This Week in History


First conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy

February 16, 1997

The first Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy took place in New York City on February 16-17, 1997, with the theme "Exploring the Impact of Feminist Values on Traditional Jewish Women's Lives." A series of major international and regional conferences have followed, focusing on topics such as "Discovering/Uncovering/Recovering Women in Judaism" and "Women and Men in Partnership."

Struggling seriously with questions about the intersections between traditional Judaism and modern feminism, over 1,000 participants at the 1997 conference discussed topics ranging from rabbinic ordination for women to Jewish divorce law to synagogue seating patterns. Arguing that increasing women's participation in Orthodox Judaism would benefit men as well as women, conference organizers gave prominent roles to rabbis and male scholars as well as to women.

The success of the first conference prompted the growing Orthodox feminist community to realize that it needed a more permanent presence and an organization for its concerns, and the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) was born. Among the founders of JOFA was Blu Greenberg, a prominent Orthodox feminist scholar and author who also chaired the first conference. Greenberg's best known works include On Women and Judaism: A View From Tradition and How To Run A Traditional Jewish Household. JOFA's mission is to "expand the spiritual, ritual, intellectual and political opportunities for women within the framework of halakha." Echoing a theme from the first conference, JOFA also devotes significant resources to aiding agunot, women whose husbands have denied them a Jewish divorce document, without which they cannot remarry or even seek potential new mates.

JOFA's website offers a rich array of resources related to women within contemporary Jewish Orthodoxy and within Jewish law. The organization celebrated a decade of work on February 10, 2007, by gathering for their Tenth Anniversary Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy, entitled "V'Chai Bahem? Passion and Possibility, Invigorating Orthodox Jewish Life."; New York Times, 22 February 1997; Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution,

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - First conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy." (Viewed on April 24, 2014) <>.