Last month in my regular post, I suggested that a lesbian who passes as an Orthodox man subverts Jewish traditional gender roles and understandings of sexuality at the same time she is conveying something true about her own relationship to the Holy One. Not a single comment challenged me on that proposition. Not one. Why? I think I know the answer.
While I absolutely love this site and have been a regular blogger now for three and a half years, I must say there are whole worlds of ideas, insights and conversations that we are missing. Whenever I write a blog on this site related to Judaism, it is rare that I receive a comment from someone Jewish (at least recognizably so). And, as the above example illustrates (especially if you were to read the comments of said post), no one even recognized the problematic nature of such a suggestion or challenged me as to how I think it would accomplish subverting gender roles and traditional views on sexuality.
The fact that I am the only regular Jewish contributor writing about Judaism in this blog doesn’t help. The last one left over two years ago. Also as far as I can tell from regular reading and a few searches, the last guest blogger who was both Jewish and wrote about something related to Judaism was about this time last year. Where are the Jewish feminists? Not here.
Jewish feminism is a long, complex tradition. It comes out of all the different streams of Judaism. These feminists have much to contribute to feminismandreligion.com: perspectives, ideas, critiques, midrashim and (oh) so much more. There is such a depth, richness and diversity to Jewish feminism because of the myriad of ways we approach the mitzvot as well as our different heritages, experiences and minhag/custom. Yet, the truth is: if I want to learn other Jewish feminist perspectives on Shabbat, images of the Holy One, Holy Days, women’s roles, Talmud, Torah, etc., I have to read different resources, internet or otherwise.
Let me put this another way. As I’ve mentioned already, the only consistent Jewish voice on this blog is mine. That both bothers and concerns me for many reasons. First, one voice cannot and should not capture the unique strands and rich traditions of a religion that traces its beginning millennia ago. Nor can or should one voice speak to the many issues presented in thousands of pages of sacred texts and the traditions of commentaries on those texts. Neither can or should one voice represent varied experiences of different communities in countries across the globe.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Judaism as a tradition values the voices of many, including and often inviting the
voice that passionately disagrees. Those disagreements become dialogues that lead to a better understanding of the text, of the question(s) raised or of the issue at hand. In fact, traditional forms of Jewish learning, still present in most communities today, value the process of chavruta/learning in pairs. This chavruta is foundational to study, a fundamental Jewish value. Another fundamental Jewish value is tikkun olam/repairing the world, which includes tzedakah/justice, chesed/lovingkindness and shalom/peace among many other things. What I’m trying to get at here is that for so many reasons, Judaism is in no way an individualistic endeavor. It values community. The world cannot be repaired unless everyone works together. Nor can one hope to understand the depth of sacred texts without someone there to help. We need each other.
That being said, I think feminismandreligion.com is a community that both values study and works to further justice, love and peace. For as much as we share these similar values, there is only one consistent Jewish voice here. I would like to challenge this community to live up to its potential. If we truly are a community of dialogue at the intersection of religion and feminism, then we need more Jewish participants. I’ve shown here in very general terms both why we need more Jewish voices and some of the ways in which our values overlap. What I would like to do now is turn this blog over to you. My question for the reader, the founders and the regular contributors alike is: how do we include more Jewish feminists here?
Ivy Helman, Ph.D. is feminist scholar and faculty member at Charles University and Anglo-American University in Prague, Czech Republic where she teaches a variety of Jewish Studies and Ecofeminist courses. She is an Associate of Merrimack College‘s Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations and spent many years there as an Adjunct Lecturer in the Religious and Theological Studies Department. In addition to teaching and research, Ivy spends considerable amounts of time learning Czech, painting, drawing, creating new kosher delicacies and playing with her dog, Mini, and cat, Gabbi.