spark rhetorical fire. And so, when I saw a recent post on the Park Slope Parents listserv from a woman whose daughter is pregnant and not sure about having a son circumcised, I knew it would devolve into anti-brit milah rhetoric even though the original poster made no mention of religion and, I suspect, isn’t a MOT.
Devolve it did. Some people weighed on based on their personal experience with the issue for their own issue, and soon enough a couple of responses appeared on the 3,800-plus member list from Jews who said they didn’t circumcise their sons and are glad they didn’t.
Forward alumna and current Tablet editor in chief Alana Newhouse has an incisive op-ed in today’s New York Times today, warning that Israel’s Rotem Bill, which would enshrine official approval of conversion to Judaism in the hands of ultra-Orthodox rabbis, will lead to a split between Israel and the Diaspora.
She’s right, of course, though I would argue that the growing alienation that many American Jews feel expands each time a member of Women of the Wall is arrested or detained by police for having the holy chutzpah to carry and love and feel close to a sefer Torah.
We women are the proverbial canaries in the coalmine; the way we are treated is a harbinger of how things are moving socially and politically in general. So the way Anat Hoffman and Nofrat Frenkel are treated at the Kotel, and women forced to ride at the back of busses bodes poorly for how Israel will fare as a culture and as the Jewish home.
My family is spending this month in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where my husband, Jeremy, started a social enterprise that creates jobs for disadvantaged young people. Because of Jeremy’s work, Cambodia and all of its tragic history and problems is a part of our daily consciousness in New York City, but I had not actually visited since 2004.
It has been powerful and complicated to be here with our children, ages 4 and 2. Besides the obvious challenges — jet lag, different food, scary water, mosquito-borne illnesses — I am, of course, seeing life through different lenses. As I intensely try to keep my children safe, happy, and well-fed I am acutely, paralyzingly aware that such aspirations are out of reach for the majority of mothers in this country. To try to understand their challenges, and to think about ways in which I can do something helpful, I have been visiting programs here that try to help at-risk women and children. One of these projects has given me a lot of hope about the future for women in Cambodia, and also made me think about women in the Jewish community.
When I was an 18-year old yeshiva student, my friends and I would ask every teacher we had to give us a talk on our favorite topic. And it wasn’t sex. It was head-covering. Considering that the prevalent issue on our minds was marriage, we were desperate to get some expert advice on how to make the biggest choice of our lives: hat or wig, leave out the ponytail or stuff it in — or for some, like me, to cover or not to cover.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin taught at Midreshet Lindenbaum, what was then called Brovender’s, where I spent the summer of 1988. I knew that his wife did not cover her hair — neither did Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s wife, by the way, and neither does Rabbi Norman Lamm’s wife, and neither does my mother.
Nevertheless, in this setting, the gap year in Israel, promoted in the Orthodox day school world as the pinnacle of religious development, none of those women seemed to matter.
Abigail Pogrebin’s story, “The Rabbi and the Rabba,” in this week’s New York magazine, takes an insightful look at the man behind the making of the first woman in America to be ordained as Orthodox clergy, Rabbi Avi Weiss.
Pogrebin does a good job of capturing many aspects of Weiss’ complicated personality; his ardent political activism, which he can pursue single-mindedly, his political savvy and also his kindness toward people in need of ordinary kinds of support, through illness and grief. She certainly captures the impetuousness with which he plunged forth when it came to changing Sara Hurwitz’s title from “maharat” to “rabba,” a shift which precipitated enormous outcry from the Orthodox establishment.
It’s interesting to see that my previous post on Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the thorny issue of condemning women’s oppression in cultures other than our own sparked an insightful response from Sisterhood contributor Elana Sztokman.
Elana argues persuasively as to what the right choice should be in the feminism vs. cultural relativism quandary that I wrote about here:
She argues that women who suffer from various forms of oppression within religious groups are not the ones telling Western feminists to “butt out.” But I’m not sure if this is always the case.
Following the arrest today of Anat Hoffman — chair of Women of the Wall, and former Jerusalem municipal council member — for being a woman holding a Torah at the Western Wall plaza, Hoffman offered me her first-hand account of this morning’s events. She said:
We did nothing wrong. We were fully within the guidelines of the Supreme Court ruling which allows us to hold the Torah. We were not reading from the Torah. We were just singing and praying, and on our way to Robinson’s Arch to complete the service, as per the terms of the Supreme Court. There was absolutely no reason for me to be arrested.
When I saw the cover line — “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting” — on this week’s New York magazine, I thought “Yes! That sums it up exactly.”
Let’s face it: parenting is demanding, stressful and often unpleasant. But it still feels dangerous to talk about that aspect of things. Even in the age of confessional mommy blogs, it still feels necessary to frame these feelings in humorous ways rich with maternal wisdom.
It is a waste of time to even try to avoid World Cup fever in Israel. It’ll get you wherever you are. One would have to be completely culturally oblivious to remain unaware that it will be Holland vs. Spain playing in the final game on Sunday. The hum of the South African vuvuzelas is inescapable and there is a soccer fan in nearly every household.
The vast majority, of course, are men. Soccer is considered the ultimate macho sport among Israelis, as it is in most of the world. Watching the important games on huge flat screen television sets is a male bonding ritual — involving drinking and spitting sunflower seed shells. Yes, of course, there are some women who love watching the games (of course, those who take an intense interest are suspected of simply enjoying watching fit and muscular men run around in skimpy shorts.)
But mainly, just as there are football widows in the U.S., there are soccer widows during World Cup season in Israel. They are sought-after consumers.
Sometimes an idea is so absurd that I do not want to give it credence by replying. On the other hand if that absurd idea gains force, then I may find myself reluctantly responding to the ridiculous. Like right now.
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker, one of the few powerful women pundits in a field dominated by men as the Forward noted this week came out with a doozey of a column this last week: “Obama: Our First Female President.”
Now, Parker is hardly what I would call a feminist, since she routinely refers to feminists in the third person (“they”), as opposed to the second person (“we”). In fact, I have especially tried to avoid her columns ever since she came out in support of then Harvard President Larry Summers when he announced that women might be innately worse in math and science than are men. (“Give Summers a break”, she admonished feminists, a plea that she has since been repeating in other forums as well.) Still, even for Parker, this is a new low.
It’s been more than a year since the beginning of the Green Revolution in Iran, and the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan by an Iranian militia — turning her into a martyr in the fight against the country’s brutal regime and a symbol of the hope for democracy among its people.
While reading a recent article in Foreign Policy, I learned that at the same time that Neda Agha-Soltan lost her life, another young woman with a very similar name also lost hers — only she is still alive. In a rush to scoop each other, media outlets confused the identity of the woman whom the world saw bleeding to death on the streets of Tehran with one Neda Soltani who was busy with her university studies and far from the mass demonstrations.
People are always trying to trip up feminists. Like the time I was helping set up a room at a conference, right after I gave a talk about gender in Orthodoxy, and needed help moving a conference table. I asked the nearest person, who happened to be a man who was in my talk. He smirked when I asked, and then said, “You see, you need a man after all.” No, what I needed was a second pair of hands.
One of the most sophisticated rhetorical tools used against feminism is an argument drawn from the theory of cultural relativism, based on the philosophy of post-modernism. The argument goes that feminists are hypocrites because we disrespect other people — especially other women — who have anti-feminist opinions or lifestyles. So feminists, the argument goes, by valuing gender equality over “traditional” practices are just judgmental Neanderthals in disguise.
Rebecca Schischa, had an argument in her own head about these issues, which she shared here on The Sisterhood. She had just read one of my favorite authors and real-life heroines, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a woman who has one of the most powerful voices on behalf of protecting women from violence and harm.
For the most recent issue of The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin penned a nearly 9,000-word cover story, “The End of Men,” in which she chronicles the growing influence of women, and the subsequent shrinking influence of men. Through statistics on employment trends, educational success and even the growing desire for female babies, Rosin argues that the XXers are the gender of the future, and that patriarchy is yesterday’s news.
In 2008, Brandeis professor Sylvia Barack Fishman published a study that focused on similar trends in Jewish life. Matrilineal Ascent/ Patrilineal Descent: The Gender Imbalance in American Jewish Life took a look at the feminization of non-Orthodox Jewish life in seminaries, summer camps and synagogues. In the study, she wrote:
American Jewish boys and men have fewer connections to Jews and Judaism than girls and women in almost every venue and in every age, from school age children through the adult years. The descent of male interest is evident not only in domestic Judaism, as expected, but also in public Judaism, religious leadership, and secular ethnic attachments.
The Sisterhood’s Elissa Strauss asked Barack Fishman about whether “The End of Men” is a Jewish phenomenon, too.
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