Sisterhood Blog

Orthodox Feminists Are Not Conservatives in Disguise

By Elana Sztokman

There is a rumor going around that Orthodox feminists are just Conservative Jews in disguise, or perhaps in denial.

I’ve heard this idea in many settings. I was at a dinner last year honoring Jewish feminists when a woman at my table — a Conservative rabbi and prolific writer whom I greatly admire — reproached me. “Why do all you Orthodox feminists think that what you’re doing is so amazing?” she demanded. “The women in the Conservative movement have been fighting these battles for 40 years. You are just barely catching up.” Last month, my dear friend Hillary Gordon echoed similar sentiments in a blog post she wrote about my recent book event in Jerusalem. “Why can’t the Orthodox recognize that other women have come before them and fought the same fight?” she asks. “Why is it that because it was done by Conservative or Reform Jewish women it is not legitimate according to the Orthodox?” Almost the exact same line appeared a couple of weeks ago in the comment section of Frimet Goldberger’s blog post about Orthodox feminists. Frimet dared to write that Conservative Judaism is not an option for her, to which a commenter replied, “Do I detect some judgementalism in those words?? ….Is there a suggestion here that the Conservative observance of Shabbat is less ‘full’ or somewhat deficient from the more authentic Orthodox one??”

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My Jewish Wedding Felt Like an Intermarriage

By Hillary Berkowitz Nussbaum

I was supposed to be a low-maintenance bride. I am usually “the easygoing one.” Our florist would disagree. As I stood in front of his 20 foot refrigerator and pointed to every type of flower, telling him which to put in our arrangements, and which should, under no circumstances , even come near our venue, it was clear that “easygoing” was long gone.

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Separate-Gender Jewish Activities: It's Good To Have Rooms of Our Own

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

I have to disagree with Chanel Dubofsky’s Sisterhood post in which she contends that new interest in Jewish men’s clubs reflects male anxiety about a supposed women’s takeover of Jewish organizations and life. I think it’s great that a non-Orthodox Jewish organization is making progress in engaging Jewish men. The goal is to have everyone involved.

As far as I can tell, there hasn’t actually been a women’s takeover of Jewish organizations. As illustrated in this New York Times article a few years ago, and this more recent article in the Forward, it is true that, among teenagers, programming in the non-Orthodox community has attracted more female participation than male. And the Reform movement, for one, has been working to achieve more parity.

As important as egalitarian access to Judaism is to me, we also need separate-gender spaces (as the title and subject matter of this blog reflect). It is not anti-feminist to recognize that there are differences beyond the physical between men and women, and that we tend to develop most close friendships with those of the same gender. There is something to be said for the safer space of being with others of the same gender.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Reform, Moving Traditions, Men's Clubs, Conservative, Egalitarianism

The Truth About Modern Orthodox Jews and Gender

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Elana Sztokman is a fabulous writer whose pieces are always an asset to The Sisterhood and the rest of The Forward (and I get a gold star for having made the shidduch). But in her new blog post, Jewish Feminists Launch RCA Protest, Elana gets a few important things wrong.

The first is that she calls the petition launched to convince the Rabbinical Council of America’s leadership that they should endorse women’s religious leadership a Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance campaign when it is not. In fact, the organization decided not to issue the petition itself and instead sent carefully-worded open letters to the RCA, stating:

Rather than engage in semantic discussions about whether or not it’s halakhic for a woman to become a rabbi, or make divisive statements about a woman’s role in Judaism, we urge the RCA to focus instead on finding new ways for this motivated group of learned women to thrive.

Why is it worded this way? Because JOFA’s leaders know that the RCA leadership is not going to endorse women as para-quasi-rabba-maharat-rabbis in any form, so JOFA is not wasting its credibility capital and calling for it. Instead, JOFA is asking for something that it can’t name and I’m sure the RCA can’t either: non-rabbinic ways to make use of the growing cadre of women who are highly educated in Torah, highly skilled as leaders, and highly motivated to use their abilities for the benefit of the Jewish people.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sara Hurwitz, Rabba, RCA, JOFA, Conservative, Weiss

Daring To Daven at the Kotel

By Julie Schonfeld

Before leaving for Israel, where she will take part in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations’ annual mission to the Jewish state, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld reflects on the recent debacle over women’s prayer at the Western Wall — responding both as the Rabbinical Assembly’s executive vice president and as the mother of two young boys. What follows are excerpts from her essay:

What will happen when my sons are old enough to accompany me to Israel, where I will attend the Conference of Presidents’ annual Mission next week? A highlight of every trip to Israel is a visit to the Kotel, the symbolic site of Jewish yearning for centuries. My boys are young enough to stand with me in the women’s section, where they would expect me to don the tallis and tefillin they are accustomed to seeing on their mom. How long until the heckling and threats of the ultra-Orthodox begin? How long until the police come to intervene and in front of the horrified gaze of my children do what is only done with “bad guys,” — to arrest me. This is what Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum has tragically coined, hatradah datit — religious harassment.

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Masorti Leaders Challenge Oren's Remarks on Tallit Arrest

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Leaders of the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel today sent Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. a letter questioning recent remarks which seemed to criticize accounts of a woman who was arrested at the Kotel for wearing a prayer shawl.

Ambassador Michael Oren, speaking at last week’s convention of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said that the young woman, Nofrat Frenkel, was not arrested but merely “led away” by police from the prayer area at the Kotel when haredi men became aware she was wearing a tallit.

The report of his statement can be read at the bottom of the Forward story here.

Oren’s statement is directly contradicted by Frenkel’s first-person account, published in the Forward here, and by other women who were part of the Women of the Wall group which was trying to pray at the Wall on the first day of the new Jewish month. The account of one of them, Anat Hoffman, can be read here.

Now Rabbi Alan Silverstein and David Lissy, the chair and chief executive, respectively, of the Conservative movement’s foundation to support Masorti communities in Israel, have written Oren a letter saying that they are “astonished” by his “somewhat disparaging” remarks about the Frenkel affair at the United Synagogue conference.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Forward, they write:

It is always good to deal with facts. Nofrat Frenkel’s first person account, not disputed by any participant or published report, indicates that if ‘arrest’ is not the proper term under Israeli law to describe what happened, some equally harsh term would fit.

The Masorti Foundation leaders go on to recount the facts as related by Frenkel and others, and conclude the letter by writing:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tallit, Masorti, Kotel, Frenkel, Conservative

Conservative Women Rabbis Celebrate Changes, Still Face Struggles

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Much has changed for female rabbis in the 25 years since the first woman was ordained in the Conservative movement — including acceptance by peers and congregants — but some things, including more difficulty getting good jobs and resentment from other women, remain challenging.

These issues were explored at a conference at the Jewish Theological Seminary on November 4 and 5, titled “Leadership Presence: Women’s Ways in the Rabbinate.” Of the 1,600 members of the Rabbinical Assembly today — the umbrella group for Conservative rabbis — 257 are women.

Several of the 75 or so women who attended were among the first ordained (Rabbi Amy Eilberg was the very first, in 1985, and was part of the gathering), and they spoke of how much things have changed.

“I was the only woman in all my classes. It was not an easy time to be here,” said Rabbi Nina Bieber Feinstein, who teaches at Los Angeles’ Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and leads the N’Shama Minyan at Congregation Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Calif. She was the second woman to be ordained at JTS, and the first Conservative rabbi to become a mother.

Fifteen years ago, at a conference celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first woman’s ordination, “there was still ambivalence about women at that conference, and at the seminary,” said Rabbi Debra Cantor, spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Sholom in Newington, Conn. and a member of the first class at JTS to include women. “Ten years out we were still struggling for legitimacy and still striving for authenticity.”

Now, she says, “the rabbinate has changed dramatically.”

But not completely.

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But Can You Breast-Feed a Baby Doll in Shul?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Just in time for those who like to stock up early on weird and controversial Hanukkah presents for their young relatives comes news of a baby doll which simulates breast feeding.

On so many levels this doll strikes me as disturbing in the extreme.

The name alone astounds: Bebe Gloton, which translated from its native Spanish apparently means Baby Glutton. Its maker says that it is designed to promote breastfeeding as a natural part of life. The (presumably) little girl “mommy” puts on a bib-like thingy with flowers where in real life her nipples would be, and then puts Baby Glutton to her flowers. The doll simulates sucking and needs burping.

Some commenters on this blog say that Bebe Gloton has tripped “gross out” alarms because of the way American culture has sexualized breast feeding.

I beg to differ.

This grosses me out the same way advertisements for toy vacuums and toy mops do.

But wait, there’s more! Here’s a toy Miele vacuum so that we can teach our children to covet $1,200 vacuum cleaners even as we allow them to sit in front of a television and veg out when they’re not in school.

There’s something perverse about buying children “aspirational” brand toy vacuums even as so many parents fail to give children chores or ever expect them to be able to wield a real vacuum.

Then again, perhaps my distaste is rooted in my aversion to housecleaning overall, let alone mock-housecleaning for kiddies.

But back to Baby Glutton.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Synagogue, Dolls, Breast Feeding, Conservative




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