The founding letter of the Jewish Feminist Spirituality Collective B’not Esh provides some of the context for our first meeting in 1981. Individual Jewish feminists had recognized the need for an independent feminist space before the summer of 1980, but the first National Havurah Summer Institute that year provided the catalyst for making concrete plans for a meeting. The feminist courses at the Institute generated such interest and excitement that it became clear that feminists needed a context to explore the feminist transformation of Judaism in an intensive and sustained way.
In the fall of 1980, a small group of women met in New York to think about the agenda for a meeting and to draw up a list of possible participants. We were looking for women who were a) committed and literate feminists, b) committed and literate Jews interested in spirituality, and c) committed to exploring and creating a Jewish feminist spirituality. The founding letter went out to about 50 women, 16 of whom gathered at the Grail in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, over Memorial Day weekend in 1981.
The group did not meet again in 1982, but it met in 1983 and has been meeting annually since – still over Memorial Day and still at the Grail in Cornwall. In 1983, 26 women came, many of whom are still members or were for many years.
A number of the parameters outlined in the founding document have stood us in good stead over the last 23 years. Our meetings still combine text study, discussions of feminist theory and practice, prayer, and planning for the future. Although our understanding of what it means to re-vision Judaism and create community has evolved, these are still our goals. Celebrating Shabbat together remains a central piece of what we do and a crucial site for the enactment of what it means to be feminist Jews. Babies who are breastfeeding are welcome at out meetings, but not other children, and we still share travel costs.
B’not Esh has remained small, but it has had an impact on the development of Jewish feminism disproportionate to its size. It seeded two other groups, one of which (Achyot Or) has been meeting for many years. It has sparked numerous Jewish feminist projects, conferences, lectures, classes, articles, and books. I could not imagine having written Standing Again at Sinai, for example, without B’not Esh. In many ways, B’not Esh has provided a model for how separatist feminist spaces can generate ideas and energy that spill over into a larger community.
Judith Plaskow is Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College and a Jewish feminist theologian. Co-founder and for ten years co-editor of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, she is author or editor of several works in feminist theology, including Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective. Her book The Coming of Lilith: Essays on Feminism, Judaism, and Sexual Ethics 1972-2003 was published in July 2005 by Beacon Press.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Judith Plaskow." (Viewed on December 5, 2020) <https://jwa.org/feminism/plaskow-judith>.