Feminism has contributed to the creative and compassionate blooming within Judaism today by thinking outside the sphere of standard practice and by enlarging the circle of Jewish life.
In the mid-1970s, Lilith’s Rib – a Jewish feminist newsletter that I founded and edited in Chicago – was a vehicle for sharing those new ideas and philosophies that were formulated in local feminist circles, and the new ceremonies and rituals developed by creative and thoughtful individuals and small groups. In the Chicago countercultural community, I was part of a radical Jewish collective that put out a journal called Chutzpah. The Chutzpah Collective lasted about ten years. Thinking outside the sphere of standard practice, we emended prayers to be inclusive in language, we held seders that focused on women’s oppression and liberation, and we developed new ceremonies – simchat bat, for instance, to welcome daughters into the covenant at birth.
Once we ventured outside the “written in stone,” the possibilities were endless. New music, new prayers, new ceremonies. This led to thinking even further outside the sphere – to develop ceremonies for divorce, for menopause, and others. In the last 30 years, the language of prayer in mainstream siddurim (prayerbooks) has eliminated male reference to God and to humanity. Blessings have appeared in the standard liturgy for children going off to college and for women suffering a miscarriage. The feminist need to go beyond the perceived tradition was the driving force behind this creativity.
Once we started insisting that women be included in all aspects of the circle of life – ritual, communal leadership, spiritual leadership, theological and philosophical conversation, to name a few – this demand to be included led to the effort to include all those disenfranchised from Jewish life: intermarried families, persons with disabilities, gays and lesbians, singles, the elderly, Jews without money. “How can we include you in the circle?” replaced the boundary line keeping the “abnormal” out. It is my hope that creative feminist thinking will continue to offer paths to enrich Jewish life.
Maralee Gordon has been focused on the intersection of Jewish community, education, social action, and spiritual connection her entire adult life. An educator in the Chicago Jewish community, she has taught all ages, from two-year-olds through senior citizens. She has served as congregational education director, curriculum planner, coordinator of a social action resource center for synagogues, teacher for the Florence Melton Adult Mini Schools, and was ordained as a rabbi in 2001 by the Academy for Jewish Religion. She is currently the spiritual leader of McHenry County Jewish Congregation in Crystal Lake, Illinois. She has a B.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University and an A.M. in Jewish Studies from the University of Chicago. In the early 1970s, she edited the Jewish feminist newsletter, Lilith’s Rib, and was a founding member of the Chutzpah Collective, a radical Jewish political collective in Chicago, which published the journal Chutzpah. She and her husband, Leo Schlosberg, have three grown sons and two grandchildren.
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