Monday, November 19, 2007

A Feminist Orthodoxy

This post is inspired by a conversation I’ve been having in the comments thread on XGH's blog.

This is not going to be about my struggles with gender and Judaism. Believe me, I’ve struggled with these. In my teenage years and adulthood, I’ve become painfully aware of what the “separate but equally as special” dictum that many traditionally minded OJs hold really means for women.

But that story and analysis is for a different post and a different time.

This post is about potential and the future.

I’ll reiterate one point first: my problems with OJ (which, granted, I haven’t gone into in any real detail here yet) are NOT limited to gender-related issues. They stretch far beyond this.

That said, if my problems were limited to gender, I think that in 2007 I might have some hope.

It is still quite far from solving everything for me, but I see a lot of promise in the recent introduction of feminist ideology into OJ. Organizations like JOFA and women like Blu Greenberg and Tamar Ross, to my mind, are pushing in the right direction and making much needed advances.

Whether or not they are directly influenced by feminist theory, many OJ women feel a divide between their lives in the secular and religious spheres. These are educated, intelligent women who want to participate more actively in their religion – in addition to their mitzvot they are already performing as women.

Furthermore, they are women who see a real benefit in having a more active female presence in OJ overall. The ordination (?not sure if that’s the right word?) of yoatzot is one example of how this is true.

In the aforementioned conversation that I was having with “Dude” on XGH’s blog, “Dude” said that a feminist OJ is silly/childish, goes against the historical Jewish perspective, and ultimately makes a mockery of halachic flexibility.

I argued that there are precedents for this kind of female role – think Devorah, Bruriah – but they have just been downplayed. With the story of a female judge in Tanach itself, how can anyone argue that there can’t be any place for a woman in Judaism outside her home?

What I find most discouraging is that fact that Dude’s attitude isn’t an anomaly; rejection and disparagement of a more feminist OJ is widespread. The only reason I can come up with for this is knee-jerk sexism; these people feel afraid – like their world, religion, etc., is going to fall apart if such changes are made.

The craziest thing to me about this attitude is that feminist OJ’s changes don’t (in general) violate halacha. In fact, these women have such great respect for halacha that they really only institute rituals that are okay by halachic standards – after speaking with rabbis – when some of them would really want much more radical changes.