Women and Orthodoxy
Women and Orthodoxy
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המופע התקיים בתאריך

תמלול אירוע Women and Orthodoxy שהתקיים בתאריך 30/01/2020

Sally Berkovic * Yael Rockman * Efrat Shapira Rosenberg * Rabbanit Yael Shimoni
Can you hear me? O.k., good evening everyone, on an evening like this if I were speaking in Hebrew, I would say – ברוכות הבאות וברוכים הבאים, but as we speak in English, an ungendered language. We convened to talk about a book on how orthodox women shaped Judaism, we are very happy to have Sally Berkovitch, the author, to talk about one of the burning issues, that Yishayahu Leibowitz called one of the most burning issues in the 20th century – feminism. That last time I will use the F word. Are we feminists? What is our relation to it? But I want to start with a personal story. 7 years ago my eldest daughter was having Bat-Mitzva, we had a Minyan in a kind of Anusim. Egalitarian Minyan, with a partition in the middle, women received Aliyot, read the Torah, Haftara, and leading prayers in Shabbat, and the bringing in and out of the Torah. We started this Minyan a few years before, because we had four girls, since then also had a boy, but we wanted something meaningful to be going on in their religious Jewish life. The custom is to invite your family to the Minyan. My family knew what was planned. My eldest first-born daughter, about to read the Parasha, my mother says to me – I don’t understand why you need this for – you didn’t go up to the Torah in their Bat-mitza, our great-grandmothers didn’t do it. Why do we need it? This is the evening before. So I said to her – you know what, maybe your grandmother didn’t know how to read, you are a district court judge in Israel, times have changed. I have to say that since then, my forth daughter just read the Parasha, the parents came, all my friends know. In the seven years isnce then the Jewish world has changed. We want to talk about that – the conversation in our living room. I’m doing my Phd in Gender Studies. It’s popular to talk about the difference between science and unscientific intuitions. On that hierarchy, the world is always divided between knowledge brought about by men, which is considered scientific, and knowledge brought about by women, which is considered non-academic, intuitive. I am against htat hierarchy. We are going to put on the table, without apologizing, experiences, and intuitions, and real knowledge that we all know from our everyday life, and maybe it’s not scientific but it’s very existential to all of us. So I read this article that Ilana Kerswin wrote of Sally’s book. She said she’s surprised it was written in 1997, the introduction was written later to the new edition. We want to ask the participants, has anything changed since 1997, in the realm of Jewish orthodox women’s life, and how has that change influenced the Jewish world. Sally you’re our guest of honor tonight. Sally grew up in Australia, currently lives in London. Spent many years in the US and Israel. Supports Jewish heritage in Europe, and supplants that with a freelance writing career, which we all appreciate. We also have Yael Rokman, the director of the Kolech movement, the Jewish women’s orthodox movement. And the Rabbanit here in Beit Hillel. Thank you all of you for joining us tonight. I already asked a general question, let’s ask specifically, Sally what are the changes you feel have evolved in the sphere of the family and the personal sphere of women? Thank you. I’ve changed, we’ve all changed. Before talking specifically about women and personal issues, there are two very broad changes – one, technology disrupted orthodoxy. We can share our lives on social media, that changed our lives. And – globalization, global Jewish experience, my geographical locations – Australia, London, Europe. Still your accent is from Australia. Old friends have come, thank you. IT allowed my to see what happened here. London is very conservative, it's surprising what happened in Australia and the US. Even dating apps allow the exchange of information, the global connections that have changed our lives. TO talk of the personal – three canges, life-cycle changes, the second is women and the body, the third, economic drivers. Life-cycle changes, so much has changed in the family, from cradle to grave, the Simhat-bat, Bat-mitza, it changed how young girls ese their entry into Jewish life, how men see women, how weddings changed. I saw women also saying a nice PAsuk. I dind’t see it in London, maybe in some places in the States. We might be a little echo chamber here, but this is where changes start. In London both bride and groom smashed the glass, it was the talk of the town. Women wanting to have their mothers’ names. The other change is around death and Kadish. Saying KAdish for my own parents, changing between parents, when I would do book readings, everyone came up to me, I left orthodoxy because I couldn’t say Kadish, and women couldn’t even go to the funeral in England, they felt it was a deeply disturbing point in their life-cycle. Has that changed today? It has significantly changed. The united synagogue in London came out in a publication encouraging women to give the Halakhot, we go to the Synagogue differently. The topic of KAdish comes up frequently on social media. They say it and are welcomed in some Shuls and not others, women starting to say it, it changed their lives. I think in terms of life-cycle changes. We are known as the people opf the book. One academic calls us the people of the body. The obsession with women’s clothing, skirt-lengths, we went to a school they were much more worried about skirts than what was in their heads. When I think of the disservice I did to my daughters, I am worried, two of them are in the room. Certain rabbis blame wom0en for immodesty, for tragedies. The elimination of women’s faces. There are organizations that fight for it, Khokhmat Nashim in Israel. Modesty is partly about controlling women, it is a backlash, the Taming of the Shrew. The first, life-cycle, you say there has been progress, you say that women is taking more of a part in their life-cyle, rituals in the life-cycle. In the body you say there is a backlash, things have gone further back. Yes, but the Israeli fashion scene, the semiotics of Israeli religious fashion, women wear jeans and a Kisuy Rosh. Is it religion and culture? There are different head-coverings, etc. Is it an attempt to create a new Judaism? It’s interesting. Another part about the obyd, is sexual ethics, we have a challenge ahead of us, Shomer Negiya, very strict rules, I’m not passing judgement, it’s a difficult thing. When people were marrying young it wasn’t so much of an issue. A 34 single women posted recently she wants touch – not sexual touch, just a hug, etc. When I hear of orthodox couples living together before marriage, it wasn’t discussed before. We need a conversation about sexual ethics, gay women, how people are interacting. The Mikveh is repurposed, I’m not familiar about what happens about it. I’m very interested about how economics drives changes. Orthonomics, how economics and orthodoxy interacts. The mishpagha magazine, they give you an insight you don’t get anywhere else, there’s a letter about a woman coming from a seminary, thought I’d be married by 20, wasn’t going to go to university, love my work, wanted a work that matches family life, I can’t find a shiduch because I don’t have enough money. She is getting mixed messages, she’s not paid very well, can’t get a good boy. An interesting flip. MY next question was going to be, where are old-school roles of women, in the house, Khinukh, taking care of others, but in the Haredi world, men learn and women need to earn money – its upside down. In primary and highschool education, it’s an interesting phenomenon, the whole life she’s moving in one way. The other part of the economics, what you started to say, women are becoming more independent, some women are having children on their own. I think it’s important to keep the economic factor in mind. Most of these changes are enabled by men, in two ways, either men have made space for women, those mken really enabled women to change. At the same time – women have responded to men who have created obstacles. Women found cracks between things to create change. Men putting their foot down, enabled women to create new rituals, fashion trends, to act economically differently, create change, for women tok have a sense okf ownership of their body, through men clamping down. A lot has changed, thirty years in Jewish history is a speck.
I want to ask you, at the end of this part, you tell a funny story in the book, about how one evening you were going out in the evening, telling a friend a husband was tsaying home with the girls, very good, but actually –he’s their father. Do you think that has changed? I’m talking about basic everyday life, more equality between parents. I’m thinking the younger generation changed, I think there is a difference, thank god my husband is an encouraging spouse, I have others with less encouraging spouses, you have to be careful what you say. That’s probably good for now. What you said, twenty years since the book, these are the young families now, if that’s changing it’s a significant change, one thing, maybe it relates to the husband, we had a kidsuh, he said –maybe you make the Motzi, what they were talking about – they had no idea, about that. We went to houses and the husband did both. It’s just a dumb thing now. We were staying over with friends, my daughter said –are men allowed to say Brakha on the Halot. Yael, this is a good Segway. I’m trying to take a part from the book, I try to say we, I’m not embarrassed to put myself in this book, we’re criticized in the changes, the avant-garde things we’re doing, why do you need this for? Some women say –it will be easier to just walk away from orthodoxy. The fact that a large group of women is still clinging to that definition, hanging on, keeping ourselves inside of the group, says a lot to the motivation, what we want to bring about. From your work in Kolekh, and before, do you think things have changed in the last 20 years, if we talk about the public sphere. Sally you’re a global Jewish woman, but the public sphere here is very Jewish, it has a lot to say about us as women, where we can work, learn. Do you think things have changed? It’s a big question. I think from women on the fringe we’ve become a bigger group of women and men who share thoughts about the world of how we exercise being women and orthodox. A lot has changed. And in the world in general, the thought that religion will disappear with the time, it doesn’t happen, more people enter religion, not just Judaism, Islam and Christianity too, people find something very substantive in their religiosity, in Judaism as well. From leaving religion, we moved to women feeling obligated, wanting to find a way to live, have their identity as feminists and orthodox, the parts of our identity, the parts we relate to the most. I think that the orthodox feminist movement in Israel created a language, in the world as well, bringin to the surface topics that were hushed, we see more and more orthodox feminist women holding high positions, in the municipalities, heading organizations. The greatest obstacles is in the government. The grassroots has succeeded, Minyanim, there are four in Modiin, in Jerusalem, all over the country. You said Modiin, I need to tell you an anecdote. A friend from there told me – the Megilah-reading, a man reading for women, you can’t find such a Minyan. Just before I came here I went through our office, we used to have a newsletter we used to hand out in the Shuls, Kolekh newspaper, we used to publish where you can have Megilah read by women to women, we had 20 places, an interactive map of women reading the Megilah, today it’s a few hundreds. Has anything changed since then? I’ll give you another example, showing us things are changing, the Shabat Dorshot Tove, we have women scholars speaking from the pulpit in Shul, to men, women and teens. The fifth Dorshot Tov, we had 500 women scholars in 200 Shuls, we had a poster in Makor Rishon. There was a conference for all the National Religious rabbis, from the Khardali to the liberal, no women were allowed, it was against our poster. The more liberal rabbis deliberated whether they should participated. Women tried to get in and said they aren’t allowed. But there was a debate. Five years ago no one thought about it. Two years ago it was already a question, in a few years’ time, it’s changing, for sure. But where we have a real struggle, is on the matter of religion and state, marriage and divorce is one of the biggest problems we face. I feel that as much as the field has changed a lot, one would expect that the government or politics would somehow reflect what’s happening in the field, it’s not happening –it’s a field of money and power, etc. There are many organizations working for Mesuravot Get, many organizations, trying to solve this very problematic issue we can’t really solve, it has to be solved on the government level. You mentioned before, Sally, marriage, and you can see the difference. The interesting thing is that, when we see the difference, I’m in the age of going to my kids’ friends weddings. A rabbi from the Gush tried making women a greater part of the ceremony, he was addressing the couple together, the mother of the bride spoke under the Khupa, but it was cosmetics, it was not really dealing with the real issues in the marriage. IF the couple signed a pre-nup agreement, it’s tsill not standard in Israel, it’s far from being the majority, the couple and parents have to be aware of it. We’re still not there, we’re yet to deal with the issue of Kinyan, property, its depth, we still can’t convince the Rabbanut to exercise Halakhik tools that can release women or Agunot, and because this topic, people are more afraid to make changes here, but things are changing, the private Beit Din by R. Spelberg, I feel things are changing, unless we solve these issues we’re a part of the problem. I feel – religion and state, we don’t a Knesset now for a year, but going there, till last year I’ve been going there regularly. You feel it’s an important field but you’re yet ot solve it. Every time there’s an election, I feel we’re going backwards from where we’re supposed to be. Someone said something sad to me – Israel is the worst place to live as a Jewish woman, it’s the place where your rights are at the bottom of the food-chain. It relates to what you’ve been talking about, the State has a dramatic role here in women’s lives. If you’re trying to look at women’s place in the community –do you feel there’s progress? Definitely yes. Things we can do ourselves we’re succeeding. The way my daughters exercise their religion, they’re more self-assured of their religion. There’s a generation gap. My daughter’s in the army, she is constantly going to Shul, etc. My daughter is in a group of the people who attend daily Shul, they have one Tfilah in minyan, usually Minkha. They are checking every day who can participate. In one of the days somebody wrote as a joke on her behalf, it said her name and number seven. And that created a few days of, they didn’t know what to do with themselves. The guys are good guys, from Gush, some from Yeshivot Kav, but they didn’t know what to do about this joke. They asked a rabbi if they’re allowed to joke about it. He said – as long as you don’t do it, it’s fine, but if I look at this story, what I understand from it, this young man realized it’s really a problem. If this young woman shows up to Shul everyday, they’re together, and they don’t count her, they’re uncomfortable. Halakhikally they say they had nothing to do, but it’s something in their mind. I’m not in a partnership Minyan, I’m in a quite conservative Shul, but I’m sure it’s going to look different, but sometimes it makes the Conservative shul more friendly to women, it will not like to lose women. Even on the architectural level, a Rabbi of a community spoke of a Shul he built, he said –I’m looking at the Shul, what was going through my head, the gallery of the women, he said –I would never build it on the second floor today. I think it was about ten years. Twenty years it didn’t cross their mind. We were having a competiiotn for architectures that would be more friendly for women, we have a book that people call today to get.
We’ve been talking about places, one of the first places that went through a revolution is Beit Hamidrash, I don’t know how many years ago, in Sherut Leumi, my parents didn’t know what I was talking about, it was over 20 years ago. It just wasn’t, they didn’t understand the point. Today it’s almost standard, for women to study Torah for almost a year, Beit Midrash for women, this has gone through a real revolution, don’t know if you agree with the word. Sally says – as women learn Torah, they will transform the meaning of Torah. Yael, you study Torah, in your life, do you feel this world has gone through a revolution, and did women learning Torah change the meaning of the Torah. In Prayer we have three parts – praise, asking for our needs, and being thankful. With this question I want to look 20 years ago, there’s definitely a change. I want to stay in Praise, I am so happy I have this opportunity, this is my personal life, I’ve been in this bubble of Talmud Torah for women. I really feel like what I’m doing here is praying, it’s a privilege. You say there’s a revolution, yes. There’s still a gap between Halakha and what’s happening. Actually women have been allowed to learn, R. Soleveitchik allowed women not only to learn a daily page, he thought they would learn the whole Shas in depth, but this is not happening, to make this change in reality. 40 years ago the Midrasha in Bar Ilan, and Drisha in New York, and Ravender’s – a Beit Midrash for women. This is not a Halakhik revolution, but another revolution. This was 40 years ago. I was born and lived here in Israel, most of the women learning in these places were from the States. 20 years ago this changed, Ravender’s became an Israeli place. Migdal Oz opened, I went to study there, there was only one place before. I was learning in Pelekh. Men have so many options for a Yeshiva, we had one option, so this was a huge change. Matan Mishmat, Ha-Natziv, other places. People have different places, each is unique, for different communities. Learning is power, but there’s an idea of learning, and the use of it. Israelis really started learning 20 years ago. What happens in NY and in Israel is important. If learning Torah is a real revolution, it has to change places not only connected to R. Soloveichik, and women not connected to Anglos are now affected. When I started all the women had good English, I was waiting for women to come and learn Gemorah, this is being religion, you cannot not learn Torah, this is what moved Soloveichik, not for the love of women but the love of Torah, how can a Jewish person not learn it. If you won’t learn it – you’re eating from the Tree of Knowledge but not the Tree of Life. 20 years ago this starting. At the same time, always women were asked – why are you learning? If they want to learn more? Well, Migdal Oz opened, and Toanot and Yoatzot – practical applications, a woman working in the field of Torah, I just wanted to learn. This happened 20 years ago, people could suddenly imagine people working. The glass ceiling is going up? Yes, but right now we have Halakha advisors, and Rabbinic Lawyers, women working only in women’s issues. Now we have Kashrut inspectors, pretty close. Then another changed – we started looking at them as Torah women, we are human, not just women. I don’t want my womanhood to erase me, I’m Yael before I’m a woman, I’m a feminist, but I don’t want that to erase my humanity. Two points – Lindenberg, the Institute of Halakhic Leadership opened. Beit Hillel in 2012, it’s the only orthodox rabbinic group that gives women bring a part, all the way through the managerial column. It’s the only place I can be part of a rabbinical organization, we are discussing Torah, not just women’s issues, but the world. This is a huge change. Learning Gemorah, then working in things women can do, then even maybe becoming human. You’re very radical. This is a revolution, definitely. This is huge, what’s been happening. Another thing happened, not only Gemorah is what women learn. The midrashoth, going through one year of learning, is what everyone is doing – not just Gemorah, it can be anything else. This proves it’s spreading, all over, to the periphery of Israel, not just the Gush, Jerusalem, etc. It’s happening everywhere, suddenly the real Torah is beginning to emerge, we’re beginning to feel it in the air. A big change that happened recently, women are starting to write Torah, not just the Parashat Shavua, but Halakha. This started with Lawyers, it’s published online, starting 2008, R. Malka Pedukovsi writing ‘Going Her Way.’ Beit Hillel is writing a responsa, I was heading thirty women rabbis writing on every topic, not just Nida. This is the first place you see women writing not just on women’s issues, this is ground breaking, ‘The Returner of the Soul,’ Sheila of Matan, again, this touches on all aspects of the Torah. Writing touches on being human. I don’t want to have mixed Batei Midrash, I want to do it with women, learning Torah is intimate. Mostly men are doing it right now. How do I connect with other men? Writing. I have answers from 30 women Rabbis, if you’re reading her stuff – maybe you think it’s a fraud, maybe a man is writing – but maybe not. These are amazing changes, you’re living them. Looking back at this is really amazing. Thank you. I think it’s safe to say, from what you’ve been saying, is that things have changed, Sally you will have a sizeable task of writing another introduction in another twenty years. We’re on a trajectory of change – where is it leading? We’re talking of the same group of women that’s not opting out. What you talked about your daughter in the army, there’s a big Whatsapp group about Minyanim I’m a part of. Where will history take us? We know who was given prophecy, and we’re not going to talk about this, but rather an intelligent guess – where are we headed, in the fields of personal life, family, etc.
I’m a bit of a prophet, I wouldn’t classify myself as an official prophet, but some of the things I’ve talked about happened. Frum signalling and Frum shaming, as much as we want to progress, people are scared of change. People also like to Frum signal, say their Brakhas loudly. This gives me a signal about the future. Where we’re going, women take more of an active role and men stand back. In Minyan, maybe in your sphere too. Men can start to retract from things. One of the challenges going forward, is engaging men, seeing them as actual partners. And engaging women, I feel most women are not engaged in the issue, that’s a big issue, it’s partly generational. Are you an orthodox or feminist, what is this conflict about? Some young women give this up, they don’t want conflict. Academics push this forward, but young women don’t like engaging with contradiction, we’re in danger of losing these young women. And middle-aged women are scared of the changed, you talked about your mother. You try to talk about Aliya with someone that age, they’re scared, they might be infantilized in their religious life, they’re going to back off, why should they feel like this? You don’t acknowledge the intellect and the wisdom of the older woman. I would like women engaged in religious life. There has to be a wider discussion about that. I want to see women writing more about their life. We need to create the narrative, to encourage women to write their stories, we need to address the sexual ethic I talked about, in the future this will become a larger issue. Alternative families, people living together, not married, but keeping Shabas. What are the dangers of labelling ourselves. Economic independence is crucial, not just for women. Not to be seen just as a woman, but women and money and power will shape life. Orthodox women, in philanthropy, and their supportive partners, they provide the infrastructure for change, and more of it will change. I feel there are changes happening in the Charedi community as well, the barriers there are even greater, it’s even more exciting, it’s an exciting time, and a scary time, we don’t know what’s going to be. I keep looking at my daughters, what they look upon as obvious, what they’re not willing to accept anymore. My daughter says to me –why are only men going onto the Khupa, in a wedding. I said –I don’t think when you’re going to be married it’s not going to be just men. Of course not, she says, she’s not willing to accept that. Maybe they don’t have to deal with the contradiction, they just live inside the contradiction, and deal with it. People on the edge, between the Jewish and non-Jewish world, there are tensions, it’s very productive. In Israel, the halakhic state laws also make for tension. When you’re not an outsider, some of them see some of us as an outsider.
Yael, what you’re dealing with, is one of the more challenging arenas to talk about. I’ll take Sally, the division you offered, what you want to happen, what you think will happen. As I said before, I think we progressed a lot, but we shouldn’t take it for granted, there’s a backlash that’s quite strong. We need to make sure things continue. We feel it in the public sphere. In Israel, if we look at the parties in politics, not just the religious parties, we see less and less women, hear less and less women singing. It’s a problem we hope will change all over. I hope a woman rabbinic judge will be appointed in 20 years, and a Head Rabbi who will be a woman. Let’s start with a just a regular Rabbi Woman who is recognized. You talked about objective knowledge and intuition, we did a research, about women learners. It’s a question of language, we don’t have the language to talk about women who are learning, who are in Halakhic positions, the process we’re in. We spoke to a whole lot of women Lamdaniyot, learners, we came out with six models possible at this time, we have three women rabbis who teach, we support them, hopefully in five years’ time we will have Rabbinical women teachers who live off this. Here we have publically paid positions in institutions that have Rabbis officially there, instituitons controlled by the Rabbinite, trying to get between the cracks where women can get positions, a permanent or ambulatory Beit Midrash. Limud Torah is something very substantial, knowledge is power,and if women are learning Torah, everything is going to change. Another thing that’s going to change –girls will start learning Gmarah at the same time as boys, otherwise women will be chasing after what men have achieved. I have a boy and a girl of similar age and capabilities, the boy learnt a lot more, the girl is catching up. Equality should begin with education. We need to make sure there’s more orthodox feminists in politics, to create the change from above. Yael, can you try to predict where women like you will be in 20 years. You’ve given us some hints. A linguist could have some interesting comments. I am a Rabanit, it's still disputed, there are various options. I’m praying again, this is Bakasha, this is crucial, we have to understand, change doesn’t happen all at once, I’m a daughter of two geologists, force is not spread out equally. There’s zones. Orthodxy is very important for me, it’s the continuation of Israel. I don’t want a break, I want to be part of, not set aside. I’m willing to wait, even beyond my life time, in a hundred years, I want to be a part, not a break, if women want to be a part of the People of Israel, not ot break it. People are afraid, they are wise, everyone is wise. I want to take in their opinion. In a hundred years, where will you want to be? In twenty years, learning is the issue. What’s happening now – women are learning, everything is o.k., no. You can’t be a rabbi without learning your entire life. You need places for this. Some women are phenomenons. I want my students to become substantial scholars, who will be listened to, learning in intensive frameworks, like men, who learn five years. The first year is strong, after that it’s not – you can’t pressure a married woman, etc. No - if you’re learning to be a surgeon, you can’t make discounts like that. Open more programs, open more Yeshivot, I am already a Rabbi in a Yeshiva. It’s only women who want, it doesn’t have to be every one. If I chose a different path, I would have had a post-doc. I don’t want a doctorate in Quantiative research, I want to study Gmarah. In twenty years we will have many more women who learnt, who’ve written, and became a Torah scholar. What does being a Torah scholar mean? Does it mean being part of the theoretical side, or of the legal side? I don’t thing the question is legal power. To become a strong scholar, you need 20 years. People are already educated in this way today. No, I want many more women writing Halakha. To make knowledge or change practical life. Torah is very used, like philosophy, law. You can become a Rabbi after five years. I want much more than that. To a certain extent this exist. But I don’t want to be a young mediocre rabbi, but women learning seriously. A hundred years we’ll talk another time. I want to thank Sally for giving us this opportunity of talking about one of the existential issues in our lives. We can hear the emotion around the table, and even in the audience, showing us this is not an academic discussion behind a glass window. Some of us are women, some are men who have women in their lives. Supportive spouses, etc. We need to move forward together. Thank you all for coming and participating.

מתוך האירוע:
Sally Berkovic * Yael Rockman * Efrat Shapira Rosenberg * Rabbanit Yael Shimoni
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