Women in Orthodox Judaism

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Zaret Bullones
Women’s and Gender Studies 398
Professor DeLuca
February 19, 2013
Women In Orthodoxy
In scrutinizing religion, religious customs and holy texts, one finds the struggle to find the women’s roles to be as fulfilling and empowering as those to men’s. Orthodox Judaism is no exception, with many struggles being addressed in Norma Baumel Joseph’s Women In Orthodoxy. In her writing, she speaks of the roots of how women gained the knowledge and position they have now through education, the power or prayer and their struggle to find a place where they can pray, founding women’s prayer groups and legal issues such as the right to pray and read the Talmud by the wall. Such obstacles are contrasted by a string of positivity in being an Orthodox woman in Rachel’s Daughters: Newly Orthodox Jewish Women written by Debora R. Kaufman. Kaufman interviews several hundreds of women converts and women responded that coming back to such a patriarchal has actually allowed them to become more in touch with their bodies. Patti Moscovitz’s The Minyan: A Tapestry of Jewish Life, she speaks of the prayer traditions as a group for Jewish women and their experiences. Through these readings one can only see the complexities and depth to the lives and practices of Orthodox Jewish women.

Norma Baumel Joseph’s Women in Orthodoxy begins by stating “ Both insiders and outsiders acknowledge that Orthodoxy does not welcome change (Prell 181)” This idea is explored in her texts. This is perhaps the biggest struggle that women see in Orthodox Judaism. She goes on to say that women struggle to break out of some problematic traditions and beliefs because it challenges the traditional system in which they live in. Such changes that would seem to improve the status of women in their religious context would not occur because the decisions are made solely in reasoning with the law and legal precedents and not on the beliefs of making anyone particularly comfortable in contemporary contexts. With corresponding problems and demands that Orthodox Jewish women have with Orthodox Judaism, there has been a brand of new feminism formed and being an Orthodox Jewish feminist, as Joseph states, deals with keeping the traditions of Orthodox Judaism but also expanding and challenging the political opportunities they have and don’t within halakha.

Education became a large factor in helping women within the Jewish community to gain higher status in knowing and becoming more educated in terms of Jewish studies and also submerging themselves in the holy readings as well. As Joseph writes in behalf of education, the American secular educational system and the need and want for Jewish families to assimilate as much as possible to American lifestyles, helped and encouraged women to go to school. Not only were more girls going to school to learn secular subjects but this is a particular time in history where Jews found particularly important and necessary to make Jewish schools. With the forming of Jewish schools, girls and boys were being educated in terms of religion in a more wide spreading way, more and more young girls learning what they hadn’t been learning for the past centuries. In terms of higher education, women were learning and going to school for personal and enriching reasons, while others pursue further higher education within Theology. Although in the beginning, girls were only meant to hear the oral traditions and not hear the words of the Talmud as the boys did, they eventually gained that right.

When it comes to Ritual Celebrations, Joseph states that women are left out of 14 different ritual practices, which includes fundamental prayers. Within these ritual celebrations and prayers, education and knowledge of the subject prior to performing was essential and that’s where there would be a loophole for women to gain access, although many instances, these rituals would take place in a more liturgical way. One major crisis in letting and...
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