! " ! Jewish Feminism: An Orthodox Perspective By : Leah Robbins University of Florida May 2016 WST4970
! # ! T able of Contents Biblical Origins and Rabbinic Influence 3 Orthodox Feminist Organizing 21 Conclusion 46 CHAPTER 1 BIBLICAL ORIGINS AND RABBINIC INFLUENCE
! $ ! INTRODUCTION Whi le the legacy of western feminism a nd its ideals have brought about groundbreaking change for some women , it has left other communities of women with less visibility and social capital feeling disregarded and unheard , forcing them to negotiate their womanhood an d positionality within their communities in the face of major societal shifts . This phenomenon is reflected in the counterhegemonic critiques of white supremacy and heterosexism in the feminist movement by renown Black feminists in the 1970s. While Black f eminists were highlighting the ignored experiences of women of color, specifically black women, Orthodox Jewish women are nevertheless an example of a niche group of women whose stories remain on the margins of feminist discourse. When their experiences ar e brought to the surface, they are often used a rhetorical tool agains t organized religion because their perceived oppression is observable to passersby . They themselves, their dress, their bodies, are considered cultural indicators symptomatic of patriarchal oppression within Orthodox Judaism . And yet, most Orthodox wom en do not conceptualiz e t heir experiences in this way. In fact, many are adamantly opposed to these superimposed assumptions that fundamentally exclude their voices . Why is there suc h a colossal disconnect between Orthodox women and tho se who write and read about their lives ? We must critically interrogate who is licensed to label their experiences as oppressive , so as to prevent any intellectual negligence with respect to the nuances of their lived realities and points of view .
! % ! The first limitation that hinders our understanding of their lived experiences is the fact that (1) m uch of the scholarship about Orthodox Jewish women is writte n by Jews from other "sects" (delineated by the stringency of observance of Jewish law ) rat her than discourse produced by O rthodox women themselves. Here we encounter our first limitation. (2) What little scholarship that ha s been produced about Orthodox women has levied the ideals of W estern liberalism against women whose lives and needs are built upon a framework very alien to those principles . We cannot grant ourselves the authority to assign meaning to those lives without their consent or input . (3) Finally, many accounts by Orthodox women are fragmented and used opportunistically to corroborate the canonized notions that women are unequivocally oppressed under organized religion . These piecemeal narratives serve to widen the gap between respondents and readers. In res ponse to this disconnect, I intend to amplify these women's voices and restore the theoretical power of women' s ownership over their own stories. This isn't to say that there are no areas of Orthodoxy worth critiquing or adaptations worth pursuing , but these changes are to be determined within the parameters of Orthodoxy and executed by O rthodox women. My research seeks to rein terpret and extrapolate upon these narrative s by (1) critically examining the nature and evolution of women' s status in O rt hodoxy, (2) exploring the ways in which J ewish womanhood and identity have been constructed and negotiated across time and space, and (3) investigating what an O rthodox f eminist agenda looks like on the ground today. That being said, it must be stated clearly that the interests of Orthodox feminists laid out in this thesis do not represent the needs or perspectives of all Orthodox women. Orthodoxy exists along a continuum where in communities on one end may consider the
! & ! practices on the other end to be h eresy, even if both communities adhere to halacha (Jewish law) by the letter. For the purposes of this paper, however, I have assigned the regular use of the mikveh (ritual bath) as the baseline cri teria for what constitutes as "o rthodox" in Ashkenazi (of Eastern European descent) communities . As such, the following chapters will be organized according to women specific areas of Jewish law filtered through the discursive energies of Orthodox women who have written for the consumption of other Orthodox women . JEWISH LAW AND THE RABBINIC CORPUS Orthodox Judaism is built upon an unwavering commitment to Jewish law as dictated by the Torah and later expanded and codified by the rabbinic commentators of the Talmud. Before we can unravel the com plexities of women's status in O rthodoxy today , we must first look at how rabbinic legal culture has adapted J ewish laws about women to the changing social climates of respective historic al periods. These legal debates and modifications are significant because the se de cision makers are not only considered sacred and authoritative , but their conclusions set the stage for "the practicing Jew with the rock bottom premises upon which everything else is built" (Ross 2004, 12) . According to Orthodox feminist Judith Hauptman, t here we re various groundbreaking changes initiated and carried out by Talmudic rabbis in order to ameliorate the experiences of women. We cannot , of course, divorce patriarchy from Judaism or any other institution , but when filtered through a more context ual ized , explanatory versus descriptive lens , we see that rabbis have often acted on women's behalf, granting them benefits previously unheard of, and often at the expense of men . KETUBAH
! ' ! Perhaps the most significant change enacted by Talmudic rabbis was the transf ormation of the process of betrothal from bride price "purchasing" to the ketubah , the marriage contract which affords the bride a number of rights and protections never before afforded to her. The most notable element of the ketubah is the husband's payment of a predetermined amount of money to the wife in the event of a divorce or death. This was alien to the Roman contemporary, who received only the dowry she brought with her into the marriage . The ketubah would require the husband make payments extracted from his actual resources (Hauptman 1998, 61) . Whereas the bride price is paid to the father, the ketuba h is paid directly to the woman , and at a time when she needs it most, in between marriages or as a widow (Hauptman 1998, 62). This deferred pa yment both inhibits a man from leaving with large amounts of money a t the time of the marriage, as well as deters men from hastily divorcing their wives. The wife also received several legal benefits from the ketu bah : (1) If she is taken captive, he must redeem her and take her back as his wife even if she was sexually violated in captivity. (2) He must provide medical care if she becomes ill. (3) If she predeceases her husband, her sons Ã‘ and not sons from othe r wives -inherit the ketubah money and her dowry. (4) If she outlives her husband, her daughters can continue living in his house and receive money from his estate until they marry. (5) If she outlives her husband, she can remain in his house and live off of his as sets. What was once the bride price of virgins to be paid in advance transformed into an airtight insurance policy based on the husband's actual capital (Hauptman 1998, 74). Most importantly, b ecause the ketubah became more of a social contract than a purchase of a wife, women's consent to marriage became mandatory for the legal validity
! ( ! of the ketubah . As it is ref erenced in Tractate Kiddushin , i f a woman "flings betrothal moneys that he presents to her into the ocean, she is making a clear statement that she is rejecting him" (Hauptman 1998, 71). Clearly, the father takes a backseat as key decisor in this arrangement , as women must explicitly consent to enter marriage . Although the demand for a ketubah is only necessary in a society that is fundamentally patriarchal in nature and intend s to remain so, it consolidated concrete rights unknown to women. SOTAH Critics often point to Tractate Sotah ( " the wayward wife " ) as heartbreakingly emblematic of biblical violence toward women , because it describes in detail the investigative process and subsequent punishment of an adulterous wife . It i s stipulated in the Torah that if a man suspects his wife of adultery , he may take her to the Temple and make her partake in the ritual of the "bitter waters" , even if there are no witnesses to her crime . She must drink a brew of water, earth from the Temple floor, and ink. If she is guilty of infidelity , the potion will kill her . This phenomenon is already a curious deviation from the Torah norm, which has always had a strict protoc ol for pursuing justice by a trial of judges , never by supernatural intervention. H aving recognized its inherent offenses against women and their bodies , the rabbis institute d several measures to ensure that this humiliating public process of accountability would be nearly impossible to implement . According to rabbinic ruling, "only those women who have (1) aroused their husband's suspicion, (2) were publ icly warned by him, and (3) proceeded to deliberately violate his word in the presence of others [by secluding herself with that man in front of witnesses] could be dragged by him to the Temple for the ordeal" (Hauptman 1998, 18). The Torah required no witnesses to initiate the " bitter waters " , but the rabbis
! ) ! introduced witnesses as a pre requisite to both the scenario of the husband's public warning and her violation of his word , ensuring that this ordeal would only be enacted in instances where the woman was almost undeniably guilty (Hauptman 1998, 20). The administration of the " bitter waters " was eventually discontinued altogether because of its inherent discrimination . It was deemed unjust that o nly one transgressor, the woman, be punished. For the "bitter waters" to be remotely reasonable , the " other man " would also have to suffer. Additionally, t he husbands of many of these women were committing adultery themselves and were thus deemed morally ineligible to initiate the test (H auptman 1998, 27). A contextualized rereading of the Talmudic debates suggests that although gender disparities were not erased, rabbis took it upon themselves to reduce legal incapacities . SEX UAL VIOLENCE Another key legal change headed by these rabbis was a developing discourse around sex crimes and their victims . Biblical marital law suggests that the most viable solution in cases of ra pe is to marry victim to abuser , because such crimes were considered most consequential to the woman's father , who would lose anticipated incom e from his daughter's virginity (Hauptman 1998, 77). The rabbis introduce d the transfer of financial reparations from the father to the victim, indicating a paradigm atic shift with regard to sex crimes and the recognition of sexual trauma . Additionally, b y having earlier introduced consent as a requirement for marriage as stipulated by the ketubah , women could now refuse to marry their abusers with the full support of the law . During this legal shift, t he rabbis also established regulati ons about sex with minors , understan d ing sex between adult s and minor s as coercive and criminal. For this
! * ! reason, the rabbis invented a new legal category, the bogeret , which refers to an independent, physically mature woman capable of consent . A bogeret is re latively autonomous as she is not under the authority of her father or a husband . With the institution of this legal category, women beca me legally independent beings when they reach physical and mental maturity, protecting minors from abuse, and giving women license to make decisions about marriage. Not only do the rabbis view women as lawfully independent from their fathers, but they now consider marriage a mutual agreement consented to by both parties . Most importantly, howeve r, sexual assault becomes a punishable crime and women take center stage as the primary victim. Rabbinic Judaism was also very pro gressive in its recognition that marital rape is real and punishable in its own right. The evolution of halacha concerning rape was driven by a "conscious effort to protect women from the charge that they were willing participants in a prohibited sexual act, that they Ã”brought it on themselves', or that their hidden wish is to be coerced into intercourse" (Kaufman 1991, 64). The Talmud explicitly states that even if a woman "refuses to be rescued from her rapist, if the sexual act began under duress and intimidation, it is still rape" (Kaufman 1991, 64). This is a far cry fr om contemporary U.S. legislation where var ious states still refuse to recognize the criminality of marital rape. DIVORCE Many feminists also turn to Jewish divorce as a marker of women's oppression because Jewish law requires that a man " grant " a woman a divorce in order for it to be valid. A civil divorce is illegitimate in the eyes of J ewish law and any children born of a
! "+ ! marriage without a get, or Jewish divorce certification , will be considered bastards. Because such decisions have substanti al implications regarding Jewish continuity, Jewish divorc es remain hotly debated within various communities . Although the laws of gittin (divorce) remain in place, there have been several revisions that Talmudic rabbis have created to benefit wives seeking divorces from recalcitrant husbands. In cases where the husband has denied his wife a divorce, the rabbis would come to her defense and force him to give a get . In several cases, rabbis have intervened of their own volition to annul marriages witho ut the husban d's approval. It is written in G ittin , "Ã‰A forced bill of divorce [if executed] by a Jewish [court], it is valid; by a non Jewish court, it is invalid. And in a non Jewish court they may beat him and say, do what the Jewish court asks of you, and it [i.e., the get] is valid" (Hauptman 1998, 114). In layman's terms, this means that a Jewish court can force a divorce while a non Jewish court cannot. However, a non Jewish court can intimidate a recalcitrant husband into submitting to the requests of a Jewish court . Here we see the rabbis go as far as to condone violence against a recalcitrant husband as an incentive to grant a divorce of his own free will. The rabbis, of course, anticipated loopholes , because husbands could claim that he i ssued a get under duress , rendering the get invalid . However, one prominent rabbi of the Talmud , R. Sheshet , sought to discourage these exploitive practices by ordering lashes for a man who engaged in them" (Hauptman 1998, 121). Additionally, the rabbis standardized the process of giving and receiving a get with stringent regulations to protect the woman from anyone attempting to retroactively challenging its validity, and thus unjustly ren dering her an adulteress and any future children mamzerim (bastard s).
! "" ! The question remains of course , are women much better off since the application of such changes? For women who want to re main in the community, as many O rthodox Jewish women do, these changes are instrumental. Men are now compelled in certain insta nce s to grant a divorce and are punished if they issue a notification of duress (Hauptman 1998, 120 ). Granted, the issues of the agunah (women still halachically tied to a recalcitrant husband ) is an ongoing problem with monumental implications , but there is substantial grassroots organizing around this issue by and for Orthodox women. Nevertheless, we can see examples of rabbinical courts acting on women's behalf and taking initiative to uplift women within the parameters of halacha . Of course the Talmudic and post Talmudic halachic authorities had no intention of eradicating patriarchy, but we can assum e a growth in self awareness, a slight " discomfort with patriarchal privilege, a deepening moral critique of society drawn from the words of the Torah itself , greater familiarity with surrounding cultures, and even pressure brought by the people themselves" (Hauptman 1998, 246). Because Jewish law is never really fixed, rather a site of ongoing debate, we can infer that there was nothing accepted completely uncritically. Because the rabbis often d iverged from what was expected indicates that they did not adopt cultural norms , rather " filtered them through their own religious and legal patterns of thinking, accepting only those practices that appeals to their sense of justice and devotion to God" (Hauptman 1998, 246). HALACHIC (IN)FLEXIBILITY Having laid the groundwork for changes implemented in what is considered to be the most sacrosanct and authoritative blueprint for Jewish life , we can critically examine
! "# ! changes in attitudes about gender dynamics and how women have developed and negotiated thei r sense of self in post Talmudic , diasporic debates . Before we can do so, however, we must establish several key tenets from which we will l aunc h our exploration of Orthodoxy and feminism . The (in)flexibility of h alacha is based on historic al factors and various essentialist assumptions about the Torah and gender . The continuum of genocidal violence against Jews, f rom the destruction s of the Temple in Jerusalem , to massacres against Jews in the Middle A ges , the Holocaust, and issues of contemporary assimilation, "the internal cohesiveness of the Jewish community, coupled with the constant external pressures of a non Jewish population i ntent on maintaining economic and social segregation (to varying degrees) , essentially made fidelity to h alacha a given for most Jews" (Ross 2004, 23). The heightened degree of a dherence to h alacha was an effort to secure Jewish continuity and preserve hal achic integrity in the face of ongoing systematic violence . Desp ite its clinging to tradition, O rthodox ideologies "are in fact not an unchanged and unchanging remnant of pre modern, traditional Jewish society but as much a child of modernity and change as any of its Ã”modern' rivals" (Ross 2004, 60). According to Orthodox feminist scholar Tamar Ross, t here were four concrete historical shifts that heavily impacted legislative creativity. (1) The decentralization of Jewish communal authority after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. fundamentally transformed the functionality of Jewish legislation. (2) The demise of the Sanhedrin, (the original Jewish Supreme Court ) and (3) the disr uption of uninterrupted oral traditions, shifting the legal responsibility to local rabbis and communal governing bodies during the Middle Ages. Another consequence of the diminished religious authority is that adherence to Jewish law became voluntary , whi ch was intensified by
! "$ ! compulsory secularization induced by anti Semitic violence . This exacerbated ideolo gical fragmentation within the O rthodox community because there was no longer one central authority recognized by all (Ross 2004, 52). Additionally, the beginning of widespread dissemination of information exposed the halachic decisors to much wider audiences and critics, making it virtually impossible "for any individual or even group of individuals to achieve the breadth of consensus necessary to car ry out significant innovations even when these are intended only for a limited community under specific circumstances" (Ross 2004, 52). Additionally, we must consider the unusual paradox of controversial questions whose answers may be halachically permissible, yet communally unacceptab le. Astonishingly, even within a religious doctrine driven primarily by law, t he letter of the law is not always the final s ource of authority on a matter. T he willingness of a community to embrace a halachic interpre tation is more often the final arbiter of Jewish practice . Ross refers to this phenomenon as a binary of "p ure h alacha " which signifies issues whose decisions must derive directly from the law with no room for interpretation, versus m atters of "public policy" which may belong to a gra y area at the discretion of the legal decisor (Ross 2004, 68) . However, r abbinic re putations, especially those whose dynasties are household names in Jewish communities , are incessantly examined under a community microscope and subject to criticism from all corners of the d iaspora . The implications of making drastic legal changes are considerable , especially because "they must be capable of engaging with the sensibilities and interpretiv e traditions of the chief players within the system" in order to be embraced by the halachically devoted (Ross 2004, 156) .
! "% ! Furthermore , these communities are operating from various conceptual frameworks about the R evelation at Mount Sinai , which fundamentally shapes their views about the plasticity of halacha and the extent to which it can be modified according to shifting cultural mores . The most dominant of these perspectives is that the Bible is exclusively divine and therefore, "immutable with every word and letter bearing divine signif icance. The second is that the r abbis of the Talmud were its sole legitimate interpreters" (Ross 2004, 23). The most common discursive framework of halacha operating within these communities is that of an "absolutely s elf validating system that is fully delineated in the sources, and therefore impervious to the vicissitudes of the real world and current human sensibilities" (Ross 2004, 75). The women who choose to remain in O rthodo xy must therefore, avoid questioning " biblical justice " or undermining the credibility of divine authorship because the authority of h alacha shapes the entire character of Jewish life (Ross 2004, 138 ). Other O rthodox communities who are slightly more centrist conceptualize h alacha as having both permanent , untouchable elements, given directly by God, " explicitly conveying some form of absolute truth, while the others are regarded as given Ã‘ in greater or lesser extent Ã‘ to the arbitrariness and fallibility of human judgement" (Ross 2004, 48). Many Orthodox feminists coming out of these communities contend t hat the ultimate meaning of Torah is revealed in the ongoing dialectic between the moment of revelation at Sinai an d the continuous unraveling of h istory. They r eject the idea of a motionless text immune to the " influence of the faith community, but rather heaven sent tools for revealing God's will" (Ross 2004, 164). Orthodox women and those licensed with the authority to make legal decisions about their lives and bodies are
! "& ! constantly grappling with their various interpretations of the R e velation . Ultimate ly, t here is an ongoing philosophical tension regarding the degree to which the Torah is formulated in a " time and culture bound social mold; and the ability to assert that this same Torah is nevertheless the voice of God speaking to us, with every word of that voice equally holy" (Ross 2004, 161). These women are avid members of communities who believe wholeheartedly in a divine text infused with absolute justice, which can therefore never be dismissed as passÂŽ . Additionally, m aintaining gender as a system is integral to the Jewish way of life , and adherence to basic gender distinctions afford Jewish women greater liberty to pursue the expansion of women's Jewish identity. Most O rthodox women, even those fighting most fervently for halachic modifications , believe that a stratified ge nder system bears true benefits rather than as a barrier to dismantle (Plaskow and Ross 2007, 221). According to Ross, t here is no push to abandon the category of woman and coopt men's spirituality, rather to preserve and incrementally expand what it means to be a Jewish woman within the confines of tradition. Unlike Jewish femi nist agendas of other sects, critiquing male hegemony do es not demand an "unsexed womanhood" (Plaskow and Ross 2007, 243) It require s creative methods that can resist demeaning hierarchical implications. Maintaining these gender distinctions while allowing room to renegotiate their meanings " bears promise of preserving the tried and true advantages of role stratification while avoiding the inequalities that generally follow in its wake" (Plaskow and Ross 2007, 245). THE GENDER DEBATE
! "' ! Before delineating the sp ecific grievances around which O rthodox women are or ganizing , we must first establish the prevailing understandings of gender perpetuated by Orthodox Jewish men and women . Tamar Ross suggest that t hese conceptual frameworks typically point toward one of three directions , all of which are founded upon essentialist notions of women and their biology : (1) accepting patriarchal norms as submission to God' s will, (2) apologism that aims to dismiss opposition to male hegemony as a " misguided reaction to benign conventions", (3) and a proto feminist re appropriation of Jewish text s (Ross 32). The first of these openly admit to women's subordinate status , but as a product of divine command . According to this school of thought, w omen's discomfort cannot undermine commitment an d faith to the divine word. Li sa Aiken, a notable O rthodox Jewish author adheres to this notion, claiming that "the less privileged status of women is comparable to the Israelite who, irrespective of his merit, does not enjoy the privileges of the Levite or the priest" (Aiken 1992, 32) . She is a staunch believer that status within Judaism is determined by how well one fulfills their divine mission dictated by God, "not by how well we do someone else's task" (Aiken 1992, 96). This is a common thread woven through apologetic discourses , which proble matizes the notion that "t hat which makes me feel good is good; that which makes me feel not so good, is not so good" (Feldman 1999). These thinkers consider this sentiment to be characteristic of a "me" society, which is antithetical to Judai sm, a doctrine built on obligations rather than rights. In fact, there is no word for "rights" in Biblical or Mishnaic Hebrew. The modern Hebrew term for "rights" ( zechuyot ) stems from the classical Hebrew meaning ( zechut ) " merit". According to this framew ork,
! "( ! disillusioned Orthodox women must consequently challenge themselves to question not what they require of God, but what God requires of them (Feldman 1999). Other conservatives accept, to varying degrees, the critique of such essentialist assumption s , and adhere to a more "separate but equal" model . While this may evoke memories of the Civil Rights era and the failure and illusion of "separ ate but equal" legislation, its parallel in Judaism runs more smoothly . Feminists who criticize traditional Judai sm are "said to operate under a mistaken influence of a "rights oriented" society that teaches that Ã”equal' means Ã”same'" which is alien to Judaism (Ross , 2004 33). The struggle for equal access to religious capital for O rthodox women does not entail the a bolition of gender distinctions that denies and neglects the uniqueness of Jewish womanhood. On the other hand, both male and female apologists idealize women's nature as superior , whose inherent connection to the divine explain s their exemption from many of men's ritual obligations like that of tallit and tefillin . They propose that women have an innate spiritual advantage because their bodies connect them to God and the rhythms of nature in ways that men can only reach with mand atory obligations and discipline. Whereas men are tempted in their daily confrontation s with moral challenges in the business world, women require no such spiritual fortification. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1809 1888) writes that the Torah "takes for gra nted that women have greater fervor and more faithful enthusiasm for their God serving calling , and that this calling runs less danger in their case than in that of men" (Rap p oport 2000, 57). Additionally, apologetics of this philosophical orientation beli eve that if a woman were to perform extraneous mitzvot , while she may find spiritual fulfillment in the synagogue, this would
! ") ! be " at the expense of compromising her Divinely ordained role and privilege as the backbone of her family" (Rapaport 2000, 58). While this may sound misogynistic to western liberal feminist thinkers , these women are operating from a concrete devotion to their roles as mothers and wives as their original point of departure . There is no desire to combat this principle , rather increme ntally expand and renegotiate their identities within those parameters. The most compelling structure for deconstructing gender is found in attempts by O rthodox women to employ mystical understandings of femininity to empower women in the position they already inhabit . Much of this women initiated apologetics focuses on the three mitzvot uniquely assigned to women and cloaked in their Jewish femininity : challah (splitting and burning a piece of the Shabbat dough to commemorate ancient priestly portion) , hadlakah (lighting the Shabbat candles) , and niddah (the laws regarding menstruation and ritual bath) (Ross 2004, 40) . Their justification of traditional Judaism is rooted in the notion that there is a "hidden nature of femininity (mirrored anatomically in the hidden state of her sexual organs); femininity as a paradigm for sanctification of the physical; and femininity as power" (Ros s 2004, 40). Limiting women's mitz vot to the physical realm of life is reconfigured as a virtue rather than a hindrance , because the woman is understood to be the arbiter of four chief areas of rit ual activity most salient in Judaism: blood, body, food, and time (Cook 1999, 56) . Because women are considered closer to the divine through childbirth, they are considered spirit ually armed to imbue the body and the home with holiness. This is mystically significan t because these mitzvot are believed to have greater impact on the physical world , where in women have the power to transform and sanctify the mundane.
! "* ! Femininity as power is reflected in the Laws of Family P urity, in that they are an important strategy for maintaining marital longevity. A husband's inaccessibility to his wife is a reminder that he is not entitled to her body, ensuring that he never takes her for grant ed and marital excitement is preserved. She is given time to attend to her own needs and is afforded the power to control her sex life in ways that are often foreign to secular marriages (Ross 2004, 41). These women also focus heavily on the feminine aspect of God, which is a derivative of the kabbalistic view that the women on earth embody the feminine divine emanation of Malchut . The lighting of Shabbat candles "originating primarily in the mundane interest of creating conviviality around the Sabbath ta ble Ã‘ is now understood to reenact God's primordial creation of light" (Ross 2004, 42). Consistent with this kab b alistic parallelling is the notion that the rhythm of a woman's sexual life, demarcated by her menstrual rhythm , is a metaph or for the process of divine creativity. This line of thinking not only confirms the uniqueness of women's religious observance, but it also "affirms women's sense of worth by portraying God in their likeness" (Ross 2004, 42). Of course, this type of Orthodox woman stands in direct opposition to the Orthodox women seeking greater participation in arenas that have been tradit ionally designated to men. The former prioritize the idolization of women's role in the home above the mor e confrontational struggle for more visibility in the public arena . With this in mind, we can appreciate the vast continuum of needs and vantage points with which O rthodox women are exploring halachic malleability wi thin an ancient system they deem worth preserving (Ross 2004, 45) .
! #+ ! CHAPTER 2 ORTHODOX FEMINIST ORGANIZING
! #" ! AN ORTHODOX FEMINIST AGENDA Let us now explore what disillusioned O rthodox women see as necessary to modify and enhance their participation in Jewish life , but with the explicit understanding that maintenance of gender stratification is a permanent feature of their feminist project . There are several key issues that are pertinent to an Orthodox feminist agenda tha t look drastically different than that of R eform Jewish feminists. One notable sociological study of twenty seven in depth interviews with Orthodox women conducted by Northeastern professor Debra Kaufman, yielded meaningful answers to people's most pressing question : " Why do they stay? " In fact, when asked why modern O rthodox women who are dissatisfied with aspects of their lives don't leave for congregations with more egalitarian practices, one respondent claimed , "leaving O rthodoxy would give me less than I have now: Orthodoxy offers total devotion. In the other movements , even if women have more, everyone has less " ( Nusbacher 1999 , 101 ) Clearly, the Orth odox feminist agenda looks drastically different than what secular feminists have postulated , includ ing a tangible solution to the agunah problem, space for women's ritual in the public domain, greater opportunities for Jewish learning, women's initiatives to enhance women centered practices (i.e. more in depth marriage classes, Yoetzo t Halacha , more meaningful mikveh experiences etc ). Each of these proposals has faced varying degrees of acceptance and resi stance from both men and other O rthodox women. AGUNOT I n older generations , especially during b iblical eras, the agunah was usually
! ## ! trapped in a marriage because of a husband's disappearance due to war, but more recent generations have brought about men's intentional defiance , especially in the face of growing marital instability with modernity. Because marriage gives prom ise to Jewish continuity, the "perceived need to preserve a uniquely Orthodox line in the face of pressures to liberalize standards for the sake of interdenominational cooperation have given rise to more conservative tendencies" (Ross 2004, 28). In respons e, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) Agunah Task Force alongside several agunah specific agencies have produced various works with recommended solutions. As a first step, these feminists argue that rabbis should refuse to perform marriage ceremo nies that do not have a signed pre nuptial agreement for the prevention of get refusal , which would ideally deter the emergence of new agunot in the future ( Newman 2005). They view get refusal as a form of spousal abuse , especially when a husband employs and manipulate s halachic rhetoric to assert and reinforce control. Consequently , the heart of this pre nuptial agreement is the monetary obligation enforced by the Beit Din (rabbinical court) . From the point that the wife asks for a get until he delivers the get , he will be required to support her financially with a fixed rate. Get refusal, will therefore be very costly in the case of recalcitrance. (Newman 2005 ) Another version of this document was introduced by Rabbi Mordechai Willig in 1994 in collaboration with other halachic experts. It requires a husband to pay one hundred and fifty dollars a day to his wife every day he prolongs granting a get . According to the director of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) , Rabbi Jeremy Stern, this method is also extremely useful because the refusal to sign a halachic prenup can alert a prospective bride of any controlling attitudes tha t her groom might
! #$ ! embody (Josephs 2013 ) . Leading Orthodo x supporters of this binding agreement contend that it is nearly one hundred percent effective wherever it has been implemented . In March 2015, this halachic prenup was endorsed by major ultraorthodox rabbis, including Rav Tzion Boaron, a leading halachic decisor and judge on the Beit Din HaGado l . In February 2016, a Jerusalem rabbinical court issue d a herem (writ of banishment) against a recalcitrant husband. This excommunication document state that this man is "not to be honored, hosted, allowed to attend synagogue, or even be asked as to his health, or visited at home if he is ill until he relents from his stubb ornness and listens to his betters" (Josephs 2015 ). There has been a similar arrangement enacted in Israel called the "Agreement for Mutual Respect" that applies to both spo uses. The potential limitation of these agreements , however, is the fact that if th e recalcitrant spouse has very little income or has acquired a lot of debt, he may just ignore the agreement. On the other hand, if the husband is extremely wealthy, the fixed amount may be negligible and he may determine that the expense is worth resistan ce (Levmore 2005 ). There has also been a call for the International Coalition for Agunah Rights (ICAR) under which lawyers, activists, mental health professionals, and agunot have push ed the Israeli parliament for concrete , material justice and the end of agunah suffering in Israel (Levmore 2005) . Many Or thodox feminists , like those of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) have collaborated to come up with a template for a suggested "tripartite document" that has the power to declare a marriage null and void based on a number of criteria. Under this agreement, the groom certifies witnesses of his signature of a bill of divorce as well as signed consent that "[their] marriage be labeled a nullity based on the
! #% ! decree of [their] community that all marri ages ought to end with a get given within fif teen months" of its request (Broyde 2005). Additionally, this document stipulates that he cannot nullify the validity of the get once it is given. This certificate remains hotly debated with regard to its questionable halachic (in)validity . Another area of concern in Jewish divorce law is the lack of community oversight of the self appointed Batei D in . They do not have to answer to anyone nor is there an avenue through which to appeal or challenge decisions . Orthodox fe minists like Rivka Haut, founder of Agunah Inc., have organized several tangible , easily implementable measures that could ensure the safety of agunot (Haut 2005). They propose that communities set up grassroots committees staffed by social workers, psychologists, rabbis, women, and lay people, who can review cases that people feel were judged unfairly and ensure transparency (Haut 2005) . Even if it doesn't have muc h power to enforce any changes for current agunot , the ba t ei din would know that its decisions are being closely monitored and there are people willing to hold them culpa ble for any perceived injustice . They would inform the rabbis a nd publicize their conc lusions , which would actively af fect the operations and community reverence for batei din ( Haut 2005 ) . These agunah organizations are also pushing for harsher sanctions against recalcitrant husbands like imprisonment or the removal of their professional or driver's licenses as incentives to grant gets . They also offer some practical solutions for the community in order to expose recalcitrant husbands , such as organizing protests outside their homes and businesses , withholding synagogue honors, including a prayer for agunot in Shabbat services, offering to accompany women to the beit din, community ostracization of the h usband etc. (Riskin 2005). In a powerful effort to extend solidarity
! #& ! with a local agunah , a group of women in Tzfat , Israel refused to go to the mikveh until their friend received a get . Community husbands angrily confronted her recalcitrant spouse, and the agunah was granted a get almost immediately (Josephs 2013 ) . Halachically speaking, rabbinic authorities from every generation since the giving of the Torah have used their power to in validate or cancel marriages. From 1804 1921 "no fewer than seven enactments were instituted for the cancellation of marriages in Italy, France, Algeria, and Egypt" (Riskin 2005). In March 2005, JOFA was able to organize more than 850 rabbis, institutions , and individuals worldwide who signed a two page ad calling for " unity on the issue and urging rabbis and the Jewish community to use all legitimate halachic means at our disposal to prevent th e emergence of new agunot " (Aranoff 2005 ). This is perfectly r epresentative of Orthodox feminist organizing wherein these women are not attempting to eradicate Jewish divorce law, rather rally together employing halachic precedent s and practical tools to pursue righteous change for women within the confines of est ablished Jewish traditions (Aranoff 2005 ) . TEFILLAH GROUPS The arena of public ritual is a nother major locus of concern for O rthodox women who are afforded little participation and visibility in communal practice . One's ability to participate in religious affairs constructs one's "religious capital", and this tends to enhance or detract from one's satisfaction from religious activities (Nausbacher 1999, 96 ). This i s especially pertinent in the d iaspora where the synagogue has become the hub of the community. Some Orthodox women do not consider this to be a prior ity worth emphasizing , insisting that "if the Almighty tells us that we have enough merits to be heard when we pray sincerely in private, why clamor to insist that He only hears us when
! #' ! we participate in public prayer" (Aiken 1992, 100)? Other O rthodox feminists have been working tirelessly for the creation of women's tefillah groups that do not imitate male forms of worship , but rather saturate women's prayer with feminine spiritual insights . The first group of Orthodox women to organize group prayers met in New York City in 1972 (Nausbacher 1999, 97 ). Since then, over fifty tefillah groups have been formed to create the Women's Tefillah Network. The participants prefer sitting in circles, "avoid hierarchical positions of honor, and adhere less to established male structures in the form and delivery of their divrei Torah " ( Ross and Plaskow 2007, 241). They also celebrate various women specific life cycle rituals. Luckily for these ladies , there is biblical precedent for women praying together , such as when Miriam gathered women to sing and dance at the Red Sea. Many burge oning tefillah groups hav e self imposed limitations in order to appeal to the sensitivities of their communities, such as avoiding pray ers that require the presence of ten men. This deter s the wider community from denying their spiritual needs and legitimacy under halacha (Ross 20 04, 176). For example, b ecause the mourner's prayer cannot be said at women's prayer groups, some women give divrei Torah on the anniversary of a parent's death as an alternative religious link to the past ( Feldman 1999 ). T hese women have found that tefillah groups have fortified their connection to God and their desire to pray daily. Women's tefillah groups are not a passing phase in history as initially anticipated , forcing the upper echelons of rabbinic leadership to address this phenomenon with sincerity and sensitivity. The most stringent opponents of women's tefillah groups base their resistance on six major grounds:
! #( ! (1) In such services, mitzvah actions cannot be fulfilled in their most complete form; (2) the very existence of such services i s a misrepresentation of Torah; (3) they contribute to the divisiveness of the prayer community; (4) women's prayer groups are a serious, intentional departure from Jewish tradition; (5) these services are foreign to Judaism and violate the biblical prohib ition against following non Jewish religious practices and immodest mores; and finally (6) women's prayer services run counter to traditionally more private and modest role of the Jewish woman (Frimer and Frimer 1998). Perhaps the most compelling of these precepts is that although women's tefillah groups are halachically permissible, women will miss out on the opportunity to participate in mitzvahs connected to public prayer services. The most important prayers of the service require a minyan (quorum of ten men) to perform them. Without those segments of prayer, women's services may be considered incomplete. This notion alone has led many women t o reject personal participation in these groups, even if they approve of them hypothetically . Anothe r key concern expressed by many rabbinic authorities is the concept of ziyyuf H aTorah , a falsification of a divine tradition (Frimer and Frimer 1998) . This is a major accusation with serious ramifications , because if rabbinic scholars believe that women's tefillah groups constitute ziyyuf Hatorah , they can be prohibited across the board. The grounds for this notion is rooted in the idea that women's prayer groups construct a formal ritual that takes on characteristics of the divinely mandated ritual already established , and thus constitute a falsification of divine tradition. On the other hand, according to prominent rabbis of the more lenient school, women's tefillah groups who are "cautious not to declare even implicitly that ten women make a minyan , they cannot possibly be guilty of ziyyuf hatorah " (Frimer and Frimer 1998).
! #) ! Other authorities that challenge tefillah groups suggest that women's intentions are driven by revolutionary impulse rather than a commitment to enhan cing their relationship to their c reator . This may be bias not only because these women are explicitly motiv ated by religious intentions, but because men themselves don't always act purely out of spirit ual motives . Similarly, a nother sentiment suggests that these women "unwittingly tend to transform the Torah into an instrument for self gratification and a tool for satisfying one's needs" (Feldman 1999). There is one ironic proposition invented by the rabbis in favor of women's tefillah . It is well known among Jewish communities that t here are regular complaints of noise in the women's sections of the synagogues , which suggests that women are not really fulfilling their obligation to pray in the public prayer service anyway. Women's tefillah gr oups, on the other hand, are generally very quiet, with little to no unnecessary chatter, lending legitimacy to their existence as edifying practices that reinforce commitment to prayer as it is meant to be. Ultimately, t he worried opposition to tefillah groups is fairly removed from halacha , as are most issues of public policy . It is more plausible that c ommunities are hyperaware of systemic change s as blurring the distinction between ortho dox and non orthodox. There is a prevailing anxiety that women's services might generate a conflation with or lend legitimacy to the egalitarian movement within other sects of Judaism. Authorities of the more stringent school who consider women's tefillah groups a "mimicry" of men's minyans consider this phenomenon to b e deceptive and an implicit endorsement of feminism (Frimer and Frimer 1998). Many are also worried that allowing
! #* ! maximum diversity in religious practices might deteriorate the unity of such communities that rely on insularity (Frimer and Frimer 1998). Nevertheless , despite any potential dissatisfacti on with traditional prayer, these women pray every Shabbat whether in synagogue or at home, demonstrating their unwavering devot ion to prayer regardless of the personal satisfaction or lack thereof . This is clearly a site of he ated debate among O rthodox Jewish women in particular because it is based on various , often contending, understandings of women's roles as mothers and wives as primary sites of holiness and ritual. By approaching halacha with respect and devotion , these women are better able to maneuver " a viable position for themselves within it without abandoning its internal vocabulary" (Ross 2004, 172). With full knowledge of the halachic acceptability of women's prayer, these women firmly maintain that any opposition to their groups is a matter of corroding their community 's reputation in the world of the divinely devoted rather than halachic prohibition . Som e rabbis who adhere to more lenient schools of thought have agreed to tacit compliance in allowing these groups to exist within their synagogue walls . Some provide them with a room to meet and occasionally speak at life cycle events (Na usbacher 1999, 107 ). However, d espite ba sic approval from a sma ll handful of O rthodox rabbis, women seeking change in tefillah must consist ently proceed with extreme caution, as any potential progress may be encumbered by militancy (Nausbacher 1999, 107 ). WOMEN'S EDUCATION
! $+ ! A ma jor point of contention in the O rthodox community is the struggle for greater access to different means of Jewish education because women are often denied the right to serious text study. This is probably the point of greatest contention because what may be halachically permissible is , a gain, communally prohibited, even though there has been documented historical precedent for more extensive women's text study. What is important to note here is that historically "the more women entered into the activity of Torah learning, the more they we re at peace with Jewish tradition as it stands " (Ross 2004, 228). The move to develop women's study of Torah was not motivated by a rebell ion against rabbinic authority , rather a genuine compulsion to intensify attachment to Jewish tradition, especially in a cultural context where one's worth is heavily tied to Jewish literacy. The revolution in women's education began in 1917 in Krakow, Poland, led by Sarah Schenirer in pursuit of a system of girl s only schools. The first ever midrasha (women's study centers) to offer intensive religious studies for women, promptly named Bruria ( after one of the only women ever quoted in the Talmud) was founded in 1977. In 1998, a group of O rthodox Jewish women in Israel created Kolech Ã‘ Religious Jewish Forum, which would advance participation in Orthodox institutions and raise consciousness about women's spiritual needs. There have been several key improvements introduced to challenge some of the halachically adaptable , spiritual fissures in Orthodox communities. Perhaps the most revolutionary was the establishment of Torah Study Cent ers for Women where the Oral Law is studied intensive ly. This has always been a locus of halachic debate as to whether or not wo men should have access to Talmudic knowledge, but according to various Orthodox feminists, there are no halachic grounds
! $" ! for this prohibition (Shilo 2006, 83). Opening the door to women is not a step toward changing Jewish religious study, but rather protects it. According to Israeli scholar Tamar El Or, t he primary point of contention within various Orthodox communities is based on both "a policing discourse (what and how much women are permitted to know) and a critical discourse (what the important t exts are and what Jewish literacy is)" (El Or 2002, 36). The struggle for women's entry into this site of Judaism revolves around the access to enhanced study of Gemara , which is exclusive to men. This is a difficult line to tether because the reasons hist orically weaponized to deny women access to this knowledge is based on essentialist notions of men and women. Men's minds are supposedly wired for halachic , legal texts while women's minds are geared toward narratives, ethical writings, philosophy , paralleling similar secular assumptions that men are better at math and women, language. Through Kolech w omen are also being trained as rabbinical advocates who aid women appearing in court. The rabbinical court in Israel has exclusive jurisdiction over fa mily issues , which necessitate s a growth in women centered legal advocacy . This serves to amplify women's voices in halachic negotiations and sharpen their awareness of th eir rights according to halacha (Shilo 2006, 84). Over seventy women have been traine d thus far. Of course, this degree of lenience toward women's initiatives is not accepted throughout all O rthodox circles. In fact, many more stringent communities find organizations like Kolech to be a threat to the fabric of their existence. Nevertheless, these women are working within halacha to ameliorate legitimate concerns. MARRIAGE: SEX, NIDDAH , & MIKV EH
! $# ! Finally, many O rthodox women are concerned with matters mo st intimate to their womanhood: marriage and mikveh (ritual bath) . These ritual backdrops are espec ially significant because marriage and the Laws of Family P urity became the central focus of ritual and holiness after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem . Learning about love, bodi es, and sexuality usually begins and ends in the pre marital classes during which brides ( kallahs) and grooms ( chatans ) prepare for the La ws of Family P urity ( Taharat Ha M ishpacha ) and the driving ideals that govern marital life. These classes are considered crucial to the success of Jewish marriages , and countless Orthodox women have attested to the fact that their kallah teacher plays a monumental role in the shaping of their sexualities, as these encounters are often the only exposure women have had to sex . Allison Josephs , author of the popular blog "Jew in t he C ity" includes several sex positive anecdotes in her article "Orthodox Jews and Sex". Several of her readers wrote in to share key components of their curriculum as kallah teachers. One woman explained that she does a complete session on the importance of s ex in a relationship, the best ways to provide and receive pleasure , and the Torah philosophy on the holiness of sex within marriage. I f they are not experiencing regular pleasure by their six month anniversary, they meet to discuss problematic issues . She makes it a point to set up a six month appointment anyway, just to check on them, " because they are so completely clueless before the fact, I feel its important for them to have someone to talk to once they know what they are talking about " (Josephs 2015 ). Another kallah teacher added that her curriculum covers " not just ideas for what to wear or how to set the mood but I describe possible actions/behavior for both husband and wife to excite and enhance the whole experience. I am specific about the area s of
! $$ ! both bodies, use diagrams/pictures from a medica l book when necessary. I go through scenarios of things that are normal vs. red flags. I tell her that I will be in touch a few days after the wedding, one month after the wedding, six months after, a ye ar, and after a baby" (Josephs 2015 ) While these teachers ensure a comprehensive lesson plan, brides in various communities have complained that these classes have become more clinical in nature, with a considerable emphasis on the laws regarding menstruat ion and avoiding halachic errors , rather than any meaningful tools about their bodies and burgeoning sexuality. This is a site of frustration that can f undamentally shape and transform marital longevity . In response to questions of marital satisfaction, Edward Laumann a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago published The National Health and So cial Life Survey in 1999 , survey ing 1,749 women. Evidence suggested that women in monogamous traditional marriages were more sexually satisfied than s ingle women or women i nvolved in extramarital affairs. Later, in conjunction with Jewish rabbinical school s , professors of psychiatry, and health practitioners c onducted a similar empirical study to better assess how adherence to the Laws of Family Purity impact th e daily realities of O rthodox marriages. After the Laumann study , many theorized that O rthodox couples would attest to marital happiness across the board , but results concluded that there is a lot of sexual difficult y in observant commun ities, e specially because the La ws of Family P urity "act to harness and discipline physiological drives into a framework of holiness n ot necessarily happiness" ( Friedman and Labinsky et al. 2009 ). Ac cording to the surveyors, a ll respondents to this study learned the laws of niddah through kallah classes, but many felt as though it had not adequately prepare d them for the bedroom .
! $% ! While 90% of the sample surveyed had studied with a kallah teacher, only 50% of th em learned about sexual matters. The most common complaint among these wives was the lack of basic sex education. Women spoke of wanting to have learned more about "women's bodies and sensitivities, orgasm, acceptable sex positions, Ã”what a man's body looks like, what to e xpect' and how to actually consummate the marriage " (Friedman and Labinsky et al. 2009). They also spoke of wanting to better verbally communicate one's needs, as many women were shocked during their first sexual encount er and were expected to easily transition from a life long of celibacy to frequent sex. One respondent joked, "for 20 years one is told to do things so men don't look at you sexually, and then poof! One day you're supposed to feel totally comfortable letting go completely and you're sud denly supposed to be a sexual being"? (Friedman and Labinsky et al. 2009). Clinical psychologist and graduate of Ner Israel Rabbinical College Dr. Jonathan Lasson also conducted a various surveys to engaged and divorced individuals about the effectiveness of the pre marital education in his community. Based on his findings, he developed a structured training program aptly named C.A.K.E. (Chattan and Kallah Education) to enhance the quality of Orthodox marriages. He notes that the system of pre marital educa tion is lacking in five basic areas: (1) lack of coordination between chatan and kallah teachers (2) more time devoted to marriage specific education (3) the need to include rabbanim (4) longer structured program (5) post marital follow up counseling. Base d on his survey, the most critical topics that necessitate attention outside of Taharat Hamishpachah include conflict resolution, managing finances, intimacy, unrealistic expectations, anger management, and dealing with in laws (Lasson 1999 ). What he deems the most important policy of his program is the requirement that couples
! $& ! return to him three months after marriage, and again after one year for follow up counseling to flesh out any unanswered questions that unravel during the first year of marriage . Of course, the physical act of sex is not the only component of Orthodox complex sexualities. Personal a ttitudes toward the mikveh and Laws of Family Purity are also crucial factors th at inform marital happiness in O rthodox family structures. Many women testify to the tangible benefits of sexual separation during the week of menstruation and the "clean" days following , and many believe their ritual immersions in the mikveh to be spiritually enhancing. Respondents to t he Jewish specific study expressed both satisfaction and grievances in areas that could use some modification in order to enrich their intimate lives. Before further unpacking the Friedman and Labinsky study , we must confront the common critique of the Laws of Family Purity as a concrete indication of symbolic violence against women , because menstruation is considered ritually " impure " and requires stringent physical separation from one's husband. Of course, this is a cursory, decontextu alized reading of reality and Torah , as many O rthodox women draw authentic meaning from these laws and do not challenge or undermine their validity . The L aws of Family Purity are found directly in in the Torah (Leviticus), and are therefore considered immutable. It is because of their divinity that there is "no better, more legitimate, more logical, or essential reason for their observance" (Slonim 2006, 31). Unsurprisingly, the term "impure" has become a buzzword frequently invoked as the ultimate evidence of male tyranny against women's bodies . However, an immediate, knee jerk reaction is an intellectually in adequate investigation for a practice far more
! $' ! complex than the analyses imposed to explain it. Therefore, w e must ground our exploration of "impurity" in the Torah with conceptual clarity. T he impurity associated with menstruation is not tied to a sense of dirtiness or sin. Sin as described in the Torah is tied to action , never a state of being , and ritual impurity is only a state of being ( Frankiel 1990, 57). Even the placement of the Talmudic sections on niddah is spatially significant. The Mishnah devotes an entire order to women ( Nashim ) , but the material on menstrual purity is instead locat ed in the Purities order, i ndicating the halachic authorities ' emphasis on menstruation as a matter of ritual concern ( Cook 1999, 54). The impurity associated with n iddah is the ontological shift from life to death, wherein the parting of potential life makes physical room in a woman's body for ritual impurity to enter (Slonim 2006, 29) . It is " neither evil nor dangerous , and it is not something tangible. Impurity is a spiritual state of being, the absence of purity" (Slonim 2006, 29). Mystically speaking, a physical phenomenon associated with " noncreative aspects of life leads to a disjunction with the universe of the creationÃ‰ the connection must be reinstated by an immersion, that is, by contac t with another transitional flui d, which r epresents reintegration with a force of life" ( Perez and Heymann 2006, 130). The potent force of the mikveh water serves to reunite women's bodies with the " primordial forces of creation" ( Frank i el 1990, 58). It is considered to be the spiritual equivalent of the womb with uninterrupted connection to the waters of the Garden of Eden ( Frank i el 1990, 58). Given the requirement that they be gathered naturally, all mikvehs are believed to be the "urn into which the waters of the first creation continually flow into our own time" ( Frank i el 1990, 58). Therefore, what women lose during menstruation is revitalized by submerging in the mikveh, under which "the shackles of our mortality can be
! $( ! dissolved , and where we can regain the pristine spiritual connection with God that existed in the Garden of Eden" (Aiken 1992, 173). This is a uni que aspect of Judaism in which the symbiosis of nature and ritual are engraved on to the body. This is especially signifi cant because the destruction of the Second Templ e shifted concepts of nationhood, continuity, and purity from sacrifices to the woman's body as a ritual constellation ( Perez and Heymann 2006, 130). The issues regarding the mikveh space itself are some of the most significant laws that govern Jewish life and thus deserve attention relative to the clout it carries . Contrary to popular belief, the synagogue is not the priority of Jewish community , rather the construction and use of the mikveh . In fact, Jewish law states specifically that both a Torah scroll and a synagogue building may be sold to provide funds for the building of a mikveh (Slonim 2006, 26). Throughout Jewish history, women have shown unwavering determination to immerse in the mikveh even during the most dangerous, violent ly antisemitic ages . Historical accounts of world Jewry have noted examples such as women in Siberia who would carve holes into frozen la kes in order to immerse (Branfman 2006, 188). Many mikvehs were opened and maintained secretly in ghettos during the Holocaust. In Russia, women were forced to heat up water on gas stoves and carry it down to hidden rooms in se cret. Others have even made 450 kilometer journeys across mountain ranges and dangerous terrain to reach a mikveh (Abramov 1988, 43). Contrary to notions purported by secular feminist canon, m any women conceptualize the mikveh as an ancient cultural space that unifies women throughout Jewish history, fostering a consciousness of collective Jewish fe minine identity (Fonrobert 2002, 129) . One informant notes , "we share all kinds of unspoken secrets with
! $) ! one another. After all we celebrate our bodies, our sexuality, our regenerative powers in the same way" (Kaufman 2006, 81). Some women describe this mitzvah as especially gratifying because the ability and responsibility to preserve the biblical community of Israel as an " ethnically distinct, embodied community distinguished by corporeal practices" is bestowed upon women exclusively (Fonrobert 2002, 40 ). The trust imbued to women as arbiters of this essential mitzvah gives women a sense of empowerment and religious capital. Ultimately, u nder any patriarchy, women exist as a conglomeration of discourses and languages beyond their control. N avigating these discourses with mystical hermeneutics of femininity infuses a fortifying sensation of agency. That being said, o ne criticism regarding the use of contemporary mikvehs is the occasionally clinical, detached nature of the visit. Instead of a deeply spiritual experience, some women have expressed frustration about mikveh attendant s who overemphasize the validity of the immersion rather than helping to foster an environment of sisterhood or spirituality . While these women will use the mikveh regardless of its personal satisfaction, heightening the personal experience poses no threat to tradition . On the other hand, the mikveh attendant's role extends far beyond the scope of the physical immersion. The attendant is trained to be alert to emotional stress and other indicators of marital problems . Shoshana, a regular mikveh attendee alludes to the additional role played by attendants, The other thing the attendant will do is notice if a woman is really agitated. Sorta like, if she's really n ot looking forward to going home afterward. A good mikve h lady will check not only the outside stuff but also the deeper stuff. She'll catch marital issuesÃ‰signs of abuseÃ‰She'll see how things are really going with the women in her community (Schwartz 2013 , 245).
! $* ! When it comes to grappling with the rigorous observance of niddah , my research indicates that niddah is often just another mitzvah among hundreds of required mitzvahs . Many feel no need to assign "'happy side effects' of niddah observance into sites of religious meaning, much less project them back into the ritual's initial intentÃ‰The ritual justifies itself: One divine commandment among many. No other explanations or justification is required" (Hartman and Marmon 2004, 399). Ot hers adamantly point to concrete, identifiably positive implications of this practice. Ac cording to Rivkah Slonim's anthology of mikveh experiences , m any claim that these laws , during which they are inaccessible to their husbands, give them mu ch needed time to themselves. O ne woman notes, "It allows me a bed of my ownÃ‰I can c url up with a good book during n iddah and not feel i n the least bit guilty" (Kaufman 2006, 164). It is also a constant reminder to husbands that women's bodies are not to be used , but cherished. The separation gives couples the opportunity to strengthen their emotional intelligence and verbal communication skills during which problems cannot be solved physically. Additionally, when there are only about two weeks of the month that c ouples are permitted to have sex, it tends to be more exciting because sex is no longer routine. N iddah provides a biological rhythm to marriage that paces intimacy and keeps relations fresh with heightened appreciation . As the end of the niddah period app roaches, there is a sense of renewed romance that might otherwise be missing in secular marriages , especially those where men's fidelity is a constant possibility . Couples who observe the p hysical separation the most stringently often remark that "even a touch is like fire , and that's exciting" ( Kaufman 2006, 165 ). One informant notes: "the mikve h gives me a wonderful feeling. I feel like my husband is waiting for me like an honored guest, like he
! %+ ! waits Friday night for the Sabba th angels" ( Hartman and Marmon 2004, 401 ). Additionally, t he marital skills brought on brought on by the laws of n i ddah "leave sex as a preserve of mutual love and enjoyment rather than forcing it to meet all the challenges and carry all the burdens of a marriage" ( Berkowitz 2006, 42). Moreover , during this period women are forbidden from performing various "wifely" domes tic chores. For example, if a woman is putting dinner on the table, she may not hand her husband the plate directly. This not only prevents sexual tension, but forces him to treasure her day to day kindnesses (Aiken 1992, 168). On the other hand, some couples feel as though niddah forces them to withdraw emotionally from one another. The abrupt " switch between Ã”can' and Ã”can't' and the accompanying feeling on the mikveh night that we Ã”have to' because the clock has started tickin g again" adds a frequently felt pressure that can sometimes obstruct the excitement (Friedman and Labinsky et al. 2009). There is another frequently held frustration about both the length of physical separation and the rigor with which they have to conduct internal checks for bleeding. A clear distinction must be made here between what secular feminists presume to plague Orthodox women, and the nature of their actual complaints . While the secular world might assume that niddah serves to threaten their ident ity as women, those who practice niddah most often frame their frustration in terms of logistical inconveniences. While practitioners of niddah may speak openly about negative aspects of observance, these women ultimately "concluded that the value of halacha as a way of life, and the benefits of membership within the religious community, outweighed these concerns. They related to the halachic lifestyle as a package deal worth preserving ( Hartman and Marmon 2004, 398).
! %" ! Another common frustration is the condition that rabbis be notified and consulted upon questions of ambiguous bloodstains. Women often feel extremely embarrassed asking rabbis about issues most intimate to their bodies and lives . Such critiques are legitimate because Talmudic menstrual blood taxonomy used to decide purity status is a rabbinic invention. Rabb inic menstru al science is not biblical, rather instituted in the Mishnah corresponding to the rise of clinical medicine. This translation of menstrual language by the rabbis "entail[e d] the displacement of the Ã”native speakers', the women who menstruate , who are excluded from the production of the text on menstrual regulations" ( Fonrobert 2002, 66). The most credible subjects of this intimate matter become objects of study, disavowed and "absent from the scene of learning, along with their blood, which, though being the subject of the debate, is present only as text" ( Fonrobert 2002, 66). In response to this phenomenon , s ome O rthodox women have sugg ested the establishment of Yoatzot H al a cha or trained women halachic advisors, who would act as liaisons for wome n with questions regarding general issues of women's health as well as ritual purity status. This would not only have practical significance but would restore to women the personal power to interpret their bodies . In 1997, a women's organization in Israel created the Keren Ariel Yoatzot Halacha Institute , which trains women to answer these questions with an acute sensitivity to the integrity of halacha . This intensive program entails rigorous study of the traditional sources on family purity found in the Torah and Talmud as well as medieval halachic rulings (Zimmerman 2001, 19) . Training requires sixteen hour s a week of independent learning and lectures , in addition to seminars on medical and behavioral sciences that are crucial to guidi ng contemporary
! %# ! couples in the Laws of Family P urity (Zimmerman 2001, 18). Women attend lectures by p rofessionals and profess ors of gynecology, psychology, anatomy, physiology, fertility, sexuality, family counseling, and family violence , after which a four hour oral exam is conducted by outside examiners (Zimmerman 2001, 18). Upon completing their certification, these O rthodox women act as advisors on a daily phone hotline supervised by rabbis, wherein women call and describe bl ood stains and attain their purity status through less uncomfortable means. Surprisingly, an enormous number of questions were answerable via telephone a nd required no visual determination. Within the first three months of its introduction, this women run, women centered hotline received over four hundred calls, reflecting the tremendous need for this service (Zimmerman 2001, 20). Yoatzot Halacha are not and do not aspire t o be replacement rabbis, rather learned consultants trained in determining which questions require the ruling by a qualified posek (legal decisor) . There is a misplaced assumption that these women will attempt to rule halacha on their ow n instead of consulting higher authorities when the questions warrants one. However, graduates of this program have come to a general consensus that the more they learn, "the more they appreciate the richness of the tapestry of halacha and its vast complex ity, and the necessity to consult poskim " (Henkin 1999 ). This is a viable way to c ultivate sisterhood among O rthodox women and use halacha to restore women a s credible interpreters versus objects of interpretation. BA'A LOT TSHUVA H The women whose lives we have thus far examined are those who have been born and raised in Orthodox movements. But there is a substantial phenomenon of Jewish women who choose an Orthodox lifestyle of their own volition. It seems perplexing that a
! %$ ! woman bo rn in a contemporary secular , "liberated" world tur n to Orthodox Judaism as a preferred lifestyle . Several sociological studies have been conducted in the recent decades to be tter gauge the reasons for such a calculated move to ward Orthodoxy. For many of these women, th ere is nothing moral or holy about the secular world, whereas Judaism infuses every mundane act with Godliness and purpose. Many women speak of the spiritual significance Orthodoxy assigns to motherhood and the feminine as providing a counte rbalance to "a world wrought with masculine n otions of success, achievement acted out through competitive individualism and self aggrandizement" (Kaufman 1991, 53). There is a general sentiment that halacha provides a prescription for how to conduct oneself, whose values are not contingent upon sociopolitical climates and thereby able to provide the discontented with a "' timeless' moral community" (Kaufman 1991, 33). Women often speak of the structure that h as governed Jewish life for thousands of years as its most appealing quality. One woman notes, "Everything I do is spiritual, every act I do is guided by GodÃ‰Every physical act I performÃ‰what I feed my family, how I dress, how I make love to my husband Ã‰my life is filled with the details of being a woman " (Kaufman 1991, 38). Professor of sociology Debra Kaufman conducted in depth interviews with newly Orthodox women ( ba'a lot tshuvah ) across a wide spectrum of Orthodox y . One of the most widely noted the mes throughout the interviews was the unfettered satisfaction with gender segregated activities . Women spoke of this practice as reinforcing women centered identity and spaces and reaffirming the spiritual and communal significant of female associated Jewish s ymbolism (Kaufman 1991, 13). Some of these women believe that "despite gender differences or, perhaps even more important, because of gender
! %% ! differences, women in Orthodoxy are full spiritual beings, derived from and reflecting a divine source" (Kaufman 1 991, 54). Whereas in the secular world, gender differences assign meanings of inferiority to women, they felt as though Orthodoxy celebrated it as strength (Kaufman 1985, 549) . Consistent with the mystical apologetics previously discussed, many of the Chassidic ba'a lot tshuvah invoked the feminine aspects of God , claiming that when the Messiah arrives, "the purified body will be the vehicle of the highest revelations of the esse nce of God, not the soulÃ‰the same holds true for the feminine principle which is associated with the body, the physical, concealment, essence" (Kaufman 1991, 56). Perhaps surprisingly, the areas that women speak of with most enthusiasm are matters pertaini ng to niddah and mikveh . One ba' alat tshuvah claimed that the Laws of Family P urity were perfectly " in line " with her womanhood, cla i ming, "it is commanded that I not be sexually taken for granted, that I have two weeks each month for myselfÃ‰It is mind bog gling to me to think that this wonderful Torah has known who I am as a woman for centuries" (Kaufman 1991, 45). One of Kaufman's respondents noted the peculiar dichotomy of feeling most shackled by the period of her life where she was supposedly most "sexually free", For all the sexual freedom I felt in my late adolescence and early adulthood, I can tell you it was more like sexual exploitation. I felt there were no longer any rules; on what grounds did one say Ã”no'?...the sexual liberation meant that women were free to be exploited more by men. The Laws of Taharat Hamishpacha make so much senseÃ‰I am not a sex object to my husbandÃ‰Because he does not have access to me anytime he wishes he cannot take me for granted. The separation restores our passion a nd places the control of it in my hands. (Kaufman 1985, 548). Those who want to refrain from sex can "come to the negotiating table with the only voice that can counter the voice of men's desireÃ‰Their Ã”no' voice, then, becomes a
! %& ! voice that bears rabbinic affirmation" (Hartmann and Marmon 2004, 402). Halacha has imbued these women the space and legitimacy to say " no " that is largely absent , or even threatening, in the secular world. Clearly, these are no t the accounts of shackled women, rather women who hav e already had a taste of secular freedom, but have chosen an unlikely space where they feel liberated most authentically .
! %' ! CHAPTER 4 CONCLUSION FINAL THOUGHTS Ultimately, we must realize that Orthodox Judaism is not a static, immobile doctrine immune to the vestiges of modernity, rather a system that engages in change, however reluctantly, however small, to meet the needs of its constituents. This is reflected in the various changes enacted by Talmudic rabbis who diverted away from the cultural norms of the Roman contemporar y and acted on women's behalf t o revolutionize various legal weaknesses . When we trace Jewish law over time there is a distinct movement by the rabbis to restore agency to women. Our investigation of key areas of halacha revealed that marriage, which was previously a business exchange between the groom and the father of the bride, became a mutually consented upon social contract. Jewish divorce, whose p ower was held exclusively in the hands of men, became more lenient wherein a rabbinical court could force a get . The rabbis eliminated the law of the wayward wife entirely by interpreting in a manner that made it impossible to implement. Finally, the bibli cal model for compensating a victim's father for the loss of her virginity in a rape case was abandoned in favor of direct co mpensation to the victim . Clearly these legal changes are not necessarily feminist, as the rabbis upheld the patriarchal model in w hich they lived, but a contextualized rereading of these legal debates exposes a more nuanced understanding of rabbinic legal culture than that expressed by secular feminists.
! %( ! Post Talmudic historical shifts clearly influenced the degree to which halacha c ould be reformed alongside the cultures in which Jews found themselves . The paradigmatic shift from sacrificial cult in the Temple to the home and women's bodies as ritual landscapes, coupled with widespread anti Semitism in the diaspora , had many implications for women who would become the arbiters of Jewish purity and continuity. Halachically devoted Jewish women would come to read a mystical , elevated femininity into their pre determined roles and allotted mitzvahs , as reflected in the f eminity as power theoretical framework . This proved fruitful for various groups of Orthodox women , as many ha ve no qualms whatsoever about their current social location. However, a proto feminist interpretation of Jewish text would prove inadequate for others , forcing them to determine which areas of their lives allowed for flexibility without compromising the validity and divinity of halacha . As reflected in my research, each component of what I've called an "O rthodox feminist agenda" has been met with varying degrees of acceptance and resistance from both men and women. Many consider proposed changes such as women's tefillah to be threatening the very fabric of life that has sustained Jews throughout the centuries. Others reject halachically permissible changes such as increased sex education in kallah classes because of a widespread fear that secul ar feminism is encroaching upon a community supposedly impervious to foreign dogmas . Nevertheless, Orthodox feminists remain steadfast the struggl e for both in the enhancement of their Jewish experience as well as incremental strides for women within orthodoxy , as seen in the militant efforts at eliminating the plight of agunot within the confines of the laws of gittin .
! %) ! Ultimately, Judaism makes no promises of instant gratification , nor does it en sure spiritual validation on people's terms, rather Jews must find validation on Judaism's terms. In such an all encompassing system, spiritual fulfillment is not necessarily going to be found in every observance. For many of the women highlighted above, the observance of one mitzvah is just like the observance of any other. T he elevated status of the act as a mitzvah is its primary source of value , not the gra tification derived from it. Of course, no blanket statements can be applied to Orthodox Jewish women because they are not a monolithic entity, rather an enormous spectrum of lifestyles, vie w points, and lived experiences, all of whom play an irreplaceable role in the future of the Jewish people . Clearly, there are various arenas within orthodoxy where some Orthodox women feel that their community customs are not meeting the needs of their constituency . That being said, their willingness to re main Orthodox informs their desire to stay and wait for halacha to catch up to what they deem essential to their quality of life. T hey are not looking to rid their lives of what secular Jewish feminists consider archaic and misogynistic. The Orthodox femin ist political imagination does not envision a society with no gender role stratification, divor ce law, l aws of menstrual purity , and the like. Rather, t hese women are negotiating within a preordained value system that they willfully embrace as unconditional in both justice and truth .
! %* ! Bibliography Abramov, Tehilla, and Malka Touger. The Secret of Jewish Femininity: Insights into the Practice of Taharat HaMishpachah . Southfield, Mich: Targum Press, 1988. Aiken, Lisa. Beyond Beshert: A Guide to Dating and Marriage Enrichment [by] Lisa Aiken . Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc, 1996. Aiken, Lisa. To Be a Jewish Woman . Northvale, NJ: J. Aronson, 1992. Berkovic, Sally. Straight Talk: My Dilemma As an Orthodox Jewish Woman . Hoboken, NJ: K TAV Pub. House, 1999. Berkowitz, Gila. "Loving Jewishly." In Total Immersion:A Mikvah Anthology , edited by Rivkah Slonim. Urim Publications, 2006. Branfman, Varda. "During the Gulf War." In Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology , edited by Rivkah Slonim. Ur im Publications, 2006. Cook, Leslie A. "Body Language: Women's Rituals of Purification in the Bible and Mishnah." In Women and Water: Menstruation in Jewish Law , edited by Rahel R. Wasserfall. Brandeis University Publications, 1999. Dina, Brawer. "Women in Jewish Law." The Jewish Year Book , 2015. Dratch, Rabbi Mark. "Get Abuse." JOFA Journal 5, no. 4 (Summer 2005). El Or, Tamar. Next Year I Will Know More: Literacy and Identity Among Young Orthodox Women in Israel . Edited by Haim Watzman. Wayne State Un iversity Publications, 2002. Emily. Interview by author. Jacksonville, FL, January 2016. Feldman, Rabbi Emanuel. "Orthodox Feminism and Feminist Orthodoxy." Jewish Action , 1999. Fonrobert, Charlotte Elisheva. Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian Reco nstructions of Biblical Gender . Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000. Fonrobert, Charlotte E. "Yalta's Ruse: Resistance against Rabbinic Menstrual Authority in Talmudic Literature." In Women and Water: Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law , edited by Rahel R. Wasserfall. Boston, MA: Brandeis University Publications, 1999.
! &+ ! Frankiel, Tamar. The Voice of Sarah: Feminine Spirituality and Traditional Judaism . [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990. Frankiel, Tamar. "To Number Our Days." In Total Imm ersion: A Mikvah Anthology , edited by Rivkah Slonim. Urim Publications, 2006. Friedman, Michelle, Ellen Labinsky, Talli Rosenbaum, James Schmeidler, and Rachel Yehuda. "Observant Married Jewish Women and Sexual Life: An Empirical Study." Jewish Ideas and Ideals , October 2009. Gartner, Rabbi Tzvi. "Problems of a Forced Get." The Journal of Halacha (n.d.). Greenberg, Blu. "Our Spirits Rising." JOFA Journal 1, no. 4 (1999). Greenberg, Blu. "Ultra Orthodox Women Confront Feminism." Moment , June 1996. Gross man, Susan, and Rivka Haut. Daughters of the King: Women and the Synagogue: A Survey of History, Halakhah, and Contemporary Realities . Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1992. Hannah. Interview by author. Jacksonville, FL, January 2016. Hartman, To va, and Naomi Marmon. "Lived Regulations, Systemic Attributions: Menstrual Separation and Ritual Immersion in the Experience of Orthodox Jewish Women." Gender and Society 18, no. 3 (2004). Hauptman, Judith. Rereading the Rabbis: A Woman's Voice . Boulder, Colo: Westview Press, 1997. Haut, Rivka. "Judging the Judges: A Call for Beit Din Reform in America." JOFA Journal 5, no. 4 (Summer 2005). Henkin, Chana. "Yoatzot Halachah: Fortifying Tradition Through Innovation." Jewish Action , 1999. Jeselsohn, Noa. " Women and the Fulfillment of Positive Time Bound Commandments." JOFA Journal 1, no. 4 (1999). Josephs, Allison. "Breaking News: Halachic Prenup Backed by Major Haredi Rabbis." http://www.jewinthecity.com (blog). March 18, 2015. Josephs, Allison. "Orthodox Jews and Sex." February 12, 2015. http://jewinthecity.com. Josephs, Allison. "This Has Worked to Prevent Agunot 100% of the Time." June 26, 2014. http://jewinthecity.com.
! &" ! Josephs, Allison. "Why These Women Love Going to the Mi kvah." June 10, 2014. http://www.jewinthecity.com. Kaufman, Debra R. Rachel's Daughters: Newly Orthodox Jewish Women . New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991. Kaufman, Debra R. "The Sexual and the Sacred: Newly Observant Women Speak." In Total Imme rsion: A Mikvah Anthology , edited by Rivkah Slonim. Urim Publications, 2006. Kaufman, Debra R. "Women Who Return to Orthodox Judaism: A Feminist Analysis." Journal of Marriage and Family , 1985. Lasson, Dr. Jonathan M. "Improving Chatan/Kallah Education: A Piece of C.A.K.E." Jewish Action , 1999. Leora. Interview by author. Jacksonville, FL, January 2016. Levmore, Rachel. "The Pre Nuptial Agreement for the Prevention of GET Refusal." 5, no. 4 (Sum mer 2005). Nusbacher, Ailene C. "Efforts at Change in a Traditional Denomination: The Case of Orthodox Women's Prayer Groups." Nashim: The Journal of Jewish Women's Studies and Gender Issues , no. 2 (1999). Perez, Danielle S., and Florence Heymann. "Rabbi s, Physicians, and the Woman's/Female Body: The Appropriate Distance." In Women and Water: Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law , edited by Rahel R. Wasserfall. Boston, MA: Brandeis University Pubications, 1999. Rachel. Interview by author. Jacksonville, FL , January 2016. Rapoport, Chaim. "Why Women are Exempt From Positive Time Bound Commandments." Le'ela , 2000. Riskin, Rabbi Shlomo. "The Tragedy of Agunah: A Proposed Solution." JOFA Journal 5, no. 4 (Summer 2005). Ross, Tamar. Expanding the Palace of Tor ah: Orthodoxy and Feminism . Hanover: Brandeis University Press, published by University Press of New England, 2004. Ross, Tamar. "Feminism Encounters Traditional Judaism: Resistance and Accommodation." Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies and Gende r Issues , 2009.
! ! Ross, Tamar, and Judith Plaskow. "Gender Theory and Gendered Realities: An Exchange Between Tamar Ross and Judith Plaskow." Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies and Gender Issues , 2007. Schnall, Eliezer, David Pelcovitz, and Debbie Fox. "Satisfaction and Stressors in a Religious Minority: A National Study of Orthodox Jewish Marriage." Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development , no. 41 (2013). Schwartz, Shira. "Performing Jewish Sexuality: Mikveh Spaces in Orthodox Jewish P ublics." 2013. Shayna. Interview by author. Jacksonville, FL, January 2016. Shilo, Margalit. "A Religious Orthodox Women's Revolution: The Case of Kolech." Israel Studies Forum 21, no. 1 (2006). Slonim, Rivkah, and Liz Rosenberg. Total Immersion: A Mikva h Anthology . New York: Urim Publications, 2006. Wasserfall, Rahel R. Women and Water: Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law . Hanover: University Press of New England, 1999. Zimmerman, Deena R. "The Nishmat Taharat Hamishpacha Hotline: Women Helping Women." Le'ela , June 2001. !
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mods:abstract lang en In mainstream feminist discourse, Orthodox Jewish women are typically absent unless their stories can be used 8S 8 rhetorical tool against the patriarchal nature of organized religions. Secular western feminism does these women an enormous disservice by denying their voices and reifying their experiences with a decontextualized lens. This thesis seeks to restore the rightful ownership of Jewish women's stories back to Jewish women through Intimate testimonies and interviews. I Intend to magnify the conceptual clarity these women provide about their own sociallocat.1on, rather than continuing to impose a foreign analysis onto their lived experiences without their consent or Input. I will also investigate how an "Orthodox feminist agenda" has materialized into grassroots organizing.
mods:accessCondition Copyright Leah Robbins. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
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