Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ain't I a Jew?

ITEM: Yesterday, I was reading a newsletter from an organization whose work I admire very much. The newsletter included this video, a 4-minute long collage of images from the Bnei Anousim community in El Salvador, highlighting a series of the community's recent events. Watch it and tell me if you notice what I noticed. 

Go ahead. 

I'll wait...

Are there no women in the Bnei Anousim community in El Salvador? If there are, you'd never know it from watching this video.

Note: A few readers have pointed out that,on three occasions, women or girls are on the screen momentarily .That doesn't change my point. The images are of men in the community engaged in Jewish activities. As such, the video represents a skewed perspective on Jewish communal life.

ITEM: Today, I got an email inviting me to attend two workshops for women in business that are being offered by a different organization. The first is being given by a Mrs. Milworm. The second by Rav Dovid Kaplan shlita. He gets a first name, two honorifics and his name in large letters.

ITEM: A prominent Jewish magazine recently published a 4-page article about a colleague, describing how she became religious, moved to Israel and opened a business making wedding dresses and establishing a wedding dress gemach. Hoping the PR from the article would generate business for her, my colleague was disappointed to learn that neither her name nor the name of her business appear anywhere in the story. When she inquired, she was told, "We assumed you'd want to be anonymous."

ITEM: On page 49 in the Koren Yom Kippur machzor, there's a note that says: "Yom Kippur is the only time we wear a tallit at night..."  This tendency to use language that assumes all Jews are male is so pervasive, I could write an entire tractate on just this one point.

I could bring dozens more examples, because they happen nearly every day. To some, I know I sound like a nattering nabob of negativism. Nevertheless, I point this out because, when Jewish women are overlooked, dissed or completely absent from the picture, it wounds me physically. 



Intellectually, I know that these, ahem... oversights, are the residue of the curses that were pronounced upon Chava, and therefore upon all women until the geula, for the ancient sin in Gan Eden.

I profoundly believe that the whole world is in the process of healing from the diminishment of  women's spiritual power and that these issues will eventually resolve. As my teacher Devorah (Heshelis) Fastag wrote in her book The Moon's Lost Light, the prophecy of nekevah tisovev gever (Yirmiyahu 31:21) assures us that eventually, women will, once again, be valued equally with men. Not by Gd, because certainly in Gd's world, that is already the case. But it is not yet the case in the human sphere.

Eventually, all this nonsense will evaporate like so much inconsequential fluff.

Until then, like Sojourner Truth's cry of "Ain't I a woman?" in her famous speech in 1851 about gender inequalities, whenever I see yet another example of Jewish women being omitted, neglected, excluded or disrespected, I want to cry out on behalf of all Jewish women:

"Ain't I a Jew?"


  1. I feel your pain acutely, even if what bothers you (sometimes) does not bother me. Hugs.

  2. Courtney3:39 PM

    I stopped using a cute pocket-size birkon I’ve had for years when I realized that the cheerful little illustrations on the bottom purposely excluded women. (Even worse was the illustration including a women on the cover of a teensy Sefer Tehillim which I got rid of— it featured a man holding up a Sefer Torah and a lantern with a little boy next to him and a woman holding up a little boy holding a lantern, with a little girl next to them. Get it?)

  3. Tzadik V.3:53 PM

    A shul near me omits women from all announcements... So it will say "mazel tov to Chaim Freedman and his kallah on their engagement and congratulations to Rabbi Freedman, Mr. Cohen and their families"

  4. female sighting at :48!!! the video is very offensive in it's exclusion of females. it presents as if this is a male only cult. i would definitely mention it to shavei yisrael rather than the choir.

  5. This reminded me of an article by Vered Noam, a professor of Talmud at Tel Aviv University, that appeared in Makor Rishon this past winter. It eloquently details how the same women who are extremely visible in secular life become invisible in the synagogue. I just found an English translation.

  6. Makes me ill. Just so sad...

  7. Fayge5:57 PM

    You are not negative, you are realistic and I couldn't agree with you more.

    Re such issues being the residue of curses on Chava, I have a vague memory of learning that it's not relevant; I'll have to check and let you know.

    In the meantime, keep talking, keep writing and keep remembering that Hashem does value women.

  8. Yesterday Simchat Shlomo posted a status about the centrality of brit milah to a Jew's relationship with God. So....what about the other 51% of the Jewish population? Asked and haven't gotten an answer yet. Not holding my breath.

  9. Allison7:14 PM

    The National Council of Young Israel doesn't allow its member synagogues to have women presidents and the National Council will not let women serve in its four highest board positions. I think they use the "modesty" excuse, which is ridiculous.

  10. Blog posts like yours will bring the change. We got the vote and then we fell asleep at the wheel. Jewish women are waking up. Finally!

  11. Gila Ruskin3:07 AM

    what about mar-eet ayin?
    Many times, I have taught non-Jewish adult students about the kavod that Jewish women have always received. The world is watching how women in Israel are told to go to the back of the bus, to step off the sidewalk, how their names are either eliminated or in small letters, how in the name of tzniut, they are denied the hakarat hatov they deserve. This is not "good for the Jews".

  12. Thank you for this post. On Tisha b'Av 2000, I unintentionally joined the WoW at the Kotel. Asking a similar question, "Where are the Jewish women?" ever since Yom Kippur 2000, I have substituted Rachel Adler's Hu Yaanenu for the piyyut in my machzor. Your essay has affirmed my continued practice this year.

  13. Chaya2:35 PM

    Many observant people believe it is not tzenua (modest) for women to be in pictures. This is most likely the reason for their exclusion, and nothing more. I wouldn't take it so seriously and am personally fine with it.

  14. So glad that my Masorti (Conservative Egalitarian) kehilla (community) recognizes both men and women as authentic Jews. With no mechitza (divider) to fetishize "the other", and no caste divisions between the sexes we come to pray together and to participate in communal life together. Our children learn from observing us that they can feel free to express their Judaism in a way that is meaningful and authentic, without the artifical barrier of gender segregation or articifical role assignment.

  15. Anonymous3:32 PM

    Yes , I noticed that there were no women included in the video. This is shameful that this has happened to your women. You would expect that sort of treatment in Islam , how did this happen and who started treating you precious women this way! Even the prophets of old did not treat women this way or stop them from worshiping. They were given due honour!

  16. Keren3:48 PM

    Listen, be grateful you have a husband. After my husband left me my synagogue abandoned me. Even moving to a house 2.5 blocks from the Rabbi's fail failed to make any difference in being invited to his house for a meal. I think Women are excluded not because of tzniut - modesty - but because men don't know how to control their own sexual urges. So hiding under a Tallis on the bus on King George street was one man's method for avoiding sin.

    1. Anonymous9:07 PM

      Karen - I think you're right. It is also fear based. Women are 'the other'. and as such, we are feared. Women are excluded because the exclusions are man-made.

  17. The "we" part for Tallis and Bris (mentioned in a comment) is consistent with general liturgy, like in Bircat Hamazon, "and the bris that you have stamped upon our bodies" - we talk about all of Am Yisrael in the first person plural, whether the specific commandment applies to us or not.

    So yes, "we" wear a Tallis on Yom Kippur, and "we" have a bris.

    The rest of the examples - not cool at all, especially the lady whose business was not mentioned.

  18. Shira7:45 AM

    It's exactly this sort of thing that led to me identifying as ethnically/culturally Jewish but not religiously, for years; at the age of 12, I picked up one of the boy's siddurim at my school and saw that while we girls prayed "she'asani kirtzono", the boys prayed "shelo asani isha", and was infuriated and deeply hurt. That was the beginning of nearly twenty years of exploring various other forms of spirituality, becoming pagan, then becoming atheist. I always identified very strongly as a Jew, but never practised it, because why would I want to follow a religion in which women were so devalued that men thanked Hashem daily for not being female?

    A couple of things, including a truly amazing incident which is too long to go into here, led me to start praying again a couple of years ago, and I'm gradually increasing my observance. But that's after 19 years of having almost no involvement, and marrying out (though my atheist husband is far more supportive of my increasing observance than the Jewish husbands of some of my friends who want to become more frum). I don't at all regret marrying my husband but I do regret marrying out, because there's so much judgement and so many assumptions made about me - yet another barrier to my participation in Jewish life. But if I'd felt welcome and valued and hadn't found conclusive proof that women are second class in Judaism, those 19 years would have been spent much more Jewishly, and I wouldn't have practised any other religion. My extremely strong Zionism and connection to Israel, and my personal experiences of blatant and sometimes violent Jewhatred are what kept me identifying as Jewish when I was a practising pagan and then an atheist, but there are plenty of girls and women who get put off like I did but don't have anything keeping them connected or enabling them to come back to Judaism. It's a shame, and it's entirely unnecessary.

  19. Anonymous10:44 AM

    Try to visit a Reform or Liberal Jewish Synagogue to experience inclusion, equality and a path to Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World).

  20. I would like to respond to those who read the post and commented from a liberal Jewish perspective.

    I spent my younger years in a liberal Jewish environment, affiliated with the Reform movement. Speaking for myself personally, the liberal Jewish option leads to great theological dilemmas. It was not and is not a solution for me.

    During my prayer time this morning, I said these words from Sefer Tehillim (The Book of Psalms) chapter 19:

    "The Torah of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul."

    I absolutely believe that.

    This other stuff, what I wrote about in this post, is a bunch of sociological hooey that doesn't have anything to do with Torah standards.

    It's not hard for me to imagine that people who behave in ways that hurt women and, in some cases, turn them away from Torah-based Judaism, will have to answer for that in the Next World.

  21. Very well said. This "vanishment" of women just makes me feel a bit nauseous. It's one step in a chain of dehumanization and I've seen where it leads when taken to extremes. It's not something we should ever pass over in silence or take as a given.

  22. Miriam12:22 PM

    This really bothers me as well. I don't think this is normative Judaism at all. I grew up Chabad, and I heard so many stories that when the rebbe reviewed the illustrations for the magazines and brochures of Tzivot Hashem (Chabad's children's organization), he always made sure there was a little boy and a little girl in each picture, and each child was doing a mitzvah. It's fairly intuitive that if little girls (and grown women for that matter as well) don't see themselves included, they will disengage. Seeing the increasing marginalization of women in the public is very frightening and painful for me.


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