jewish-feminism

I hate it when white women like to act like they’re not white when they claim to be Jewish. Ummm, you’re white, and being Jewish doesn’t hide your white privilege, it actually makes you more privilege. Being Jewish doesn’t make you a Women of Colour when most Jews are BEYOND white passing. 
Jews in the United States and Europe are FAR overrepresented in banking, the media, the justice system, government, ect. Jews also played a huge role in the slave trade where most of the slave ships were Jewish owned. If anything being Jewish is a privilege which has historically and still is favoring their own and benefiting off the struggles of People of Colour which has aided white supremacy. If you’re jewish and want to aid people of colour in their struggles and rape, check your privilege and call out people you know for their racism, sexism, misogyny, ect.

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“Blessed are You, G!d, Ruler of the Universe, Who has made me a woman and not a man.”

— A woman’s morning blessings in 15th century Italy. That’s right: in Renaissance Italy, Jewish women gave thanks every day that they were women and not men. Amen! In current Orthodox liturgy, men say “Who has not made a woman” while women say “Who has made me according to Divine will.”

First prayerbook: Ferrara, Italy, 1471, in the JTS Library.

Second prayerbook: Ferrara, Italy, 1480, in the National Library of Israel.

There is a new myth developing in Christian feminist circles. It is a myth which tells us that the ancient Hebrews invented patriarchy: that before them the goddess reigned in matriarchal glory, and that after them Jesus tried to restore egalitarianism but was foiled by the persistence of Jewish attitudes within the Christian tradition. It is a myth, in other words, which perpetuates traditional Christianity’s negative picture of Judaism by attributing sexist attitudes to Christianity’s Jewish origins, at the same time maintaining that Christianity’s distinctive contributions to the “woman question” are largely positive.

The consequence of this myth is that feminism is turned into another weapon in the Christian anti-Judaic arsenal. Christian feminism gives a new slant to the old theme of Christian superiority, a theme rooted in the New Testament and since reiterated by countless Christian theologians.

Invidious comparisons between Judaism and Christianity most often appear in one particular context in feminist work. Writers exploring the Jewish background of Jesus’ attitudes toward women frequently exaggerate the plight of women in Judaism in order to make Jesus’ position stand out more positively in contrast. If Jewish women are unclean chattels, then Jesus’ treatment of them must be revolutionary. “Jesus was a feminist,” as Leonard Swidler put it.

Understanding Jesus’ relations with women in the historical context of contemporary Judaism is surely a legitimate and important task. But many feminist accounts of Jesus’ Jewish milieu suffer from three serious scholarly errors or oversights which are rooted in biased views of Jesus’ Jewish origins.

First of all, a number of discussions of Jewish attitudes towards women use the Talmud or passages from it to establish the role of Jewish women in Jesus’ time. The Talmud however, is a compilation of Jewish law and argument which was not given final form until the sixth century. Passages in it may be much older or at least reflect reworkings of earlier material. But this can be determined only on the basis of painstaking scholarly sifting of individual texts. Such sifting clearly has not been done by authors who can blithely refer to the whole Talmudic tractate Sabbath as contemporary with Christ or who can say that certain taboos against women were incorporated into the Talmud “and from there passed on into Christianity.”

Similarly, references to rabbinic customs or sayings as contemporary with Jesus also reflect a misunderstanding of the development of Judaism. The Rabbinate emerged as an institution only after the fall od the Temple in 70 C.E., and it took considerable time before rabbinic authority was consolidated and came to represent more than a minority opinion within the Jewish community.

Secondly, it is deceptive to speak of rabbinic opinion, customs, or sayings as monolithic. Even if one assumes that the Talmud gives an accurate picture of Jesus’ Jewish background, the Talmud is at least as ambivalent as the New Testament on the subject of women. Yet writers dealing with Jewish attitudes towards women often select only the most negative rabbinic passages on the topic. Their treatment of Judaism is analogous to conservative Christian arguments for the subordination of women which quote only certain verses from Paul. Perhaps the most egregious instance of this type of distortion of Jewish tradition is Virginia Mollenkott’s statement that “the Rabbis” would have been shocked and alienated by Christian belief in the mutual love and service of husband and wife Is she speaking of “the Rabbis” who said “Love your wife as yourself, honor her more than yourself,” or “If your wife is small, stoop and whisper in her ear”? Certainly, there are many dreadful rabbinic sayings about the relationship between husband and wife, but there are also a large number of precepts celebrating the joys of a loving match. And if the negative statements influenced Jesus and the New Testament authors (a questionable assumption!), then the positive ones must have as well.

The third error frequently made by feminist scholars is more subtle. It lies in comparing the words and attitudes of an itinerant preacher with laws and sayings formulated in the rarefied atmosphere of rabbinic academies. Many discrepancies between Jesus and “the Rabbis” on the subject of women can be explained by the fact that Jesus was constantly in contact with real women, speaking to and about them in the context of concrete situations. Rabbinic discussions about women, on the other hand, were often largely theoretical, taking place in institutions where no women were present. Where we do have rabbinic stories of actual male/female interaction, we find that rabbis too – whatever their ideological statements – were capable of reacting to women as persons. The often-quoted story of Jesus’ compassion for the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53ff), for example, finds a parallel in a rabbinic anecdote told of Rabbi Meir. A man became so angry at his wife for staying out late attending Meir’s sermons that he vowed to bar her from the house unless she spat in Meir’s face. Meir, hearing of this, sent for the woman and told her that his eyes were sore and could be cured only if a woman spat on them. The woman was then able to go home and tell her husband that she had spit on Meir seven times. The theological point of this story is not the same as the New Testament one. But it is not very different in showing a rabbi react with concern and sympathy for the trials of an ordinary woman.

These deficiencies in feminist scholarship are serious, and they suggest the need for major revisions in the treatment of Jesus’ Jewish background. Required, first of all, is honest, balanced, non-polemical discussion of those texts which are in fact contemporary with Jesus. Such discussion should take into account variations of Jewish practice in different areas of the ancient world as well as differences in the setting and audience of Jewish and Christian material. Only when Christian feminists have deepened their understanding of Judaism can they honestly evaluate the uniqueness or non-uniqueness of Jesus’ attitudes towards women.

At the same time that Jesus’ milieu is being reevaluated, the Talmudic rabbis ought to be compared with their true contemporaries – the Church Fathers.

Admittedly, this task is less rewarding than comparison of the Talmud with Jesus: examination of rabbinic and patristic attitudes towards women leaves neither Christians nor Jews much room for self-congradulation. Rather, what is immediately striking is the similarity between the two traditions – in both, the developing association of women with sexuality and the fear of woman as temptress. Christianity compensates for the image of the temptress with that of virgin; Judaism, with the good wife with whom sex is permitted and even encouraged. But while these images saddle women with different disabilities and provide them with different opportunities, it would be difficult, and certainly pointless, to label one superior to the other.

The persistence of biased presentations of Judaism in feminist work is disturbing. But were sloppy scholarship the only issue at stake in feminist anti-Judaism, it could easily be corrected. Much more important, the popularity of such research indicates a profound failure of the feminist ethic. The morality of patriarchy, Mary Daly argues, is characterized by “a failure to lay claim to that part of the psyche that is then projected onto ‘the Other.’” Throughout the history of Western thought, women, Blacks, and other oppressed groups have had attributed to them as their nature human traits which men could or would not acknowledge in themselves. Sexuality, bodiliness, dependence, moral and intellectual failure were all peculiarities which belonged to everyone expect ruling class males. The feminist ethic, in contrast to this, is supposedly an ethic of wholeness, an ethic based on the withdrawal of projection and the recognition that the full humanity of each of us embraces those despised characteristics patriarchy ascribed to a host of “Others.”

Christian feminist anti-Judaism, however, represents precisely the continuation of a patriarchal ethic of projection. Feminist research projects onto Judaism the failure of the Christian tradition unambiguously to renounce sexism. It projects onto Judaism the “backsliding” of a tradition which was to develop sexism in new and virulent directions. It thus allows the Christian feminist to avoid confronting the failures of her/his own tradition. This is the real motive behind biased presentations of Jesus’ Jewish background: to allow the feminist to present the “true” Christian tradition as uniquely free from sexism. Otherwise, why not present positive Jewish sayings about women along with the negative ones? The former are just as conspicuous as the latter in English anthologies of rabbinic thought. And why not compare the Talmud with the Fathers instead of Jesus? Clearly, because that would not permit as dramatic a contrast between the two traditions.

The “Other” who is the recipient of these projections, is, of course, the same Other who has received the shadow side of the Christian self since the beginnings of the Christian tradition. Feminists should know better! During the period when witch persecutions were at their peak, witches and Jews were the Church’s interchangeable enemies. When the Inquisition ran out of Jews, it persecuted witches – and vice versa. This fact alone should alert feminists to the need to examine and exorcise a form of projection which bears close resemblances to misogyny. But besides this, what Other is more truly a part of the Christian than the Jew? Where else should the withdrawal of projection begin than with Judaism. Yet women who are concerned with the relation between feminism and every other form of oppression are content mindlessly to echo traditional Christian attitudes towards Judaism.

The purpose of these criticisms of feminist scholarship is not to suggest that traditional Jewish attitudes towards women are praiseworthy. Of course, they are not. But Christian attitudes are in no way essentially different. They are different in detail, and these differences are extremely interesting and worthy of study. But weighed in the feminist balance, both traditions must be found wanting – and more or less to the same degree. The real tragedy is that the feminist revolution has furnished one more occasion for the projection of Christian failure onto Judaism. It ought to provide the opportunity for transcending ancient differences in the common battle against sexism.

— 

Judith Plaskow: “Blaming Jews for the Birth of Patriarchy”

copyright © 1980 by Lilith Publications, Inc., first appeared in Cross Currents, reprinted with permission in Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology (1982) edited by Evelyn Torton Beck

PDF from Lilith magazine (1978) here

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Take a look at my new series “Emanu (Our Mother)” up on my site now!

“Let the Jewish daughters in all future generations know the great privilege they have and the great responsibility they carry.”                                        Esther

Drawing from the story of the matriarch Rachel, with whom I share a name, I explore my relationship with Judaism, gender, and the idea of the Schehinah, the soft empathetic counterpart of God, the feminine aspect of God in the human form. I approach the self portrait as a vehicle for self-love and for the promotion of positive self-talk. In this project, it is a tool for self-admiration.

As outlined in the book of Genesis, Rachel, the mother of all Jews overcame a life of hardship and was raised by men of deceit. She wept and prayed for all the Jewish people on the road to Bethlehem, on their the way from slavery into exile. She died giving birth to Joseph and Benjamin, who went on to lead two tribes of Israel, and was buried on that road.  She personifies the cosmic tears of the Shechinah, God’s revealed presence in our world. Rachel, the loving mother who suffered along her children in exile, nursed them with her tears.

Emanu is a platform for creating a personal understanding of myself and of Judaism through text and photography. While I did not grown up in a particularly orthodox or religious home, my family did engage in religious ritual. It is only recently, in my twenties, that I have decided to explore religious ideas and actions from my childhood.  This project is not about becoming more devout or religious in my Judaism. It serves rather, as an exploration of my identity as a Jewish woman and my spirituality in relationship to the world I am situated in. I approach Emanu more through family tradition and feminist ideas than with religious experience. The examination of women spaces and stories relates directly to my identity as a Jewish woman. Like Rachel the matriarch, I have endured suffering and deceit at the hands of men. Through Emanu I examine contemporary ideas regarding the Shechinah.

In my experience with Judaism, it is often the women who preserve history and uphold cultural identity. Emanu highlights different approaches to gendered roles in a matrilineal society which operates in noticeable contrast to the broader and more pervasive patriarchy of western society. Participating in women-dominated spaces and in women-dominated actions that express the importance of women as strong spiritual beings; has provided me with positive experiences. This series explores alternative approaches and coping strategies to life as a woman confronted by the violence of a male-dominated society. I am drawn to the story of Rachel; to her strength, perseverance and embodiment of a distinct Godly presence in the world. Emanu serves to celebrate women spheres and examine ritual and religious identification and spirituality through both a feminist lens and the female form.

See more here

We learn from the two names that were given to Eve of the two purposes that women have in the world. The first name was Isha (Woman), thus it says: “Then the man said, ‘This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Isha (Woman), for from Ish (Man) was she taken’” (Bereishit 2:23). Thus the first purpose is driven by the name Isha. Like a man, a women can develop her intellect and virtue, just as our Matriarchs, righteous women, and prophetesses did.
The second purpose of a women is to become a vessel for fertility and raising children. This we learn from her second name, Chava, thus it says “The man named his wife Chava, for she was the mother of all the living” (Bereishit 3:20). Therefore, a woman who cannot bring children into the world is unable to fulfil her small [and secondary] purpose in the world, but is not exempt from her bigger purpose; that is, being righteous and doing good deeds, exactly as a man who is infertile. Ya'akov became upset with Rachel because she looked only at her small purpose – her fertility – and saw no meaning in living without fulfilling that purpose.
—  Rabbi Yitzchak ben Moshe Arama, The Akedat Yitzchak (15th century Biblical commentary)
youtube

18 Things Orthodox Jewish Feminists Are Tired of Hearing 

 “I’ve wanted to make this video for a LONG TIME, based on countless conversations and experiences I’ve had as an Orthodox Jewish feminist. That’s right, I’m “one of those.”

Also, I realize that there are Orthodox Jewish male feminists, and am super grateful for them! However, this video is not about them. Supporting a cause means the spotlight won’t always be on you. Much love to the men in the Orthodox community who work to make things better for both sides of the mechitzah. If you want to make a video about things male Orthodox Jewish feminists are tired of hearing, do it and tweet it at me (@nerdwithavoice). I would be delighted.”

More info and an interview with Talia Lakritz: A YouTube Ode to Orthodox Jewish Feminists

An Ushpizin / Ushpizata Poster for your Sukkah

On the holiday of Sukkot (which begins tonight) it’s traditional to invite guests into your sukkah… Not just friends and family, but also spiritual and mythological ancestors. In particular, each of the seven nights is traditionally associated with a (male) Biblical figure based on Qabbalistic correspondences of each night with one of the lower seven sefirot: these seven guests are known as ushpizin, Aramaic for “guests” (ultimately from the Latin hospes, the same root as the word hospitality!).

Over the centuries several rabbis and scholars have suggested female correspondences to the ushpizin, known as the ushpizata. The order that I use here is based on the one from R. David Seidenberg:

  • Abraham / Ruth (hessed)
  • Isaac / Sarah (gevura)
  • Jacob / Rebecca (tiferet)
  • Moses / Miriam (netzah)
  • Aaron / Deborah (hod)
  • Joseph / Tamar (yesod)
  • David / Rachel (malkhut)

This poster has their names, arranged in the proper Qabbalistic order of the sefirot, along with the prayer for inviting the ushpizin/ata into the sukkah (you can also download it, with a translation, here), and the wish from the liturgy that G!d will “spread over us the sukkah of peace.”

Feel free to download this, share widely, print out and hang it in your sukkah! Or use it to spark a conversation about which guests you would like to invite to your sukkah. 

May this Sukkot bring us closer to rebuilding the Divine Sukkah of Peace. Hag sameah!

TW for street harassment, violence against women

Israeli Women Continue to Fight Against ‘Modesty’ Signs

“Back in January, a group of women in the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh won a lawsuit against the municipality for refusing to remove “modesty signs”—signs instructing women how to dress, placed around the city by members of the ultra-Orthodox community—which the plaintiffs argued created a threatening atmosphere for women. Each of the four women were awarded the equivalent of $4,000 in damages.

Fast forward several months: the city of Beit Shemesh has failed to remove the signs, which say things like “Dire Warning: It is forbidden to walk on our streets in immodest dress, including slutty clothing worn in a religious style.” As a result, Haaretz reports that the same four women (plus one more) have filed a petition to force Beit Shemesh’s ultra-Orthodox mayor to remove the signs. According to their lawyer, Orly Erez-Likhovski:

“While one would assume that after such a strong message from the court forcing them to pay compensation to women who were damages by the signs, that the city would finally take action and remove the humiliating signs, we have seen that it has continued to ignore the way in which they violate women’s rights - and so we have been forced to turn to the courts once again in order to force the municipality to obey the law.”

According to Haaretz, the petition cites the municipality’s excuse for delaying the signs’ removal as “their fear of a violent reactions and mass riots on the part of the extremists who hung the signs in the first place.”  

This is not a standalone case. The city of Beit Shemesh, where almost half the population is identified as Haredi, is central to the debate regarding religious extremism in Israel—an eight-year-old girl was called a whore and spat on by Haredi men in 2011 for dressing “immodestly”; women protesting gender-segregated buses in the city were pelted with rocks.”

Read the full piece here

Photo by Adam Jones

a statement about women from traditional Judaism that makes me feel warm and fuzzy

Women did not recline at the Seder unless they were especially important (chashuvot), but even in the sixteenth century we have the commentator Rama saying “All our women are chashuvot; all our women are important”*.

All our women are important. All our people of colour are important. All our LGBTQIAP people are important. Everyone who is marginalised is important. Never forget this.

*(this statement may have wider halachic implications)

The persistence of biased presentations of Judaism in feminist work is disturbing. But were sloppy scholarship the only issue at stake in feminist anti-Judaism, it could easily be corrected. Much more important, the popularity of such research indicates a profound failure of the feminist ethic. The morality of patriarchy, Mary Daly argues, is characterized by “a failure to lay claim to that part of the psyche that is then projected onto ‘the Other.’” Throughout the history of Western thought, women, Blacks, and other oppressed groups have had attributed to them as their nature human traits which men could or would not acknowledge in themselves. Sexuality, bodiliness, dependence, moral and intellectual failure were all peculiarities which belonged to everyone expect ruling class males. The feminist ethic, in contrast to this, is supposedly an ethic of wholeness, an ethic based on the withdrawal of projection and the recognition that the full humanity of each of us embraces those despised characteristics patriarchy ascribed to a host of “Others.”

Christian feminist anti-Judaism, however, represents precisely the continuation of a patriarchal ethic of projection. Feminist research projects onto Judaism the failure of the Christian tradition unambiguously to renounce sexism. It projects onto Judaism the “backsliding” of a tradition which was to develop sexism in new and virulent directions. It thus allows the Christian feminist to avoid confronting the failures of her/his own tradition. This is the real motive behind biased presentations of Jesus’ Jewish background: to allow the feminist to present the “true” Christian tradition as uniquely free from sexism. Otherwise, why not present positive Jewish sayings about women along with the negative ones? The former are just as conspicuous as the latter in English anthologies of rabbinic thought. And why not compare the Talmud with the Fathers instead of Jesus? Clearly, because that would not permit as dramatic a contrast between the two traditions.
— 

Judith Plaskow: “Blaming Jews for the Birth of Patriarchy

copyright © 1980 by Lilith Publications, Inc., first appeared in Cross Currents, reprinted with permission in Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology (1982) edited by Evelyn Torton Beck

PDF from Lilith magazine (1978) here

Creator of heaven and earth, may it be Your will to free the captive wives of Israel when love and sanctity have fled the home, but their husbands bind them in the tatters of their ketubot. Remove the bitter burden from these agunot and soften the hearts of their misguided captors. Liberate Your faithful daughters from their anguish. Enable them to establish new homes and raise up children in peace.

Grant wisdom to the judges of Israel; teach them to recognize oppression and rule against it. Infuse our rabbis with the courage to use their power for good alone.

Blessed are you, Creator of heaven and earth, who frees the captives.

Today, Ta'anit Esther, was also International Agunah Day. Remember agunot in your prayers.

Source: I got this prayer from this awesome blog. She says she saw it on JOFA (although they appear to have taken it down), and the text here.

“Emancipation from every kind of bondage is my principle. I go for recognition of human rights, without distinction of sect, party, sex, or color.”

“All that I can tell you is, that I used my humble powers to the uttermost, and raised my voice in behalf of Human Rights in general, and the elevation and Rights of Woman in particular, nearly all my life.”

“There is no reason against woman’s elevation, but prejudices.”

 - Ernestine Rose, atheist feminist, individualist feminist, and abolitionist. She was one of the major intellectual forces behind the women’s rights movement in nineteenth-century America. (Source)

Ernestine Rose, the First Jewish Feminist

Quotes by Ernestine Rose | On Wikipedia