Some of the Best Minds of Our Generation…
Talking about Jewish feminism with wonder, pleasure and great respect.
New Jewish Feminism, edited by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein ( Jewish Lights, $24.99) and Women and Judaism, edited by Rabbi Malka Drucker (Praeger, $65) are two new anthologies compiled to promote dialogue about the future — the first between those of us who lived the last 40 years and our daughters, the second between Jews and non-Jews.
Goldstein’s anthology, subtitled Probing the Past, Forging the Future, begins with a history of Jewish feminism. Judith Plaskow, author of the 1990 groundbreaking book Standing Again at Sinai, sets the theological context and provides a call to action for a new generation. Rabbi Donna Berman reviews the contributions of feminist theologians Plaskow, Rachel Adler, and Rabbi Rebecca Alpert. Rabbi Jill Hammer addresses the Goddess and Jewish experience, and Karyn D. Kedar, whose liturgical contributions appear in the new Reform prayer book, Mishkan T’filah, teaches that “God is not a feminist issue; expression is.”
“One of the largest contributions of Jewish feminists may be their ability to rise above denominational politics and talk to each other,” writes Rabbi Goldstein, who serves as the director of Kolel, a progressive adult Jewish learning center. The collection is rightfully self-conscious of the place of “first generation” Jewish feminists in forging the future. “Young Jewish girls today don’t feel the need to buck the system anymore,” Goldstein reminds us. “The dragons they slay will be of their own choosing.”
Some of the 37 pieces are academic in tone, others historical, political or journalistic. For example, Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael writes, “At my own fertility ritual, women brought pomegranates, with their many seeds, for planting into the womb, and waved a lulav (date palm frond), both ancient fertility symbols, as well as chocolate- covered bananas standing straight up, definitely a modern symbol and definitely phallic.” Contributors include best minds from every denomination speaking on leadership, social justice, gender, sexuality and age. They also respectfully refer to many whose work does not appear. The selections enable us to imagine dialogue among the authors; it would have been helpful to have an index to cross-reference them.
Women and Judaism, the first volume in a series Women and Religion in the World, consists of 14 essays addressing Jewish women’s spirituality. Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso recalls the story of Judith Kaplan, the first bat mitzvah, and Alice Shalvi assesses a mother’s love in a piece on “Sacrificing the Son.” Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb offers her personal story as one of the first American women to be ordained and tells the story of Regina Jonas, the first woman rabbi, who was murdered in Thresienstadt. Rabbi Judith Edelstein provides a moving case study about her work as a chaplain to elders in long-term care. Poet Pamela Treiber Opper relates the stories of “Whispering Heroes,” Holocaust survivors whom she treated as a clinical social worker. Joy Silver analyzes same-sex marriage and the Book of Ruth. The final section, on religious practice, takes us to St. Louis for Shelly Fredman’s account of her experience in a Jewish women’s group and to the mikveh, where we join Leah Lax as she explores the power of immersion.
These volumes reward the reader and challenge us to consider issues that lie ahead. They remind us, as Anita Diamant points out in the foreword to New Jewish Feminism, to sanctify what was not viewed as sacred in the past and to press on “transforming the marginal to the norm.” The personal, lest we forget the first mantra of the feminist movement, is still political.
Lauren Katzowitz Shenfield, founder and principal of Philanthropy Advisors, LLC, specializes in helping donors achieve personal, family and philanthropic goals.