ON BEING A JEWISH FEMINIST by Susannah--Ed. Heschel


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Twenty-four articles spanning a decade of Jewish feminism--and repeatedly posing the question of whether, given the patriarchal nature of Judaism (the law, the customs), ""it is desirable--even possible--for a feminist to be a Jew."" Introducing the whole, and each of the three sections (""Old Myth and Images,"" ""Forging New Identities,"" ""Creating a Feminist Theology of Judaism""), editor Heschel lays corresponding stress on raising core issues, not merely petitioning for privileges--ordination of rabbis or admission to leadership of the Council of Jewish Federations. And though some of the contributors chiefly attest to their own, breakthrough experiences (saying Kaddish for a dead parent, learning to chant the Torah, being the essential tenth in a minyan), others do confront hammerlock realities. ""A woman's whole life revolved around physical objects and physical experiences--cooking, cleaning, childbearing,"" observes Rachel Adler. ""It was, thus, natural that Jewish men should have come to identify women with gashmiut (physicality) and men with ruhniut (spirituality)."" Nonetheless, Paula Hyman points out, the yiddishe mamma often worked (""particularly if her husband was talented enough to devote himself to study"")--while Mimi Scarf, writing of the plight of Jewish battered wives, notes that they almost always blame themselves (""Jewish men do not beat their wives. It does not happen in Jewish families""). Cynthia Ozick, not surprisingly, goes her own knotty way--arguing that the status of Jewish women is a ""sociological fact,"" not ""a 'theological' question""; insisting that it arose from the Holocaust (""having lost so much and so many""), not the feminist movement; asserting that what is missing in Torah is a Commandment enjoining justice to women (necessary not ""for the sake of women. . . or 'modern times' [but] to preserve and strengthen Torah itself""). Judith Plaskow disputes her (""The Right Question Is Theological""), but not on her own ground; others range over various topics from the condition of Jewish women (Lesley Hazleton) to Jewish feminist fiction (Erika Duncan, Claire Satlof) to the effect of Jewish women rabbis (Laura Geller). A solid, meaty collection, by and large (the lesser pieces tend also to be the shortest), with a few diverse standouts.

Pub Date: Aug. 12th, 1983
Publisher: Schocken