Women from all denominations pray together

Religious feminism within rabbis' home

Never has Orthodox Rabbinate felt so threatened. Feminism is pulling the rug out from under the rabbis' authority and they are indistinctively rejecting anything which even slightly smells of freedom and human rights. Abandonment makes them irrational and irreligious

It would not be an exaggeration to argue that the feminist revolution is among the most decisive events in human civilization. This revolution changes the life of the individual, the family and the community of all people in a fundamental way.



Prior to the feminist revolution, one half of humanity ruled over the other half. Every place through which the path of the revolution passes, the female half of humanity is liberated, and the male half is liberated from the tormenting chains on their conscience of oppressing others.


This amounts to more than liberation of women

While liberating women is no minor matter, this achievement does not sum up the essence and ultimate purpose of the feminist revolution.

The feminist movement is only part of the liberating movements, and as such it includes in it the demand and the ethical responsibility for the liberation of all humans from oppression.

There can be no feminist who does not see the rights of homosexuals, those with special needs, Palestinians or foreign workers as important.


Whoever attempts to separate the feminist revolution from other struggles for freedom saws off from the tree the ethical branch on which he or she sits.


Eventually the 'wow' arrives

As with every other mega-revolution, whoever adapts to feminist thinking discovers that this alters how he or she perceives all of reality. I have seen this in myself and I have seen this in my friends. Eventually the "wow" arrives.


There is a moment wherein one understands that this is an all-encompassing revolution, and the lenses through which we have looked onto the world until that moment are replaced. From that moment onward, every practical issue, every religious and ethical question, is examined through the lenses of feminism and freedom.


The 'wow' of Modern Orthodoxy

The moment of the feminist "wow" is happening exactly now in Modern Orthodoxy. This is the grand and beautiful moment of this community.


It began with the opening of batei midrash and Talmudic studies for women. Now egalitarian Orthodox minyanim are popping up like mushrooms after the rain, and each such minyan is bolder and more daring in its egalitarianism than the previous one to open. Women function as legal representatives in state rabbinic courts and as "poskot," adjudicators of Halacha, Jewish law. They already are demanding to be tested for Orthodox rabbinic ordination.


The roles of ritual bath house attendants and supervisors, administrators of rabbinic courts, adjudicators of Halacha, and interpreters of the Torah, all fall under the lens of Orthodox feminism and it is hard to keep up with the pace of the changes.


An end to interdenominational division?

Two feminist awakenings inspire optimism in regards to the question of the relationship between Jewish denominations in the modern period.


One is the Women of the Wall and the second one is Facebook group "I am a religious feminist and I too don't have a sense of humor," whose membership includes more than 6,000 men and women who refer to themselves with the acronym 'r.f.w.o.s.o.hnicks' (yes, I too am a rfwosohnick).


The rfwosohnick group is a an excellent example of the power of the meeting of ideological revolution and Facebook. The feminist Orthodox revolution owes a special debt of gratitude for its expedient pace, for the pace of response to it, and for the support and encouragement that Facebook makes possible.


One of the most prominent identifying signs that distinguished Orthodoxy from liberal denominations (Reform, Conservative, and more), was the mechitzah, the wall separating the sexes in houses of prayer. The division of women from men and men's exclusive supremacy in Torah study, in communal leadership, in giving Torah sermons and in leading prayer, have been in the past few years have been bones of contention between the denominations.


The undermining of the patriarchal legitimacy has lead to a reexamination of many "sacred cows." Within the framework of this rare experience, the fence dividing between the denominations in Judaism is being eroded. Until only a few years ago, Orthodox women consented to obey rabbinic authority on all matters, and therefore also on the obligatory question of distancing one's self from the liberal denominations. However, today this demand is being re-examined and it seems is no longer heeded.


We manage to pray together, men don't

The rfwosohnicks and the Women of the Wall are two proofs of the interdenominational covenants that have been made between all types of religious women. Both of these groups are composed of members who prefer the covenant of feminism to denominational covenants. It is important for me to emphasize that the effort at reunification are common to women, people, of all the denominations. We are all demanding to reread the map. We all refuse to accept the denominational division that the patriarchy created. We are all challenging our borders.


As opposed to men, we specifically are easily succeeding at praying together. If in those distant days when I abandoned Orthodoxy (approximately 20 years ago) someone would tell me that I would connect with women who insist on praying at the Western Wall, I would have exploded in laughter or anger. What would I, the rationalist, have to do with worshipping wood and stone?! But this year I did it. I participated in a prayer session of the Women of the Wall, not because an appreciation for praying in front of stones suddenly sprouted in my heart, but because I value supporting my sisters over my own specific religious dogmas.


Also in my rfwosohnick groups I find myself in situations that until only recently would seem unrealistic. I remember one instance in which one of the women asked us in the Facebook group what our positions as feminists was in regards to her decision to switch her cloth head covering with a wig. My automatic reaction was to push her to throw off of her head and hair this oppressive piece of Jewish law. But that was not what she asked me. She chose to challenge my religious models. She wants to wear a head covering, and she wants me to share my feminist opinion in regards to her question as she formulated it.


A new challenge, new covenants and maybe, with God's help, an end to the division between the denominations.


How does this explain support for sex offender?

The astonishing and embarrassing support of Rabbi Druckman for convicted sex offender Rabbi Mordechai Elon, and the rabbinical letter of support (Rabbi Tzvi Tau, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, and others) for convicted rapist and former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, can be explained (without any attempt at justification) with the help of the Orthodox feminist revolution.


Never has the Orthodox Rabbinate felt so threatened. Orthodoxy could have been able to spread into liberal communities, but it cannot spread among its women. Feminism pulls the rug out from under Orthodox rabbinic authority and they are feeling it very well. There are rabbis that understand that the nature of their position is undergoing a fundamental change and they are adapting and maybe even enjoying their new learning companions.


Other rabbis, like Druckman and his friend ,choose the method of "I will die with the Philistines" (a phrase from the Judges 16:30, reflecting resistance even until death), and they are indistinctively rejecting anything that even slightly smells of feminism or, in other words, anything that smells of freedom and human rights. Their fear of abandonment makes them irrational and irreligious. At a moment when feminists are focusing their attention on the victims of sex crimes, the rejectionist rabbis are concerned with defending the sex offenders. Their ship is sinking, and therefore every type of weapon is kosher.


Feminism and death of high priests

This week's Torah portion, "Tetzaveh," deals at great detail with the description of the clothing of the Cohanim, the Temple priests (Exodus 28:2): "And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for splendor and for beauty." The holy clothing of the Cohanim adds of course to their distinct and elevated status from the rest of the nation.


Over the years (actually, since the very beginning) there arose among the Jewish nation alternatives to the priesthood. At the end of the Second Temple period and after it, the sages of the Oral Torah viewed themselves as alternatives to the Cohanim. The destruction of the Second Temple sealed the fate of the Cohanim and the priesthood, as since then the Rabbinic Sages have held the upper hand.


The Mishnah of Tractate Yoma, which is dedicated to Yom Kippur, opens with a sophisticated parody of the character of the high priest (Yoma 1:1-7): "Seven days prior to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the high priest should be separated from his home... and a substitute priest should be prepared lest he become disqualified through defilement... They provide him with elders from the elders of the supreme court, who read before him throughout the seven days the section in Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16), regarding the service of the day. And they would say to him: 'My Master, High Priest, read with your own mouth perhaps you have forgotten, or perhaps you did not learn the laws of the service.' If he was a scholar he would lecture the entire night but, if not, scholars would lecture before him. If he was accustomed to read, he would read, if not, they would read to him... If he wanted to sleep, young priests would snap their middle finger before him and say: 'My Master the high priest, stand up once on the cool floor and drive away the sleep' and they would keep him busy until the time of the slaughter of the daily Tamid offering.'"


The high priest, as he is portrayed by the rabbinic sages, is a person suspected of being ignorant, and even of being illiterate ("perhaps you have forgotten, or perhaps you did not learn"..."If he was a scholar...if not"... "If he was accustomed to read...if not").


Likewise, the high priest was suspected of a lack of self control, notably in sexual matters; he is likely to have a defiling seminal emission on the night before Yom Kippur, and he is likely to fall asleep when he is to stay awake. The sages need to occupy the high priest, to teach him Torah and to protect him from falling asleep.


The sages tried and succeeded in undermining the status of the priesthood, and miraculously elevated their own status.


High priests don't die, they're only replaced?

Priesthood, however is not just a concrete position, it is a worldview. The Temple priests have gone and have occasionally been replaced by Torah sages. Throughout the generations there have been among the sages those who tried to take for themselves and their friends the status and power of "priests"; religious authority elevated from the people that is not subjected to any other authority or oversight.


The Feminist revolution is another struggle against the culture of the priesthood. It is a struggle against the belief that there are people whose authority can't be questioned. The challenge facing feminism is to succeed at keeping critical thinking subversive and not to give in to the temptation to merely replace one imputable authority with another.


Translated by Uzi Bar-Pinchas


Click here to read this article in Hebrew


פרסום ראשון: 02.09.14, 11:00
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