This year, I knew a month in advance what I would be doing to mark November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I am affiliated with a variety of feminist organizations, plus I am a graduate of Barnard College and a university faculty member in gender studies, but this year I was made aware of the upcoming date not thanks to my participation in any of these communities. Instead, I was alerted thanks to an announcement by Rabbi Benny Lau, the renowned Israeli scholar, teacher and rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem.
To me, the simple fact of this announcement is extraordinary. First of all, the well-known, highly influential rabbi of a longstanding Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem has made it his business to know of such a date. In other words, he has put himself in communication with the world of feminist activism and global reform efforts organized by the UN. This is not simple for Orthodox rabbinic authorities who often fear affiliation with secular movements will call their authority into question. Second, it is not simple for Israelis who often come under the condemnation of such organizations. Yet HaRav Benny, as he is known to his students and congregants, has chosen to publicize such a date to his community, thus bringing it under the rubric of the norms and demands of a life structured by the teachings of Torah and halakhah, Jewish law.