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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In Israel, unlike North America, there is no separation between church and state, and the Ministry of Religion funds thousands of synagogues throughout the country. Not surprisingly, Shira Hadasha is not one of them.

Yet as an independent community, Hartman's community is able to operate free of many state mandates.

"The matter of religion and politics is where religion goes bad," she said. "I think it's horrible for religion, and it's horrible for the state."

While Hartman supports the idea of the Jewish state and the Israeli law that grants citizenship to Jews who migrate to the Jewish state, she has little patience for Israel's current religious and political leadership.

She particularly laments one impact of Zionism -- the historic rift between Jews who believe the Messiah can be hastened by a Jewish return to the Holy Land, and those who believe any human attempt to do so is blasphemy -- on both Judaism and Israel.

"Zionism broke the Jewish community in half," Hartman said, arguing that Zionism has put ultra-Orthodox traditionalists in charge of Israeli life and religion.

Hartman is the first to acknowledge the limited appeal of her movement, saying she's not sure whether her own daughters are likely to follow in her footsteps.

"Not everybody's clapping," she said. At the same time, "What we're doing has religious integrity."
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