Category Archives: women

Modesty

Jewish concepts of צניעות, tzniut, modesty.

Ashkenazi Orthodox Judaism has developed detailed rules for how women should dress, talk and act, both in private and public. Entire books are written about the subject with laws, customs, measurements, in exacting details.

Here is an example of an Ashkenazi right-wing Orthodox prescription for women:
(I am using these qualifiers precisely, for good reason: Such controls on women’s clothing did not develop in the Mizrachi, Sephardic, or Modern Orthodox community, although now these communities are being influenced by right-wing Orthodox.)

Haredi modest clothing for women

Orthodox authors assure the reader that these are traditional and inarguable, and come from Torah mitzvot that are elucidated in the Mishnah and Talmud.  Perhaps the main problem with their rules about  צניעות, tzniut, modesty, is that until the 1920’s, most of these rules didn’t even exist!

These rules on tzniut were invented recently, accompanied by a deliberate censorship & historical revisionism campaign, to make it appear as if they had always been there. This is a recurring pattern in fundamentalist religious communities.

But are there in fact traditional, Jewish, halakhic rules on modesty? Yes. There indeed are some guidelines in traditional rabbinical literature on modesty that we can learn from, we just should learn about these rules in their historical context.  Some great resources include:

The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews, Ed. Martin S. Cohen, especially the chapyer “Public Appearance and Behavior” by Rabbi Gordon Tucker.

 

This quote, without specifics on clothing, gives a Jewish perspective to the idea of modesty:

Kedusha is one of the most important aspects of tz‟niut; “privacy,” “modesty” are not expressions of contempt for the body, the physical, but on the contrary, expressions of their kedusha (holiness). A Torah scroll, for example, is covered, because of its high degree of kedusha. A woman‟s body – as well as a man‟s – is covered, because it is kadosh. The most intimate physical relation between man and woman is reserved, private, not for public display, and not for anytime, anywhere, with anyone – because it is kadosh, special, apart.

As Zalman Posner points out, tz‟niut “is not a question of a bit of cloth, it is a life-mode, perhaps the bedrock of Judaism.” It has not to do with just hemlines or head coverings, but with thought, speech, sexual relations – our sense of who and what we basically are, a sense that our personhood is kadosh, inviolate. The body is not a piece of property, an object to be disposed of casually; it, too, is an integral part of the sanctity of personhood, the kedusha of the Jew.

– Shaina Handelman, “The Paradoxes of Privacy,” Sh‟ma, November 1978

Another great resource is this CJLS responsa “Modesty Inside and Out: A Contemporary Guide to Tzniut”, by Rabbis David Booth, Ashira Konigsburg, and Baruch Frydman-Kohl

___________________________

Excerpt

The choice of clothing is one key area of modest practice. Halakhic literature offers several broad descriptions of appropriate dress, but nowhere in rabbinic literature prior to the 20th century can one find specific and complete dress codes as we find today.

While the Talmud, Rishonim, and Aharonim describe and require certain ritual attire or distinctively Jewish dress, they do not describe any requirements more specific than that married women must cover their hair. Much of the literature focuses on situations and clothing that arouse sexual feelings, what is appropriate in public settings versus private settings, and the response of the viewer.

Although rabbinic sources describe many actions as exposing ervah,22 the minimum requirement of modesty is to cover genitalia and anus. This limit depends on two Torah passages, Deuteronomy 23:13-15 and Leviticus 18-20. The Torah prohibits the uncovering of nakedness, or ervah.

The holiness code of Leviticus similarly prohibits לגלות ערוה , often translated as “to uncover nakedness” of someone.

וְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יִקַח אֶת־אֲחֹתוֹ בַת־אָבִיו אוֹ בַת־אִמוֹ וְרָאָה אֶת־עֶרְוָתָהּ וְהִיא־תִרְאֶה אֶת־עֶ רוָתוֹ חֶסֶד הוּא
וְנִכְרְתוּ לְ עי ני בְ ני עַמָם עֶרְוַת אֲחֹתוֹ גִלָה עֲוֹנוֹ יִשָא…
וְעֶרְוַת אֲחוֹת אִמְך וַאֲחוֹת אָבִיך לאֹ תְגַ לה כִי אֶת־שְׁ ארוֹ הֶעֱרָה עֲוֹנָם יִשָאוּ:

If a man takes his sister and sees her ervah, and she sees his ervah, it is a disgrace….23 He has uncovered his sister’s ervah, he bears his guilt. … You shall not uncover the ervah of your mother’s sister or of your father’s sister, for that is to expose one’s own flesh; they bear their guilt…. (Leviticus 20:17-19)

Reading the two sources together suggests that ervah means specifically the genitals. The punishment in Leviticus is for one who exposes their reproductive organs. Similarly, the organs for urination and defecation must remain covered while in the camp. Brown, Driver, Briggs in their biblical lexicon define ervah as “pudenda,” meaning genitalia.24

According to Rabbis Karo and Isserles, there is no specific body part that needs to be clothed. Rather, it is dependent on context and how people usually behave or dress. 29

As a result, cultural norms have halakhic significance for determining appropriate dress. In a context where it is normal to go swimming in a bathing suit, for example, such behavior is permissible. A man wearing a bathing suit in a business environment is problematic because it is so different to the typical office attire and so will draw the eye. Flapper dresses in the 1920s were initially quite shocking; as society became accustomed to the style, the dresses began to be seen as appropriate.

Shorts or sleeveless tops for men or women may be inappropriate, depending on the context, because they raise similar issues of context and modesty. That is, a tank top might be appropriate at the beach but not in shul, in part, because it surprises. The change in people’s expectations affects their perception of modesty and appropriate attire. By the same token, a person has a responsibility to others and should choose clothing suitable to the context.

One might assume that as women’s breasts in our culture are often hyper-sexualized they must certainly constitute ervah. But this assumption is mistaken. For example, because of the commonplace occurrence of breastfeeding, Rabbi Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad (known as Ben Ish Hai, 1835 – 1909) considered the exposed breasts of a nursing mother as any other normally exposed body part.

י”א כיון דהאשה דרכה לגלות דדיה בזמן היניקה הרי הדדים נחשבים אותו זמן כמו כפות
הידים והפנים :

There are those who say that since it is her practice to uncover her breasts while nursing, a woman’s breasts in at the time of nursing are just as though they were the palms of her hand or her face. 30  For the Ben Ish Hai, a nursing woman’s breasts are without sexual connotation.

(Footnote 29) Within much of the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox sources, the covering of thighs and shoulders is asserted as a biblical ordained halakhah. Please note, however, that Rabbi Avrahom Karelitz (Hazon Ish) in the 1920s is the first person to suggest that thighs and shoulders must be covered to be modest outside of a prayer context.

Modesty Inside and Out: A Contemporary Guide to Tzniut 
Rabbis David Booth, Ashira Konigsburg, and Baruch Frydman-Kohl

Modern Orthodox responses

Rabbi Josh Yuter – Jan 9, 2012

The topic of “tzniut” or “modesty” has recently become a prominent point of discussion in the Jewish community… the common theme… is almost exclusively framing the issue in the context of women. In particular, modesty is most frequently defined in terms of how women ought to dress, how a woman is supposed to behave, and in some general instances the appropriate role of women in Jewish if not secular society. With this focus on women, it is not surprising that tzniut/modesty is almost exclusively construed as a sexual ethic.

In this shiur I challenge this assumption by approaching the topic of modesty not from the socially defined understanding of tzniut, but rather how and when the root “צנע” is used in the Talmud. While the term is certainly used in the context of female sexuality or displays of femininity (B. Ketuvot 3b, B. Berachot 8b, B. Shabbat 113b, B. Sotah 49b), the Rabbinic tradition also applies tzniut to men as it pertains to his relationship with his wife (B. Shabbat 53b) and his mode of dress (B. Menachot 43a).

Furthermore, the ethic of tzniut is asserted in the contexts of going to the bathroom (B. Berachot 8b, 62a), eating (B. Berachot 8b), not displaying one’s wealth (B. Pesachim 113a), and even religious observance (M. Ma’aser Sheni 5:1, B. Sukkah 49b/B. Makkot 24a).

Given the contextual range of the root צנע, I suggest that tzniut in the Rabbinic tradition may best be described not as a sexual ethic at all (let alone a female one), but a general attitude of behavior of which sexual behavior is only one component. In other words, the true Jewish ethos of modesty does not exclusively pertain to sexuality, but rather reflects a universal ethic, one which is equally applicable to men and women in all facets of life.

Current Jewish Questions on Tzniut Modesty. Josh Yuter.

.

 

The truth about agunot and annulment in Jewish law

Jewish law – halakhah הֲלָכָה – like any legal system, provides norms for marriages and divorces.  Yet there is a crisis in the Orthodox Jewish community on this issue – through an unfair legal loophole, men can leave their wives, marry another women – and yet still leave their original wife technically married to them.This problem has grown to the point where thousands of Orthodox Jewish women are functionally divorced – and may even have state/civil divorces – but they are still married in the eyes of the Orthodox Jewish community, and as such they are unable to move on with their lives.

A belief among today’s Orthodox is that halakhah forbids annulment; even agunah advocates are usually not well-versed on the subject, and as such, even the best-intentioned Orthodox advocates for agunot have been ineffective. As such, this resource is meant to educate Jews on the legal remedy that has always been available within halakha:  hafka’at kiddushin (annulment of a valid marriage) and kiddushei ta’ut, annulling a marriage conducted under false pretenses.

Agunot and Annulment

Mechitza

A mechitzah (מחיצה‎, partition, pl.: מחיצות‎, mechitzot) is a partition used in Orthodox synagogues to separate men and women during formal prayer services.

For the last 2 centuries it has been erroneously taught that a mandatory mechitzah is an ancient law, followed since the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago, and enshrined in the Talmud itself,

Here is an unfortunate example of such a belief, popular among the ultra-Orthodox:

“It is my job as a Rabbi to teach and educate people. In the times of the second Temple (Beis HaMikdash) in Tractate Sukkos it was written that a special platform was made for the women so that they could view the men dancing and the Lulav and Esrog ceremony. WOMEN AND MEN HAVE ALWAYS BEEN SEPARATED from the time of Avraham until about 1800 in Germany. After the Sabbatai Ẓevi and Jacob Frank  false moshiachs [messiahs], the Reform Movement started.”

No historians would agree with this. The entire paragraph is an urban myth. There is no relationship between Zevi & Frank, and classical German Reform Judaism. Sabbatai Zevi was a kabbalist, and historians say that some of teachings actually influenced Orthodox Hasidic Judaism; in contrast classical German Reform was rationalist and rejected all kabbalah, both Zevi’s and Hasidic.

It is true that over the centuries, women and men didn’t sit together in modern-day style. Few historical sources exist, but those that do imply that perhaps men prayed more often in synagogue, and women less often. There were local customs for women and men to sit separately, but there is no evidence that this was ever a widespread law, indeed, perhaps no evidence that it was even considered a local law.

The idea that a mechitzah is mandatory didn’t develop until after the Enlightenment, and the emergence of classical Reform Judaism. In response to these changes, the Orthodox community created new rules on tefila (prayer) and gender.

Two rationales were developed by the Orthodox, in an effort to claim that this rule had always existed.

I. The Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 51b, 52a) describes a divider in the form of a balcony, in the Temple in Jerusalem. However, it was only set up only during the festive, raucous, Simchat Beit Hasho’evah (Water Drawing Ceremony) on Sukkot. Otherwise it was not used.

II. The Talmud cites a teaching that we may not daven in the presence of an ‘erva, an immodestly dressed woman. Berachot 24a states “tefach b’isha erva”, “an area of uncovered skin of a woman is ‘erva.” What an area (tefach) actually is, is not defined. Thus one may not daven in the presence of women where this much skin is exposed.

Noah Gradofsky writes:

In absence of evidence the claim that mechitzah started in an effort to avoid davening in the presence of ervah is conjecture. Somewhat reasonable, but you would have to argue that women going in to shul with ervah uncovered was commonplace enough to necessitate this enactment. This strikes me as unlikely, since if women were commonly enough going into synagogues with certain body parts uncovered, those body parts would be, by definition, not ervah. perhaps the conservative mores of a synagogue led people to label what offended them as ervah even though the cultural reality around them was different. One of the interesting points of the phrase במקום שדרקן לכסות – “where they normally cover” is whether the word מקום (place) refers to a geographic location, an anatomical location, or both.

During the same time period, Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews developed prohibitions on women from singing with men, the prohibition against Kol Isha. The result of this gender segregation (mechitzahs and Kol Isha) was to effectively render women not part of the Jewish congregation: Many Orthodox siddurim have a prayer asking God to “bless the congregation – and their wives”, clearly implying that women are full members.

The upshot: There is no mention of any mechitzah in the Temple in Jerusalem, not during the First or Second Temple, nor are there are mentions of it in the Talmud. Rabbi David Golinkin writes:

Towards the end of the Second Temple period the Sages directed that a women’s gallery be constructed in the Women’s Court to keep the sexes separated ONLY during the somewhat light-headed celebration of the water festival during Succot.

During the balance of the year men and women mingled freely in the Women’s Court. (It appears that this was so named because it marked the limit of approach by women who were not bringing sacrifices, to the inner courts of the Temple). There is no literary or archaeological basis for assuming the existence of a synagogue separation during the period of the Mishnah and the Talmud.

The first mention is towards the end of the period of the Geonim (around the eleventh century). From then on, such separation is occasionally mentioned in passing. Not until the end of the nineteenth century do we have a halakhic source *requiring* separation in the synagogue.

At this point one is reminded of the classic joke retold by the ThinkJudaism blog:

Conservative Jew: Why doesn’t Rav Yosef Karo’s law book, the Shulḥan Aruch, have a section for the laws of meḥitza?
Orthodox Jew: Why?
Conservative Jew: We learn from this that a synagogue really doesn’t need a meḥitza.
Orthodox Jew: No, we learn from this that a synagogue really doesn’t need women.

Jews in front of Western Wall Kotel

Image: Jews in front of Western Wall, Jerusalem, from a negative taken approximately 1900 to 1920. Library of Congress LC-DIG-matpc-12192

Laws about mechitzahs were never said to be a part of halakhah until the 1800’s.  Examples include

Chatam Sofer, Orech Chaim 5:190
Moses Schreiber (1762–1839), Germany

It is right according to our Torah law to listen to the voice of a woman in shul, in a place that men congregate, and the women’s voice goes from the women’s section to the men’s section?  The reason for this, is that we believe that all prayer and praise and thanksgiving should not be mixed with improper thoughts. And because of this we separate the women from the men in shul, to make sure they do not come to think improper thoughts during the time of prayer. And we learn this from the water libation ceremony that is spoken about in Tractate Sukka where they made sure the women were above and the men below so they would not come to kalut rosh. . And it is said there on 52a, as it says: “And the land shall mourn, every family apart: The family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart.” (Zecharia 12:12). And it is a kal v’chomer- here where they are talking about a eulogy where there is no evil inclination the Torah tells us that the men were separate, and here that we are talking about happiness, where there is an evil inclination, all the more so there should be a separation.
– Translation from Sefaria.Org

Maharam Shik מהר”ם שיק, Orech Chaim 77
Rabbi Moshe Schick משה שיק‎‎, (1807 – 1879), Hungary

Igrat Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:39
Rav Moses Feinstein משה פיינשטײַן‎‎  (1895–1986), New York

Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 7:8
Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg (1915–2006), Jerusalem

Joseph B. Soloveitchik יוסף דב הלוי סולובייצ׳יק  (1903-1993) Community, Covenant and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications. Ktav Publishing House, 2005. p. 129-130. During the 1950’s, Soloveitchik ruled that it was forbidden to pray in a synagogue without a separation between the sexes, and that this law was actually mi-d’orayta, an actual law in the Torah. At the time, during the political-social fighting between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, many Orthodox Jews accepted this claim as correct. Today however no person takes this claim seriously; there is not mitzvah in the Torah on this subject. He further stated that the use of a mechitza as we know it today was mi-derabbenan, a rabbinical prohibition from the Talmud (discussed above, which we now know is mistaken. He misread the Talmudic text about the temporary partition erected during raucously celebrated Simchat Beit Hasho’evah (Water Drawing Ceremony) on Sukkot.

Further reading

Is the Entire Kotel Plaza Really a Synagogue? Rabbi David Golinkin, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies

The Mehitzah in the Synagogue, Rabbi David Golinkin

Meḥitza: Do Orthodox prayers count in a Conservative Synagogue? from ThinkJudaism

The Mehitzah in the synagogue, by Rabbi Monique Susskind Goldberg (PDF file)

The Trichitza Phenomenon, by Jordan Namerow

Trichitza. A strange word, no? Until I was in Israel two weeks ago and prayed in a trichitza setting for the first time, I’d never heard the word before. Shortly thereafter, I came across a trichitza-related article in the November/December 2006 edition of New Voices. I’ve since learned that over the past few years, a growing number of communities have experimented with a trichitza, defining religious space in new, pluralizing ways. Adapted from the word mechitza (which literally means “separation” and refers to the physical divider traditionally used to separate men and women during prayer services), a trichitza divides the prayer space into three sections: one exclusively for women, one exclusively for men, and one not classified by gender. This provides options for nearly everyone: those whose Jewish practice is built upon gender-egalitarianism, those who wish to pray in a gender-specific space… , and those whose own gender-identity lies outside of the male/female binary. The author of Mah Rabu, a blog about Jewish politics, culture, and religious issues writes of the trichitza: “It’s an elegant idea that didn’t exist and then someone came up with it, and everyone said: ‘why didn’t I think of that before?’”

Hilchot Pluralism, Part III: Macroscopic prayer issues – Includes a discussion about trichitzahs

Simchat Bat

A Simchat bat (also, Brit Bat) is a naming ceremony for girls, welcoming them into the covenant. Some form of such ceremonies have been traditional since the early medieval era.

Simchat Bat Baby naming

In medieval German Jewish communities, a simple baby naming ceremony existed for both girls and boys, the Hollekreisch. In Sephardic Jewish communities this exists as the Zeved habat, which is somewhat more elaborate than the earlier German tradition. It is usually celebrated within the first month of the girl’s birth. Over the centuries there have been a variety of simple name-giving ceremonies for girls, but all were relatively informal.

In the last half-century, many in the non-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Jewish community have revived interest in ceremonies for welcoming baby girls; we have developed innovative ceremonies which place equal emphasis on welcoming both daughters and sons. A wide variety of liturgies have been written, mostly informal, but some gaining wide use, and a few being incorporated into the liturgical works of various rabbinic organizations.

Currently, only a small number of liturgical developments have received widespread approbation within the Orthodox Jewish community. On the other end of the spectrum, an uncountable number of personalized ceremonies are being written with the Reform & Reconstructionist communities, but few of which represent an official point of view. Between these groups there exists Conservative/Masorti Judaism, which has been accepting of liturgical innovations, and working to make Jewish ceremonies and educational opportunities egalitarian.

Working within their understanding of halakhah {Jewish law} the Rabbinical Assembly has brought together a range of options within their official Moreh Derekh: The Rabbi’s Manual of the Rabbinical Assembly. The liturgies include options such as (a) Lighting seven candles (symbolizing the seven days of creation) and holding the baby towards them, (b) wrapping the baby in the four corners of a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl), or (c) lifting the baby and touching her hands to a Torah scroll.

The Simchat Bat below is based on the tallit ceremony.

—————————————

Rabbi’s welcome

B’rukhah haba’ah b’shem Adonai.
B’rukhah at ba’ir, uv’rukhah at basadeh.
B’rukhah at b’voekha, uv’rukhah at b’tzetekh.

Welcome little one! Blessed may you be all your days, all your life;
Blessed may you be wherever you are, In all of your comings and in all of your goings.

Candle ceremony – p.A35
Parents read verses
Rabbi – p. A37

Tallit ceremony:

I will wrap {girl’s name} in my tallit.
Grandparents each hold a corner of the tallit, and wrap the baby.
Rabbi reads selections from pages A-42 to A-43

Kriat Shem – Naming the Baby

Eloheinu ve’elohei imoteinu ka’yem et ha’yalda ha’zot le’aviha u’leima, ve’yikarey shmah be’Yisrael {baby’s name}. Yis’mach ha’av be’yotze chalatzav vetagel emah bifri vitnah, ca’ka’tuv: El hana’ar hazeh hitpalalti vayitayn Adonai li et shiaylati asher sha’alti me’imo. Vikayem-lah, Adonai Eloheinu, mah shecatuv. Pihah patkha vi’khokhmah vi’torat khesed al li’shonah.

Hodu la’donai ki tov ki le’olam chasdo. Zot haktana {name} gdolah te’hiyeh. Yihi ratzon sheyizku horehah ligadlah li’Torah ul’chupah ul’ma’asim tovim, amen.

Our God and God of our ancestors, sustain this child. Let her be known among the people Israel as {her Hebrew name}. May her mother be blessed with renewed strength and may both parents find joy in their child, as it is written: “It was this child I prayed for, and the Lord has granted me what I sought.” [ I Samuel 1:27 ]
Fulfill for her, Lord our God, that which is written: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the Torah of loving-kindness is upon her tongue.” [ Proverbs 31:26 ]

Let us give thanks to the Lord for he is good; God’s loving-kindness is forever. May this child, {her name}, grow into greatness as a blessing to her family, to the Jewish people, and to all humanity. May her parents be privileged to raise their child to womanhood, and may {name} enjoy the blessings of Torah, chupah and ma’asim tovim. And let us say, Amen.

Rabbi: Sustain this child with her father and mother, and may her name be called among the daughters of Israel: {name} daughter of {parents}. May her parents rejoice with their child.

Bircat HaCohanim – Priestly blessings – A46

May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
May the Holy One bless you and keep you.
May the Holy One shine light upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Holy One turn towards you and give you peace.

Shehehe’yanu

Rabbi: K’shaym shenikhn’sah labrit, kayn tikanes l’Torah, ul’huppah, ul’ma’asim tovim.

Guests: As she has entered the covenant, so may she attain Torah study, the wedding huppah, and a life of deeds of loving-kindness.

Here parents sometimes choose to read verses connected with each letter of her Hebrew name (verses shown in the manual)

 

Rebecca and Isaac

D’var Torah by guest author Rebecca! Temple Beth Abraham Hebrew School, Kitah Dalet student

Today, everyone is a hero. Doctors, teachers, scientists, police officers, and firefighters no matter what gender. In the bible heroes are soldiers, kings, leaders, and prophets (people who speak to God.) They are mostly men. But in the story of Rebecca and Isaac, Rebecca – or Rivkah – is the hero and the prophet.

Eliezer and Rebekah at the Well by Gustave Doré

Eliezer and Rebekah at the Well by Gustave Doré

In the story, Abraham’s wife Sarah dies, he realizes he won’t be long after her. So he sends one of his most trusted servants to go to Nahor, his birth place, to find Isaac a wife. Once there the servant goes to a well where women are collecting water. He asks God for a sign that a woman will give him water, and that she will be Isaac’s wife. When Rivkah comes over, she gives him water after him asking, and offers to give the camels water too. That is when the servant knows that she is the one.

God is telling Rivkah to act kind. After Rivkah and Isaac are married, Rivkah comforts Isaac over his mother’s death. Rivkah’s name means to tie or to bind. Like healing someone.She is a shepherd, a loyal wife, and is very kind. Rivkah and all the other women prophets, Sarah,Leah, and Rachel, are all true bible heroes.

Though as they grew older they had two kids, Jacob and Esau. Rivkah loved Jacob, for when she heard his voice the more she loved him. He would stay at home with her all day long. But, Isaac loved Esau more for he provided viands – choice cuts of meat. Esau was stronger than his brother and hunted, while Jacob was more of a studier. (1)

Later as Isaac was dying, he told Esau to prepare him a venison dish and that then he would bless him afterwards . Rivkah overheard Isaac talking and because of her strong love for Jacob said. “ Go get some goat skin and I will prepare the dish.” Jacob did as he was told, and Rivkah put the goat skin on jacob’s arms so his would feel as his brothers hairy arms. Fooled, Isaac blessed Jacob instead of Esau. (2)

(1) The Book of Legends: Sefer Ha-Aggadah, Ed. Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yohoshua Hana Rivitzky, Trans William Braude, Schocken Books, NY, 1992, p.43

(2) The Illustrated Jewish Bible for Children, Hastings, Thomas and Burch, DK Publishing, 1994

The Original Women of the Wall – תפילת נשים בכותל

The Original Women of the Wall – תפילת נשים בכותל.

Shulamit Magnus writes that:
The organization known as “The Women of the Wall” has radically shifted gears and has a different goal than the one for which this group (the original Women of the Wall) was founded and for which it fought– and won. What they are now after is egalitarian, mixed prayer at a five-star Robinson’s Arch, at which the Reform and Conservative movements will have recognition. For this, they have given up the goal of women’s pluralistic, inclusive tefilla at the kotel [the Western Wall]. They are using this cause to advance different goals; they have given up the independent, autonomous women’s movement and are allied with those movements.

We warmly support, the right of Jews who wish to make a new prayer site at Robinson’s Arch, or anywhere else. While we think it would be a terrible, short-sighted, mistake to cede the Kotel, the historic holy site of the Jewish people, to any segment of Jewry to run as its private preserve, with the right to exclude other Jews, if Conservative and Reform Jews wish the deal, outlined above, for themselves, we wish them well.

What we reject is the right of anyone, in those movements, in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) establishment, or in the Government of Israel, to trample our legally recognized rights as Jewish women to full, religious expression at the Kotel.

Religious coercion is not what we normally associate with those movements, with “progressive” Judaism in general—or with feminism. But that is an intrinsic part of this deal and those negotiating it are party to that. Efforts to dismiss our position as that of a “few” individuals is a knowing distortion among many being asserted, amid patronizing, paternalistic mischaracterizations.

Basic principles are not negotiable. Upholding them is about integrity, vision, and fundamental commitments. Jews know this well. We have done it for thousands of years, which is why we are still around. We are about fresh, new visions of and for Judaism and for Jews, women and men, and respect for historic legal pronouncements that recognize the religious rights of Jewish women at the Kotel. These must be enacted fully on the ground, becoming the base for holy, new possibilities for the Jewish people in Jewish sacred space—for true wholeness– shelemut—literally, “integrity.”  To this path, we are committed, and on it, we proceed.

via The Original Women of the Wall – תפילת נשים בכותל.

Women and Safrut: Can a Woman Be a Scribe? By Ross Singer

Women and Safrut: Can a Woman Be a Scribe?
By Ross Singer
from the JOFA Journal, Winter 2006 Tevet 5766

sofer: scribe (m)
sofer STa”M: scribe of texts of Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzot
soferet: scribe (f)
safrut: scribal arts

Our synagogue’s Megillat Esther was extremely faded and worn. For the past few years we had been borrowing a megillah from a nearby shul. Upon learning of this situation, a female member of our synagogue and student of safrut (scribal arts) was offering to restore our scroll. I did not know what the classic sources said about women writing and repairing megillot, and I was relieved that the condition of the scroll precluded the necessity of an immediate response to her offer. However, our conversation got me thinking: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a megillah penned by one of our own congregants? Furthermore, to have a woman write it would fit with our community’s openness to exploring untried halakhic options for women’s participation in synagogue life. With this in mind, I began researching the issue of women and safrut and uncovered a considerable amount of fascinating material.

Perhaps most striking was the discovery that my very question regarding the status of women writing a Megillat Esther had been asked previously l’ma’aseh (in an actual case). Sarah, daughter of renowned head of the Beit Din of Prague, Rabbi David Oppenheim, (1664-1736)1 wrote a Megillat Esther and the question arose as to the possibility of reading from it on Purim. The deliberation over this actual megillah, as well as many other theoretical discussions, provided rich material containing varied positions on women’s status vis-à-vis safrut. I am grateful to JOFA for providing me with this forum in which I can share a brief sketch of what my research uncovered….

See the full article here in the JOFA Journal: Women as scribes