Themes

Investigate themes in the activism and experiences of Jewish feminists, as they identify role models, set a feminist agenda, move from silence to voice, confront power, discover the political underpinnings of personal issues, and explore the vital and challenging relationship between feminism and Judaism.

From Silence to Voice

For many women, the discovery of feminism was an awakening, a moment of exhilaration, in which they created a new language to express their perceptions, experiences, frustrations, and dreams. Feminism offered women new opportunities for self-expression and self-understanding. Uncovering and representing the experiences of women from the past also became a way to claim one’s own role in history. Through feminism, Jewish women found a way to move from silence to voice.

Setting the Feminist Agenda

Women have continually struggled to define who and what feminism includes, asking: when do women need to have their own space, and when can they collaborate with men? How can feminism address the needs of all women? How and when should other movements for equality and liberation be included under the feminist banner?

Feminism and Judaism

What is the relationship between feminism and Judaism? Jewish feminists often feel that they bear several different identities – as women, as Jews, and as feminists. Sometimes these identities come into painful conflict, as when Jewish women faced anti-Semitism from their feminist peers, or experienced sexism in the Jewish community. Sometimes the effort to integrate one’s multiple identities opens new doors and creates new possibilities, bringing feminist insights to Jewish life and Jewish insights to the women’s movement.

The Personal is Political

The popular feminist slogan “The personal is political” conveys a groundbreaking insight of feminism in the 1960s and 70s. In discussing their personal lives with one another, feminists began to realize that issues they had considered individual and private – conflicts in relationships, obstacles at work, frustrations meeting gender expectations – were actually shared by many women. These personal issues had structural causes, and therefore needed to be addressed in political terms, not on an individual basis.

Foremothers

Many Jewish feminists have been deeply influenced by other women – public leaders, family members, and mythical figures – whose legacies inspired their actions and activism. These feminist foremothers continue to serve as role models and a source of pride and strength for many women today.

Confronting Power

Feminist change often requires that women face powerful institutions – from the government to the medical establishment to the synagogue – and challenge their assumptions, expectations, and rules. Some Jewish women have changed these institutions by confronting them from the outside, while others have transformed them from within.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Themes." (Viewed on October 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/feminism/themes>.

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