It’s the classic opening — there’s good news and there’s bad news. First, the bad, because it provides a lot of stimulus for how we can learn from the good.
The bad news is that women in Israel and all across the world who have been petitioning merely for the right to worship as Jews at the Western Wall and elsewhere have been treated with utter disdain by Israel’s civil and religious authorities. And while the support for “The Women of the Wall” has mounted, we have also heard disheartening stories that even women in “progressive” Orthodox circles in the United States have criticized the activists for speaking out too loudly (whatever that is) on women’s rights to equal rights. That women’s voices are still being silenced tells us more than ever before that the title of LILITH’s news pages — “Kol Ishah” the voice of women — is the appropriate choice.
What it’s all about is power, surrounded on the one side by powerlessness and on the other by empowerment. And what we’ve got to figure out in the 90’s is how to avoid the former and help ourselves to some of the latter.
Women everywhere awaited the response of Israel’s Ministry of Religious Affairs to a simple and clear-cut proposition: that Jewish women really are people, entitled as all others to worship freely. The simple exercise of women’s power as people, the power to define themselves as Jews, was denied in a twisted piece of reasoning that claims (as you’ll read) that women cannot pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem — nor anywhere else, for that matter — that might offend unnamed worshippers and violate unspecified “customs of the place!’ Never mind that the women worshippers themselves are mightily offended. The rights of women are once again being relegated to the status of an ancillary issue. Chutzpah!
And yet there’s good news as well. The Women’s Legal Center in Jerusalem, part of the Israel Women’s Network, received an innovative grant from the Jewish Agency (World Jewry’s Israel arm), and then promptly turned around and with the funds sued the Jewish Agency for discrimination against women in retirement policies! We’re learning how to use the system — on both sides of the Atlantic — to better the status of Jewish women (and hence, please recall, the status of all Jews; women are, after all, a sub-set of the Jewish people and not a bunch of enemy aliens).
Other good news, also on the legal front. The president of B’nai B’rith Women, in a response to the attempted ouster of their organization from B’nai B’rith International, issued a press release using language that sizzled on the page — a far cry from the careful diplomatic phrases that clog the mails from Jewish organizations every day. Sharp words and real truths, in a statement redolent with the sweet smell of power well used. Whatever the outcome of the legal machinations at BBI, the way BBW has responded sends a clear message that Jewish women’s groups are no longer “auxiliaries”
No more nice Jewish girls!