Blu Greenberg and Orthodox Feminism
Crossposted on JVoices
Two years ago this week, the indomitable Blu Greenberg, who is best known for her feminist work within Orthodox Judaism, was honored with Hadassah's highest honor , the Henrietta Szold Award for outstanding leadership in the Jewish community. Along with publishing a number of academic articles and books including On Women and Judaism: A View from Tradition (1981), in 1997, Greenberg founded the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA).
JOFA is now an international organization whose mission is to "to expand the spiritual, ritual, intellectual and political opportunities for women within the framework of halakha [Jewish law]. We advocate meaningful participation and equality for women in family life, synagogues, houses of learning and Jewish communal organizations to the full extent possible within halakha. Our commitment is rooted in the belief that fulfilling this mission will enrich and uplift individual and communal life for all Jews."
Right. Because when women are treated as equals and valued within a religious community, the entire community benefits and is improved.
In honor of Blu Greenberg's great achievement, I want to mention a few other women who are opening up new opportunities and worldviews for their Orthodox sisters.
In 2000, Robin Garbose, an actress, director, and ba'alat tshuvah, opened Kol Neshama, a performing arts conservatory for Orthodox girls in Los Angeles. Due to the strict laws of modesty in the Orthodox community, girls have historically been kept out of theater and dance. Garbose's conservatory, which in December premiered its first feature-length film, A Light for Greytowers, allows girls to develop and express their artistic leanings in a modest, single-sex environment. Atara, the Arts & Torah Association for Religious Artists, is making similar headway on the East Coast. While I feel strongly that women should not be kept from public performance or made to feel that their voices are somehow shameful, creating a space for girls and women to develop creatively - and to perform -- is a real step in the right direction.
The women at Tirtzah - the organization and blog for queer frum women - remain at the vanguard of what it means to be Jewish, religious, and female. As I've written in the past, the ability for these women to create a legitimate and welcoming community within a tradition that ignores them (at best), throws open the doors for creating meaningful alternative Jewish spaces.
And of course this group would be incomplete without mentioning Haviva Ner-David, author of Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Toward Traditional Rabbinic Ordination (2000). Ner-David was one of the first woman to be ordained as an Orthodox rabbi in May 2006. Though Ner-David's ordination is still on unequal footing with her male counterparts, her very public process of becoming a rabbi did its work of breaking down the barrier keeping women from the highest title of religious leadership in the Jewish world.
Certainly this little list doesn't cover all of the innovations for women within Orthodoxy, and to my mind, the inequalities still outweigh the innovations, but thanks to Blu and the young inheritors of her activism, feminism and opportunity for women is finding its way into traditional circles.
To find out more about Blu Greenberg, visit This Week in History.