Saturday, April 7, 2012

Types of Jewish Feminism: Theological & Sociological

In Women in Jewish Culture, we've been discussing lately some different feminist viewpoints. In particular, I've found the contrast between two types of feminism to be especially interesting. In focusing on two women's writings, Judith Plaskow (a Clark alumni!) and Cynthia Ozick, I've found myself struggling to decide where I fit on the spectrum of Jewish feminism.

Judith Plaskow suggests that the core of Judaism is sexist. Basically, that the problem is theological, and that we need to formulate new traditions that include women, and new prayers that recognize feminine aspects (or gender-neutral aspects) of God.

Yoel Kahn, in writing of the liturgy of gay and lesbian Jews, suggested that a ritual for coming out may be a positive addition to Jewish traditions; that we need extra prayers and traditions for a broader range of constituents.

But overall, how much change can be tolerated? Should we replace these traditional texts? Do we read them side-by-side with newer, more inclusive texts?

The writings of Cynthia Ozick were interesting to me because they presented a feminist viewpoint with which I was not familiar. In contrast to Plaskow's concept of sexism as theological, Ozick suggested that the problem of sexism is a sociological problem; women are exempted because of cultural/sociological interpretation.

Where Plaskow suggests things like women's minyans (a meeting of ten Jews required for public prayer), Ozick is critical. Traditionally, a minyan is made up of males over the age of thirteen. Women are excluded. And yet, an all women's minyan, while presenting a tradition for women that is identical to that of men, is still endorsing the idea of gender separation.

In class, my professor quoted the Talmud, which reads something along the lines of: rabbis taught that all are qualified to be among the seven who read a Torah, even a minor or a woman. But the sages say that a woman should not because of the congregation's esteem.

Basically, then, that women can read from the Torah, but that they shouldn't to protect the honor of the congregation; a woman reading would suggest that there aren't enough learned men to do so.

Because where men are the standard, women are the exception. And, as Ozick would say, sexism is sociological.

Anyway! Having only been exposed to the theological lenses of Jewish feminism, I had for years considered the "adding women and stir" method of creating alternate traditions/prayers to be an apt way to deal with the inherent sexism ingrained in the texts and traditions. However, having experienced some of the sociological views of sexism, I am now starting to reconsider past views.

I'm not suggesting that any specific type of feminism, nor any certain way of viewing such topics, is the right one! Only that there are so many new viewpoints that I have yet to be exposed. 

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