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Activism

Leaders in Israel's Religious Communities

Since the late twentieth century women have begun to assume leadership positions that are undoubtedly “religious” in both content and form. Religious leaders, like any other leaders, guide their followers towards achieving goals and purposes, and can do so by influencing their followers’ motivation. Religious leaders guide their followers towards religious goals and derive their authority to do so from the strength of their own religious characteristics. What therefore distinguishes them from secular leaders is that even in democratic societies their authority does not emanate solely from the public, but also from a religious source—in the case of Judaism, the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:424]Torah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary]. Hence, a crucial criterion for religious leadership in the world of Jewry is “knowledge of the Torah,” by which is meant the ability to refer to the canonical texts in an unmediated manner.

Leadership and Authority

All early biblical leaders of the Jewish people were elected by God. The matriarchs and patriarchs, priests, prophets, kings, judges and warriors were chosen by divine plan to lead the nation at different points in its history. The [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:424]Torah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] offers us glimpses into the relationships between Sarah and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, Rachel, Leah and Jacob, based on the principle that ma’aseh avot siman le-banim (the deeds of the ancestors serve as a model for the descendents). Beyond the biblical text, the influence of matriarchal faith and insight is conveyed in the midrashic literature which expands the role of wife, helper and mother to include prophetess, teacher and visionary. Yet it is clear from the biblical narrative that females did not serve in the broader leadership roles filled by males.

Linda Lavin

Linda Lavin was born on October 15, 1937, in Portland, Maine, to David J. Lavin, owner of a flourishing furniture business, and Lucille (Potter) Lavin, a singer and local radio show host. The Lavins were active participants in the local Jewish community. In 1959, Lavin received her B.A. in theater arts from the College of William and Mary. After struggling to “make it” in Broadway musicals, she became frustrated with the vapid female roles. She switched to drama and was acclaimed for her work in Little Murders, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and Broadway Bound, which won a Tony Award.

Law in Israel

The socio-economic status of a profession determines the significance of women’s integration into the profession. The integration of women into professions is not always an indication of socio-economic flourishing. When a profession is undervalued and underpaid, the integration of women may represent exploitation rather than success. In contrast, the legal profession in Israel is sought after and elitist. Women have been prominent partners in the legal profession for some time and their successful integration reflects socio-economic success in a wider frame of social reference.

Law in the United States

The situation of the Jewish community in the United States is shaped fundamentally by the condition of political equality. This legal status is shared with all other citizens and is assumed as an essential baseline. Where there are violations of that status—when an individual otherwise of full legal capacity is treated as a member of a subordinated racial or religious group, and when group membership defines rights and duties—we discuss the problem under the heading “discrimination.”

Lawyers in Germany and Austria

Even more than medicine and other male-dominated professions, law was a notoriously difficult field for women to break into in Germany and Austria. Since women lawyers were admitted to German bar examinations only in 1922, they had very limited opportunities to establish themselves in legal careers before the Nazi era. Therefore, although a disproportionately high percentage of women law students in Germany and Austria were Jews, very few Jewish women actually practiced law. According to official census data, fifteen Jewish women made up forty percent of the women lawyers in Prussia in 1925 and thirty-two Jewish women comprised thirteen percent of all women lawyers in Germany in 1933.

Lazarus, Nahida Ruth

In 1891 Nahida Ruth Lazarus published The Jewish Woman, a product of her fundamental interest in both feminism and Judaism, which aroused enormous interest. It was and remains an important source book for women’s studies, used and cited by countless female and male authors.

Lucy Fox Robins Lang

A committed anarchist by age fifteen, Lucy Fox Robins Lang participated actively in the labor and free speech movements of early twentieth-century America. She directed regional and national committees in support of persecuted anarchists, antiwar activists, and labor organizers, while earning her livelihood as a printer, waitress, vegetarian restaurant owner, and real estate broker. Eventually, she moved into the mainstream of the labor movement, becoming an adviser to and confidante of Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Although her focus shifted, the impulse behind Lang’s work remained constant.

Madeleine May Kunin

The specifics of Madeleine May Kunin’s life, as she herself states in her autobiography, Living a Political Life (1994), hardly suggest a typical governor of Vermont: “As a feminist, an immigrant, and a Jew, I was perhaps too different from the average Vermont voter, yet it was this identity that inspired me to enter public life and shaped my values.”

Rose Kushner

Born on June 22, 1929, in East Baltimore, MD, Rose Kushner was the fourth and last child of Israel and Fannie Rehert. Her parents, both Eastern European immigrants, died by the time she was ten, and Rose went to live in the house of her aunt Golde. She was raised speaking Yiddish at home, and attended Hebrew School as well as classes at the Workmen’s Circle. Rose was an eager, bright student and hoped to attend college and ultimately become a physician, but since her older brothers were not willing to pay for her tuition, she went to work after graduating from high school. After briefly holding several office jobs, she became the assistant to animal behaviorist Dr. Horsley Gantt (1892–1980) at the Pavlovian Laboratory of Johns Hopkins Medical School, where she worked from 1947 until 1951.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Activism." (Viewed on July 28, 2016) <http://jwa.org/topics/activism>.

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