From The Jewish Feminist Frontier
02/16/2014 - 23:22
Susan Reimer-Torn
Judith Plaskow and Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses. Photo courtesy JCC in Manhattan
Judith Plaskow and Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses. Photo courtesy JCC in Manhattan

The Jewish feminist movement has brought about remarkable changes in religious community life. But not everyone welcomes these shifts. More than one influential blogger has pointed to the “feminization” of Judaism, particularly in the more liberal sectors, as a contributing factor to the worrisome decline highlighted by the recent Pew report.

At a time when feminism often meets with indifference, incomprehension or hostility, feminist pioneer Judith Plaskow, author of the groundbreaking manifesto “Standing Again at Sinai” (1991), teamed up with Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses, director of lifelong learning at Romemu, to explore Jewish Feminism’s Next Frontier. Their focus is no longer (if indeed it ever was) exclusively on issues that impact women’s equality. The subject of their three-hour workshop at the JCC in Manhattan on Feb 9th was The Work/Life/ Family Nexus. Twenty well-spoken women gathered to explore quality of life issues with broad implications for all.

Biblical, Talmudic and contemporary texts sparked provocative conversation about work as drudgery or privilege, the differing roles of men and women, the possibility of a purpose that spans all the different activities of life.

The women agreed that the line between active and free time is increasingly blurred. Many remarked that they chose to face challenges in their so-called free time - from learning Chinese, to scaling mountain peaks. Were it not for the Sabbath, would we ever unplug or go with the flow? With non-productive time becoming an increasingly endangered concept, the Sabbath takes on new dimension.

Feminism is still about encouraging women to “put their power out there in the world.” (Ayshet Chayil is translated in their hand-out as “ warrior woman.”) But the themes – happiness and generativity, the purpose of work, the need to renew ourselves – are thoughtful reconsiderations of traditional wisdom intended to expand self-realization within an evolving community, for all

Susan Reimer-Torn is the author of the upcoming memoir "Maybe Not Such a Good Girl."

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Feminism is a secular word with secular connotations many of which are opposed to the tsnius (modest) behavior and dress and the real good (often hidden) deeds of Jewish women who live a Torah true life.

A very relevant and topical workshop. It stretched us to explore the links between feminism, Judaism and the life/work nexus. It also helped us to see the role of Shabbat in the larger world and in the labor movement.