Feminist Pioneer Challenges Orthodox Patriarchy

Jewish scholar Tova Hartman has used her decidedly feminist Orthodox synagogue to mount a formidable challenge to the male bastion of religious orthodoxy.

BY: Kevin Douglas, Religion News Service


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"I know about leaving," she said, looking back. "People would say to me `If you don't like it, go change it.' What they mean is, `Go away and change it.' But there's power to staying."

Not surprisingly, many Orthodox rabbis have preferred Hartman had stayed away. Rabbi Ya'acov Ariel, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv's Ramat Gan district, has called Hartman's group "the product of a radical feminist agenda."

"Men who come to the synagogue to pray do not want to be distracted by the prominent appearance of women," Ariel said.

Yet Hartman's acolytes, including Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Chicago's Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel modern Orthodox synagogue, embrace her teachings, regardless of what the Orthodox hierarchy says.

"Tova is one of my heroes," Lopatin said. "Especially for Orthodoxy, feminism is a foreign, scary concept. But there's a feminine side of men and a feminine side to prayer, and that makes us better Jews."

Hartman said she isn't out to battle her critics, or even try to convince them to change.

"For me, feminism didn't come about because there's only a problem with Orthodox rabbis," she said. "It came about because there's a deep fissure in our community about how we treat different people."

There has been evidence of change in recent years, but it's been slow. Two years ago, Rabbi Avi Weiss and Rabba Sara Hurwitz co-founded Yeshivat Maharat, a rabbinical school for women in New York. But modern Orthodox rabbinical councils have voted to refuse female members, or even acknowledge them as equals.

Continued on page 4: 'In Israel, there is no separation of church and state...' »

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