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Letters

Motherless

What an issue! I am taking my copy of the Summer 1999 LILITH (“Motherloss”) to Canada to my niece, who started a group of “motherless daughters.” They helped each other through first pregnancies and now through early child-raising. For some, as with my niece, it was one of the first places they could talk about their mothers and life without them—sometimes 20 or more years after their mothers died.

And then there was Mindell Kaplan’s awesome Talmudic dissection of the Sim Shalom prayer book, “The Conservative Movement’s Unfinished Business.” What an eye opener. I will send that along to my daughter, whose shul has just equipped itself with the new edition. Kaplan’s article should be read by all who care about where Judaism is going.

And finally, Daniel Belasco’s homage to his two-mom family, “My Perfect Family: Two Moms,” was a delight to read. Had I riches I would get copies of this issue for all of my friends, male and female, gay, lesbian or straight, and all the other et ceteras! Thank you.

by Sandy Warshaw
via e-mail

An Abusive God?

I am appalled, angered and thoroughly disgusted by Naomi Graetz’s shocking statement which reads, “I recognize the abusive potential of an all-powerful God” (“My Problem as a ‘Traditional Feminist’,” Summer 1999). The chutzpah in this statement boggles the mind and depresses the spirit. How does this mere human being presume to define God at all, let alone define God as being potentially abusive?

Could it be that Graetz has immersed herself so long in the issue of battered women that she sees everything— even God—through this bleak prism?

by Esther Eisen
New York, NY

Editor’s note: Naomi Graetz’s most recent book is Silence Is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating (Jason Aronson).

Rabbinical Students

That “Jewish men should also be willing to work for the equality of Jewish women” is for me the most crucial statement in your article by Mindell Kaplan. As a recent master’s graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary I am very concerned about the lack of commitment of some rabbinical students—mostly male—to this principle. Any changes in ritual will be perfunctory if behavioral changes do not also take place.

For example, during their mandatory year in Israel, many rabbinical students attend popular Orthodox synagogues because “the davening is better.” A woman there would not be counted in a minyan if she were the 10th and last person on earth. With all good intentions, but oblivious to this issue, the spokesman for this year’s graduating class used the story of a discussion between Orthodox and Conservative men at such an institution as his example of pluralism.

I am guessing that these same students would not attend a club that did not admit blacks. They should not then regularly attend services that exclude their sisters, congregants and colleagues. If the davening is better in Orthodox shuls, then this points to a challenge that needs to be addressed by these same leaders.

Women rabbinical students at JTS who endure this kind of marginalization have organized forums to bring these problems to light and find resolutions. But they will need the help of the community, including men who will forego some of their traditional privileges, in order to strengthen the Conservative movement in particular, and egalitarian Judaism in general.

by Martha A. Hausman
Marietta, GA

The New Feminism

As a Modern Orthodox feminist, I am greatly interested in the unveiling history of feminism in other branches of Judaism. Conservative feminists have chosen to follow the path earlier taken by Reform feminists—egalitarianism—and Mindell Kaplan’s essay shows that the more one pushes to follow that route, the more blurred the lines become between Reform and Conservative ideology and practice. This may explain why traditionalists in the Conservative movement feel uneasy about this brand of feminist changes.

Egalitarianism, and the commitment to a society that is supposedly gender-blind, is the Jewish brand of liberal feminism, and it is closely connected with modernism in general. Modernism is basically male and not gender-blind, in the same way that it is white and not really colorblind; it allows women to participate in a world that remains male. The emergence of feminism of difference enabled Orthodox feminism, with women’s Torah-study institutions, and recently also their own forms of religious leadership.

Unfortunately, some Conservative feminists attended the Orthodoxy and Feminism conferences in New York with only one goal in mind: to see if we the Orthodox were finally prepared to pay tribute to them as our “obvious” predecessors. These women were naturally disappointed, because we will always lag behind on the egalitarianism scale. Others however were prepared to join us in learning about new forms of Jewish feminism, uncharted as yet by either Reform or Conservative feminists, and more akin to radical feminism.

I wonder if feminism of difference, which aims at empowering women in their own voice and space, can be useful for Conservative feminists too. (One example I cherish is Rabbi Cherri Koller-Fox’s 1973 essay on a bar mitzvah class she held, which enabled the girls to split from the boys and create their own feminine ritual—a ribbon they wore to shul, not a kippah). Instead of the modernist assumption that there are conclusive forms that progress can take, and therefore that it is possible to diagnose a given situation as “unfinished business,” it may be more fruitful to view feminism as an ongoing Jewish task, just like halakha. At the very least it may help us feminists to stay long-winded.

by Leah Shakdiel
Yeruham,
 Israel

Voice of the Cantor

As an observant Jew committed to the principles of the Conservative Movement, a religious school teacher, and an ardent feminist, I have to tell you how thrilled I was with your recent article on Conservative Judaism. I thought the layout—with “responsa from the rabbis” on the edges (looking like a page of Talmud)—was ingenious. Secondly, even with all my activities, I still found something new to think about.

I have enjoyed LILITH since its beginnings and have found many of my sentiments echoed in your pages. But one of my “voices” has been missing from your magazine: You rarely have articles about the struggles within the religious movements, especially the Conservative movement. For example, women spent many years struggling to be accepted into the Conservative Movement’s Cantors Assembly and I felt your magazine was remiss for not having kept the feminist community up to date on the issue. To me, it was important news, worthy of whole articles, not just the small mention it received. I would like to thank you for finally speaking to this side of me that needs to be addressed.

by Nita Polay Levin
Philadelphia, PA

Reconstructionism

Mindell Kaplan makes a powerful case for revision of theological attitudes toward gender, as mirrored in siddur and life-cycle liturgies of the Conservative movement. She paints an unflattering portrait of Conservative Judaism’s attempts at innovation, describing them as piecemeal and halfhearted. Her survey of the liturgical field omits reference to Reconstructionism’s significant contributions.

Kol Haneshamah, a siddur series published by the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, has already had immense influence for its affirmation of women’s voices and various spiritual outlooks. Volume one of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association Rabbi’s Manual, a life-cycle text published in 1997, similarly marks a decisive shift away from the apologetic tokenism, paternalism and patriarchal bias that have heretofore characterized liberal Jewish practice.

Not just in their mode of translation but in their revision of underlying structure and theology, our rituals and readings seek to advance the movement toward recognition of all Jews as fully responsible participants in the Covenantal design.

by Rabbi Seth Daniel Riemer
via e-mail
Editor,
 Rabbi’s Manual of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association

Corrections:

In the Bible, Tzipporah circumcises her son, not Moses, as was mistakenly noted in the Spring 1999 issue.

The name of fabric artist Elizheva Hurvich was misspelled in the Summer 1999 issue. She can be reached at elhurvich@jtsa.edu.