Sisters in Law

On the Jewish side, women who are working within the confines of Orthodoxy tend to speak in much more circumspect terms than a ‘new jurisprudence.’ Arguably, the work of yoatzot, women trained in family purity law who answer other women’s practical legal questions, toanot, women lawyers in Israel trained in Jewish law who represent clients in the Beth Din, and programs like Project Eden in New York, that advocate for ultra Orthodox women in secular court and liaise with their rabbinic court, are doing that very work. Programs like Yeshivat Hadar, Drisha, the Conservative Yeshiva, Pardes, and even Yeshivat Maharat, as well the various liberal Rabbinical schools, are producing women who trained in Jewish law, some of whom may bring a more openly feminist agenda to Jewish jurisprudence.

I love the assumption that a Muslim woman who is a lawyer in the United States or somewhere else will also be knowledgeable and involved in Muslim law. That is not something I would begin to take for granted among American Jewish lawyers, women or no. Jewish tradition in America has a (wonderful, in my opinion) strong secular component that has undermined that possibility, along with popular liberal Jewish movements that put much less focus on Jewish law in general. Suzanne Last Stone is a prominent scholar of Jewish and secular law who approaches gender in the law from an apparently more traditional perspective. (The challenge of being both a lawyer and a Jewish scholar is daunting however, in an age where the job markets for both are not hugely promising).

Interestingly, the two groups of American women with the highest rates of college degrees are Jewish American women (58%) and Muslim-American women (42%), although for now Muslim women are much less likely to go into law than Jewish women. Still, if the broader American Muslim community maintains its focus on its legal tradition in a way that American Jews have not, and more Muslim women go into law, al-Hibri’s goal seems plausible, if optimistic.