Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dear Feminist Rabbis

I think I'm pretty qualified to write this. One, I'm a woman. By the way, you will never, ever know what it is like to be a woman, no matter how many women you're surrounded by. And of course, you wouldn't try to tell me that you're in touch with your feminine side, because you subscribe to the secular notion that all masculine and feminine traits are subjective and simply programmed into us. I can only wonder what I've missed out on in life thanks to my gender-specific toys. They obviously negated my education and my parents' encouragement. What a waste all my writing is when I could be operating a crane right now! Or maybe the truth is that my siblings and I were taught to share all our toys, and we usually did, and I totally hijacked my brother's Legos only to build a house and focus on the Lego people's family life. And maybe, just maybe, it's because I have this inherent wisdom that the real building blocks of any society are families, not skyscrapers. For all the feminist tears shed over little girls playing Barbies, never was there a more submissive male than Ken. It was actually a relief to grow up and discover that my boyfriends would not wear more pink than me.

But I also have a perspective shaped from three decades in the non-Jewish world and all the feminist conditioning that came with it. I believe so strongly in Judaism's understanding of women precisely because I have seen and experienced firsthand the failings of feminism. Whether it's regarding sex, clothing, family, careers, and so on, feminism has not allowed women to fully come into their own as women but taught them to imitate men. This attitude has bled into the liberal Jewish movements and your corner of Modern Orthodoxy, which is why you think an empowered Jewish woman lays tefillin and becomes a Rabbi.

Do you have any idea how arrogant it is to dismiss the achievements of Jewish women over the last 3,500 years? You act as though we've simply been playing house, and now, finally, we have the opportunity to step into the roles created by men. You think you're enlightened, but you could not have it more backwards. When you attempt to argue against traditional roles, you are the one reducing my role to the color pink and housework, which only serves to prove that you do not understand the greatness of women.

You are here today because of all the Jewish women who have come before you. The women who defied Pharaoh's orders, who refused to participate in the sin of the Golden Calf, who knew which son should be blessed, who beheaded Holofernes, who took care of their families every day, and not for any title, not for any honor and glory, but purely for the continuity of the Jewish people.

It is interesting to me that the Rabbis who label themselves as feminists are the ones who think they need to speak for women. When I first entered the Orthodox world and had questions about women in Judaism, my very traditional Rabbi didn't even attempt to sway me. He simply said, "Talk to my wife. Talk to any Orthodox woman you want. See if they're unhappy." And believe me, I did. I spoke with women who stayed at home to raise their children and women who worked outside the home. However much or little work in the home they did, they all cherished their roles as wives and mothers and felt cherished in return. As much as you may want to paint the Orthodox world as oppressive toward women, it has never had a problem with women having careers. When opportunities opened up in the secular world, more Jewish women went to work along with non-Jewish women. What you fail to understand is the importance of a Jewish woman as the foundation of her family. It doesn't matter whether she is a lawyer, a doctor, or a stay-at-home mom, the center of Jewish life has always been and will always be the home. Not the synagogue. If a woman feels that she must play a prominent role in the synagogue in order to be honored and respected, that is a sign that the community is failing to honor its women. Men who only respect women who act like men can hardly be considered pro-woman.

Valuing the work of a woman who takes care of her family offers more choices for her, not fewer. Feminism, on the other hand, dismisses the contributions of any woman without a career. It proclaims that society is built on achievements, and women have got a lot of catching up to do. I once had a very feminist coworker tell me that being a stay-at-home mom was a waste of a life. Judaism is not trying to chain every woman in the kitchen, but feminism absolutely does tell women they only matter if they're in an office. This, I believe, is why feminism has such a branding problem today. As women marry and have children, they are realizing that a movement that fails to acknowledge what they feel and are willing to do as mothers does not necessarily have their best interests at heart.

So while we can agree that women having more opportunities in the secular realm is a good thing, your mistake is in thinking the same needs to happen in Judaism. This presumption is wrong on two fronts: First, we do not adjust Jewish beliefs according to the whims of the secular world. Our very refusal to do so (often led by women) has preserved Judaism from the giving of the Torah to the present day. As I said in my previous point on tefillin, we innovate, yes, but we do not imitate. Second, for all your praise of women, you seem reluctant to acknowledge that we are spiritually superior. We are the culmination of creation, Hashem's most complex work (and you wonder why you can't figure us out). Our ability to not only create life but sustain it allows us to naturally emulate G-d. It makes perfect sense to me that our role cannot be captured with a single title. The more you try, the more it will elude you.

I live by the motto Res non verba. I look at actions, not words. I did not come to these views lightly or because of one Rabbi. Rather, over the last four years, the best experiences I've had in the Orthodox world have been with traditional Orthodox women. They range in age, background, and hashkafa, but they all share pride in their role and an absolute disinterest in imitating men. Where Rabbis could not help me, these women succeeded. None of them spent precious time or energy attempting to gain recognition; they simply acted. That speaks volumes for me.

Such women are the ones who have been true leaders for nearly forty centuries. They are the reason I am so passionate about this topic and why I will continue to speak out against the influence of feminism.



  1. Bravo! Well written. Great points. Thank you!

  2. Fabulously put. As always, you manage to clearly and logically place into words that which is incoherently rattling around my skull.

    While the Shulchan Aruch does say a woman can put on tefillin, and yes, Rashi's daughters wore tefillin, in this day and age we must wonder: What is the modern woman's motivation to wear tefillin? Does she want to wear it in public? If so, are her reasons spiritual or political?

    Like you, I believe tefillin to be a moot point. If donning it regularly would be a benefit for women, we would have been commanded to wear them. But we weren't commanded to. It just isn't necessary for women, because we just plain don't need to.

  3. Thank you, Lea. And thank you for pointing that out. I trust both sources but I agree with you that it was in a much different context. If today's women equate acting Jewishly with imitating what men do, that is a problem.

    1. Update: I just spoke to my Rabbi to ensure that my facts were straight. He was unclear on where the Shulchan Aruch allows women to lay tefillin, but said that regardless, Ashkenazi follow the ruling of the Rama in this matter. Whatever the Shulchan Aruch may say, since the time of its writing, women wearing tefillin has not been a known practice. As you said, the motives to start now are suspicious at best. The Rabbi also said that Rashi's daughters wearing tefillin is generally regarded as a myth. I came across this post which I think addresses the issue nicely:

  4. You go girl! I always love what you have to say!


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