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Judaism and Feminism: An Orthodox Feminist's Perspective

Posted on the 26 May 2011 by Starofdavida
Judaism and Feminism: An Orthodox Feminist's PerspectiveThis was my intro post at the All-Girl Army (AGA).
I was born an Orthodox Jew. My mother was also born Orthodox, as was her mother, and her mother, and her mother, etc. In addition to instilling a strong love of Judaism into my heart, my mother made me proud of being a girl. When I became an official feminist, it didn't even occur to me to merge my religion with feminism. When I did think about it, I didn't think they were compatible. I was so wrong. Judaism is inherently feminist. There are hundreds of examples within its sacred texts of how every human being should be accorded the same respect.
One such example can be seen in the building of the Tabernacle. [This paragraph is adapted from my post about the seventeenth prayer of Shemoneh Esrei.] Soon after the Jews heard the Ten Commandments, God told them to build a dwelling for the Shekhinah, translated as the presence of God. Exodus 35:1 says “Moses assembled the entire assembly of the Children of Israel,” the entire assembly meaning every Jewish person, regardless of gender. The Torah goes on to specify all of the donations to the Tabernacle, listing the men's alongside the women's. This just comes to show that in order for the Shekhinah to be felt, both women and men must be involved.
I know many of you are probably reading and saying, "Well, that may be great that the Torah's all feminist and stuff, but Jews are sexist in actual practice. I thought that women can't be rabbis! And what about that whole Hillary Clinton Photoshop incident?"
Most sects of Judaism ordain women at this point, actually; I believe Orthodoxy is the only one that doesn't. While women cannot serve as actual rabbis in Orthodox synagogues (as of yet), there are many women that call themselves members of Jewish leadership and do pretty much the same thing as rabbis do. One example of many is Sara Hurwitz, who was ordained the first rabba (feminine form of the word rabbi) over a year ago. Other women go by the title Head of the Congregation, Congregational Leader, or just plain old Ms. Other Orthodox women, while not rabbis, specialize in information regarding Jewish law that particularly impacts women.
I still cringe at the thought of the Hillary Clinton Photoshop incident. For those of you living under rocks, a Hasidic paper recently published a picture with Hillary Clinton Photoshopped out. Feminists were quick to criticize the paper. I certainly agree that it was the wrong thing for the paper to do, and do not want to defend it in any way. However, I just want to explain why the paper did this. While all Orthodox Jews keep certain laws of modesty, Hasids keep these laws on a particularly strict level. One manifestation of this is that Hasidic men won't look at pictures of women. I think it's a little silly too. However, this is just how they roll. They didn't Photoshop Ms. Clinton out out of a fear of strong women or desire to hide women, but for the sake of keeping their religion to the fullest extent. I don't agree that it's the way to do things, clearly, but that's why I'm not a Hasid.
So there's my intro post/Orthodox Jewish feminist rant. I love feminism, and I love Judaism; the two are an inseparable part of my identity at this point. I just hope that I can give some hope to every feminist out there who think s/he can't be religious and feminist at the same time.

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