YouTube as a New Feminist Tool

talWhen Talia Lakritz learned in November that American Orthodoxy’s Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) had voted to blacklist female clergy, she knew she had to take action. A senior at Barnard College, Lakritz was doing an internship at the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) at the time and while she says she drew strength from her colleagues, her response was very different from statements issued by her elders.

Lakritz took to YouTube.

Her answer to the RCA’s vote to ban women rabbis from its member synagogues took the form of a self-accompanied song: “Dear RCA,” which has been viewed about 23,000 times. “I sat down at the piano and the song wrote itself in 10 minutes. I had the RCA resolution open on my phone in front of me.”

Lakritz is one of the first practitioners of video as a new form of Jewish feminism. While Jewish feminists have long used Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere to make their voices heard, the move into video is strategically significant. This platform has a higher barrier to entry because its users must master equipment and technical skills. And it’s a visual medium, making public the user’s face, body and voice. So by definition video defies some traditionalists’ desire to silence women.

Lakritz combines her digital chops with a rigorous Jewish background — she went to yeshiva and studied for a year in Jerusalem — and an irreverent sense of humor.

She’s been making YouTube videos since high school, but didn’t feel moved to express her Jewish feminism through video until a JOFA Shabbat retreat, when the participants wrote down all the maddening notions they’d encountered. What emerged from that exercise was “18 Things Orthodox Jewish Feminists Are Tired of Hearing.”

#5: “But you’re too pretty to be a feminist.”

#14: “Hey, so, I’m a feminist. Totally socially conscious. So. Would you go out with me?”

“I’ve always been a vocal feminist, but you want to be cautious about what you put online,” she said. “I realized this was going to be divisive, but I was ready for that.” “18 Things” has been viewed about 50,000 times; its release propelled Lakritz’s YouTube channel subscriber list to 1,300 from 500.“

Now that I have this audience I definitely feel a responsibility to use it, and to start conversations about things that need to be talked about within the Orthodox community. That’s where I consider my home,” she said.

Even some of the rabbis she skewers have joined in. Some contacted her to admit that they’ve said some of those 18 irritating things, and they still found the video funny. And after “Dear RCA” came out, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer of the RCA called it “satirical/mocking entertainment” in a Times of Israel blog post. Lakritz said she was surprised that the rabbi even watched the video, given the prohibition on men listening to women singing.

“Well,” she said. “At least he was entertained.”