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Lines of Communication

JEWISH WOMAN CAUCAS

To the Editor:
Thank you for the information on the Jewish Women’s Caucus of the National Women’s Studies Association [Kol Ishah, Winter 1989]. The caucus has a mailing list of 500 members — far more than the 60 members you stated. The caucus publishes a semi-annual newsletter and meets at the annual NWSA conference held in June.

Women exploring Jewish/ feminist issues are welcome. For more information, contact: Joy Livingston, Caucus Chair, Dept. of Psychology, John Dewey Hall, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05401.
by Mindy Sue Shapiro, Washington, D.C.

WOMAN’S RIGHT AND THE RABBIS

To the Editor:
The notion of “rights” in present day thought means “natural rights” that human beings possess by virtue of their existence, or — if one believes in a creator — by virtue of their creation.

Judaism was the source of the claim that all humans were created in the image of God, but has not built upon it a theory of equal rights. The Hebrew z’chut (right), as elaborated by the sages of the Talmud, translates better as ‘merit’ gained through the performance of mitzvot (good deeds): everyone is judged and therefore needs to prove her z’chut.

The Western mind, by contrast, conceives of rights as a “self-evident truth” and demands that society present evidence to justify those occasions when humans are deprived of rights. Feminism claims that individual women do not have to prove they have gained the right to be equal.

In other words, Judaism can justly boast a glorious tradition of equal duties, i.e. the idea that everyone, rich and poor, has to abide by the same law; equal rights is a significant shift which I am sure halacha (Jewish law) can and should incorporate.

This is reflected, for example, in Debra Orenstein’s glimpse into “How Jewish Law Views Wife Beating” [Summer 1988]. It is easy for rabbis, operating within our hierarchical rights tradition, to identify the strong one (husband), the weak one (wife), and the resulting duty of the strong one to protect/help/save/feed/love/ educate the weak one. The articles surrounding Orenstein’s piece [on wife abuse, shelters for battered women and incest], however, point out the inadequacy of this approach and the need to rephrase rabbinical attitudes so that they include a different social vision, that of equal rights. We should strive for a dialectic balance of duties and rights rather than a disproportionate emphasis on one or the other alone.
by Leah Shakdiel Yeruham, Israel

WOMEN FOR PEACE

To the Editor:
Accompanying my article “The New Power of Palestinian Women” [Winter 1989], was a photograph of an elderly Palestinian woman with a rock in her hand. While I do not deny that some Palestinian women also throw stones, I hoped to show that the vast majority of Palestinian women active in the intifada participate in nonviolent marches and community-based projects rather than violent confrontations.

The original focus of my article was on the empowerment of both Palestinian and Jewish Israeli women in the peace process. My information on Jewish women’s groups was edited down because LILITH has already covered Israeli women’s peace groups [Summer 1988]. Yet I hope that LILITH will offer more in-depth coverage and analysis of new Israeli women’s peace groups in the future.
by Reena Bernards, Brookline, Mass.

GRANDMA’S HOUSE

To the Editor:
In her evocative article, Toby Joan Rosenstrauch describes the unconditional love she enjoyed in her grandmother’s house [Winter 1989].

But it doesn’t come easily and it surely doesn’t come right away. That thing they all kept saying to me — “Just you wait, there’s no thrill like seeing your first little grandchild, in the hospital under glass” — baloney. When your own child gazes up from your arms, convinced that you are the sun and the moon and all the stars, that is the thrill of them all.

When, not much later, your daughter looks up at you again and whispers that she is pregnant, you watch her walk away down the street, hips already beginning to adjust to their new task.

She went into labor at seven a.m. I spent the day arranging her baby pictures in an album. By seven p.m. I was crying, feeling his head trying to crunch through, feeling his ears crumple. At the Shabbes table her brothers made the brocha (blessing) for the firstborn in Israel — and another for those in pain.

Next day, there she was my little girl, exhausted, battered. Everybody asked me, “Have you seen him? Did you look?” But I had come to see my baby.

First she had to heal, and I to sense that peculiarly secondhand joy, to see her nurse him and become his world. And furthermore it isn’t true, that other nonsense they all told me — you don’t worry less over someone so tiny, so helpless, forever in the care of those inexperienced parents.

A year has passed, and now at last is OUR time, mine and Danny’s. Now his eyes light up for me; now we have our secret handshake as we growl our special growl at one another. Now at last — as I fell in love, one by one, with his mother and his uncles — I am falling in love with Danny, deep and forever.
by Henny Wenkart, New York City

WOMEN CHANGE THE WORLD

To the Editor:
I would like to add another “Rose” to your list of “Our Radical Jewish Foremothers” [Winter 1989]: Rosa Son-nenschein, editor of the journal The American Jewess (April 1895 through August 1899). This magazine was the first independent Jewish women’s journal in America. It contained articles on Jews in the army, women as breadwinners and the position of women in America.
by Dr. Jack Nusan Porter, Newton Highlands, Mass.