Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Women who inspire: in honor of Rosh Hodesh Nisan

I grew up in a modern Orthodox synagogue in NW London.  The Jewish world that I was exposed to there was not one that I could continue to live in.  While I made my spiritual home in the progressive Jewish community, I am a firm believer in a pluralist Jewish community where a diversity of paths are followed.  Even while recognizing that we all place some boundaries around our concepts of Judaism, in most cases there is little to be gained when one path seeks to infringe on the religious expressions of another, or seeks to deny their validity within Klal Yisrael (the community of the Jewish people).

As I was re-entering Jewish life as a young adult, within the context of a progressive Jewish community, I did spend some time with Jewish women who remained affiliated with modern Orthodox communities who were intent on making change happen from within - seeking to have monthly women-only prayer services where women would be able to read from Torah, seeking an answer to the problem of agunot (women denied a religious divorce from their husbands which prevents them from remarrying), and seeking opportunities for serious Jewish study for women.  I admired their patience and determination, even as I was challenging the halachic foundations upon which limits were imposed on their ability to make change.

Today is Rosh Hodesh Nisan and we are less than two weeks away from Pesach - our festival of liberation and freedom.  The Exodus story begins with brave women who worked within the system to transform it - Yocheved, mother of Moses, and his sister, Miriam, and Shifrah and Puah, the midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh's command to kill all the Jewish baby boys.  In their honor and memory, I share two youtube videos below that highlight the wisdom, determination, and bravery of women who today are helping to transform modern Orthodox Judaism from within.

First, a follow-up on the series of blogs we posted in December, in solidarity with Women of the Wall.  Over 100 women and 50 men were at their Rosh Hodesh morning service at the Western Wall this morning.  More and more Israelis are joining them each month.  This month they sang, and even danced in the women's section before, as is necessary under the current Israeli Supreme Court ruling, they moved on to Robinson's Arch for their Torah service.  Ultra-Orthodox men continue to shout abuse from the men's side of the mechitza, and this time chairs were thrown, as evidenced in this clip.  Thankfully, no-one was hurt, and police did intervene to remove the men responsible for the violence.

Second, Sara Hurwitz speaks at the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance Conference (JOFA) in New York City.  Sara has been the focus of much ire in the Orthodox community, along with Rabbi Avi Weiss of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY, when he gave her the title 'Rabba' to replace the previous title, 'Maharat', which had been an indication of Sara's completion of the same course of study undertaken by Rabbis, and her position as a member of the clergy team at the Hebrew Institute.  Due to an inordinate amount of pressure and protest from some Orthodox bodies, the 'Rabba' title has been retracted.  But Sara Hurwitz remains on the clergy team and, as you will see from this edited video of her presentation at the conference, she continues to inspire and present herself with great dignity, and continued optimism for the future of women's learning and leadership within the Orthodox Jewish community.
Yasher Kochech! - May you have strength!
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

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