In Shemos, Hashem tells Moshe, “Koh somar l’beis Yaakov – So you should say to the daughters of Jacob.” This language places particular importance on the women of the community hearing the message.
Centuries later, Sarah Schenirer adopted the same terminology in her movement to educate Jewish women: Bais Yaakov. Schenirer felt that Jewish women needed meaningful, high-quality education in order to resist the temptations of Polish secular culture. Leslie Ginsparg Klein, a Schenirer scholar, notes that part of what made her so unique and successful was her effective balance of “tradition and innovation.” She built something new, but within the frame of Torah philosophy. While Schenirer faced enormous resistance, over time she prevailed and built a successful movement, one still in existence today.
Change is a complicated thing for us frum Jews, something I encounter daily in my efforts to free agunot. Resolving social issues in the Jewish community requires walking a delicate tightrope between the old and new, the culture and values we hold dear and the problems we must respond to. Starting from Hashem’s injunction to speak to “bais Yaakov,” to Schenirer’s efforts to strengthen Judaism through girls’ education, it is ultimately Jewish women who will lead the charge to our next stage in growing as a community.