Female Mohels

Why is it that women tend to make themselves feel more “a part of the world” by emulating men and male behavior? Having women mohels [“When the Mohel Is a Woman,” Spring 1999] goes so against the grain of my soul I had to speak out. This is ritual at its finest. The ritual mutilation of our infant boy babies. Thank goodness these female mohels haven’t decided to make our little girls feel more a part of Judaism by mutilating their genitals.

We are made in God’s image. We are perfect just the way we are born, all of us, male and female, without sacrificing any body parts. I would have loved any mohel to perform a ritual blessing over my child, but they were not welcome with their knives. I look forward to the day when no infant, no matter what the religion, must be mutilated in order to belong.

by Miriam Edell
Cottage Grove, OR

I am writing to express my dismay regarding your article about women serving as mohels. The article presents this role as a step forward for women in a male-dominated ritual. However, it never questions the basis of that ritual. Why is it okay to protest female genital mutilation while celebrating the same thing when done to boys? Why do we rail against female genital mutilation when it is done in the service of religion (the Koran stipulates that the top 1/3 of the hood of the clitoris be removed) but celebrate it when done with males?

If boys are indeed born “imperfect,” as mohelet Debra Schlossberg suggests, then it would follow that the hoods of girls’ clitorises are indeed “imperfections” subject to removal as well. After all, when the genitalia differentiate in the womb, it is the same tissue that develops into the foreskin and the clitoris hood.

I am surprised the psychoanalyst in your article didn’t comment on the males’ “irrational” (as Philip Roth puts it) need to perpetuate the mutilation that was done to them. Why would it be so intolerable, as Roth observes even in his secular friends, for their sons to have complete penises when they do not?

Wouldn’t a more feminist step ahead be to have similar baby-naming ceremonies to welcome Jewish baby boys and girls into the world, rather than persist in cutting off body parts?

by Jennifer Taub
Burlington, YT

Women in the Spanish Civil War

I have to tell you how small is the world of Jewish women. First, I found someone on the Donor list in the current issue whom I know in her professional capacity. I’m a longtime subscriber, and I enjoyed seeing the name of Reva Felder, and have written her a note to tell her so.

The bigger surprise was in the article on women in the Spanish Civil War, “Fighting Fascism,” by Ian Halpern [Spring 1999]. He quotes Virginia Malbin extensively. I think this is the woman who lived across the hall from me at 1168 East 54th Place, Chicago, in the Hyde Park neighborhood, when I moved there as a bride in 1941. I remember her and her husband, who was a physician. She seemed very mature and sophisticated to me, and if it is in fact the same person, she would be very old now, since I am 81. We lived there until 1950, but the Malbins moved away before my husband was drafted. I do remember that after they moved some government types came around and asked me questions about them, but I knew nothing of their activities nor their beliefs. I don’t know whether it’s possible to make contact, but I had to tell you about the long reach of LILITH.

by Shirley Gould
Skokie, IL 

Leafing through your article on the Spanish Civil War, I saw my aunt in a photograph of nurses in capes. She’s the prettiest one. Ann Taft was born in 1912, attended the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital School of Nursing, and went to Spain with Fredericka Martin in 1937. I was quite young then. When I was applying to nursing schools, I remember not being able to use my aunt Ann as a reference.

My uncle by marriage, Carl Rahman, is in another photograph you used. He’s the young man with the cigarette; Evelyn Hutchins, also pictured, was his first wife. He was an ambulance driver and often slept in the garage with his ambulance, so nothing would be stolen.

I remember that Ann brought me a hat and some other goodies from the Basque region of Spain. She had married a surgeon. Freddie Martin married a doctor from Alaska and they lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Both are now deceased. Another living aunt, Ethel Taft Powell, remembers sending Ann and Freddie packages of sugar, coffee and other non-perishables unavailable in Spain.

These people never really got any recognition for their contribution to the Spanish Civil War. However, before Ann died she got a lot of the material together that is now at Brandeis University. It is a pleasure to see your magazine give these brave and generous people such great coverage. Few people remember what they did.

by Marian Taft Weinberger
Greensville, SC

Holocaust Distorters

In an article in Commentary and again in his letter to LILITH (Winter 1998), Gabriel Schoenfeld quoted entirely out of context a number of passages from my 1993 prize-winning book, Making Stories, Making Selves: Feminist Reflections on the Holocaust. One such passage reads: “Linden argues that the ecological impact of ‘thousands of pounds of human ash dumped into lakes and rivers’ is no less urgent a subject than the study of the Holocaust itself, and inquiry into it would serve usefully to ‘decenter narrowly anthropocentric views of human destruction.'”

While I am flattered that Schoenfeld found my book sufficiently riveting to quote from it twice, he has grossly distorted my views. The passage is excerpted from the epilogue, “Genocide/Consequences,” which pushes against two major currents in mainstream Holocaust scholarship: the notions that (1) the destruction of European Jewry is the most significant and horrific event of the 20th Century and all of Jewish history— indeed, all of human history; and (2) that research on the Hitler era ought to privilege the destruction of Europe’s Jews and, at best, pay lip service to the “others” murdered by the Nazis.

The sentence in question is quoted from a passage in which I reflected on the persistence of genocide throughout recorded history, and on the psychological and moral standpoints that enable more powerful people to kill less powerful people on a massive scale. I suggested that it is not only Jewish victims and survivors who bear the burden of the Holocaust, not Nazi collaborators in more than 20 countries, nor bystanders, nor Gypsies, not the mentally and physically disabled, gay men, communists, socialists, Poles, resisters—in short, “non-Aryans,” “asocials,” and “deviants.” I claimed that these human casualties are only part of the story—that the consequences of the Holocaust are so prodigious that they crossed the human/nonhuman divide and indelibly changed the landscape of our planet.

While there are certainly legitimate counterarguments to this view, Schoenfeld failed to present even one. Perhaps a more thoughtful writer with a less invective agenda might have succeeded.

by R. Ruth LindenPh.D.
Beatrice M. Bain 
Research Group
University of California
Berkeley, CA

Murdering Abortion Providers

Thank you for your words of support and the article “Jewish Doctors at Risk” [Winter 1998]. We are a small, all-volunteer organization that has been quietly working in Western New York to maintain the reproductive rights of women. Dr. Barnett Slepian was an outspoken supporter of reproductive choice and of our organization. He was a compassionate man, beloved by his family, friends, patients and all of us who knew him.

Barnett would often take the time to stop and converse with those opposed to his work as an abortion provider. He was open to hearing their views and hoped they would be open to his. While acknowledging their right to protest, he consistently spoke against their violent and harassing tactics directed at himself, his family and his patients. “When you are using words like ‘kill’ and ‘murder,’ that’s where it can lead,” he stated in a 1995 interview. Tragically, his life was taken just as he warned.

by Maria Patrick Oakley
Pro-Choice Network Buffalo, NY

Remembering Bella

Today, in honor of Bella [Abzug, featured on LILITH’s cover, “Big Mouths,” Fall 1998] on the anniversary of her passing, I am wearing my T-shirt that says, “Well-behaved women rarely make history” (quoting Laurel Thatcher Ulrich). More importantly, today I renew my promise to live in a way that helps advance the social, political and economic equality and civil rights of all females around the globe. In other words, I promise to be a loud, pushy Jewish woman, like you, fighting for change. Good-bye, Bella, and thank you.

by Rebecca Edelson via e-mail


Debbie Weissman was not the first president of Yedidya, a congregation in Jerusalem, nor its first female president.

Ruth Davidow went to Mississippi for the Headstart program, not for voter registration.