Jewish women always looked to tradition for female role models. These models from our past have been either positive figures to be emulated, or negative ones which were warnings of how we’ll be regarded if we step out of line.
The first issue of Lilith explored how we have molded our lives to fit stereotyped preconceptions about Jewish women which have been used to keep us in our place—as “princesses,” self-sacrificing mothers, or volunteer fundraisers.
This second issue of the magazine examines what happens as the old stereotypes are rejected (or at least outgrown), and we learn from each other what new options we have as Jews and as women.
Our foremothers operated in a system that allowed women little room for growth or maneuvering. Rebekah, for instance, beat her husband’s patriarchy at its own game, but only in order to pass power along to her favorite male child. She gained none herself.
Men, who wrote the myths that structured our tradition, are still telling Jewish women how to behave. Women may be invited to speak on “The Changing Role of Women in Judaism,” but men are often looked to as the real experts, as we see when we examine lecture programs, or magazine bylines.
Our lives as Jews have been stained by the notion that women are less valuable than men. We have had nowhere to turn for positive, contemporary role models. In response to the many women who mentioned this need in their replies to the questionnaire which ran in our premiere issue (the results of which will appear in Issue 3), we asked ten women to tell, in “The Ways We Are,” how they have reshaped their personal lives in order to integrate feminism and a commitment to Jewish survival.
Paralleling what these women shared with us from their particular experiences, Phyllis Chesler offers a general analysis of the impact of the women’s movement on Jewish women.
From birth, when a Jewish girl is accorded no recognition comparable to her brother’s bris, we’ve been seen (and have seen ourselves) as second-class Jews. this status is beginning to change at least symbolically, when we transform our own experiences and growth into new celebrations welcoming baby girls into Judaism.
While our children are growing up, Jewish storybooks show them that you don’t have to be an adult to have a limited view of women. In our ongoing concern with changing this view, Lilith is publishing in this issue its first non-sexist Jewish children’s story.
As adult women n Jewish organizations, we have been the fundraisers who rarely decided how our money was spent, the organizers without power, the support system for generations of Jewish male “leaders.” These limits are stretching a little, partly because some men now find it useful to “allow” some women to take a step or two along the corridors of power. Looking into “The Locked Cabinet,” we see what we have to look forward to if the elite Young Leadership Cabinet of the UJA opens its doors to women.
Even as we reject a restricted view of our lives, we still need to put each change in perspective—are some changes good even if they come about for the wrong reasons? is anything from our past retrievable? Lilith hopes its readers will continue to see the magazine as “free space” where these and other questions can be discussed, and where we can survey the paths women are opening up into the future.
—Susan Weidman Schneider