Pressure against the Pu’ah to abstain from holding a conference for men only on fertility and Jewish law seems to be working. As of this morning, 9 out of 10 Israeli doctors scheduled to speak had withdrawn. In addition, the Ethics Board of the Physicians’ Union announced that from now on doctors will not be allowed to participate in medical events or conferences in which women are excluded, either as speakers or patients. This is an enormous victory by any social activism standards.
A roundtable of 30 social justice organizations convened by the New Israel Fund over the past few months to address the exclusion of women seems to be largely responsible for this success. Dr. Hanna Kehat, founder of the religious women’s forum Kolech, brought the Pu’ah conference to the attention of the other members of the roundtable — and several member organizations helped activate pressure. (Full disclosure: I also sit on the roundtable, representing The Center for Women’s Justice. Everything reported here is with permission).
Lili Ben Ami and Limor Levy Osemi, of the Lobby for Equality Between the Sexes, have been particularly influential in achieving the support of the physicians’ Ethics’ Board, and have been speaking to doctors, Knesset members and members of the media. Mickey Gitzin, director of Be Free Israel, which promotes civil equality, has also been encouraging doctors not to cave into Haredi pressure.
Imagine a medical conference dedicated to women’s bodies in which no women are allowed to speak or even sit in the audience. No, this is not a Victorian novel or the back room of an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club. This is Israel 2012.
For the fourth year in a row, Pu’ah, a publicly funded organization dealing with gynecology, fertility and Jewish law, or halacha, is set to hold their annual medical conference on January 11 in a setting completely devoid of actual women.
Women are excluded as conference presenters on fertility, medicine, or Jewish law, and barred from even sitting in the crowd. Over the past three years, Kolech has written petitions, gone to the media, and turned to medical professionals asking them not to participate “This year, for the first time, people are taking an interest, and maybe something will happen,” Kolech’s founder, Hanna Kehat, said.
This year’s conference of Kolech, Israel’s Orthodox feminist forum, grappled with cutting-edge issues around homosexuality, the place of transgender women in Orthodoxy and the shared lifestyles of Muslim and Jewish religious women.
At the conference, which took place in Jerusalem earlier this month, the panel on homosexuality included an Israeli lesbian who was raised Orthodox, a woman who was born male into an Orthodox family and an Orthodox woman whose son is gay. Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner David, who has written extensively about her family’s journey with her gay brother, said “I was pleasantly surprised to see that this session was included in the conference and was afraid because of its relatively radical nature that it would not be well attended. I was even more pleasantly surprised to see that the room was packed when I got there and that the audience was supportive, sympathetic, and respectful to the panelists.”
It seems that the community is working to put an end to issues that have been silenced in the past.
The sexual lives of religious women will be a major topic of discussion at a panel at the upcoming conference organized by the religious women’s forum Kolech. Naomi Marmon Grumet, who has conducted research on the intimate lives of religious women, will be examining the differences between Orthodox men and Orthodox women in preparation for marriage.
This is just one of many juicy subjects that will be addressed at the upcoming Kolech gathering, scheduled for July 3–4 at the Keshet School in Jerusalem. (Kolech, which was founded in 1998 by Hana Kehat, works within a religious framework to promote gender equity in Israel.) Other conference topics include feminism in the Haredi community; Jewish and Arab women fighting for tradition; gender and Judaism on the Internet; single mothers by choice; gender segregation in public spaces, and sex-ed for religious boys.
The women’s basketball team Elitzur Ramle won the Eurocup championship for the first time in Israel’s history in a 63:51 victory against French team Arras. Star player Shay Doron who was also the first Israeli woman to play in the WNBA, said the team was “ecstatic” about the win. Despite the incredible triumph, women’s sports in Israel remain largely under-reported and under-attended, lamented Ramat Gan council member Israel Zinger who was at the national championship and found few public officials there. Needless to say, that wouldn’t be the case had the men’s team been up for the European championship.
Gila Klein is running for the head of the teachers’ union under the campaign slogan, “Revolution! After 107 years of male authority, it’s time to go from ‘mazcal’ [male director general] to ‘mazcalit’ [female director general].” Despite the fact that teaching is undoubtedly one of the most female-dominated professions, the inverse pyramid has held fast even here. That is, the higher up on the ladder, the more men dominate women. Elections for head of one of the most powerful unions in Israel are set for this week, and we’ll see if there will indeed be a gender revolution.
The recent legal victory of Hana Kehat, founder of the Orthodox feminist Israeli organization Kolech, has implications for working women in Israel and for feminists worldwide: The courts ruled that she was fired illegally from the Orot Teachers’ College in 2005, and that she must be immediately reinstated.
Kehat, who was described by her employers even during the trial as “an excellent lecturer” argued that she was fired from the religious Zionist institution because of her feminist views. Rabbi Neria Gutel, the head of the college who was responsible for her firing, said that she was fired because of low registration to her classes. Gutel’s claim, however, belies the point: She had low registration despite being a wonderful teacher because students were made to feel uncomfortable in her classes.
There are no halachic problems with women becoming rabbis, and virtually no rabbinic functions that women cannot perform. So argued Dr. Hana Kehat last week at the inaugural Limmud Modi’in conference — a Jewish learning festival modeled on the famous Limmud conferences of England. Kehat, the renowned scholar and founder of the Orthodox feminist organization Kolech, spoke on a panel (along with yours truly) about the subject of Orthodox women rabbis.
“Women are already performing many of the ‘rabbinic’ functions,” she said. “There are poskot [arbiters of Jewish law] and religious pleaders, and of course teachers and counselors.” When asked about the issue of women serving as witnesses, which is prohibited by halacha, she replied, “The rabbinic courts have already found ways to accept women’s testimony. Even though that has nothing to do with the issue of leadership, it shows that the problem with women’s religious roles has nothing to do with halacha and everything to do with social barriers.”
The Rabbi Motti Elon story was back in the news this week. It seems that despite all the hubbub over the investigation into his alleged sexual abuse of students, and despite his agreement not to continue teaching, Elon has been giving classes, some of which are even being posted on the Internet by his fans.
According to Yehudit Shilat, the head of Takana, the organization established in 2003 to grapple with the issue of sexual abuse by rabbis in the religious Zionist community in Israel, Elon is “the only person who failed to comply with an agreement with Takana.” Shilat has said that Elon had admitted to the Takana forum that he was guilty of the acts he was accused of, and as such signed an agreement to leave Jerusalem for a few years and to discontinue teaching, but to the organization’s chagrin ignored this agreement.
Meanwhile, despite this setback, elsewhere the Elon story has been making waves. Last week, a correction to the sexual harassment law submitted by Kolech passed unanimously in the Status of Women Knesset committee, and is now going to its first reading in the Knesset.
Every year at the end of Passover, my mother takes a box of matzoh and puts it aside for a few weeks. Then, on the 14th day of Iyar, exactly a month after Passover eve, she takes it out and eats it — as do many other Jews around the world — to remember the holiday of Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover. This practice reflects the biblical story in which a group of Jews came to Moses very upset that they missed out on the first Passover in the desert because they had been in a state of impurity and were thus excluded from this seminal national event. Moses, baffled, approached God, who replied by creating the Pesach Sheni ritual. From then on, any Jew who was unable to take part in the Passover festival, whether for reasons of impurity or logistical/economic difficulty, celebrated Passover a month later, in a quintessential second chance.
In the spirit of Pesach Sheni’s powerful message of inclusion, this year for the first time, Pesach Sheni was marked on Monday, April 26 as the “Day for Religious Tolerance.” The celebration, initiated by Bat-Kol, the organization of religious lesbians, and Kolech, an Orthodox feminist organization in Israel, was explained by Bat-Kol activists Dina Berman Maykon and Tamar Gan-Zvi Bick:
In response to haredi efforts in Israel to increasingly segregate public areas by gender – the latest move is to make psychiatric hospitals single-sex only, which you can read more about in the Forward’s article here, an Israeli feminist organization is setting up a hotline for women to call to file complaints about discrimination or attack in public places.
The hotline is being called Hashme’eini, the feminine term for “Let my voice be heard,” and is being established by Kolech, the Israeli feminist organization for religious women. It is being supported solely by the New Israel Fund, which is spending $7,000 on it for its first year.
The hotline phone number is 02-671-1911.
According to an English translation of the Hebrew press release sent out by NIF:
The hotline is for women who wish to express their opinions, and to those subjected to any type of discrimination, insult or attack in the public sphere/space in places such as public transportation, sidewalks, performances, public institutions and others.
The goal of this initiative is to make recommendations regarding advancing/improving the rights of women in the public space, as well as their status, wellbeing, dignity, and to advise and be advised.
Hashme’eini is to go live this Sunday, and will be open Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, between 3 and 5 p.m.