Ellen Sue Levi Elwell, who organized a conference on the future of Jewish feminism that preceded the 1979 Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education, teaches a course on Jewish Women at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. She is currently writing her dissertation on the National Council of Jewish Women.
In thinking about Jewish women in the year 2000, I find myself struggling to identify appropriate terms and categories for women’s activities. Can the old terms suffice? Can one speak about roles and the relationships those roles imply? The phrase “a mother in Israel” echoes in my ears, yet how can a description that seems to imply a role limited to birth-giver and nurturer be used to indicate a future where woman’s sphere of influence will no longer be bounded by the walls of her home?
The feminist concept of a woman giving birth to herself persistently recurs as I attempt to conjure our future as Jewish women, for I see the present as a time of great birth-pangs. The ’70’s have been a time of ferment for Jewish women: we seem to be actively involved in a search for ourselves, a search to identify sources of energy, and to discover sources of individual and collective strength. We are engaged in a birth process where we are the birth-givers, the new life, and the midwife and attendants as well. Through exploration into new spiritual and intellectual worlds, we are slowly facilitating the emergence of new women’s energies, and discovering the power that comes with gaining competence in areas of Jewish thought previously closed to women. In addition, we are discovering ways to share these energies and skills, thus expanding the base of our power to all who are sensitive to its proper use, or possible abuse.
The process is painful, and despite our experience as birth-givers to others, the contractions of birthing ourselves, of locating an authentic identity in the Jewish tradition, are particularly difficult. Yet we are not the first to embark upon this most difficult of all journeys. Our historical mothers who struggled for recognition as Jews also traversed this dark canal, not knowing whether they would survive the perilous trip. Beruriah, Gluckel of Hameln, Henrietta Szold, even Golda Meir all set out to discover themselves as Jews in arenas that were primarily the province of men. The experience of other mothers—Bertha Pappenheim, Ernestine Rose, Lillian Wald and Hannah Solomon—may speak even more directly to us, for their life energies were directed specifically towards women’s preoccupations. In their lifetimes they served as spiritual and political midwives to many women who sought to discover themselves in worlds that were at best unsympathetic, and at worst hostile to their own concerns.
As we give birth to ourselves, we discover new meanings for motherhood, both in a personal and, ultimately, in a communal sense. As mothers and midwives to ourselves, we discover the secrets of motherhood that have been hidden as we have given birth only to others. Our experience as women becomes recognized and legitimate, and we see ourselves not only as enablers but as achievers, not only supporters of others but as agents of change. And finally, regaining control over biological motherhood enables us to transcend it, and to explore areas of motherhood that go beyond direct nurturing.
A woman who has a clear sense of herself as a Jew is better able to contribute to the Jewish community, by planning and executing programs that support but do not smother, that enable the achievements of others without requiring sacrifice. Such women become mothers in Israel by giving their best energies, whatever they may be, to the Jewish people as rabbis, as political leaders, as teachers, as administrators, as service workers, as models for the next generation by serving as an example of competence and compassion in their own lives.
Thus this birthing process, a process of pain mixed with joy, of fear and ecstasy, enables women to discover that we are our own best sources of inspiration and power. In giving birth to ourselves, we discover our links to the past as well as to the future, and expand our limited vision to include the future of the greater Jewish community. By transcending a definition of motherhood that limits our sphere of activity and circumscribes our power, we can discover a meaning of a mother in Israel that opens new vistas of study and service and fosters the full creative potential of Jewish women, now and in the years to come.
RELA GEFFEN MONSON
Dr. Rela Geffen Monson is Associate Professor of Sociology at Gratz College and National Education Coordinator for the Ramah camps. She is currently doing research on the Jewish identity of Jewish academics and the future of the synagogue in America.
The ideal future for Jewish women should be one in which sexism has become irrelevant. The concept of equal opportunity for both sexes will have been “mainstreamed,” so that the focus of Jewish activity for men and women will be the strengthening of the quality of Jewish life in Israel and the diaspora communities. With large amounts of leisure time available to all, and shared work patterns, Jewish men and women will fill their non-work time with study and enjoyment and the creation of community through their contemporary interpretation of Torah and mitzvot.
It is important to consider what stands in the way of this ideal. What must be accomplished in the ’80’s and ’90’s if this vision of the year 2000 is to be meaningful? I believe that issues of equal access to synagogue participation and Jewish community leadership are well on their way to solution. The major issues for the ’80’s and ’90’s lie in two areas which are both disparate and inextricably linked: halachic (Jewish legal) reform—particularly in areas of civil law affecting personal status; and relationships of Jewish men and women within the family, including socialization patterns of children.
These two issues are disparate because one solution to the first is legal in its essence and communal in its scope and the solution to the second one lies in primary group relations which are unlegislated. They are linked because the halachic issues involved are those which govern family ties—the contractual nature of marriage, divorce, and widowhood, and the designation of children as mamzerim (bastards; in Jewish law, children born of an “adulterous” union, e.g., one in which the woman has no get [religious divorce document) from a previous husband).
In order to effect the halachic takkanot (newly promulgated legal “amendments”) necessary to amend personal status law and civil rights of women in court, it is crucial to pursue two paths simultaneously. The first is the raising up of a generation of women learned in law codes who will command the respect of the community and will be able to confront the male poskim (legal arbiters) of the generation from a position of strength—to demand solutions and/or offer their own. Educating and mobilizing a joint male and female constituency to prod and support enlightened poskim is the second necessary pursuit. It is only through a combination of caring Jewry and responsive legal authorities that enduring halachic evolution will take place.
Socializing the children to become the base of such a constituency for the ’90’s will require parenting in the ’80’s which heightens the awareness in sons and daughters of the immorality of sexism. This will be very difficult, because the parents doing the socializing bear the vestiges of their own conditioning. A conscious effort is required to break stereotypes and myths about the way boys and girls and men and women who are Jews behave.
Although each family will make its own decisions about its way of life and pattern of relationships, I believe that the norms reinforced by the Jewish community will have an important impact on the ease with which families experimenting with new models will handle the inherent tensions which will arise. Communal structures and religious institutions and their leaders will have to support these non-sexist families.
Feminists should build power bases within established structures—and avoid “queen bee” syndromes and bring others into the system. Coalitions should be built with the elderly, with single parents, with young singles—so that all those often excluded from the establishment can work together to restructure it from within. Another path is to create new institutions which will bring pressure from without on the established communal structures as the havurah movement has already done.
All of these efforts will not only bring about the aims of Jewish feminists but will also clear the way for us to get on with the building of a vibrant Jewish community for the year 2000.
Ann G. Wolfe retired last year after being on the national staff of the American Jewish Committee since 1948. She has written widely on subjects of prejudice, poverty and intergroup relations. She is the editor of About 100 Books, a selected, annotated review of children’s books on intergroup relations themes, which has appeared in seven editions during the past 26 years. She is the editor of A Reader in Jewish Community Relations (Ktav), the first compilation in the field of Jewish community relations. Wolfe had national responsibility for the American Jewish Committee’s work in attempting to improve the level and status of women in the Jewish community.
We seem to have run out of words: they have all been said, sometimes forcefully with emotion; sometimes pleadingly; often bitterly. The issues and points of view about women’s status in the Jewish community are all in. Our insights continue to be reinforced as we remove one layer after another of our feminist and/or Jewish defenses. They reveal again the condition of isolation, the less-than-equal status and the essential powerlessness of women who have organizational ties to the Jewish community.
I stress the organizational ties. For women who choose to have none, the problem is less severe. Many have given up on the Jewish community. They move in the larger community, fighting for ERA, supporting NOW, attending meetings of groups where the issues of equality for women are pursued in various ways. Many yearn for a tie to the noble ethical and moral underpinnings associated with Jewish thought, and wonder why the Jewish community seems immobilized in the area of women’s status.
Those of us who have not yet—or cannot ever—give up on the Jewish community are not encouraged. We seem to be on something of a treadmill—moving as if we were going forward, but finding, as we look at the passing scene, that the same clouds, the same hills, the same barriers keep appearing. We remain in familiar territory: “Don’t push too hard; wait until more women get into the pipeline; it’s people like you who discourage our daughters from having babies,” and more of the familiar patronizing comments.
I am disturbed that the discussion of the future of the family is thrust on the women’s movement, as if we have ever said that we were not concerned with our families. Why are we rediscovering the wheel? Our concern with family was one of the powerful forces that helped us see that the feminist movement is a liberating force not for women only but also for the men who share with women the life of the family. The discussion on the family as it is presently being formulated will leave us where we always were, dealing with the old stereotyped agenda in which the men will be relieved of responsibility for change. Recently a new idea has been added that is gaining some popularity, suggested by male experts who assure us that they are on our side. Articles and so-called scholarly papers are appearing on the subject of “the psychology of women” in which the essential and superior quality of women as nurturers is laid out with admiration and tenderness. And women are urged to fulfill themselves by organizing day care centers.
I hold out little hope that Jewish organizations will see the light by themselves. The situation of inequality remains pretty much the same. Does it matter that salaries of women professionals in Jewish communal agencies are consistently lower than men’s in comparable positions?
Does it really make a difference that only 3% of executive directors of Jewish agencies are women?
And what if women’s organizations still take “ex officio” positions in community-wide structures?
It makes a difference, it does matter, and we do not need any psychological analyses to tell us why. Nor should we tolerate it.
But how to move the community?
It seems to me that our focus must remain on the manifest behavior of the organized community—men and women and leadership. We should continue to address ourselves to the inequality and discrimination that women experience. We should look at Jewish education with a feminist perspective. Sex-role stereotyping in program and personnel practices need to be pointed out to agencies which practice it.
We must direct our activities at two targets: the organized community with its glacial power structure that resists change and the sharing of power; and those women searching for a connection to a feminist expression and Jewish involvement.
We in the women’s movement have perhaps been focusing on the wrong target. It isn’t women’s organizations per se that should be fought. These groups are themselves the victims, the products of the long Jewish separate-but-unequal history. One would hope to see more action in these organizations toward the achievement of the equality in power and decision-making to which they are entitled. In time they will act, but until then they cannot be dragged into this most important social movement.
We do not need new structures. They will evolve when there is a change in the roles members of the community play. Women’s auxiliaries will give up when their members move into the mainstream of community life. Women’s organizations will survive only as long as they respond to the changing needs of their members. Communal organizations will grow stronger when they recognize that they must renew their spirits by searching out young men and women who are now part of the generation to whom equality is a natural force.
So we must continue to press forward, to point out the inequities and to insist on community accountability. The organized community has not yet recognized it, but the women’s movement is irreversible.
Annette Daum is Religious Action Consultant to the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism and staffs their Task Force on Women and Minorities.
A group of women traveling on a boat quarrel about their destination. To settle the dispute, one woman begins to bore a hole under the seat of the most vocal proponent for changing direction….
This is the beginning of a modern midrash, which could be titled Pirke Imahot, Ethics of The Mothers, written by women, about women, for women. The story is not yet complete. Women are completing it….
What the world will be like for Jewish women in the year 2000 depends on whether or when we begin to recognize that we have all been placed in the same boat, shoved off from shore, equipped only with paddles, and provided with direction by the power structure of Jewish society, which is still male-dominated. We are so busy quarreling among ourselves that we fail to note how effectively both our choices and our power have been limited— while men zip by us in motor-boats, full-speed ahead, oblivious to our plight.
The sinking—undermining—by women of the only women who have the strength and determination to catch up ensures the continuation of the current system. The male hierarchy simply has to play a waiting game—waiting for women to destroy each other—to retain power. While a few token positions have opened up for women, Jewish organizations remain bastions of male supremacy.
Women professionally employed in Jewish institutions all too often undercut each other and are, in turn, undercut by women volunteer leadership.
The women who are the most assertive about seeking equality are the least likely to succeed in moving up the ladder. Their progress, if any, is short-lived. They are labeled “radical” and isolated without support from within the system.
Those women who have moved into leadership positions and could serve as role-models do not necessarily regard fostering equality for women as a primary objective. They willingly reap the harvest of the Jewish women’s movement, but see no obligation to sow the seeds of future harvests to sustain other women.
The male power structure uses “Tante Tovah’s” (the Jewish female Uncle Toms) to oppose those who are feminists.
This is true even in Reform Judaism, which prides itself as a movement which has taken the greatest strides toward gaining equality for women. Even here, Rabbi Sally Preisand, the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi in the United States, was denied interviews by nine pulpit committees—in one case, because the wives of committee members did not want a woman in a position of authority. No matter what issues the Jewish women’s movement chooses to address—whether liturgy, ritual, halachah, religious education, research, family relations—the most vocal opposition to change comes from other women who are still dependent on the protective image of God the Father.
Most Jewish institutions have resolutions— words on paper—that call for justice for women; little has been done. Task Forces on Equality for Women, charged with obtaining equality for women in society as well as their respective organizations, are proliferating among Jewish agencies. Surveys are planned which are designed to research the role of women in professional and lay leadership roles. The work of these Task Forces is obviously limited because they are dependent for information, staffing, funding—for their very existence—on power structures which are controlled by men.
Women must demonstrate with deeds our determination to participate as equals in every aspect of Jewish life. A comprehensive program is called for to seek out talented women and move them into professional and volunteer leadership positions; to establish goals and timetables; to provide ombudswomen who will be available to work with grassroots groups to prevent sexist problems from arising and resolve those that do. Sensitivity training on the issue of sexism should be provided for rabbinical and education students, as well as for key personnel in national Jewish agencies.
There is a need for a strong, independent, national Jewish feminist organization, operating outside institutional control, to:
1. provide a support system for feminists on every communal level and in all branches of Judaism. This is the most pressing priority for Jewish feminists. Jewish women have long been involved in consciousness-raising programs sponsored by the women’s movement in secular society. Similar programs are needed, conducted under Jewish auspices, to help Jewish women grow in awareness of the impact of their Jewish heritage on their definition of “self”; to explore their roles as women from a Jewish perspective; to encourage them to expand opportunities for themselves and other women in Jewish life.
2. cooperate with the women’s movement in secular society in support of such issues as ERA and reproductive freedom, the establishment of day care centers, etc. The Jewish Women’s Agenda also includes the establishment of Jewish day care centers.
3. cooperate with feminists of other faith groups who face similar frustrations.
4. provide a “Jewish” home for Jewish feminists who will not join existing Jewish institutions that have not yet achieved non-sexist status.
If I were responsible for writing the end of the legend. . . the women would stop quarreling long enough to notice that they will all drown together if they do not regard themselves as their sisters’ keepers.
They fix the craft, turn around and head back for shore—determined to make waves.
REBECCA TRACHTENBERG ALPERT
Rabbi Rebecca Trachtenberg Alpert has a Ph.D. in religion from Temple University and is a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College where she is currently the Director of Student Affairs. She is also associated with the Manhattan Reconstructionist Havurah.
If I had my way, there would be:
1. Jewish textbooks which reflect the variety of personal and professional options open to Jewish women of all ages today and which include the role of Jewish women in our history.
2. A rabbinate composed of approximately one-half women who are accorded the same communal respect and career opportunities as their male colleagues.
3. A liturgy which may refer to God metaphorically as He or She, which does not view male pronouns as generic terms and which recalls both the male and female heroes of our past.
4. A synagogue ritual in which women can be full participants: feeling comfortable wearing kippa (skullcap), tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries); being counted in the minyan (quorum of worshippers), leading parts of the service, and being called to the Torah by their Hebrew names which incorporate the names of their mothers as well as their fathers.
5. A system defining personal status in which women can have egalitarian weddings and ketubot (marriage contracts), can initiate divorce and can serve as witnesses.
6. A community willing to study our heritage through a feminist filter, attempting through midrash (legend) and history to understanding the roles of Jewish women of past generations.
7. A community open to celebrating the feminine through creating new rituals for women (like birth and puberty rites) and re-invigorating old ones (like celebrating Rosh Hodesh, New Moon, as a woman’s holiday).
8. A community which accepts the personal choices made by women (and men) in terms of careers, bearing and raising children, sexual preferences and living arrangements.
9. A communal policy which publicly supports equal rights for women in the general society—here and in Israel.
10. A community that does not automatically ascribe a higher status to any task performed by a man.
11. A community which accords proper respect to the volunteer, knowing that every member of the community must volunteer (time, money and energy) to keep the group strong.
12. Growing numbers of Jewish women who respect themselves both as women and as Jews, seeking to celebrate being female and being Jewish; who learn from this self-respect to respect others: woman and man, Jew and non-Jew alike.
To dream is easy. To turn that dream into a reality is not so simple a task. Some of these goals do seem attainable as a natural outgrowth of our work in the past. Others will come about only through concerted political and social action, while still others I don’t expect to see in my lifetime: they may have to wait until the Messiah comes!
It is the middle group—things that could happen if we worked together on them—that I’m most concerned with. I’m not sure that Jewish feminists are united in our concerns, but I think it’s time we began to meet again and explore these questions. Another Jewish feminist conference may be the next necessary step to get us together and plan our agenda for the future. I’m not so much concerned about the form we ultimately take as I am that we begin to be more vocal and public, to take actions and to make people aware that although much has happened for Jewish women, there is much that needs to be done. I hope we are ready to do it together.
Irene Fine is currently director of Jewish Studies at the Woman’s Institute for Continuing Jewish Education, a nonprofit organization in San Diego, California. At the Institute Fine teaches courses in Jewish women’s history, female theology and creating Midrash and rituals for contemporary women. She is also completing her doctorate from Union Graduate School where her thesis is entitled: “Developing a Continuing Education Program for Jewish Women—A Springboard to History,”
One important task remains yet to be completed by the year 2000, after all the work already accomplished by the Jewish woman’s movement. This is the complete integration of women’s and men’s history into our Jewish textbooks and anthologies.
Much has been done along the lines of researching and writing women’s history, but we are still out of the mainstream in most texts used in history and literature courses. You have only to go to your nearest synagogue, university or local library to check this out. Pick out books at random which have not been written especially for women. You will find we are not represented in 90% of the books dealing with history and literature.
If this condition continues, when our daughters pick up the textbooks 20 years from now they will not find their history. This unconsciously delivers the message they are not valued or meaningful as people—the message we all have been trying to counteract. Not to complete the task of integration is to suggest that all our work has been in vain.
I am not discouraged. I think both educators and learners alike can speed up the process of integration. They should:
1. refuse to use texts in your classrooms— grade schools, high schools, seminaries and universities—which do not include women’s history equally with men’s. We have enough research now on women from every period in Jewish history so there is ample material available for use. If texts do not meet the standard of integration, send them back to the publishers and let them know why the texts can’t be used. Also, educators could suggest new writings and research to the publishers which would be more appropriate for their classrooms. (I am told that middle-class Jewish women are the biggest book-buying market in the country. If we refuse to buy, the power of the purse carries clout.)
2. persuade researchers and writers who are writing on female-oriented issues to write more in their area of expertise. The ’70’s brought us a wealth of material from gifted writers, but we still need more, much more to use in classrooms and discussion groups. Writers who are currently working in areas related to female issues and who have not yet published should be encouraged to do so.
3. continue to teach the “skills of access” as a main priority in the classroom. This means courses on how to create midrash (legends), write Torah commentaries, construct Shabbat services, research history. When this is accomplished, I hope women will assume authority for their own abilities and stop asking permission to do all of the above or expect it be done for them. Also, update festivals and rituals in order to make them more meaningful to women.
4. lead learners unto paths not yet explored. Women are really not bound by the traditional forms which do not take into consideration their experience or their awareness. We should all encourage women to explore new ways of expressing themselves and allow for new forms to arise whenever possible.
5. take responsibility for writing your own Jewish history—in the form of diaries, stories, poems and commentaries on Jewish law. Taken collectively, all of these short pieces will add up to your own history, written in your own words and by your own hand. This may indeed be the most valuable legacy we can all leave to our daughters.
6. ask that courses in female history and sociology be given in every university and seminary that graduates male rabbis, social welfare workers and communal service workers. Hopefully, the joke of the year 2000 will not be what it is in the year 1980—that male graduates are hired to work in communities where they know very little about 50% of their constituents.
7. take Jewish history classes along with “rap” and “consciousness-raising” classes. I suggest this because as an educator I see women in class who are not yet aware of women’s presence in history and the contributions they have made in each major period in history.
8. refrain from attending lectures or continuing education programs where women teachers and lecturers are not represented, and then tell the directors of these programs why you are not attending. Some of our best-known camps and schools still promote the ideal of the male as lecturer and teacher. When asked why they do so, the answer these directors usually give is that they don’t know of any women teachers qualified to speak. If such is the case then I would urge the learner to buy them a subscription to LILITH, where they can find about many women, specialists in their field, who are ready, willing and able to share their expertise.
9. discourage our brightest and most gifted male lecturers from hopping around the country speaking for women and about women’s issues. Women have the ability to speak for themselves and for other women. If a man still accepts the task of speaking for Jewish women, ask him specifically what his studies have been in female history, sociology, psychology, and religion that give him the credentials to do so.
10. be aware that the female adult learner will be returning to the classroom in ever-increasing numbers; a woman today realizes that what she learned at 13 in Jewish history does not give her sustenance at 30. She is going to want to learn more. Not only is she going to want to continue her Jewish studies to give her insight on how to be a better Jew, but she will also be looking for clues as to how she can make a more worthwhile contribution to her community as an adult. Expect her. Welcome her. Acknowledge her. She is one of our most valuable natural Jewish resources.
Jane Litman is a feminist writer and Judaic scholar. She teaches Jewish women’s studies at San Francisco Bay area women’s centers and synagogues. Her particular interest is female-identified spirituality and ritual. She is a founding member of the Bay Area Jewish Women’s Collective.
Four years ago on Simchat Torah I was in Mea Shearim (the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood). I was a rabbinical student with a group of mostly career Jews—two female rabbinical students, one male rabbinical student, one Jewish education student of each gender, and one dear friend—male. I had to scrounge for “acceptable” clothing (I’m a jeans-and-T-shirt woman) and one of my friends remarked that I looked more appropriately dressed for Purim than Simchat Torah. I was uncomfortable, but willing to see what would happen.
We heard music and laughter and caught sight of a brightly lit building with figures dancing on the top floor. Of course there were two separate staircases—one for men and one for women. We dove into the crowd. The men vanished up their staircase. We women began to push and shove our way up ours. It became more and more crowded as we ascended until we finally made it to the top.
On this tiny balcony there was no door— just a row of windows with women, stacked three and four back, pressing their faces to the glass. Many of the girls had climbed out over the balcony and were hanging on to the moulding. The drop to the stones below was 20 or 30 feet.
That was a moment of Divine insight for me—a picture provided by God. This I devoutly believe. I stared at the men dancing inside, then at the women pushing and elbowing each other to catch a glimpse of the men’s joy, then at the little girls risking their lives to watch—to watch! I can call that picture to mind any time I wish, and it makes me burn with anger and sick with rage.
This Rosh Hashana I celebrated with a group of eight women—five loving thoughtful Jewish women and three loving thoughtful non-Jewish women. We read and sang outdoors, under an arbor of oak trees and danced until midnight the dances our mothers have danced with each other for three millenia. We blew the shofar and listened to its haunting melody fade into the soft darkness. We sang: henai mah tov u’ mah nayim shevot achiot gam yachad—How’ good it is when sisters sit together.
We drank wine and made blessings—blessed our mothers, ourselves, women who love other women, women working out ways to deal with men, men struggling to overcome their own sexism. We also blessed the wind, the sky, and Mother Earth. We wove a web of yarn in and out of our fingers, back and forth across the circle, each time reaffirming our pride as women and our connection to the Eternal One, blessed be She. We read poetry—Hannah Senesh to Robin Morgan. We talked about the New Year, the new moon, and our pleasure in having old traditions to reform and rekindle. We finally broke up slowly, not wanting to leave the warmth we had made.
I supppose I felt for my service a similar feeling to that which male Hasidim feel after they dance and pray all night—a feeling of tremendous joy and oneness with the Creator.
It had been a steady road from that night in Mea Shearim to this year’s Rosh Hashana. I left rabbinical school, walked out of many shuls, broke with my local Hillel and left my city’s gay congregation, all because of sexism. I cannot pray in a place that is just a more subtle version of the scene in Mea Shearim. So I have organized Jewish women’s groups, taught classes, and given lectures. I belong to a Jewish women’s collective. I attend a monthly lesbian/feminist Shabbat group that grew out of the women dissatisfied with the gay synagogue. The women with whom I worship are in many ways my vision of all Jewish women in the year 2000.
This Rosh Hashana was the first time I have felt whole as a woman and as a Jew since the Simchat Torah in Mea Shearim robbed me of my people. For in addition to being devoted Jewish feminists we must become educated, practicing Jewish feminists. That is my vision of the year 2000. We must learn our histories as women and as Jews and blend them together. Our knowledge is our strength. I did not write this New Year’s service—four women did it cooperatively. We reclaimed our right to define ourselves and used our abilities and, believe me, it felt wonderful!
It hurts me every time I am in a group of Jewish feminists who tell me they don’t know how to be Jewish. I am sad every time I see any of us settle for prayerbook Judaism because we don’t have the courage to demand and create changes to make it more meaningful to us as women. We have been taught ignorance and timidity. It will take a good deal of struggle to overcome these feelings, but it can and must be done.
I don’t want to give the impression that my ideal Jewish feminist future is women-only. I know there are some sympathetic men out there who are as eager as I to confront and overthrow “God the father.” However I am positive that there should be no compromise with the patriarchal structures. They are draining and oppressive.
In my ideal future there are no rabbis or Federations. We as Jews will be an ethnic, cultural, and spiritual group within a non-threatening feminist society. This means that we, as Jewish women, must support the women’s movement as a whole, particularly concerning reproductive freedom, lesbian rights, and the E.R.A. (This means, for example, that B’nai Brith Women have got to stop sponsoring fund-raisers to Nevada, an unratified state.) We should set up summer or weekend camps for our daughters and sons with both feminist and Jewish content. We must break the stranglehold Orthodoxy has on Jewish growth, especially in Israel.
EM. Broner is author of Her Mothers; A Weave of Women (both with Holt, Rinehart & Winston), co-editor (with Cathy N. Davidson) of a collection: The Lost Tradition: Mothers and Daughters in Literature (Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.) and “The Lost Legacy: A Woman’s Passover Haggadah” (with Naomi Nimrod).
What does the Jewish woman want?
She doesn’t want Sigmund Freud. She wants a supportive group of feminist therapists, especially sensitive to the Jewish woman’s role in patriarchy.
She wants a woman rabbi, especially gifted as an archaeologist in digging out the role of women in the Torah, in providing ecstasy and context.
She may want a Woman’s Synagogue. The role of women in every other synagogue suffers, even in the gay synagogues.
She will want a Torah, written by women, that she can kiss, that shames her in no way, neither does it exclude her. And the garments for the Torah are provided by her, and the crowns specially crafted by women silversmiths, and the bima (platform from which the Torah is read) built by women carpenters, the drapery embroidered by women performing their ancient arts, the kiddush cups blown by women glassblowers.
Women will tithe themselves to support the Synagogue.
It will be an undefiled synagogue. It will be up to the woman rabbi, woman cantor, women congregants whether to provide a balcony or curtained area for the men. If so, such space must be built according to the strict rules of mechitza (partition between the sexes).
If this Women’s Synagogue works as the ancient Temple of Solomoa did, there will be a courtyard. Women will ply their trades: weavers, ceramicists. Women will argue law and religion. There will be shiyurim (classes) for women. We will have women’s restaurants in the Synagogue square and women’s movies. There will be coffee shops—Old Girls Clubs— to tell women of opportunities.
Women will be informed when a birthing is to take place, so they can welcome a daughter into the tribe of women on her eighth day.
Our children shall bear our names, our surnames or our adopted names or our pen names or our totemic names.
Women will teach their sons gentleness and supportiveness. A new generation of men will be born, but they must wander in the desert for forty years so that they can rid themselves of defilement before they can join us.
There will have to be a Women’s College devoted solely to the study of women: historically, in literature, biologically, in the arts (theatre, music, the visual arts, the culinary arts), geographically, religiously, linguistically.
Women in this college will be taught survival skills: how to live within a family, how to live within employment situations, how to live within a hostile city, how to live while being bombarded by TV, billboards, shop windows, advertising. The sports department of the Women’s College will provide required courses for every student—and students can be of any age. Women will learn nutrition and health— all cooking will be according to the laws of kashruth—for no meat will bleed upon our hands. We will learn martial arts, learn to be Jewish warriors. We will build underground shelters and carefully store our learning vessels in case of attack.
We will have active women’s presses and review boards and we will nominate our own alternatives to National Book Award, Pulitzer Prizes and Nobel Prizes.
We will hold international conferences.
We will learn how to unite with other women of other religious faiths and to share our learning. As a Jewish woman, literate and politically active, I find that the rhetoric of the Jewish men has caused us to drift and to separate from women of other races. We Jewish women must not be deprived of our Black sisters, must not have our views towards Arab women-stated for us. We are the bridge and connection for we share the same biological geography.
Within the embrace of experience and our faith, Jewish women will become a renewed Amazon race.