Opening the Torah to Women: The Transformation of Tradition

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Opening the Torah to Women: The Transformation of Tradition
Nichols, Danielle
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Subjects / Keywords:
Gender equality ( jstor )
Gender roles ( jstor )
Jewish law ( jstor )
Judaism ( jstor )
Men ( jstor )
Rabbis ( jstor )
Tefillin ( jstor )
Torah ( jstor )
Women ( jstor )
Womens studies ( jstor )
Commandments (Judaism)
Jewish women
Undergraduate Honors Thesis


Judaism has evolved, revolutionized, and changed all throughout history. Its ability to be a dynamic and living entity has proved to be a source for its continued existence. The rise of the Reform and Conservative movement created a platform that embraced the expanding role of women and paved the way for the ideas of the Jewish Feminist Movement to take root, which created a new reality for Jewish women who wanted to be fully integrated into Judaism, equality, and to be active in the same way as men. The rejection of the exclusion of women from time-bound mitzvot (commandments) by the Jewish Feminist movement opened many of the strictly male mitzvot to women. These mitzvot include, but are not limited to, wrapping tefillin, wearing kipot, tallit, tzizit, and women becoming rabbis. Jewish women associated with different Jewish denomination have been able to create their own place within Judaism, while also maintaining the traditional aspects of the religion in order to find a space which connects them most to their religiosity and femininity as a modern Jewish woman. ( en )
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Awarded Bachelor of Arts; Graduated May 3, 2011 magna cum laude. Major: Jewish Studies
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Advisor(s): Avraham Balaban
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College/School: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Copyright Danielle Nichols. 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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1 Opening the Torah to Women: The Transformation of Tradition Women are a people by themselves Talmud: Shabbat 62a Traditional Judaism believes that both men and women have differentiated and distinct roles delegated through the Torah A focused on positive time bound mitzvot (commandments) which include but are not limited to, daily praying, wrapping tefillin and putting on a tallit mitzvot are not time bound and include lighting Shabbat candles, separating a piece of challah for G d on Shabbat and the laws of Niddah (menstruation purity). 1 Orthodox Judaism views the separate roles of men and women as a valued and crucial aspect of Jewish life an d law, whereas Jewish feminism and more reform branches of Judaism believe these distin ctions between men and women are representative of sex ual discrimination and unequal opportunity in Judaism. The creation of the Reform and Conserva tive movement in the late 1800s paved the way for t he rise of the Jewish feminist movement in the 1970 s which re evaluated the classica l Jewish texts and halakha (Jewish law) in relation to the role of women in Judaism nge throughout time, women associated with different Jewish denominations have been able to create their own place within Judaism while also maintaining the traditional aspects of Judaism in order to find a place which connects them most to their religiosity and femininity as modern Jewish wome n. In Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism ), there is a teaching that states that when each soul is created it contains both a female and male splits into two different bodies. Each person will spend their life attempting to fi nd the other part 1 Lynn Davidman & Shelly Tenebaum: Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies (New Haven, London: Yale University Press ,1994), 10.


2 of their soul. I f they do encounter one another and become married they are con sidered besherits soul mate s 2 This kabbalistic concept attempts to teach and emphasize the traditional belief that G d wanted men and women to have distinct roles in the world, so when they came 3 This idea is prevalent in Orthodox thought because it shows that men and women have different iated roles, which are delegated in the Torah through mitzvot The main branches of Judaism are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Each branch practices, conceptualizes, and adheres to the halakha and mitzvot in different ways Reform Jews believe that halakha is an appropriate life guide but not binding and should be modernized in order to be compatible to the surrounding culture. The Conservative movement view halakha as binding but believe that it can be reinterpreted to meet contemporary needs. Orthodox Judaism follows the strictest interpretation of the laws and ethics of the Torah both oral and written. Orthodox Judaism believes that the Torah is the divine word of G d and therefore attempts to fulfill the mitzvo t and obey the halakha 4 Gendered Mitzvot Within the Torah and other halakhic literature, there are certain mitzvot specifically reserved for women that deal with issues of the home and marital relations. For Orthodox women, the differences in mitzvot and the ir pivotal role as mother and wife are not a sign of inequality; rather they show that men and women are fully equal but different. 5 This delegation 2 Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai : Zohar 1, 55b; 3, 24a 3 Lisa Aiken: To Be A Jewish Woman (Northvale: New Jersey, Jason Aronson Inc, 1992), 14. 4 Gilbert Rosenthal: Contemporary Judaism (New York: New York, Human Sciences Press Inc, 1986), 26 68. 5 in Maurie Sacks, ed, Active Voices (Illinois: Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1995), 150.


3 that are often undervalued by contemporary feminist s and the secular western world at large. 6 In a series of 150 interviews completed by Debra Renee Kaufman of lot tesuvah ( women w ho returned to Jewish Orthodoxy) an overwhelming consensus of them testified to their belief in the importance of their role as an Orthodox woman which they believe aids in the 7 These women do not see themselves as anti feminists; rather they believe t hat their return to Orthodoxy is feminine in principle, since their roles have bodies, in control of their own sexuality, and in a position to value virtues of nurturance, 8 In traditional Judaism, women ar e not required to take on time bound mitzvot which are mitzvot that need to be performed at a set time. However, a man is required to fu l fill time bound mi tzvot according to the Talmud which states: All positive mitzvot that are time bound, men are obligated but women are exempt. All positive mitzvot that are not time bound, the same holds for men and women, they are obligated. And all negative mitzvot whether or no t time bound, the same holds for men and 9 There are multiple explanations given on the matter of why women are not required to take on time bound mitzvot responsibilities are so time consuming that it would be unfair to further burden them with the 6 Debra Kaufman (New Brunswick, Ne w Jersey: Rutgers University press, 1991), 89. 7 Kaufman, 149. 8 Maurie Sacks, 8. 9 B abylonian Talmud: Kiddushin 33b


4 obligation of time bound commandments 10 However, just because women are not obligated to take on these time bound mitzvot this does not mean that they may not observe them if they so desire observances confers great merit on she who performs the mitzvot 11 The positive non time bound commandments that are exclusive to women include lighting candles on Shabbat separating a piece of the Shabbat challah for G d, and the laws of niddah 12 Female Mitzvot The origination of lighting Shabbat candles is a rabbinical mitzvah and not ordained by the Torah Tradition states that Sarah wife of Abra ham was the first to light candles for Shabbat The light of the Sabbath 13 The li ghting process includes wome n lighting the Shabbat candles, drawing their hands around the candles three times, bringing th eir hands to their face to cover their eyes, and pronounce the blessing for lighting candles. Eventually, this custom became hala k ha and was recorded in the Talmud (scriptures of the oral T orah ). 14 However, the mitzvah of l ighting candles has acted as both a time honored custom and as a means of practicality so that those who observed Shabbat could have a means of light in the home, since one cannot create fire on Shabbat mitzvah because of their strong association with t he home and preparing for Shabbat Generally, t he mitzvah of 10 Hava Tirosh Samuelson: Women and Gender in Jewish Philosophy (Bloomington: Illinois, Indiana University Press, 2004),193. 11 George Robinson: Essential Judaism (New York: New York, Pocket Books, 2000), 199. 12 Rabbi Solomon Appleman: The Jewish Woman in Judaism (Hicksville: New York, Exposition Press, 1979) 65 73. 13 Appleman, 68. 14 Talmud: Shabbat, 25b.


5 lighting can dles is done by women. H owever, if a woman is not present, a man is allowed to do it. 15 The second woman's mitzvah is separating a portion of the dough from the Shabbat challah ( braided bread) and burning it in the oven. This mitzvah comes from the Torah where the Jewish people are commanded to set aside a portion of d ough for the kohenim (the high priests) which was in turn to be sacrificed to G d the first of your rd an offering throughout your generations ( Numbers While the H ebrew indicates that both men and women have the obligation to separate challah this mitzvot was specially entrusted to women. The reason that the mitzvot of separating the challah was done by women is because of their strong association with protecting the sanctity of the home, since all of Jewish life centers around the home. mitzvah is to keep the laws of niddah Niddah is the state in which there is uterine bleeding not due to injury. This includes when a woman is menstruating or in childbirth, which is called yodelet The word niddah literally means separation. It is during the time when a woman is in niddah that she is considered ritually impure and cannot have sexual or bodily contact with her husband. her body, she shall remain in her impurity seven days whoever touches h er shall be unclean until evening (Leviticus 15:19) A widely held misconception is that when she is unable to daven (pray) in synagogue or touch a Torah H owever this belief simply is not true. According to Jewish law, t he Torah cannot become ritually unclean due to its higher order of holiness. 16 A woman may remain active in her religious activities both in and out of the synagogue. 15 Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Shabbat, 31a. 16 Appleman, 71.


6 Once a woman has no more blood she performs a n internal examination known as hefsek taharah by inserting a white cloth into the vaginal canal. From this point, if she is clean, she must wait another seven days and then immerse herself in a mikvah (ritual bath). Only upon the completion of this ritual is she considered ritually pure and is permit ted to have relations with her husband again. The laws of niddah regulation and control to their 17 The Torah does not specify the reason for the laws of nidda h. H owever, Orthodox men and women believe that this period of abstention has both phys ical and psychological benefits in which there is rejuvenation within the marriage and the sexual relationship. In the series of interviews performed by Debra Kaufman the majority of the lot tesuvah women claimed an increase of sexual satisfaction within the marriage due to the family purity laws. 18 For these women, the laws of niddah are not viewed as a derogation of the female, rather as a spiritual celebration of the female body and its ability to give life. In general, Jewish feminists and liberal Jews have rejected the laws of niddah for many reasons Some believe the laws to be a menstruation taboo that is both irrelevant to the modern world and demeaning to the female body, labeling it as unclean, unpure and polluting The marital laws in Judaism such as niddah exemplify the idea that traditional Judaism views men and women as essentially different and that gender differences should be sanctified and sanctioned under Jewish law. For Orth odox wome n, gender differentiations, like niddah create a space for the connection between body and its inherently feminine qua lities Jewish feminist s claim that these laws oppress and degrade their bodies because their restrictions imply 17 Maurie Sacks, 9. 18 Kaufman, 146.


7 that women are a potential source of pollution and disorder whose life and impact on men must be regulated. 19 For Jewish feminists g ender distinctions in sexual regulation highl ight the subordinate and second class status of women in Judaism By re looking and re int erpreting Jewish texts such as the laws of niddah based upon a feminist and modern analysis, the Jewish Feminist movement has been able to create new places for women who cannot identify with the traditional views of women in Judaism. Jewish feminis m attempts to reconcile and tra nsform patriarchal Judaism to include once silenced voices and allow women to become full and equal members of Judaism. 20 The creation of the Jewis h Feminist Movement in the 1970 s challenge d the religious, legal and social status of women and attempted to create new opportunities for religious experience and leadership. Rise of Reform, Conservative and the Jewish Feminist Movement Pri or to the establishment of the R eform, Conservative and Jewish F eminist M ovement, many Jewish feminists who did not fit into the traditional roles and framework of Jud aism felt estranged from the religion If one was not a mother and wife there was often a sense of a loss of purpose for Jewish women who were single, lesbian, c areer d riven, or barren. However, with the rise of the Reform, American Conservative, and Jewish Feminist movements there was a foundation for new outlets of Jewish expression and identity for Jewish women The goal of these movements was to create a dyna mic, ever evolving Judaism that would continue to create new connections and spaces between practice and larger questions of meaning for world Jewry. It was not until the rise of the Reform movement, which paved the way for the American 19 Tova Hartman: Feminism encounters traditional Juda ism (Lebanon:NH, Brandeis University Press, 2007), 82. 20 Susannah Herschel: On Being a Jewish Feminist (New York: United States, Schocken Books, 1983), xiv.


8 Conservative moveme nt and then the Jewish Femi nist movement that major changes in the role of women occurred. In eighteenth century Germany, many Jews began to flaunt their Germanness as they privatized their Jewishness in an attempt to avoid anti Jewish sentiment from their community. The pressures for social integration into general society led many to abandon their Jewish practices which they felt set up a barrier against social intercourse (i.e keeping kosher). In the end of the eighteenth and in the first half of the nineteenth centuries, the Reform movement emerged out of the confrontation between traditional ghetto Judaism and the intellectual and aesthetic environment of the eighteenth century Enlightenment 21 Reform Judaism emerged in Germany and acted as an option for those who did not want to reject all of the Jewish traditions, embrace all of Jewish law, or convert to Christianity. The Reform movement modified certain traditional beliefs and ideals in order to be compatible to the surrounding modern cul ture The hope of the Reform movement was to bring people back to r eligious services by making their ideologies match modern ideas by modifying the place of law in Jewish life and by changing certain tradition al belief s or ideals. The Reform movement served not only as a means to regain those who had given up Jewish tradition, but also as a way to modify the practice of Jews still living according to tradition 22 Reformers argue that Judaism possessed its own inherent dynamism and that it not o nly kept pace with the advance ment of the human spirit but made possible its progress 21 Flohr ed. 20 th Century Jewish Religious Thought ( Philadelphia: PA, The Jewish Publication Society 2009), 765. 22 Werner Eugen Mosse: Revolution and Evolution 1848 in German Jewish History (Germany, Leo Baeck Institute, 1981), 260 265.


9 I t was not until the beginning of Reform Judaism that any changes in women in Judaism occu r red The third Reform Rabbin i cal Council met in Breasla u in 1846 and it was at this time that the C ouncil attempted to grant women total equality The resolution created by the council called for women to be able to practice all mitzvot equal participation of both sexes in marital life and parenting, female participation in attending public services to eliminate the benediction shel o assani ishaha (who has not made me a woman) from daily liturgy and to include women in the process of Bat/Bar Mitzvahs 23 Howeve r, despite the attempts of the C ouncil to create equality between men and women Jewish law and tradition reinfor ced by sexism of German society remained remarkably resistant to female intrusion. 24 Women remained the guardians of tradition a socia bility 25 The y still sat in a often stayed home instead of attending prayer. No encouragement was given to women to seek leadership roles within the synagogue structure and many of the Jewish laws regarding women remained unch anged. Even though wo men would need to wait for further changes, the first steps had been taken in creating equality for women in the synagogue and Judaism. T he R eform movement in Germany laid the foundation for further change to occur in the arena of From the movement stemmed many other ideological groups on the issue of female equality. In 1904, the Judischer Frauenbund (League of Jewish Women) was founded, which combined feminist goals with a strong sense of J ewish 23 Rabbi Sally Priesand: Judaism and the New Woman (New York: N.Y, Behrman House Inc. 1975), 32. 24 Judith Baskin: Jewish Women in Historical Perspective ( Detroit: Michigan, Wayne State University Press, 1998), 236. 25 Baskin, 234.


10 identity. It stressed the desire for equal participation amongst men and women in the Jewish community. 26 Soon after Reform Judaism was introduced in Germany it spread to America, where it bega n to make a considerable impact on the lives of Jewish women. In America, Reform Judaism became considerably more radical in practice than its European counterpart. Reformers were encouraged to decide for themselves which customs and ceremonies should be observed. For instance, there was no longer separate sea ting and a new prayer book was adopted that included gender inclusive language in the English sections. In 1892, the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted a resolution that recognized that women were full and equal partners in Jewish congregations he privileges 27 This revolt against tradition benefited women and began a series of events that contributed to the progressive change of the roles and stance of women in Judaism. The movements and chang e s position, such as the League of Jewish women and the Central Conference of 1892, were marked by their movement away from traditional Jewish customs and strict observance s of Jewish law and more of an emphasis being place d on the Jewish community, friendship networks, charity, and equality. 28 Currently over one third, approxima tely 35%, of American Jewish adults consider themselves to be Reform. 29 Just as the Reform movement attempted to reconcile historical Judaism with modern life, so too did the American Conservative movement. However, the Conservative movement arose 26 Baskin, 237. 27 Priesand, 33 34. 28 Baskin, 237 238. 29 National Jewish Population Survey of 2000 2001, Religious Denominations: Reform Jews ( )


11 out of a tension between the Orthodox and Reform movement and not as a half way point bet ween the two Conservative Judaism maintains that the truths found in Jewish scriptures come from G d, but were transmitted by humans and contain a human component. Conservative Judaism generally accepts the binding nature of halakha but believes that the halakha should change and adap t to modern moral, while remaining true to Judaism's values and traditions One quarter, approximately 27% of Jews in America identify as being Conservative Jews Conservative and Reform Judaism accept the prem ise that th e Torah is dynamic. H owever t hey differ in how the flexibility of the Torah should be controlled or directed. Reform Jews have come to be resolutely individualistic, arguing that the final arbiter of what is living Torah is the individual Jew. Conservative J udaism also believes in the ability to reinterpret the Torah However, they believe that change should be done slowly and be a culmination of a critical study of Jewish texts and history with modern values. 30 Both the Conservative and Reform movements have sought to challenge the tra ditional role of women in Jewish law d ue to t he belief that the Torah has the ability to be a dynamic entity in light of modern advances and Jewish values Even before great prominence of the Jewish feminist movement women had gradually been gaining greater access to public religious rituals in the American Reform and Conservative movements The Bat Mitzvah ceremony had become a regular practice by the 1960s and 1970 s in both Conservative and Reform synagogues. The Conservative movement had begun allo wing women to have aliyot s (blessing s over the torah). By the 1970 s, Conservative synagogues had begun to count wom en in a minyan (the traditional amount of ten people required for prayer). 31 The se changes that had been gradually occurring within Reform and Conservative synagogues, 30 Eugene B. Borowitz: Reform Judaism Today (Springfield: NJ, Behrman House Inc., 1983), 113 114. 31 Beth S. Wenger: The Jewish Americans (New Y ork: USA, Doubleday, 2007), 297.


12 s and rights in the public rea lm of Judaism, were pushed further with the rise of the Jewish feminist movement. With the rise of the Jewish Feminist M ovement in the 19 7 0 s feminist s began to criticize the misogynistic elements of traditional Judaism and provide a fertile environment for the the fact that Judaism laws ( hal a k ha ) have been primarily created, dominated and interpreted by me n, the Feminist Jews felt they were the subordinate, peripheral and silent partner who was excluded in the process of creating Judaism. 32 Jewish feminism not only attempts to reconcile social change with tradition but also attempts to have equal access for women in Jewish ritual, public life and halakhic decision making society and cult ure empowers Jewish women to continue to shape and contribute to a dynamic Judaism. Opening Male Mitzvot to Women Jewish feminism rejects the traditional idea that women are not required to perform time bound mitzvot, because they believe that by exempting women from ritual acts that mark s Jewish time, women are cut off from the aspects that define a religious community. For Jewish feminists, the sex role division remains part of the broader historical question of the roots of female subordination, which often stemmed from a fear and desire to control female sexuality. 33 rooted in Torah 34 The rejection of the exclusion of women from time bound mitzvot by the Jewish Feminist movement open ed many of 32 Schneider, 21. 33 On Bein g a Jewish Feminist (New York: United States, Random House Inc, 1983), 225. 34 Plaskow, 223.


13 the strictly male mitzvot to wome n in all branches of Judaism These mitzvot include but are not limited to, wrapping tefillin wearing kipot tallit, tzi t zit and women becoming rabbis. A tallit is a Jewish prayer shawl that is worn during Jewish services. A tallit has special twined and knotted fringes known as tzitzit attached to its four corners. The tzi t zit are comprised of three components which include the stings, knots and loops These parts of the tzi t zit are representative of the number of commandments in the Torah which is equal to 613. make tzi t z i t on the four corners of the garment which (Deuteronomy 22: 12) In Orthodox Judaism, men put on tzi t zit under their clothing every morning to wear them all d ay and take off prior to sleeping Traditional Judaism does not obligate women to wear tzi t zit is not required to fulfill time bound mitzvot 35 Second, when G d addresses the Jewish people in Numbers 15:38 to "s peak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make themselves tzitzit o n the corners of their He is referring to men according to Talmud which is trans lated by the Talmud 36 How ever, Feminist Judaism, Reform as well as Conservative Judaism have interpreted this stanza to include both men and women. Their rationale is that because the masculine plural in Hebrew could be refer ring to both men and women this would allow them the same and equal opportunity to wear tzi t zit, if they so desired. The reason that traditional Judaism does not accept a woman wearing a tallit is because it is a four cornered garment that is consi dered to be a masculine garb. T here is a prohibition 35 Rabbi Solomon Appleman: The Jewish Woman in Judaism (Hicksville, New York: Exposition Press, 1979), 32. 36 Talmud: Kiddushin 29b.


14 (Deuteronomy 22:5). However, the Conservative movement, Reform and Feminist movement believe that a woman has equal rights to wearing tzi t zit and tallit because even though they are free fro m obligation of performing time bound mitzvot they are not forbidden to wear them I t means only that they are not in duty boun d to wear them. 37 The Reform and Conservative movement place special emphasis on the relig ious equality of men an d women. T herefore, there is no real objection to a woman putting on tallit. The various interpretations and responsas (rulings on contemporary issues) written by different Jewish denominations, allow for differing options and stances on women wearing tallit in order to connect different women to their Judaism in a deeper and more meaningful way. For Orthodox woman, not we aring a tallit and tzi t zit shows the distinction in roles between men and women, whereas for t he religious Reform, Feminis t Jewish, and Conservative wome n who wear tallit it connects them in a more spiritual way and allows for them to feel as equals in Judaism. Another traditional male o rientated mitzvah that feminist and more liberal women have begun to take on is wrapping tefillin Tefillin are two black leather cube like boxes containing the scriptural passage of the Shema One box is bound on the left arm with a long leather strap and the other is placed on the head. Orthodox men wear them every day during morning prayers, which in a traditional outlook would make women exempt from the mitzvot of tefillin because it is a positive commandment that is based upon time. Another reason that donning tefillin is considered to be male orientated by traditional Judaism is because of the Hebrew wording in the scripture from which the commandment is 37 Solomon B. Freeof, Moshe Zemer ed. Gender Issues in Jewish Law (United States, Berghahn Books, 2001), 219.


15 derived. The Talmud explains that the Torah prescribes that tefillin is only for males since in Deuteronomy 6:7 t as a sign on 38 Furthermore, in Mishnah Berurah requirement to be permitted to wear tefillin ] and women are not sufficiently alert to respond with 39 However, Rabbi Epstein (leading Talmudist of 20 th century ) does not be lieve that this rationale is meant to represent that woman is inferior to a man rather he believes that it is difficult for both men and women to comply with laws of hygiene for donning tefillin but the difference is that men are required and women are not. Hence, he However, the Feminist movement, Reform Judaism and many followers of the Conser vative movement reject the ideas of niddah and ritual impurity claiming that they are outdated and give support to the subordination of women and menstruation taboos. They believe that if one is dedicated to Torah despite their gender, and want to feel m ore connected to their daily prayer and G d, that wrapping tefillin should be open to them. There has even been the creation of tefillin specifically made for women, which includes different prayers and meditations said before putting on the tefillin and the wording within the tefillin boxes. Ayana Friedman, a creator of women tefillin explains, "I wanted to create a ritual object that would be different from men's, made of synthetic fabric, not dead animal's skin, and would elevate women's craft and abilities which have been pushed aside throughout history. 40 This separation between male and female tefillin not only allows for women to create tefillin 38 Appleman, 35 39 Simcha Fishbane : In Any Case There Are No Sinful Thoughts The Role And Status of Woman As Expressed In The Arukh Hashulhan (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1988), 3. 40 and tefillin.html


16 which looks distinctly more feminine, it also stands as a symbol which is designed to remind women o f their abilities, strengths and talents, in relation to their bodies and to their creator, G d. Another tradition that was primarily male dominated until the 20 th century was the wearing of a kipa (small rounded skullcap) There are many examples in the Torah in which men covered their heads as a sign of respect to G And David went up by the ascent of Mount Olives and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot; and all the people that were with him covered every man his head, and they w ent up, weeping as they went up ( Samuel 15:30). The Talmud says that the purpose of wearing a kipa is to act as a reminder that G d is 41 The Talmud required that men "c over your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you." 42 For wome n, the wearing of a kipa is based on individual choice. Many traditional scholars and O rthodox communities believe that women do not need the constant reminder of a kipa to stay focused on G d and for prayer, since women are already spiritually closer to G d than men and do not require such tools of the kipa tallit tzi t zit or tefillin However, increasing numbers of Jewish women in both Reform and C onservative Judaism a re choosing to wear kipot for the desire of feel ing closer to G d. Just as there is tefillin made specifically for women there are kipot distinctly designed for women. The kipot can be found in an amazing array of designs, kipot can be sewn from solid cloth, crafted of wire spirals strung with beads or precious stones, knitted, adorned with tassels and more. In the Orthodox tradition, Jewish women do not wear kipot because they believe that they are designated for men. However, married Jewish women often cover their hair as an act of modesty with a wig, shatel, or a head scarf, techel While a ladies kipa does not cover a great 41 Talmud: Kiddushin, 31a. 42 Talmud: Shabbat, 156 b.


17 deal of hair (and, therefore, would n ot meet Orthodox dictates), it can be worn as a contemporary nod toward this traditional act of modesty For some Jewish women the kipa is worn as a iety and a way to acknowledge G d. Another male domina ted role was that men were the r abbis and leaders within the synagogue and in the public realm. Traditionally, women were not allowed to be ordained as rabbis. The Jewish feminist movement brought the question of whether women could serve as rabbis to all branches of Juda eform Judaism established complete equality between men and women with regard opened up the floor for more public female leadership. 43 The Reform movement, ordained the first female Rabbi, Sally Pr iesand in1972 at the H ebrew Union College (HUC) 44 By 1984 half of the students enrolled at HUC were women. 45 It was not until 1985 that the Conservative movement opened rabbinical ordination to women. 46 At the Jewish Theological Seminary of Conservative Judaism (JTS), w omen account for 40% of classes and there are many more men apply then women for admission. 47 At the end of the twentieth century, several hundred women had been ordained as rabbis in America. 48 T he number s of Conservative and Reform female r abbinical ordinations have continued to rise with the progression of time Conservative and Reform Judaism believe that women are allowed to read the Torah in front of the congregation hence allowing them to become r abbis. The Talmud qualified to be among the seven (who read), even a minor and a woman only the sages said that a 43 Priesand, 56. 44 Wenger, 297. 45 Deborah E. Lipstadt: Studies in Contemporary Jewry (New York: NY, Oxford University Press, 1995), 91. 46 Pamela Nadell: Conservative Judaism in America (Westport: Connecticut, Greenwood Press Inc, 1988), 289. 47 Lipstadt, 92. 48 Jacob Neusner & Alan Avery Peck : The Blackwell C omp anion to Judaism (Malden: MA, Blackwell Publishing, 2000),403.


18 woman should not read in the Torah out o 49 There are many halakhic reasons that Orthodox Judaism does not believ e that a woman can be a rabbi. Orthodox women do not lead service s or become rabbis becau s e it is immodest to hear or see a woman during prayer due to the dis traction it may cause men. Also their duties as a rabbi. 50 Many Orthodox women do not desire to become r abbis because this would blur the lines and the special disti nctio ns between men and women. Many modern Orthodox, and Ultra Orthodox women object to feminism and its effects on Jewish life. These women nd the differences between men and women, as well as their designated roles as caretaker and mother. 51 However, there too exist women who d esire to be both traditional as well as be feminists. Through the rising Orthodox Feminist Movement a Jewish woman can blend the values of feminism and Orthodoxy. However, O rthodox Jewish feminist s not only face conflict and issues from within f eminism but also from Orthodoxy They must both champion and reconcile the differences between the two ideologies. The Orthodox Feminist Movement believes deeply both 52 They believe both in the spiritual equality of women and Jewish tradition. 49 Talmud: Megillah, 23a. 50 Rabbi Elyse Goldstein: New Jewish Feminism, Probing the Past, Forging the Future (Woodstock: Vermont, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2009), 145. 51 Evelyn Avery: Modern J ewish Women Writers in America (Hampshire: England,Palgrave Macmillan,2007), 8. 52 Sylvia Fishman: A Breath of Life (Hanover: NH, University Press of New England, 1993), 159.


19 In Jerusalem, Israel there is a F eminist O rthodox S ynagogue called Shira Hadasha which is dedicated to maximizing the involvement of women in services and administration all within the rules and rituals of Orthodox Judaism. 53 Even thou gh the synagogue does not have an official r abbi, they have a halak ha co mmittee composed of both ordained and learned lay members. The synagogue still has traditional services, but their bima (raised platform where the Torah is read) is in the center of the mec hitz a (divider) allowing equal viewing and hearing access to both men and women. Women also lead certain parts of the service such as k addish called to the Torah and there are many Jewish life cycle e vents that allow women to partake (i.e. girl baby naming, Bat Mitzvah pre Shabbat Kallah ceremony). J ust as both Orthodox and Orthodox Feminist women have found, created, and/or reconciled a space within Judaism that connects them spiritually and/or culturally, so too h ave Reform and C onservative Judaism They have created an environment that allows women the option to take on any of the mitzvot and to be active in the public role of the synagogue by becoming a spiritual Jewish leader as a Rabbi or C hazzan (cantor). Women being allowed the optio ns to be ordained a s r abbis and having access to both time and non time bound mitz v ot has had very empowering side effects because it has allowed both men and women equal opportunity in Judaism An Evolving Judaism Throughout Jewish history, women have played the roles of mother, wife, caretaker, and even provider. However, the Jewish the household and children It would appear that women were exempt from commandments that were not associated with the domestic sphere, like tefillin, tzi t z i t kipa and becoming ordained as 53 http://www.shira


20 rab bis, because these fell into the male realm of positive time bound commandments. There was no restriction against women not taking on these male mitzvot; however, it was generally not accepted by the Jewish community Traditional halakhic literature has changed all throughout history, from the Talmud to Shulhan Arukh and it still continues to transform and revolutionize. More reform a 54 The Jewish Feminist, Reform and C onservative movements all desired to create a more flexible and lenient framework of Judaism that could incorporate both the contemporary values of the surrounding modern society and the traditional values of Judaism Th e rise of the Reform and Conservative movement created a platform that embraced the expanding role of women and paved the way for the ideas of Jewish feminism to take root wh ich created a new reality for Jewish women who wanted to b e fully i ntegrated into Judaism, equal rights and to be active in the same way as men. 55 One of the many beauties of Judaism is its ability to adapt and change to the needs of its people. Orthodox J udaism offers a framework for women who want to keep their traditional rol es and embrace their femininity. Reform Judaism offers a tradition that does not rely as heavily on the Jewish law, but remains dedicated to the cultural Jewish identity and the modernization of the roles of the Jewish woman that should be compatible with the ideas of the surrounding culture Conservative Judaism shows women that Jewish law is an essential part of Jewish life and is binding for Jews, but that it should not remain static and change according to the ideas about what is moral, equal and right Jewish feminism demands that women can be 54 Goldstein, 300. 55 Goldstein, 298.


21 participants, leaders, and e quals who could change and reinterpret halakha demand inclusion in the minyan and rabbinate, create new rituals, and rediscover the lost female voice in Judaism. 56 With all of the different Jewish denominations and the creation of the Jewish Feminist M oveme nt, contemporary Jewish women have a wide array of choice s and options to find t he i r place and be spiritually, culturally and traditionally connected to t he i r Judaism 56 Herschel, 106.