Ezrat Nashim presents manifesto for women's equality to Conservative rabbis
A small New York study group, founded in 1971 to study the status of women in Judaism, presented Conservative rabbis with a manifesto for change at the Rabbinical Assembly convention on March 14, 1972. Adopting the name Ezrat Nashim (the name for the women's section of a synagogue, which can also be translated as "help of women"), early members of the group included many founding pioneers of Jewish feminism such as Martha Ackelsberg, Dina Rosenfeld, Arlene Agus, Elizabeth Koltun, and Paula Hyman.
Ezrat Nashim was started from within the countercultural New York Havurah by a small group of young, well-educated Jewish women, most educated within the Conservative movement. Their 1972 manifesto, entitled "Jewish Women Call for Change," demanded that women be counted in the minyan (prayer quorum), be allowed full participation in religious observances, be allowed to initiate divorce proceedings and be counted as witnesses under Jewish law, and be admitted to rabbinical and cantorial schools. Recognizing that many of the traditional restrictions on women's participation in Jewish ritual stem from their exemption from many mitzvot (commandments) incumbent upon men, the document also asked that women be considered bound equally with men in the fulfillment of mitzvot.
Denied their request to address the Rabbinical Assembly, Ezrat Nashim did have their “call” included in the packets distributed to the rabbis, and they invited those rabbis' wives who were attending the convention to a special meeting on March 14. The New York Times, which printed an extensive account of the group's efforts, reported that the call had been well received at the convention. However, the Conservative movement did not act on the recommendations immediately. When the Jewish Theological Seminary finally voted to admit women to the rabbinical school, in 1983, Ezrat Nashim members celebrated the decision for recognizing "the compelling moral claim of women's equality as well as the changed status of women in the modern world."
Like other Jewish feminist groups, Ezrat Nashim drew on a combined legacy of dedication to Judaism and involvement in the second wave of American feminism. Sensitized to women's second-class status within traditional Judaism, and educated in political activism through the women's movement, these women turned their considerable intelligence and energy toward changing gender norms within their own religious tradition.
Although today's Jewish feminists continue to work for further change, the ordination of women rabbis and cantors within Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative Judaism, and the growth of bat mitzvah, baby naming, and other ceremonies for girls in all American denominations, demonstrate the impact of Ezrat Nashim and similar groups.
Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 694-698; New York Times, June 12, 1972; Ezrat Nashim documents: "Jewish Women Call For Change," "To All Women at the R. A. convention", provided by Paula Hyman.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Ezrat Nashim presents manifesto for women's equality to Conservative rabbis." (Viewed on September 22, 2020) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/mar/14/1972/ezrat-nashim>.