Thankfully, Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira retracted his recent statement that the Kolech organization, and organizations of its kind, are "Neo-Reformers," since it is fair to assume that even in his own backyard there are women who identify with most of Kolech's principles, even if in practice they have not changed anything in their lives.
Really, how can anyone not agree with Kolech? Is there anyone today who doesn’t recognize that the issue of sexual harassment, which Kolech is involved with, affects religious society as well? Is there anyone who doesn’t understand women's interest in taking a more central role in religious life, or their desire for more intensive Torah study? In all honesty, is there anyone out there who still really thinks that it is a sin to teach women Gemara?
The difference between Kolech and its detractors is first and foremost that Kolech puts the issues on the table and speaks about them openly, while its detractors ignore them. This July Kolech organized its annual conference, which discussed the following issues, among others: Equality between women and men in the public sphere; single life in the Orthodox world; feminist ritual object; creating Jewish rituals for women; Kol Isha; and of course the rabbinic courts and agunot.
These issues rouse our souls, as well as the souls of every religious person today. I would venture to guess that even in the national-haredi community, women often feel excluded. Doesn’t Rabbi Shapira have students who are not married who struggle with difficult questions regarding how to lead a religious life? Excuse me, but fury regarding the activities of the rabbinic courts does not escape any sector of society. Who doesn't have a daughter or relative studying art who must come to grips with all the difficult questions that arise from being a religious artist? Which one of us doesn't find many biblical and Talmudic stories difficult to digest and accept?
Shift in consciousness
Practically speaking, the difference between Kolech and its detractors amounts to a period of 10 years. In 10-years time, those detractors too will be there, raising these same questions that we are raising today. They will also question women's place in the synagogue (if they haven't already); and they will also be asking why women are not permitted to be part of the religious leadership. We at Kolech are merely preceding them.
This may come as a surprise, but while I am a staunch supporter of Kolech and the feminist movement, I would not go so far as to say, as Rabbi Shapira did, that "Feminism is part of the Geula (redemption) process." There is no need to exaggerate. We are talking about a shift in consciousness that the world as a whole, and we as part of that world, is undergoing. We hope and act in the belief that it will bring us to a better, and more just, place, one that is closer to the truth than where we have been in the past.
I'm sorry to say, but ever since my Bnei Akiva days, when my counselor told me that the trees blooming in Eretz Yisrael proves 100% that the Geula (redemption ) has arrived, I hesitate to use the term "Geula.” Even back then I was skeptical and was rebuked for my "heresy" and "foolishness" by my dos (all-embracing religious) counselor who had spent six whole months learning at Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav. ("Open your eyes! Look around! This is proof that the redemption has arrived!") My counselor has since left the religious fold, and the redemption has yet to come.
In the meanwhile, we will do our part - attend the Kolech conference, listen, debate and question together, and please God we will succeed in the goals we have set for ourselves. The redemption we will leave to God.
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinical advocate, working at The Center for Women’s Justice
Translated by Yael Bitton