Tag : Feminism on the Ground

Live from the Lilith Blog

June 11, 2014 by

On Sex and Silence

I sometimes find talking about sex uncomfortable. There’s so much at stake — power, identity, transcendence, and raw humanity. I wasn’t raised gabbing like Barbara Streisand’s Roz Focker, the sex therapist with an uncontainable comfort with sex. So how did I wind up talking about sex professionally? When I came to feel like the only thing more uncomfortable than talking about sex was not talking about it.

(Flickr: Ariel Waldman, photo illustration)

(Flickr: Ariel Waldman, photo illustration)

In my 20s, I started to see our not-talking-about-sex problem: the mismatch between Americans’ comfort consuming women’s sexuality and our silencing of women’s communication about sex. Sexy billboards freeze-frame a moment without words, but we’re free to look a model up and down, knowing her without knowing her. Real teenagers make grown-up decisions about sex every day, but as eager as we are to second-guess their sexual behavior or clothing, we don’t want to hear why they make the choices they do. And if they speak up about their lived experience, why are we prepared to shame them for acknowledging what everyone already knows that teenagers do? Shame makes it extremely hard to learn the healthy communication that’s needed for respectful, enjoyable sexual encounters, whether at age 16 or 60.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

September 23, 2013 by

Laws Aren’t Beautiful. People Are Beautiful.

medium_490875588When I think of Rosh Hashanah, I am immediately struck by the drama of the Day of Judgment. I think of a time of introspection, of melodic prayers and inspiring poetry, of sweet foods eaten with family and close friends.

I do not think of sex.

That is, I never used to think of sex in relation to Rosh Hashanah, until a friend sent me an article which attempted to link the two. In an elegant and vivid piece, Merissa Nathan Gerson characterizes honey, a food prevalent as we celebrate the New Year, as the creative result of the unbridled sexual energy of the abstinent worker bees. Suddenly, dipping the apple in honey was no longer a simple act to symbolize a sweet new year.

Gerson takes her point further, though, comparing the abstinence of the bees to the abstinence practiced by Jewish couples who observe the laws of niddah, often translated (poorly, in my opinion) as “family purity” or sometimes “menstrual purity.” For couples who practice niddah, the laws prohibit intercourse approximately two weeks of every month– from when a woman sees the onset of her period until after she has counted seven days of absolutely no blood. For many, the laws also include prohibitions of sleeping in the same bed, any form of touch, and even passing items directly from one person to the other. This system, argues Gerson, causes the sexual energy to build up, giving couples a store of vivacity and enthusiasm that can be channeled into enhancing other areas of Jewish life.

“For Jewish couples that observe the laws of niddah, half the month is then reorganized, redirecting sexual energy into the community, into the work of protecting the “queen”—the sanctity of the Sabbath. During the periods of abstinence, this energy is used to perform acts of tikkun olam, study Torah, or generally apply oneself toward the greater good of the Jewish collective. While bees produce honey, I like to think of Jewish laws around sex as yielding something, too: a sweet substance that comes in the form of tzekadah, of building community, and making the world brighter through devotional practice.”

My challenges to this argument are almost too numerous to count. Are we incapable of making a beautiful Shabbat dinner when we are permitted to have sex? Do we assume that all our energy should be, or is, channeled to sex at other times of the month? Do we truly live in this binary in which we have a limited amount of energy that can either be applied towards sex or to improving the world? And, if so, do people who do not have prohibitions on having sex do less to improve the world around them? Do people who are not in relationships have a greater obligation of tikkun olam– repairing the world? Is there a way to measure our sexual energy to ensure that at times when we are niddah we are exerting the proper amount of energy into the Jewish community? Are pregnant women and nursing mothers who are amenorrheic exempt from contributing to the improvement of the world and the betterment of the Jewish community? Do we consider women who choose to skip periods using hormonal birth control methods also to be exempt, or would we still consider them obligated to apply themselves toward the greater good of the Jewish collective since their absence of a period is chemical? Or, like niddah, does one’s commitment to Torah study and tikkun olam only begin when one sees the flow of blood?

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Live from the Lilith Blog

January 22, 2010 by

Giving to Haiti: Some Suggestions

Click through the links below to donate to Haitian relief efforts:

American Jewish Committee in partnership with IsrAID

American Jewish World Service

B’nai B’rith International

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief

Union for Reform Judaism

Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger

World ORT

Chabad Lubavitch

ZAKA

If you have other donation ideas, please leave them in the comments section below!

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Podcasts

January 21, 2010 by

Interview with Senior Editor Susan Schnur

Associate Editor Melanie Weiss had an opportunity to sit down with Senior Editor Susan Schnur to discuss the Winter 2009-10 issue and its compelling theme, Our Bodies: It’s Complicated.

Listen in on Susan Schnur’s thoughts and meditations about the articles in this issue and how it came together as a whole.

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Don’t forget–you can find Lilith podcasts in the iTunes store, as well–download them for free!

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Live from the Lilith Blog

December 10, 2009 by

Responding to Absurdity

In the aftermath of Nofrat Frenkel’s arrest at the Western Wall (her crime? wearing a tallit), Lilith has heard from a lot from all of you, asking what you can do. So when this letter from Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson (of the Women’s Rabbinic Network) arrived, it was clear it needed to be passed on. This is a great way to take a stand.

Dear Friends,
The arrest of Nofrat Frenkel for wearing a tallit at the kotel on Rosh Hodesh Kislev compels us to raise our voices and engage our communities in joint action. We invite you to join in a community-wide Day of Solidarity and Support for Women of the Wall (WOW), to take place on Rosh Hodesh Tevet, Thursday December 17th, the sixth day of Chanukah. With this national grassroots initiative, we will express our support for the rights of the Women of the Wall to assemble at the Kotel and to pray there with dignity, in safety and in shared community.

As with many other women’s grass roots efforts, each community, organization and institution shall develop its own program of prayer or study and shall reach out as widely as possible to its constituencies. For some groups, this day of solidarity and support will be in the manner of WOW, including tefillah and the reading of the Torah. For others, the program may be a “lunch and learn” text study session; or a women’s Chanukah observance. For yet others, it might be a gathering of three or more friends in a living room or office who will dedicate their joint prayer and/or study to the Women of the Wall. Some communities may want to add to their programs a screening of Yael Katzir’s film, Praying in Her Own Voice. We ask that you convene a program that shows your support for this initiative.

Please share your plans and document your activities by sending an email to jackie.ellenson@gmail.com. We also ask that you send a photo of your gathering to Judith Sherman Asher, judithrafaela@mac.com, who is a member of Women of the Wall in Israel. Please caption the photo with the names of the participants, the date, location of, and information about your program. Feel free to add a short message of support for Women of the Wall. This will greatly strengthen the morale of our sisters in Israel.

We hope you will join in a groundswell of support of American women for the Women of the Wall. We encourage you to send this letter to any other women’s groups who might want to participate. As Rosh Hodesh Tevet takes place during the week of Chanukah, the holiday of religious freedom, what better time to affirm the right of women to raise their voices in prayer at the Wall!

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson
Director, Women’s Rabbinic Network
Jackie.ellenson@gmail.com
Rivka Haut
Women’s Tefillah Network
rivkahaut@yahoo.com

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Live from the Lilith Blog

September 24, 2008 by

Great Jewish Feminist Ideas

As part of the celebration of Lilith’s 100th issue, our fall issue has a list of 100 great feminist ideas. Check out the issue and leave your own ideas below!

Feel free to leave any other questions, comments or thoughts on the fall issue, too!

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Live from the Lilith Blog

March 7, 2007 by

The V-Word Strikes Again

So apparently, “vagina” is the new bad word at John Jay High School in New York. So bad, in fact, that you can be suspended for saying it at an open mic session, which is exactly what happened to three female students just recently. That they were performing a selection from Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues”, which celebrates the reclamation of our most basic vocabulary, is an irony apparently lost on school officials.

Putting aside, for one moment, the fact that the Supreme Court has made clear that students don’t check their rights at the school door, let’s just pause to ask: Vagina? Really? Out of all of the potentially harmful things going on in schools today, you’re concerned with students employing words that can be found in most biology text books?

You can see more of the controversy up close and personal here (Firefox only), but we also want to here from you. Can you believe that this is happening in 2007? Do you have parallel stories from decades ago? Think Eve Ensler should write these young women college recommendations?

Leave your thoughts below. In the meantime, Mr. School Principal: vagina you.

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