The Difficulties of Reconciling Feminism with Orthodoxy

I was raised in an egalitarian culture and graduated from Barnard College, a women’s liberal arts college.

I am now integrated into the Orthodox world where the synagogue, an important center of Jewish life, has a strict separation of roles and the yeshiva offers the boys a significantly different curriculum than the girls.

.Do you know that I am unable to help my ten year old son with his mishna and gemora homework. Part of me thinks this is completely absurd. How can we continue to deny an entire gender access to our culture’s core knowledge? (How many women do you know who are proficient in the Shita Mekubetzes, the Ketzos, Rabbi Akiva Eger–even at a JOFA convention? I wouldn’t expect to find more than a handful, if that many). But then the other half of me is humble.

I’m a mother of boys–six of them. This is how they’ve been doing it since the beginning of time, and they are the greatest men (yes they were all men) who ever walked the face of the earth, Moses, Jeremiah, the Tanaim the Amoraim, the Vilna Gaon, all the way to the Piazeczna Rebbe. So who am I to suggest that its all wrong (at an alanon meeting I heard someone say something similar about the writings of Bill W. so kal vahomer, how much more does this apply to our sages)? But even so, the feminism is still stuck in my bone marrow and at times it is hard for me to live inside of this.

Anybody with any thoughts, feelings or insights on this subjects?

Suppression of Jewish Women – a Matter of Perspective

Does traditional Judaism prevent women from being free human beings? Do the laws and customs suppress women, thus rendering them as inferior in status to men, thereby making them unable to enhance their Jewish identity, spirituality, and connection to Hashem? Is traditional halachic theology dogmatic and sexist?

The answer to all these questions is that it depends on one’s perspective. While traditional Judaism seemingly discriminates against women by excluding them from the Rabbinate, from making aliyahs, dancing with the sefer Torah, and from serving as judges in Batei Din, men are no more spiritually powerful than women by virtue of engaging in these public activities.
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Special Challenges of Becoming Frum for Women

By Gail Pozner

When you think about all the changes a secular woman makes and the challenges she faces along the road toward a frum lifestyle, especially compared to men, it is amazing that there still are so many women who do it. I think it testifies to the explanation of “She lo asani eisha” that “women are more spiritual” (so they don’t need as many mitzvos). If women are not spiritual, I don’t think we’d be seeing this phenomenon, because it is so hard. I’d like to focus on the following two experiences.

Many, although not all, American women who become frum during or after college, had completely absorbed the feminist ethos, to wit: men and women are basically the same (although some believe women are superior); they have often proven themselves equally capable as men in all levels of competition, be it intellectual, creative, or athletic. They have lived side by side with the men in classes, at parties, in the dorms, and even in the coed bathrooms. They have been fed “women’s studies” classes whose goal is to denigrate marriage and traditional, feminine aspects of womanhood and to bolster the notion that career and individual achievement is what is important.
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Soul Sisters

Sociologically speaking in general terms, the life cycles of women who are born into traditional Orthodox society vary greatly from those women who became newly observant as adults. Women who are frum from birth were hardly touched by the feminist trends and changing mores of our modern world, as they are socialized in a clearly defined traditional female role reminiscent of an earlier era.

The newly observant women can be coming from almost any socioeconomic background and, she could have had any of a myriad number of life experiences. Most likely, if she is of university age or older by the time she entered the fold, she had had a semblance of independence that most frum from birth women could only imagine. Not that this is necessarily good or bad, as I am not making any value judgments—only observations.
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