B'nai B'rith Women Denounces B'nai B'rith International
On September 17, 1984, B'nai B'rith Women (BBW) denounced a B'nai B'rith International (BBI) resolution to admit women to the previously male-only organization. Many BBW members feared that such inclusion would lead to the disintegration of BBW's autonomy as a separate women's organization with its focus primarily on women's issues. Although BBI representatives stated that the proposed change was meant to advance gender equality, BBW thought that BBI's real reasons were financially motivated, and felt that maintaining their independence was critical.
The issue of whether women could join the male B'nai B'rith organization (founded in 1843) first arose in the nineteenth century. The first lasting women's auxiliary chapter was formed in San Francisco in 1909. A network of women's auxiliaries soon arose, supporting the male chapters and establishing activities of their own. These chapters officially federated in 1940 and renamed themselves B'nai B'rith Women in 1957. Women delegates were not allowed to vote at national B'nai B'rith conventions until 1953.
The conflict over the continued existence of a women's organization within the B'nai B'rith umbrella continued for several years after the 1984 debate, coming to a head in the late 1980s. In September 1988, BBI officially decided to admit women to its organization. In response, BBW passed a resolution declaring its own separate legal status. In 1990 the two groups reached an agreement that recognized BBW as an independent, self-governing organization affiliated with B'nai B'rith.
BBW declared full independence from B'nai B'rith in 1995 and changed its name to Jewish Women International (JWI). Today, Jewish Women International focuses on three main issues: domestic violence, the emotional well-being of children, and the expression of Jewish life and values. JWI also still supports many of the organizations that it did while a part of B'nai B'rith such as Hillel, The B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, and the Children's Home and Group House in Jerusalem.
To learn more, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: This Week in History for July 20, 2003, JWI conference on Jewish domestic violence; "Jewish Women International: Seven Years Later, Jewesses with Attitude; B'nai B'rith Women in the Virtual Archive.
Sources: Lilith #14 Fall-Winter 1985-1986; Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia pp. 166-167