Jew to Jewess: I've Got My Eye on You

When I started writing about women and Jewish life for the Jewess blog, I was really excited about the opportunity to create discussion about women’s issues in a Jewish context and to celebrate women’s contributions to the Jewish community and the world at large. I did not expect that some of my most avid and most vocal readers would be men.

On the one hand I certainly welcome male readers and find their interest flattering (the remnants of adolescence where any male attention is coveted, though, for the record I am very happily married). But on the other hand, I’m puzzled. Here I am working hard to create this forum for discussion by and about women in Judaism, and men are the ones who seem most interested in doing the discussing.

I have come, however, to realize and appreciate the significance of this phenomenon: Jewish men realize what Jewish women might not yet, that we are driving the future of Judaism.

On every front, women are keeping Judaism vibrant and moving it forward. In Reform institutions, women and girls are predominating so much that some have declared a “boy crisis” in the movement (see the last issue of 614: an HBI eZine); in the Conservative movement, women are playing more of an active role than ever in synagogue life and lay leadership; and no group has made more waves for progressive change in Orthodox Judaism than the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) and its supporters.

In Israel, Jewish women are at the forefront of the peace movement, building bridges with Palestinian women through groups like the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, Bat Shalom and OneVoice, to name a few.

Even in the secular American world, Jewish women’s groups like the National Council for Jewish Women and Hadassah are on the forefront of the fight for reproductive rights (NCJW’s Plan A campaign for contraceptive use), stem-cell research (Haddassah led the lobby for recent bill that passed the House), and an end to hate (NCJW co-chairs the Hate Crimes Task Force), and others.

I would go so far as to argue that women are the driving force behind the increasing insularity and restrictiveness in the ultra-Orthodox world, though passively so. Recent restrictions imposed by the halachic arbiter Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv have been targeted particularly at women—banning them from pursuing higher education and imposing a modesty hashgacha on women’s clothing—and reflect an extreme fear that haredi women will be influenced by the freedom and status that women have gained in the secular, and even in the modern Orthodox, world. Unfortunately these ultra-Orthodox women are bearing the brunt of the reaction to the progress the rest of us are making.

But back to men. Whether they are our allies in these progressive fights—cheering us from the sidelines or fighting alongside us—or our adversaries—trying to reign us in or show us the errors of our ways—they realize that we are stirring things up, not to mention raising the next generation of Jews, and they know they’d better keep an eye on us.

—Rebecca Honig Friedman