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Finding a Jewish feminist home

Shira Engel

I walk into what is undoubtedly the most beautiful house on campus. Its simplicity allows for the exuberance of the people within it to shine. The rabbi opens the door, a young father of twins, all smiles and joking about having to convince me to attend the university even though my mind was already made up. I follow my friend Tobah, a Conservative Jew who has yet to skip a week of coming to the multi-denominational Havurah, into the living-room-turned-synagogue. We squeeze onto a couch with a sisterhood of freshmen and sophomores who make up the majority of the Kabbalat Shabbat crowd.

Topics: Feminism, Prayer

A Prayer For The New Year

Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand is a Jewish educator and writer living in Palo Alto, CA. This piece was originally posted on her blog about Jewish culture, education, current events and parenting, called Truth, Praise and Help: Musings of a Gen X Yiddishe Mama.

Topics: Prayer

The hows and whys of prayer

Judith Rosenbaum

Lately, I've had a lot of trouble praying. There have been times in my life when I was committed to regular prayer, when I loved to put on my tefillin in the morning and feel the marks they had left on my arm as I went about my activities afterwards. I've had moving experiences of communal prayer, feeling buoyed by the voices rising around me, and of individual prayer, when the sight of something in the world has caught my breath and provoked a spontaneous blessing.

Paula Ackerman becomes "spiritual leader" of Temple Beth Israel of Meridian, Mississippi

December 12, 1950

On December 12, 1950, Paula Ackerman became the interim "spiritual leader" of Temple Beth Israel in Meridian, Mississippi after her husband, who w

Israeli and American Jewish women read Torah at the Western Wall

December 1, 1988

Israeli and American women joined together and attempted to pray as a group at the Western Wall for the first time on December 1, 1988.

Rabbi Sally J. Priesand blesses US Congress

October 23, 1973

Rabbi Sally J. Priesand offered the opening prayer in the United States House of Representatives, at the invitation of Congresswoman Bella Abzug.


Tkhines were collections of prayers published in Yiddish, often specifically for women, across Europe from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. The prayers addressed many themes of domestic and family life, although some also suggested women ought to be allowed into traditionally male spaces.

Spirituality in the United States

Jewish women’s spirituality developed historically within the confines of a patriarchal tradition. Over time, feminists have developed rituals and created spaces that honor the unique experiences of women.

Mathilde Schechter

Mathilde Schechter, wife of Solomon Schechter, founded the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. She was a multifaceted individual, creative both in her home and in the public arena. As an organizational person, she developed herself fully, in line with the traditional women’s roles of the times yet stretching them in new and creative ways.

Observance of Mitzvot: Custom and Halakhah

Women’s existence in a space between custom and halakhah has allowed them to create unique practices and observances. Women are exempt from some halakhah but also have created informal agreements to adapt certain customs to their needs.

Judith: Apocrypha

The apocryphal book of Judith tells the story of an Assyrian invasion of Israel, led by a man named Holofernes. Judith, a widow in a besieged Israelite town, seduces and murders Holofernes, securing victory for Israel.

Hannah: Midrash and Aggadah

Hannah is depicted by the Rabbis as a righteous woman who was devout in her observance of the commandments and tested by God through her infertility. Her story is the basis for much of the rabbinic conception and rules of prayer.

Hannah: Bible

Hannah, the second and barren yet preferred wife of Elkanah, promises to return her child to YHWH if he grants her a son. Her prayers are answered, and she follows through on her pledge to YHWH. Hannah’s narrative emphasizes the importance of fertility and childbirth in Israeli artistic narratives and presents a portrayal of an independent and resourceful woman.

Esther: Apocrypha

The Greek Additions to the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Esther were probably written over several centuries and contradict several of the details from the Hebrew text. Generally, the Additions are more dramatic and ultimately portray Esther as stereotypically weak and helpless, even though parts of her weakness and femininity ultimately help save her people.

Women's History Month Podcast Feature #2

Jordan Namerow

Out from the balcony and onto the bimah! Introducing JWA's second Women's History Month podcast feature, Jewish Women and Religious Innovation. Learn how Hadassah Blocker, Sally Priesand, and Marcia Falk created religious experience on their own terms, expanding opportunities for women's religious participation in their own communities and for American Jews at large.

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef was the Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel and the leader of the Shas political movement.

Women's Tefillah Movement

The Women’s Tefillah Movement grew out of a need for Orthodox Jewish women for more meaningful and participatory roles in prayer services that remain within the boundaries of Jewish law and practice. With the growth of “partnership minyanim,” the number of Women’s Tefillah Groups has diminished somewhat, but they are still important places within Orthodoxy especially for young girls celebrating becoming a Bat Mitzvah.

Women of the Wall

Women of the Wall (WOW) is an international community of women who, since 1988, have sought the freedom to conduct women-led Torah services in the women’s section at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. WOW’s legal claims and political strategies raise questions about women’s rights to equality within Judaism and under Israeli law, the nature of religious toleration for non-Orthodox Jewish movements, and Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.

Seder Mitzvot Nashim

Seder Mitzvot Nashim refers to the genre of literature in Ashkenazic and Italian communities that explained the specifics of how women should observe the commandments that were particularly associated with them. This handbook was reprinted many times, most famously by Rabbi Benjamin Aron Slonik, whose 1585 version of Seder Mitzvot Nashim was a veritable best seller of the pre-modern age.


The medieval commentator Rashi, through his commentary and halakhic works, was an advocate for improving the status of women, introducing innovative exegesis to support his views. His followers, the Tosafists, would continue to innovate and support Jewish women.

Poland: Early Modern (1500-1795)

Polish Jewish Women played a complex role in their society and culture during the early Modern Period. This role was usually gender segregated, but upon a closer look, was more gender flexible than one might think.

Poetry in the United States

The contributions of Jewish women poets to American literary history and political activism, as well as to the enrichment of Jewish culture and practice, are astounding. Many Jewish women poets write with a strong sense of social responsibility and a desire to create poetry that can shape reality, drawing on the Jewish teachings of  tikkun olam.

Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Ouziel

Rabbi Ben-Zion Hai Ouziel was the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel. Ouziel believed women could vote and be elected, serve as judges, use birth control for health reasons, and inherit property. He proposed a marriage formula that would prevent women from becoming agunot (“chained”).

Fanny Neuda

Fanny Neuda was born into a Moravian family of rabbis and acted in line with her family tradition when she published a book of prayers. The book, which was specifically aimed at women, was hugely popular. Neuda continued to write until the end of her life, emphasizing the importance of a moral upbringing for Jewish girls.

Mother of Micah: Bible

The story of Micah’s mother in Judges 17 is short, but it offers a key insight into ancient Israelite women’s important role as a leader in household worship.


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