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October 1, 2016 / 28 Elul, 5776
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Modern Orthodox, Feminist and Proud

I see no contradiction between being a feminist and being modern orthodox.

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Rachel Avraham

Rachel Avraham

I have always considered myself a feminist.  I have advocated against honor crimes in the Muslim world, the unchallenged rapes around the globe, the stoning of women in countries like Iran, the assaulting of women who seek to study in areas influenced by the Taliban, acid attacks in places like Pakistan, etc.  For my M.A. thesis I wrote about how Palestinian female suicide bombers are glorified within the Arab media as liberated women, while Arab feminists who seek to live rather than kill themselves and others face persecution.

And over the last several years, I have been in the process of becoming more religious, under the rubric of Modern Orthodoxy, something which has caused some people to argue that I am betraying the principles of feminism.

However, I see no contradiction between being a feminist and being modern orthodox.  As an olah chadasha who grew up in Rockville, M.D., I feel that there is something majestic and special about living in the Holy Land that makes one feel closer to G-d and I want to express these feelings.

It started with my decision to keep kosher and observe all of the Jewish holidays during my junior year of college, when I came to Israel on a one-year study abroad program as an undergraduate.  I continued on this path after I made Aliyah in June 2009 and got married in September 2009, at which point I decided to keep the family purity laws and to start covering my hair when I went to synagogue.  My mother objected to me covering my hair in synagogues and even yanked off my hair covering at one point.  Yet, this has not deterred me from pursing this path.  Within the past year, I decided to keep Shabbat, since it was my brother-in-law Guy’s wish before he died that we start keeping Shabbat.

I then came across the book, “The Days of Chanukkah in Jewish Law and the Hagadah,” which left a lasting impression on me.  This book asserted,

If the great men of Israel from previous generations saw our generation, they would find a sorrowful situation today where most of the Jews are influenced by foreign cultures that don’t belong to them, that don’t know the Shema Israel and what is Shabbat, how big would be their sorrow! But still, the Lord will not abandon his people and will not leave his land. Even in a situation when all of the oils turn to be impure, which means the ideas got confused, and the pure souls of the Israeli people turned to be unclean, even then, it is possible to find a pure bottle of oil which is the Jewish point which exists in the heart of every Jew deep inside. That point never turns off and never turns impure forever. But just if we would have the intelligence to turn it on and to light it, then she will rise up and will be turned on and will be like an eternal candle and a holy flame.

This passage deeply struck me.  As a result of living in the Diaspora, Jews have given up much of their traditions in order to assimilate into foreign societies and cultures.   The Reform Movement in America is the perfect example of this.  At the Reform synagogue that I grew up attending, Washington Hebrew Congregation, organ music was part of services, men wearing kippas in the synagogue was optional, as was fasting on Yom Kippur.  None of the married women covered their hair at this synagogue as the Talmud says they should do.   And I find all of this assimilation sad.   This assimilation that I grew up with is resulting in intermarriage and the shrinking of the American Jewish community.

Nevertheless, a pure bottle of oil burns within the heart of every Jew; it merely needs to be ignited so that she can “be like an eternal candle and a holy flame.”  That thought made me think about what more I could do to rekindle my Jewish soul. Eventually I decided that would be covering my hair.

While no one objected to me deciding to keep Shabbat, since I decided to cover my hair on a regular basis, I have gotten so many negative reactions.  One facebook friend wrote, “Are you crazy?   Jerusalem syndrome?”  (I don’t live in Jerusalem). Another facebook friend commented, “Belief should not be tied to things, at least any belief worth believing.” My parents’ reaction was worse:  My father said that it made me look like a Russian grandmother and I was too young to wear such things.   My mother compared my pink Jewish head-covering with flowers to the burqa which women were forced to wear under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.   She said that she raised me to be a feminist and a liberated woman and that to wear such a head-covering will stifle my creativity and my freedom.

None of these criticisms hold any validity.  I reached the decision to cover my hair after deeply thinking about the subject.  I am not crazy and no one compelled me to do it.  And to all people who feel that wearing a pink flowered head scarf is opposed to feminism, I say that women’s rights is about respecting a woman’s right to do with her body as she pleases. True feminists should respect that I am the master of my body and I get to decide what to do with it, including covering my hair.

Rachel Avraham

About the Author: Rachel Avraham is a news editor and political analyst for Jerusalem Online News, the English language internet edition of Israel's Channel 2 News. She completed her masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. The subject of her MA thesis was: "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media."

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