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March 29, 1985 - Image 76

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-03-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

76. Friday, March 29, 1985

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS.

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Feminists And Judaism:
No 'Jezebel' Approach

BY IRVING GREENBERG

Special to The Jewish News

In a recent speech, a Canadian
rabbi, Immanuel Schochet, de-
nounced feminists who seek full
participation in Jewish ritual and
tradition or who support the ordi-
nation of women as "Jezebels."
Religion is valid only if it is
based on — and limited by — Di-
vine revelation, said Schochet.
"God can impose his will upon
man, but not vice versa." Schochet
argues that the term "Jezebel" is
an appropriate symbol of idolatr-
ous people, those who put their
own ambitions above everything
else.
Rabbi Schochet's speech il-
luminates where the religious
argument over feminism now
stands. The rabbi does not chal-
lenge the validity of the feminist
argument intrinsically. He does
not claim — as his predecessors 80
years ago did claim when they op-
posed Torah study for women —
that women are "light headed,"
intellectually incapable of learn-
ing Torah. Nor does he seek to
morally justify women's exclusion
from full religious participation
any more than he tries to
rationalize women's suffering
when males take advantage of the
irement that they
halachic requ
authorize a get (Jewish divorce)
and blackmail their wives for
money or concessions.
Tacitly, Schochet and the
majority of opponents have con-
cluded the validity of feminist
claims. They argue only that
nothing can be done about it be-
cause it is the will of God that the
present inequality continue.
The opponents of religious
feminism have been unable, thus
far, to come to grips with the
post-modern character of this
movement. Rabbi Schochet calls
it "Feminist Reformation." In
fact, the most striking thing about
this movement is that it is asking
not that existing laws be dropped
or modified but that women be
allowed in to participate.
As long as Jews were domi-
nated by the desire to become
modern, the direction was toward
reducing observance, reducing
levels of learning needed to func-
tion as Jewish authority or
Jewish lay person, reducing dif-
ferences between Jews and non-
Jews. Now that Jews have broken
the tyranny of modernization, the
direction is inward — demands for
more areas of life to be sanctified,
more access to learning, more op-
portunities to participate.
In this sense, the terms Or-
thodox, Conservative and Reform
are less helpful as a guide to what
is going on. Each of the move-
ments is split between people who
seek to incorporate new experi-
ences (celebrating Israel's Inde-
pendence Day is as good an exam-
ple as women's prayer) and those
who seek to maintain the status
quo — wherever it is in their cir-
cles. There are Orthodox Jews
who support the feminist goals
even as there are Reform Jews
who are opposed.
One substantive issue is
whether authentic Judaism (or
Torah or Halachah) is tradition —
that which is inherited, familiar,
and the object of veneration. If

tradition alone is decisive — and
this is the view of many non-
observant Jews as well — then the
fight against feminism is a fight
to save Judaism.
An alternative view is that
Judaism is a religious way
(Halachah literally means walk-
ing — the way) which sanctifies
and transforms every society and
social condition until the world
will be perfected. In this view,
new phenomena — including
women's own religious experi-
endes — are being brought within
the tradition in our very lifetime.
When the Beth Jacob Torah
schools for women were started 80
years ago, they were opposed as

Tacitly, Schochet
and the majority of
opponents have
concluded the
validity of feminist
claims.

innovations. Now, their standard
of Torah learning is upheld as sac-
red in traditionalist circles who
fight against those who add Tal-
mud to women's study curricula.
A similar confusion besets the
comments of those who argue that
only God can change the situation
of women. This claim denies the
entire tradition of the oral law,
the rabbinic role in Judaism. De-
spite its revealed character, what
is written in the Torah is not God's
final word — according to Jewish
tradition. To reach the end goal of
perfection, authority is vested in
the rabbis and authorities of each
age. The First Century Sadducees
and the medieval Karaites denied
the authority of the rabbis but
they have fallen by the wayside of
Jewish history.
The process of equalizing
women starts in the Torah
(Exodus 21, 7ff.) with limitations
on the hitherto unqualified man's
right to sell his own daughter. The
rabbis of succeeding generations
did not say it is God's decree that
women be sold — any more than
they sought to reestablish slavery

with grounds that the Torah
(temporarily) recognized it.
When the rabbis set up a
ketubah (marriage contract)
guaranteeing women a property
settlement in case of divorce, they
did not argue that God inethe
Torah had decreed that women be
divorced without financial protec-
tion and Rabbis can do nothing
about it. When Rabbeynu Ger-
shon and his court prohibited
polygamy in the 11th Century,
they did not consider it idolatrous
to go beyond the Torah which
permits polygamy. The
authorities followed the (correct)
judgement of their heart and of
the social state of women in that
time.
In fact, taking up in justice in
the divine decrees — or even eco-
nomic hardship — directly with
God is an ancient and authentic
Jewish practice. The first Jew,
Abraham, challenged God di-
rectly: "Shall the Judge of all the
Earth not do justice?" (Genesis 18,
25). Implied in the covenant rela-
tionship which is the heart of
Judaism is the right — and obli-
gation — to argue with God. Hu-
mans must carry the divine man-
date to its goals.
What is new —' a lamentable
result of modernity's impact on
traditional Jews — is the abdica-
tion of this responsibility.
The true task of conservatives
on the feminist issues is two-fold.
One is to articulate the tradition
and thereby challenge feminists
not to lapse into superficiality by
simply dismissing or putting
down the inherited roles. The
other task is to develop the
capacity of the traditional sources
to respond and of the traditional
community to grow into affirma-
tion of a fuller woman's religious
role. This is the best insurance
that feminism will not go too far.
The religious argument over
feminism should be at the point
where tradition and innovation
meet, where sex roles and equal-
ity interact. The argument should
be over how to do justice to both
sides. It is an awesome task,
worthy of debate and exploration
rather than dismissals or label-
ing.

Copyright 1985, the
National Jewish Resource Center.

Rabbi Abraham Weiss, shown talking to reporters, and 119 other rabbis
were arrested March 5 outside the Soviet Mission to the UN while
protesting Russian oppression of Jews.

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