This is the fourth post in a series by Johnna Kaplan exploring aspects of Jewish life outside of her own experience.
Last week I opened an Amazon box containing a Stone Edition Tanach. It is the first tanach, or tanakh (or Bible, or Old Testament, or whatever you want to call it), I have ever had.
There’s no particularly good reason why before this moment I never owned the book that’s so central to the history and practices of the Jewish people. It’s certainly not due to an aversion to books, which I accumulate to an embarrassing degree. You could say that if the Jews are the people of the book, I am the person of all the books but that one.
My first encounter with a Bible story involved several illustrated children’s books, school library cast-offs that I quickly conflated into one large volume in my head. They told tales of different peoples, from Roman myths to Native American creation stories to Scandinavian folklore. One of them had a Jewish section; I vaguely recall dramatic drawings of figures like Moses. There was something about those stories that seemed important somehow, but not alive. I ignored it, and all the others, in favor of the bits about ancient Greeks, which grabbed me instantly.
Still, I knew somehow that the biblical stories were different than the others. Although they bored me, I was aware that they were “mine.” But I didn’t directly encounter them again until I grew old enough to become obsessed with musicals, and learned every word of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
In 1997, Blu Greenberg chaired the first International Conference on Feminism & Orthodoxy. About 400 attendees were expected and more than 1,000 showed up, hungry for a community of other women committed to both traditional Jewish life and their own religious potential. The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, which was born of that first gathering and had Greenberg as its founding president, has run six more conferences and now claims some 5,000 members worldwide.
JOFA is honoring Greenberg, along with past president Carol Kaufman Newman and key funder Zelda Stern, at a dinner in New York City on November 20th. The Sisterhood spoke with Greenberg about what has changed for Orthodox Jewish women since JOFA began — and what hasn’t.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen: Of issues on JOFA’s agenda, where has there been the most change, and the least?