Along with the Feminist Spirituality Movement came feminist religious reform in other religions, one of these being a grass-roots movement of Jewish feminism. This movement towards gender equality within Judaism was driven by Jewish women that were well-educated and liberal in their political and cultural orientation. These women viewed their Jewishness as an integral part of their identity, so, naturally, they applied their recently acquired feminist ideology to their faith. Analyzing the exclusively male bimah in the synagogue, the women had a collective epiphany that the Jewish traditions could be different. Two Jewish women ignited this movement with their published works, criticizing misogynistic Jewish traditions, and calling for change. Trude Weiss-Rosmarin wrote an article in 1970 called “The Unfreedom of Jewish Women,” which was centered on the belief that Jewish marriage laws were unfair to both divorced and abandoned women. The other trailblazer in this movement, Rachel Adler, wrote an article titled, “The Jew who Wasn’t There,” discussing the differences between the male and female roles of piety. The two ladies kicked off a series of publications and expressions of discontent from the female Jewish community, and the following year, women’s prayer groups were being formed everywhere.
One of these Jewish study groups, called Ezrat Nashim, went beyond local study and prayer groups and elevated their efforts to catalyze reformation. The women of Ezrat Nashim issued a “Call for Change,” putting forward the early agenda of Jewish feminism through advocacy, meeting with rabbis and their wives and taking the issue of equality of women to the 1972 convention of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly. The group focused on the empowerment of women in Judaism by fighting for equal rights in marriage and divorce laws, counting women in the minyan, and striving towards equal access of women and men to higher roles of honor within the Jewish community. Ezrat Nashim received widespread recognition, and grew into a large and diverse movement of Jewish Feminism.
Jewish feminists’ main focus was equal representation of men and women within the Jewish community, and, as of 2004, there were almost 700 women rabbis in the United States. While feminist efforts have been highly successful within the United States, the world still has a long way to go. Many Jewish male leaders view issues regarding gender inequality as secondary to issues of assimilation and communal unity. Some of these male leaders go so far as to consider feminism as a danger to Judaism as a whole. Many are torn between feminist ideals and the desire for the continuation of Jewish tradition. However, feminists today are certain that these two agendas can move forward in unison.
Check out a Jewish Feminist’s story:
New York artist Helène Aylon has produced work interpreting the Torah through a feminist lens, and is now seeing her work displayed at the Andy Warhol Museum. You can see her work and read her story here:
American Jewish History: The Colonial and Early National Periods by American Jewish Historical Society