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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘orthodox women’

Rivka Haut, Women of the Wall Co-Founder and Agunot Advocate, Dies

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Rivka Haut, a foremost advocate for agunot, Orthodox women who have been refused a religious divorce and also a founder of the Women of the Wall founder was buried this week after she succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 71.

At the Women of the Wall prayer service on Tuesday, the worshipers recited Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, in memory of Haut.

She led a group of women in a prayer service with a Torah scroll at the Western Wall 26 years ago and later helped found Women of the Wall, which continues to hold a monthly morning prayer service at the Kotel.

Haut also was a founder of the Women’s Tefillah Network.

She was the co-author of four books, “Daughters of the King: Women and the Synagogue,” with Rabbi Susan Grossman; “Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism’s Holy Site,” with Phyllis Chesler; “Shaarei Simcha: Gates of Joy,” with Adena Berkowitz; and a forthcoming book about agunot with Susan Aranoff.

Berkowitz in a Facebook post wrote of an encounter she had leaving Haut’s funeral, “I was stopped by an older woman with a sheitel. … With an ache in her voice and soul she said to me, ‘Who will now be there for all the agunot? Rivka is irreplaceable.’”

Haut had master’s degrees in English literature from Brooklyn College and in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Partnership Minyans Growing Despite Condemnations

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

In recent weeks, a flurry of articles by leading Orthodox rabbis and scholars have taken aim at the growing phenomenon of so-called partnership minyans, which feature traditional Orthodox liturgy and mechitzah dividers separating the sexes but allow women to read from the Torah and lead certain parts of the service.

Last week came news of a penalty for a rabbinical school student who had attended one such minyan: Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary had threatened to withhold rabbinic ordination from a young man who had hosted a partnership minyan in his home.

The threat came in the form of a Jan. 13 letter to the student signed by RIETS acting dean Rabbi Menachem Penner, who said women leading services or getting called to the Torah for an aliyah are practices “deemed prohibited by all recognized poskim,” or religious authorities.

A rabbi ordained by RIETS “would be expected to not participate in such activities nor create a public impression that he supports such activities in normative practice,” said the letter.

After news of the threat leaked, YU announced it had secured a commitment from the student, who had successfully completed his course of study but had not yet formally been granted his certificate of ordination, to uphold the institution’s principles. The student is now cleared to participate in the RIETS ordination event on March 23.

The battle over partnership minyans is just the latest scuffle in the war over women’s roles in the Orthodox community.

Some changes that proved deeply contentious at the time of their inception are now normative in Modern Orthodox circles, such as women’s Talmud study and women’s-only prayer services. Others are still highly controversial, such as ordaining women clergy.

For Orthodox Jews who support expanding women’s roles, the innovations of partnership minyans are a way to bring some of the egalitarianism they experience in other areas of their lives into Jewish practice without breaking the limits of Jewish law. Rabbi Daniel Sperber, a professor of Talmud at Bar-Ilan University and the most prominent Orthodox authority on Jewish law who backs these minyans, says the halachic principle of “human dignity” provides an opening to allow women to take public ritual roles in the synagogue.

To their opponents, these changes are dangerous deviations made more insidious by the fact that they are happening inside the Orthodox community by Jews who claim to be acting according to Jewish law.

Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a yeshiva head at RIETS, has been the leading voice in the recent chorus of condemnation. In a recent article, he argued that having women lead services or read from the Torah constitutes a religious breach that corrupts the spirit and violates Jewish laws regarding women’s modesty, public dignity and the requirement of deferring to Torah sages.

Partnership minyans have existed on the fringe of the Orthodox community for more than a decade, starting with Shira Hadasha, which was established in Jerusalem in 2002. Over the last decade they have spread rapidly in the United States, including Kol Sasson in Skokie, Ill.; Minyan Tehillah in Cambridge, Mass.; Darkhei Noam in Manhattan and Rosh Pina in Washington. More than two dozen are listed on the website of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, though they don’t all meet every Shabbat.

None of the minyans are full-time congregations with daily services, and they operate without congregational rabbis and meet in rented space, usually in Conservative or Reform institutions. Though they draw mostly from the Orthodox community, they also have attracted Jews raised in the Conservative movement looking for more observant communities. The minyans generally avoid calling themselves Orthodox but say they operate within the letter of Jewish law – even if their services upend centuries of Orthodox tradition.

New Republic Article on Feminism from Zion Is All About the Stakes

Monday, August 5th, 2013

The new issue of The New Republic cover story (The Feminists of Zion An unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism) is about us. It is about Haredim, modern Orthodox, and women. These are things we discuss regularly online and at our Shabbos tables, and in our coffee rooms. The story is remarkably accurate and balanced, displaying a very deep understanding of the issues in Israel today. I recommend reading the article immediately.

Imagine a spectrum of religious fundamentalism in the orthodox Jewish community. On one end you have extreme Haredi sects and on the other end you have completely secular Israelis. On most things and for most of time the people in the middle, let’s call them modern orthodox, skewed their allegiences toward the Haredi side. Orthodoxy is the great uniter. The assumption is that any two orthodox people will have more common interests than an orthodox and a secular Jew. This is how things were.

In essence, the article argues that while naturally aligned with their fellow orthodox Jews, women from the modern orthodox community in Israel are finding themselves aligned with secular feminist Jews in Israel. The collective pain that is felt due to the oppressiveness toward women in the extreme and not so extreme Haredi world is taking a toll. Women have been attacked physically, verbally, and psychologically for a long time and it is starting to create a negative reaction.

Several times the article mentions signs that tell women how to dress. We have become accustomed to these signs. But the women in the article argue that the signs give license to thugs who want to make a statement to women. To them, the signs mean much more than “Please be sensitive to our religious beliefs.” Part of that is because these standards are entering the public sphere and are no longer just limited to the private insular neighborhoods. But the other part of it is that the signs are somehow justifying the negativity and violence toward women.

What has happened is that women who feel hurt and abused are turning to secular and Reform Jews for salvation. Feminism is a dirty word in many orthodox communities, even in some places within the modern orthodox community. But it’s becoming a necessary evil for modern orthodox women who are not feminists at all to ask for help from feminists. It’s odd when orthodox people are funding they have more in common with secular and very liberal Jews than fellow orthodox Jews. But that is what is happening.

The article also talks about modern orthodox women who sympathize with the Women of the Wall. I wish they would be more vocal but i was heartened to hear it.

Last week I wrote about finding common ground and room for dialogue between modern orthodox and yeshivish Jews in America. (See:
Maybe Rabbi Birnbaum Has a Point: A Solution) I think what we are seeing in the article in TNR is what will happen if we can’t work together. If the people in the middle start to feel like the liberal and secular Jews are more sympathetic to their way of life, the great split that has been predicted for years, will finally happen. Modern orthodox Judaism will become an independent group.

Some might say, what’s so bad about that? Well there are plenty negative consequences to mention. But I will mention the two biggest issues. First, the Haredi institutions will fall without modern orthodox support. Some might say that’s not so bad either. I disagree. Their services are necessary, as is their trap door into engagement with society. On the other side, without a connection the Haredi community, the modern orthodox community will be hard pressed to support its own institutions for lack of qualified teachers and rabbis.

It’s not in our best interests to see a formal split. It might happen in Israel and it might happen in America. I think we should do everything we can to prevent it. The first thing we need to do, is get together and talk.

Visit Fink or Swim.

The Feminists of Zion An unlikely alliance between Orthodox and progressive women will save Israel from fundamentalism

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/fink-or-swim/new-republic-article-on-feminism-from-zion-is-all-about-the-stakes/2013/08/05/

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