Thursday, December 30, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 16, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

Hear our voice, Lord our God; spare us and have pity on us. Accept our prayer in mercy and with favor, for you are a God who hears prayers and supplications. Our Ruler, do not turn us away from your presence empty-handed, for you hear the prayers of your people Israel with compassion. Blessed are you, God, who hears prayer.

שְׁמַע קולֵנוּ. ה' אֱלהֵינוּ חוּס וְרַחֵם עָלֵינוּ. וְקַבֵּל בְּרַחֲמִים וּבְרָצון אֶת תְּפִלָּתֵנוּ. כִּי אֵל שׁומֵעַ תְּפִלּות וְתַחֲנוּנִים אָתָּה. וּמִלְּפָנֶיךָ מַלְכֵּנוּ. רֵיקָם אַל תְּשִׁיבֵנוּ כִּי אַתָּה שׁומֵעַ תְּפִלַּת עַמְּךָ יִשרָאֵל בְּרַחֲמִים. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', שׁומֵעַ תְּפִלָּה

In this brakha (blessing) called Shema Koleinu, we ask God to listen to the praise we have given and accept all of the requests we’ve asked for. It’s in this brakha that we can insert our personal requests. It’s important that we pray on a very individual level to God, since anything that matters to a person is important enough to petition God about.

While most prayers in typical liturgy were written by men (or God), women of the past wrote their own prayers, too. Tkhines, by-women-for-women Yiddish prayer books from the 1600s, are one such example. European women often could not understand Hebrew, the language of most prayers, and were therefore left in the dark when it came to asking God for help. They took connecting to God into their own hands and wrote prayers that they could use in day-to-day life, about pregnancy, children, family, and holidays, in addition to praying for the coming of Mashiah (the Messiah) and the return to Israel. The tkhines show that Jewish women throughout history deeply valued their connection to God and wanted to maintain one (the whole point of this Women in Prayer series!).

More recently, women have written their own Haggadot, the Passover Seder text (you can find a whole list of them here). Women were instrumental in the Passover story: Shifra and Puah, the midwives that refused to kill the Jewish baby boys, Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh that took baby Moses from the Nile and raised him as her own, Jochebed, Moses’s mother, amd Miriam, Moses’s sister. I think women identify so strongly with Passover because the holiday is all about redemption, and we women are still fighting for our liberation.

I am particularly fond of Rivka Haut and Adena Berkowitz’s birkon. A birkon typically has the text of Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals), plus zemirot (religious songs) and some prayers. Ms. Haut’s and Dr. Berkowitz’s birkon (which they discussed at the 2010 JOFA conference) is a breath of fresh air. The birkon succeeds in including women by incorporating the text of some of the tkhines, women’s parallel to Eishet Hayil, girl baby naming ceremonies, and many other prayers and brakhot (blessings). It also discusses women’s little-known obligation in zimmun and minyan in Birkat HaMazon.

As we say this brakha, it is imperative that we remember the women of the past and present who give women a voice in prayer. Jews depend on God to give them what they need, and therefore must pray that God answers their requests. If women do not pray for equality, we will never reach full parity. Jewish women are greatly indebted to the authors of the tkhines, Haggadot, and women like Rivka Haut and Adena Berkowitz; they have given us back our voice, our ability to ask God for help. As we say this brakha, we should also pray for all of the things that do not fit into the specific themes of the other brakhot in Shemoneh Esrei. If we do not, we are lost.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ke$ha, Please...

When I heard that Ke$ha released a new album, Cannibal, I was excited to hear her new songs, since her first album, Animal, was so feminist. What I found disappointed me.

The first song, “Cannibal,” is honestly a little disturbing, about how much she loves “eat[ing] boys up,” assumedly a parable about how she likes being a heartbreaker. I guess it’s a gender role reversal thing, but in my opinion, the song is so disturbing that it overshadows any positivity it may have regarding double standards or whatnot. (The lines “I want your liver on a platter / use your finger to stir my tea / and for dessert I’ll suck your teeth” and the parallel she makes to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer really freak me out. Am I the only one?)

The songs “We R Who We R” and “Blow” are party songs. To me, they’re getting old. While I found the party songs on Animal as girl-power because of the accompanying feminist songs, these are just redundant and overly accepting of the wild partying/indiscriminate sex lifestyle.

In “Crazy Beautiful Life,” about how she loves her new lifestyle and “waking up on a different couch” every day, she calls herself a b***h, which I know some feminists have reclaimed as a positive word (like B***h Magazine), but I just can’t agree with this. I guess it’s the conservative Orthodox girl in me? I have the same complaint with “C U Next Tuesday,” whose initials spell out a really, really horrible word used as a slur against women. While the song itself isn’t so bad, about a boy who’s pretending he doesn’t have a girlfriend, the title bothers me too much to really like the song.

Sleazy” is all about rejecting a rich guy hitting on her. She does say that “I’m not that easy…I’m not gonna sit here while you circle j**k it on my t*t,” and how she’s not impressed with his money, which are positive lyrics for girls to hear. However, the song’s title is “Sleazy,” and the truly understandable and memorable part of the song is “Get sleazy, sleazy, sleazy…”

The Harold Song” is by far the best song on the album, and I really like it. Even though it’s not particularly feminist, about missing a boyfriend after a breakup, it’s really pretty and touching.

But the crowning sexist glory is “Grow a Pear.” The song is about how she “signed up for a man / but you are just a b***h” and how she “just can’t date a dude with a vag,” but “when you grow a pear / you can call me back.” How, exactly, is he “acting like a chick all the time”? By “grip[ing] about this and whin[ing] about that.” It made me kinda ill when I heard this song for the first time. While wanting a boyfriend who you can trust and feel supported by is a noble message to send to girls, there are ways to phrase it, and saying that you “just can’t date a dude with a vag” is not the way to say it.

So I don’t know what to make of Ke$ha anymore. “Grow a Pear” makes me want to puke, as does “Cannibal,” while “Sleazy” redeems the songs slightly. Her first album was so girl-power that I desperately want to forgive her for “Grow a Pear,” but it’s so offensive that I don’t know if I can. As of right now, I’ll table the decision, and if she releases it as a single, I’ll reevaluate.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 15, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

The offspring of Your servant David may You speedily cause to flourish, and enhance his pride through Your salvation, for we hope for Your salvation all day long. Blessed are You, God, Who causes the pride of salvation to flourish.

אֶת צֶמַח דָּוִד עַבְדְּךָ מְהֵרָה תַצְמִיחַ. וְקַרְנו תָּרוּם בִּישׁוּעָתֶךָ. כִּי לִישׁוּעָתְךָ קִוִּינוּ כָּל הַיּום. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', מַצְמִיחַ קֶרֶן יְשׁוּעָה

In this brakha (blessing), called Malkhut Beit David, we pray that the Davidic dynasty will be reinstituted and that Mashiah (the Messiah) will come. The possession of Jerusalem only reaches its spiritual climax when Beit David (the house of David) rules over Israel, and that can only happen when Mashiah is here.

King David’s ancestry is full of women, beginning with Lot and his daughters. When the three were saved from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, his daughters thought that the entire world had come to an end. In order to repopulate the world, they got Lot drunk and bore children by him: Moab and Ammon.

Judah and Tamar were the next step. Tamar married two of Judah’s sons, and each died of their own sins. Judah, however, thought that they died because of Tamar’s actions, so he didn’t want her to marry his other son. Tamar, who knew that David would descend from Judah, desperately wanted to be his ancestor, so she pretended to be a prostitute to have a child by Judah. She gave birth to Perez, an ancestor of Boaz.

Boaz was an influential scholar during Ruth’s time. Ruth was a Moabite princess (Moab, like Lot's daughter's son) who converted to Judaism after her Jewish husband died and she stayed with her mother-in-law Naomi. Because the Moabites mistreated the Jews, it is forbidden for them to convert to Judaism. As a result, Ruth’s conversion was questionable. Boaz, however, knew that the prohibition was only for male Moabites, and married Ruth.

Her son was Obed, whose son was Jesse, whose son was David. Jesse was already married with kids when he learned about Ruth’s uncertain religious status, so he separated from his wife, Nitzevet, in order to stop having children. She, however, knew that Ruth was completely Jewish, so she pretended that she was Jesse’s concubine and had David. As a result, everyone assumed that David was illegitimate until Samuel anointed him as king.

The story of Bathsheba and David is infamous. David walked in on Bathsheba as she was bathing, slept with her, got her pregnant, and had her husband Uriah killed. Commentators give explanations that because Uriah was at war they had a provisional get (divorce papers), so they weren’t technically married, and otherwise defend David's actions, but this still doesn’t look good for him.

Solomon also had wife issues. There are three prohibitions for a king, and one is against having too many wives. Solomon ignored this prohibition and married a thousand foreign women. His justification was that if they all brought Judaism to their countries, so many people would be exposed to Judaism that Mashiah would be bound to come. However, instead of bringing Judaism to their respective countries, they brought idols to Israel.

You’re probably reading this post and scratching your head. This sounds so…well…not holy - Lot doing it with his daughters, Tamar pretending to be a prostitute, Ruth’s dubious status as a Jew, David looking illegitimate for years, and Solomon’s wives’ idols taking over Israel…this is supposed to be the lead-up to Mashiah? It is. Satan fights holiness in every form, including the formation of Mashiah, because it is a connection to Hashem. If the Davidic reign and therefore Mashiah came about in a kosher-looking way, Satan would fight against it and it would never happen. However, because it came about in such a non-kosher-looking way, it fooled Satan.

As we say this brakha, we must keep all the strong women who had such strong dedication to the eventual bringing of Mashiah, and pray that such women will continue to exist in these pre-Mashiah times and once Mashiah is here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Black Holes of Davida: Walmart

I know many of you are probably wondering, Walmart? How can Walmart be sexist? It’s Walmart. Like…Walmart. Family store. Family-owned. But yes, Walmart can indeed be very sexist, in the form of workplace discrimination against women.

Last week, a US district judge ruled for the sex discrimination lawsuit against Walmart to go on to the Supreme Court. This lawsuit began in 2001, when six current and former female employees of Walmart’s enterprises asserted that Walmart is prejudiced against women workers in pay and promotions. The Supreme Court will decide whether or not they will consider this as a class-action suit, as two lower federal courts have supported. Because Walmart claims that they have too many stores and too many different management methods for it to be possible for a class to sue, the plaintiffs will have to prove that they were all treated relatively similarly by Walmart.

If successful, the amount of women included in this class-action suit has been estimated as anywhere between 5 million and 1.6 million, despite the fact that the judge ruled that former employees cannot be included. (This reminds me of Lilly Ledbetter so much it hurts.) It’s important for it to become a class-action suit because that way, it becomes easier for the little people to sue the big bad store that’s mistreated them.

The evidence against Walmart? 65% of hourly employees are female, but only 33% are management level employees. Sam’s Club employees say that their managers often referred to women workers as “girls” or “little Janie Q’s.” (I couldn’t quite figure out what a little Janie Q is. If anyone knows, please leave a comment.)

Walmart’s sexism is far from new, however; NOW has criticized the store for the pay and promotion discrepancies, in addition to the exclusion of contraceptive coverage in insurance plans, violations of child labor laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and homophobic discrimination. NOW also added Walmart as a Merchant of Shame, and has staged several protests against it. I also want to mention that Walmart carries multiple lines of Hannah Montana merchandise. While the teenage feminist community is rather split about whether Miley Cyrus is an icon of all that is sexist or empowered, I’m personally of the opinion that she’s a plain old bad role model that is given to our girls, and am not happy that Walmart agrees to sell her merch.

I just have to hope that Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg vote in favor of the class-action suit, and that at least two of the other justices vote along with them. Unfortunately, we have a while to wait, since they won’t even hear the case until the spring, and their decision won’t be public until June. Ginsburg was in the dissenting opinion in the Ledbetter case, so at least we know we have at least one ally on the Supreme Court.

Until then, I dub Walmart an inductee into the Black Holes of Davida, people who let us feminists down by advocating misogyny, sexism, abuse, and other anti-woman thoughts and actions.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Star of Davida Interviews Mohelet Laurie Radovsky

There has been debate in the Jewish community since the time of the Egyptian enslavement as to whether or not a woman can perform a brit milah (ritual circumcision). Most opinions believe that they can. In recent years, women have embraced the ability to perform the brit milah ceremony and become mohelot (female circumcisers). One such woman is Laurie Radovsky, a Minnesotan mohelet who I had the honor of interviewing.

Talia bat Pessi: Did you aspire to be a doctor when you were a child, or did you fall into it?
Mohelet Laurie Radovsky: I always loved medicine, but since I wasn’t really a science head, I was intimidated by the concept of how difficult it would be to get into med school. Since I was more into interpersonal relationships, I studied sociology. After I graduated I went to California and got a job at the California Medical Association. I met a lot of really stupid doctors there, so I figured that if they could do it, I could do it too. A lot of doctors were also really nice and retained a sense of humanity, so I was inspired to take the college course requirements and went to med school.

Why did you become a mohelet?
I actually grew up in Venezuela, and both of my parents were atheists. My father was a very ethnic Jew, and I had always been drawn to Judaism, so I studied it and got more involved in college. I thought of becoming a rabbi, but I figured it’s easier to be a doctor with Judaism on the side than a Jew who’s a doctor on the side, so I went into medicine full-time. My son was born on Shabbat (Sabbath), and we lived in a very small town in western Wisconsin, so I circumcised him myself. The part-time rabbi we had encouraged me to be a mohelet (female circumciser), but I never really thought about it. We then moved to the Twin Cities, which has a bigger Jewish community, and I performed a brit milah (circumcision) with a rabbi. When the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) announced a mohel/et training program in 2003, I decided to go into it. Five out of the nineteen people in the class were women.

Does your family - parents, husband, children - support you?
I have two children, and they’re used to me being not-your-typical mom, so becoming a mohelet is just another thing on the list for them. My husband is also very supportive of me. My father thinks religion is kind of a crazy concept, but he’s still really proud of my accomplishments.

Do you find that being female adds or detracts from your role as mohelet?
I try not to play the female card, since I feel that both men and women have valuable qualities to bring to the table. I don’t want to say that women are better at brit milah. There’s something that a man brings to it because it was done to him, so he’s connected to the boy more than a woman could be, but on the other hand, a woman can connect with a mother in a way that a man can’t, because she knows what it feels like to have a son going through this. There are advantages to both, just like in medicine.

Do you have an opinion on how girls should be welcomed in the Jewish community in a celebration parallel to a brit milah?
My first child was a girl, so I actually did a pidyon habat (girl’s version of pidyon haben) for her. It’s very important to have parallel ceremonies. I know one family that washed their daughter’s feet to do a physical action to her like a physical action is done to a boy in brit milah, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Men and women are different, so it doesn’t have to have a physical portion for it to be parallel. The important part is welcoming the child to the community and giving the child a name.

What advice would you give to other women who want to follow your lead and pursue a position as mohelet?
Becoming a doctor nowadays is easy - even when I went to med school in 1983, it wasn’t a big deal for a woman to be a doctor. When my aunt went to medical school there were four women out of 160 in the class, but it was close to half in 1983. There weren’t the barriers that had previously existed. Men going into medicine also had clearer boundaries of family and work, both men and women are just people who have a passion about the body and people. Becoming a mohelet for a woman is a fulfilling way to fill a niche in Judaism. A lot of people can read the Torah and bake hamentaschen, but few are mohalim/ot, so it fills a niche in a way that can be very personal. A mohelet isn’t considered special any more than a woman rabbi is considered special. The gender difference is no big deal.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Who is Talia bat Pessi bat Feige bat Ita bat Gittel?

Well, I suppose it never hurt to give poetry a try...

“Who are you?” they ask me,
like it’s a three-word answer,
like any answer, no matter how long,
could truly grasp who I am,
who anyone is.

I remain silent.
How can I respond?
But they expect an answer.
So I think
Who am I?

I am a multi-faceted Femidox woman,
an Orthodox Jew and feminist equally,
merging the two,
showing that both are compatible,
that feminism is condoned by the Torah.
I am Talia bat Pessi bat Feige bat Ita bat Gittel,
the continuation of the Line of strong Jewish women
dating back to Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel and Leah,
a loudmouth opinionated Jewish feminist,
a woman with a love of unadulterated Judaism
and her people’s historical women,
bringing the downtrodden Jewish women
back to the position they belong,
to a place equal with men,
not above or below,

I’ve made my cholent.
I’ve scrubbed my toilets.
I’ve dealt with misogynistic comments and sexist jokes,
all made under the guise that
Judaism condones it.

I am the woman men have warned me about.

And if you don’t like it,

Because I am me.
And I will not change.
I am Talia bat Pessi bat Feige bat Ita bat Gittel.
It’s all in the name.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 14, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

And to Jerusalem, Your city, may You return in compassion, and may You rest within it, as You have spoken. May You rebuild it soon and in our days as an eternal structure, and may You speedily establish the throne of David within it. Blessed are You, HaShem, the Builder of Jerusalem.

וְלִירוּשָׁלַיִם עִירְךָ בְּרַחֲמִים תָּשׁוּב. וְתִשְׁכּן בְּתוכָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ. וּבְנֵה אותָהּ בְּקָרוב בְּיָמֵינוּ בִּנְיַן עולָם. וְכִסֵּא דָוִד מְהֵרָה לְתוכָהּ תָּכִיןבָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', בּונֵה יְרוּשָׁלָיִם

In this brakha (blessing), Binyan Yerushalayim, we pray to rebuild Jerusalem, because that’s where all Jews come to real fruition. We request Jerusalem’s rebuilding so we can be closer to God, since the Shekhinah (presence of God) is more tangible in Jerusalem than it is out of Israel.

In Jerusalem, the Western Wall, or Kotel HaMa’aravi, is the only remaining part of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) and is therefore one of the holiest sites in the world. Jews and non-Jews alike travel from all over the globe to pray at the Wall. Despite its religious importance, women are barred from worshipping there with free reign.

Since 1988, the Women of the Wall (WOW), or Nashot HaKotel, has fought with the Israeli government to be able to worship at the Kotel. They meet there monthly, on Rosh Hodesh, because when women abstained from participating in the sin of the Golden Calf, they were given Rosh Hodesh as a merit. Members of WOW has been harassed by the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel because they read from the Torah and wear yarmulkes, tallitot (prayer shawls), and tefillin (phylacteries), which are forbidden to women among the ultra-Orthodox.

A lot of legislation has been proposed and passed in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) in response to WOW’s actions at the Kotel. While WOW has mostly ignored the sexist laws inhibiting their worship, legal issues have ensued. Nofrat Frenkel, an Israeli medical student, was arrested on November 18, 2009 (Rosh Hodesh Kislev) for wearing a tallit. Noa Raz, a member of WOW, was attacked in May 2010 by an ultra-Orthodox man who saw tefillin lines on her arms. In July 2010 (Rosh Hodesh Av), Anat Hoffman, the chairperson of WOW, was arrested for carrying a Torah.

When we say this brakha, we must pray for the safety of our sisters praying in Jerusalem at the Kotel HaMa’aravi. Jerusalem is the holiest of all holy places currently in the world; for women to be held back from praying there in the way the feel closest to God is an outrage. Prayer is so important because it is how we connect to God. The mouth is the Jew’s weapon, and prayer is how we fight. If women cannot pray the way they want to, they cannot fight for their rights. As we pray for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, we should keep the Women of the Wall in mind and pray that the government of Jerusalem is rebuilt to have women’s interests in mind.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Shining Stars of Davida: Hannah and Judith

The holiday of Hanukkah is all about keeping your identity. The story of the holiday is about the Jews’ success over the Greeks. The Greeks tried to impose Hellenism on the Jews, who refused to assimilate into the culture. This is a valuable lesson for Jews and women alike. We must keep on fighting for our ideals, despite how bleak the circumstances may look.

Throughout history, the Jews have been a minority; as Tiffany Shlain points out in her mini-movie The Tribe, if the world were a tribe of 100 people, one-quarter of one person would be Jewish. Despite the population disparity, we have managed to survive. We cannot turn our backs on the religion of our mothers and fathers and assimilate into the mass culture. We learn this lesson from the two strong women associated with the holiday of Hanukkah: Hannah and Judith.

Hannah (also identified as Miriam and Shamone) had seven sons, and the eight were brought in front of Antiochus IV, the Greek king who outlawed brit milah (circumcision), kosher, Shabbat (Sabbath), taharat hamishpacha (family purity), and all the other integral parts of a Jewish life. He ordered the boys one by one to bow to him, signifying their acceptance of his religious beliefs, and when they refused, the king had them tortured and killed. When the youngest son approached him, Antiochus wanted to spare him and offered him limitless gold and silver in exchange. When the boy still refused, Antiochus asked Hannah to tell her son to bow. She did the opposite, and Antiochus had that son killed too. How Hannah herself died is less clear: the Midrash says that she lost her mind and threw herself from a roof, while Josephus says that she died along with her sons.

However she met her end, Hannah exhibited the strength and courage that we should all strive to have. After watching six of her sons die, she still encouraged her seventh to die al pi kiddush Hashem (as a sanctification of God). She refused to assimilate, or to allow her family to assimilate, even though it meant death otherwise.

When Judith lived is not entirely clear, but often identified as the time after the official story of Hanukkah happened, and she is recognized as the daughter of Johanan, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). After the Maccabees won the war, the Greeks still occupied parts of Israel, including the walled city of Betulia. Judith lived in the sieged Betulia and was determined to end the starvation she saw. One night she left the city and entered the war camp, where Holofernes, the army general, was. She entered his tent and pretended she wanted to be a spy for him as she fed him cheese and wine, foods that make a person sleepy. He soon dropped off and she decapitated him in his sleep, taking his head to Betulia, enabling the Jews to fight back.

Judith is also a strong woman who we should all try to emulate. She had no way of knowing if she would make it back to Betulia from Holofernes, as he could have easily killed or raped her without anyone being the wiser. Nonetheless, rather than encouraging her father, the influential Kohen Gadol, to tell people to assimilate into the Greek culture and spare themselves, or assimilating herself, she risked her life to save her city’s lives and souls.

Hanukkah is associated with several numbers. It is usually represented by the number eight, as the oil in the Menorah that was supposed to last for one day lasted for eight. Eight is also considered the number of feleh, wonder. Seven, another Hanukkah number, is the number of nais, miracle, a combination of everyday and holy, like Shabbat, the seventh day of the week. The Gematria (numerical value) of the names Judith and Hannah in Hebrew (Yehudit and Chana) are 435 and 63, respectively. Together, the two equal 498. The number 49 is a multiple of seven, and the number following it is eight. This comes to show that Judith and Hannah brought miracle and wonder to the world through their courageous, strong acts. In order to bring such holiness to the world, we must follow their lead.

I dub Hannah and Judith inductees into Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make feminists proud.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 13, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

On the righteous, on the devout, on the elders of Your people, the Family of Israel, on the remnant of their scholars, on the righteous converts and on ourselves, may Your compassion be aroused, God, our god, and give goodly reward to all who sincerely believe in Your Name. Put our lot with them forever, and we will not feel ashamed, for we trust in You. Blessed are You, God, Mainstay and Assurance of the righteous.

עַל הַצַּדִּיקִים וְעַל הַחֲסִידִים. וְעַל זִקְנֵי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשרָאֵל. וְעַל פְּלֵיטַת סופְרֵיהֶם. וְעַל גֵּרֵי הַצֶּדֶק. וְעָלֵינוּ. יֶהֱמוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ ה' אֱלהֵינוּ. וְתֵן שכָר טוב לְכָל הַבּוטְחִים בְּשִׁמְךָ בֶּאֱמֶת. וְשים חֶלְקֵנוּ עִמָּהֶם לְעולָם וְלא נֵבושׁ כִּי בְךָ בָטָחְנוּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', מִשְׁעָן וּמִבְטָח לַצַּדִּיקִים

When we say this brakha (blessing), identified as Tzaddikim, we pray that God continues sustaining the righteous people of the Jewish nation. If the Jews have no strong people who know and love Torah to look up to, then the Jews cannot survive.

Thankfully, the Jewish feminist movement has dozens of strong women to look up to. One such woman is Blu Greenberg. Ms. Greenberg cofounded the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), whose work in the Jewish feminist movement is invaluable. She also wrote the Jewish feminist Bible On Women and Judaism: A View from Tradition and is active in the agunah cause.

Rabba Sara Hurwitz is considered the first Orthodox woman rabbi. Controversially ordained by Rabbi Avi Weiss, she has managed to rise above the debate and currently serves as the assistant rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. She also is also Curricular Researcher and Writer for JOFA’s Gender and Orthodoxy Curriculum Project, which seeks to enable students to challenge gender stereotypes within Judaism.

Rachel Kohl Finegold is the education and ritual director (which essentially functions as an assistant rabbi) at Anshe Sholom Bnai Israel in Chicago (and gave Star of Davida an awesome interview!). She is also affiliated with JOFA, as she is a member of the JOFA Advisory Board. She also serves on the Spiritual Advisory Council of Midreshet Devora (a Modern Orthodox yeshiva for post-high school girls in Israel).

Rosh Kehilah Dina Najman’s congregation, Kehillat Orach Eliezer, is in Manhattan. Rosh Kehilah is the gender-neutral term for leader of the congregation, which is virtually the same as a rabbi. She is the Education Committee chair for the Agunah Commission, and is on the Executive Board of the Halakhic Organ Donor Society (HODS).

Elana Stein Hain is the community scholar for Lincoln Square Synagogue, also in Manhattan, and had been the resident scholar at The Jewish Center of the Upper West Side. Lynn Kaye, the director of life and learning at Shearith Israel (the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue) of the Upper West Side, inherited most of the assistant rabbi’s jobs.

These exemplary women are just six of thousands in the Jewish nation who women have to look up to. As we say the brakha dedicated to protecting Jewish leaders, we must pray that they are sustained, and that more women join their ranks.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Shining Stars of Davida: Jeanette Rankin

The media is still buzzing over the results of the midterm elections and how women fared in them. Less than a century ago, women were never a factor in Congress. Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, opened the door for women to enter politics in the United States and worldwide.

Jeanette Rankin (sometimes spelled Jeannette) was born on a Montanan ranch on June 11, 1880. She helped her parents run the ranch and raise her five younger siblings, which gave her the confidence that she could take charge and lead, a mindset she continued to go by in her later years.

While enrolled in Washington University, trying to find her calling in life, she learned about the suffrage movement and got involved in First-Wave Feminism. She joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and helped the campaign for Washington women to get the vote. After the successful campaign ended in 1910, she went back to Montana and rallied Montanan women to fight for their rights. They won enfranchisement in 1914.

Rankin’s work in the suffrage movement set the stage for when she decided to run for the House of Representatives in 1916. Despite fears from leading feminists that a loss would be a blow to the movement, she ran as a Republican on a platform that was pro-suffrage, pro-social welfare, and anti-war. Her family supported her congressional bid, as her politically savvy brother Wellington was her campaign manager and her sisters helped her campaign. Many fellow suffragists also gave her their backing. On November 10, 1916, the votes came in. Papers originally reported that she had lost, but they were wrong: Jeanette Rankin was rightfully elected as the first woman in Congress.

After Germany declared war on April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called a congressional session to decide whether or not America should enter World War I. This was one of the most important decisions in Rankin’s life. Friends, family, and suffragists told her to vote for the war to keep hopes of reelection alive, save her battles for times when she could win, and keep the women’s movement from suffering from a worse reputation. Rankin knew she had to listen to heart, though. When it was time for her to vote, she broke 140 years of congressional tradition when she commented as she voted: “I want to stand by my country but I cannot vote for war. I vote no.” She was joined by the minority of congress members, 374 for and 50 against.

Her decision was greatly criticized by her home state and suffrage movement. A Montanan paper described her as “a dagger in the hands of the German propagandists, a dupe of the Kaiser, a member of the Hun army in the United States, and a crying schoolgirl,” and NAWSA stated that “Miss Rankin was not voting for the suffragists of the nation - she represents Montana.”

Despite the suffrage movement’s desire to distance themselves from her, she remained an ardent feminist during her congressional term, creating the congressional Committee on Woman Suffrage. She also managed to pass a resolution in the House on a constitutional amendment allowing women the right to vote, but it was defeated in the Senate.

After her term was over, Rankin ran for the Senate. Despite her pro-war measures votes and new pro-war planks in her platform, she lost the election. After biding her time with pacifism for several years, in 1939, Rankin saw Adolf Hitler rise to power in Germany and knew that America would want to enter the war ripping apart Europe. She knew that she could not let this happen, so she ran for the House of Representatives again, once more as a Republican from Montana. Her platform was similar to her original one, minus the pro-suffrage plank; women across the country became enfranchised in 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. “No one will pay any attention to me this time. There is nothing unusual about a woman being elected,” she said at her second election. It was true; dozens of women had been elected to Congress between her first and second terms, and there were ten other women in Congress at the time.

While in Congress, as she expected, she had to vote on American participation in World War II. She was the only person to vote on both the first and second World Wars. She voted no again, once more giving a commentary as she gave her vote: “As a woman, I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.” She stood alone, as she was the only person who voted against the war this time. Her previously middling popularity plummeted, with newspapers all across the country rebuking her harshly and individuals sending her hate mail. She had to leave the session escorted by police to protect her from furious bystanders.

Rankin stayed out of the spotlight, continuing her work in pacifist and social fields, until 1968, when she organized a march 5,000 strong on the Capitol to protest the Vietnam War. It became known as the Jeanette Rankin Brigade, culminating in the presentation of a peace petition to House Speaker John McCormack of Massachusetts.

Jeanette Rankin died on May 18, 1973, when she was considering running for a third term to protest the Vietnam War. Without Rankin’s achievements, women would have never been able to shrug off the shackles of typical feminine roles and go on to fight for the right to high-powered careers in business, law, and government. Jeanette Rankin paved the way for women to aspire to rise from the duties of the kitchen to the highest level obligations of the White House.

I dub Jeanette Rankin an inductee into Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make feminists proud.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Star of Davida Interviews Rachel Kohl Finegold

There has been a lot of controversy recently over whether Orthodox women can enter the rabbinate. The Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements have allowed for women rabbis for decades, but Orthodoxy is only now discussing whether rabbis' gender should matter. Several Orthodox women have become groundbreakers and pursued positions in Jewish leadership despite the controversy. One such woman is Rachel Kohl Finegold, who Star of Davida had the immense honor of interviewing.

Talia bat Pessi: Did you aspire to be a rabbi or enter Jewish leadership when you were a kid, or did you fall into it?
Rachel Kohl Finegold: I very much fell into it. From what I’ve seen, most women of this generation haven’t gotten into this by design. It’s just an expression of who we are. I was always a leader and always liked learning and teaching, but I didn’t want to be a teacher. I figured out in college that I wanted to be a non-classroom educator and was looking at Hillels and high schools to get involved with. When a congregation popped up, I thought it was a nice way to work with so many different populations at the same time, and to also be teaching. It all happened by accident.

Does your family - parents, husband, children - support you?
Definitely. Everyone’s Orthodox but pretty liberal-minded. My father jokes about his daughter the rabbi, but in a very supportive way, and my mom says she wants to be me when grows up - she didn’t have these kind of opportunities in Crown Heights, she didn’t open a Gemara until she was an adult. I couldn’t do any of this without my husband - we jokingly call him a rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife). He’s a rabbi too, but not a pulpit rabbi, more of a philosopher and educator. It would be impossible without him behind me.

Why become a rabbi rather than settling with another religious role?
I’m not actually a rabbi - it’s a male role in Orthodoxy, and I have no desire to be a man. Women should express leadership in feminine way, since there are blatant differences in Judaism between men and women. I just want to be leader - that’s who I am. Being a rebbetzin is just being an extension of my husband - it’s not about me, it’s about him, and who I chose to marry isn’t my career path. I’m not angry, but talking to a lot of older women of previous generations, I see that they had to really fight for the ability to open a Torah or learn Gemara and have women’s tefilla (prayer) groups, but no one ever told me no. I didn’t lain (read from the Torah) at my bat mitzvah, but I got to speak in front of the shul (synagogue) - the tone is very different for me and my age bracket. I grew up in eighties and nineties and it’s evidence - I didn’t fight. A lot of women sound angry, but we have nothing to be angry about, and it’s important to realize that. We’re not trying making a statement by entering Jewish leadership, we’re just being who we are.

What exactly do you do as rabbi in your shul?
As I’m the education and ritual director, I basically am the second-in-command. I run the adult education and youth programming and help run the mikvah, plus more of the “rabbi-type stuff,” like giving shiurim (Torah lessons) and giving the sermon once a month (switching off with the rabbi). I also function as a general religious role model and host people in home - it’s like being assistant rabbi under another title. Everyone sees me differently, however they feel comfortable.

If you pasken halakha (rule on Jewish law), which women are usually not allowed to do, how do you go about doing so?
Right now I don’t, but people will ask me sometimes for specific information like, “I used a dairy knife on meat - what should I do?” It’s not really psak (a ruling) - it’s just specific information. It’s a fine line, but an important line. I’m currently enrolled in the Yeshivat Maharat program because I want to feel confident that whatever psak I give is right. If I’m not sure then I ask the rabbi, and I’ll always do that, but it shouldn’t always be a matter of finding other people and wanting to double-check.

Do you find that being female adds or detracts from your role as rabbi, or is it neutral?
I play piano - no one would ask me how I play piano as a woman. It’s the same difference when it comes to women in Jewish leadership. There are moments where it’s advantageous, like when we have a bar or bat mitzvah and we ask the family to stand together and I can stand with women on women’s side of the synagogue and we celebrate, or when I say the mi sheberakh (prayer for healing) for a bat mitzvah girl - life cycle events. When I teach chatan (groom) and kallah (bride) classes it’s different coming from a woman, or at the mikvah, there are things that women can do things men can’t. Other times it feels like I have to be better than men in Jewish leadership, because I’m doing something women haven’t done much of in the past. The perfectionist in me doesn’t want people to think I’m just doing this because I’m a woman and that I’m not great at this.

What advice would you give to other women who want to follow your lead and pursue positions in the religious field?
Stay true to who you are, if this is a true expression of you and if you want to serve the Jewish people then you’ll find a way to make it all work. That’s ultimately what carries women in Jewish leadership forward - we just want to serve the Jewish people.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NO, E. Lockhart!

Since I’m known as a radical feminist, one of my friends suggested the book The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart to me. The book was okay, about a girl who tries to infiltrate an all-boys secret club at school and defeat sexism all around. I vaguely remember the plot and don’t even remember how it ends, so you can see how much of an impact it had on me. Even though I was lukewarm about Frankie Landau-Banks, when I saw other books by E. Lockhart in the library, I took them out.

One was called Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything, about a girl named Gretchen who gets turned into a fly on the wall of the boys’ locker room. In the locker room, she sees many things, and one is that the boys’ locker room is much bigger and more luxurious than the girls’. After she becomes human again, she approaches the principal and asks about the unfairness. When the principal explains that the school was built before Title IX and they can’t physically expand the girls’ locker room, Gretchen asks if the boys and girls can switch locker rooms. The principal agrees. After she leaves the principal’s office, she thinks to herself, “I’m Gretchen Yee, advocate for equal opportunity.” NOOOOO!!!! That is NOT equal opportunity! The girls getting a bigger locker room than the boys’ isn’t equal rights, it’s sexism at work!

People assume that when women get more rights than men, that’s what feminists are looking for - to trump men and become the dominant sex. NO!!! Completely not! Just as there’s a prohibition of adding to a mitzvah (commandment), since God’s word is exactly what we must adhere to and adding to it would really be detracting from it, we cannot “add” to the women’s movement. We want and need equal rights, not less rights or more rights. We don’t want a bigger locker room, nor a smaller locker room; we want one of an equal size and with the same amenities.

While E. Lockhart’s offense was grave (I'm counting it as bad as Lady Gaga's comment that feminism and man-hating are the same thing), I don’t think she meant it in a bad way; she writes her books with feminist leanings, so I have to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she is really a feminist and meant well. While I won’t dub her an inductee into Black Holes of Davida, E. Lockhart doesn’t have far to go.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 12, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

And for slanderers let there be no hope; and may all wickedness perish in an instant; and may all Your enemies be cut down speedily. May You speedily uproot, smash, cast down, and humble wanton sinners, speedily in our days. Blessed are You, God, Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners.

וְלַמַּלְשִׁינִים אַל תְּהִי תִקְוָה, וְכָל הַמִּינִים כְּרֶֽגַע יֹאבֵֽדוּ, וְכָל אוֹיְבֵי עַמְּךָ מְהֵרָה יִכָּרֵֽתוּ, וְהַזֵּדִים מְהֵרָה תְעַקֵּר וּתְשַׁבֵּר וּתְמַגֵּר וּתְכַלֵּם וְתַשְׁפִּילֵם וְתַכְנִיעֵם בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵֽינוּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ,ֹ שוֹבֵר אֹיְבִים וּמַכְנִֽיעַ זֵדִים

This brakha (blessing), called Birkat HaMinim, prays that the enemies of the Jews will be cut down and stop making problems for the Jewish community. Shemoneh Esrei literally means eighteen in Hebrew, as when it was first written, there were eighteen brakhot (blessings) in it. However, Birkat HaMinim was later added to Shemoneh Esrei to pray for the enemies of the Jews’ destruction.

There are a lot of people who challenge the secular and Jewish feminist movements. Organizations like the National Organization for Women (NOW) have whole walls of shame ( dedicated to bringing sexist media to light, and run campaigns against sexists in politics and government. I personally thought it was inspired to send Alan Simpson, the current co-chair of the president’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, baby bottle nipples when he said that Social Security is “like a milk cow with 310 million tits!”

Jewish feminists also have enemies. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) definitively ruled against Orthodox women’s ordination in late April 2010. Anat Hoffman, leader of Women of the Wall, was arrested for holding a Torah scroll at the Western Wall due to her sex. Every day, Jewish women are barred from reaching their full potential within Judaism. My Torah teacher has a scary brilliant mind. She can literally quote whole portions of the Torah from the top of her head, and she understands them on so many different levels. Why should she be a teacher while her husband is a rabbi?

When we say this brakha, we should pray that the people who threaten the feminist movement are unsuccessful in their plans. As the Jewish feminist watchdog group Jewish Women Watching says, sexism is a sin, and we need to make that clear to those who oppose us. The gains that feminists make are precious; every decision made in our favor, legal or religious, is a gem. We have worked too hard to let those who oppose us win.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lady Gaga: Feminist? Sexist? Both?

Most celebrities are easy to label as “feminist” or “sexist.” Mel Gibson: sexist. Geena Davis: feminist. Tom Cruise: sexist. Uma Thurman: feminist. But Lady Gaga completely baffles me.

I was never into Lady Gaga, but when she did a free concert near me, I listened to both her CDs. Her voice is amazing, but I find her performance art distracting, since she doesn’t need the gimmick that it provides. When I listened to her second album The Fame Monster and heard the upcoming single “Dance in the Dark,” I had to wonder if Lady Gaga was a feminist or not. It hadn’t occurred to me before. Then it hit me that Lady Gaga is a woman who shows her skin and doesn’t care what people think about her, so I assumed she was a feminist. With a song like “Dance in the Dark,” about a woman who feels uncomfortable with her body so she only “dances” (a euphemism for sex) in the dark, and then mentions deceased strong women in history, how could I not assume? Then when I heard the songs on her other album, The Fame, and heard lyrics like “I do not accept any less / Than someone just as real as fabulous” and “Can’t sleep with a man who dims my shine,” I continued to assume.

So I did research about the ever-fascinating Gaga. And found her nude photo shoot. And heard her say, in response to being described as a feminist, “I’m not a feminist. I hail men, I love men.” I cringed. Except then I found another interview where she said to the reporter, “I’m getting the sense that you’re a little bit of a feminist, like I am, which is good. I find that men get away with saying a lot in this business, and that women get away with saying very little…In my opinion, women need and want someone to look up to that they feel have the full sense of who they are, and says, ‘I’m great.’”

So nu, is Lady Gaga feminist or sexist?

I think Gaga is a lot more feminist than she thinks she is and claims to be. I think that most people, especially women, have feminist tendencies, even if they won’t admit it or don’t realize it. How many women out there, other than Schlaflyites, don’t want equal pay for equal work? I think Gaga wants her rights within the music industry. She doesn’t want a double standard to be applied to her, and that’s exactly what the feminist movement is all about: getting equal rights. We don’t want to be held up to a higher or lower standard. We want to be judged equally. And that’s what I think Lady Gaga’s after.

I’m reluctant to put her in the Shining Stars of Davida, since she did equate feminism with man-hating, and the only way to make up for that one is to shout “I AM A FEMINIST!” from the rooftops. I’m also reluctant to put her in the Black Holes of Davida, since she did say that she’s a little bit of a feminist, and that slightly makes up for the feminism = man-hating comment. So for right now, I’m just keeping my eye on her next album and waiting to see if she ever calls herself a feminist. Imagine what good it could do for this generation’s teens to hear Lady Gaga, their idol, call herself a feminist…

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 11, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

Restore our judges as in the earliest times and our counselors as at first, remove from us sorrow and groan; and reign over us - You, God, alone - with kindness and compassion, and justify us through judgment. Blessed are You, God, the Ruler Who loves righteousness and judgment.

הָשִֽׁיבָה שׁוֹפְטֵֽינוּ כְּבָרִאשׁוֹנָה וְיוֹעֲצֵֽינוּ כְּבַתְּחִלָּה, וְהָסֵר מִמֶּֽנּוּ יָגוֹן וַאֲנָחָה, וּמְלוֹךְ עָלֵֽינוּ מְהֵרָה אַתָּה, יְיָ, לְבַדְּךָ בְּחֶֽסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים, וְצַדְּקֵֽנוּ בְּצֶֽדֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּט. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, מֶֽלֶךְ אוֹהֵב צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט

This brakha (blessing), called Din, asks God to reinstate the Jewish justice system. In the times of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), the Sanhedrin was the official Jewish court. Nowadays, we have batei din (religious courts) to preside over Jewish issues. The only way we can have a true Jewish rulership is to have the Sanhedrin ruling, and we ask God to give us the justice that the Sanhedrin will provide.

Agunah is one of the harshest issues that Jewish women have to deal with. Agunah, literally meaning “chained,” refers to the situation where a husband refuses to give his wife a get (divorce papers). In Jewish law, a divorce is only granted when a get is given from husband to wife. This law was originally intended to protect women from the quickie divorce procedures of the ancient world. While its intentions are good, its ramifications are not. Men use the fact that a woman cannot get remarried without a get against them, often to extort money, but often just to be coldhearted. Batei din can’t technically force a man to give a get, but they have much more power than what they currently exert. Savta Bikorta videos bring some of these painful agunah stories to light. The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) is extremely active in agunah aid.

At the 2010 JOFA conference, Blu Greenberg (the creator of JOFA and author of the Jewish feminist bible On Women and Judaism: A View from Tradition) led the session about agunah and proposed several ways to remedy the issue. The easiest way to avoid agunah is for couples to have a prenuptial agreement made with a clause that the husband must give a get. Since it’s difficult for secular courts to get involved in cases of agunah, a prenup makes it easier for them to intervene.

Among several other suggestions, the one I feel would be the most effective was to have the divorce laws amended. Judaism is a fluid religion, and has redefined so much of what it says in the Torah. The Talmud expounded all the laws of divorce from one verse! The rabbis understand that a husband must give his wife a get by his own free will from the part of the verse that says, “And he wrote her a bill of divorce and presented it into her hand” (Deut 24:1). There are so many ways rabbis can interpret this short phrase; they have chosen to interpret it in a way that benefits men and leaves women in the dust. Why can’t husbands be forced to give a get? Why can’t there be a time limit allotted from when a couple is separated to when a get is given? Why can’t a shaliah (messenger) be appointed when a husband is absent?

During the brakha asking God for justice, we must pray that agunot are given the justice they deserve. While many things are being done to help lift the plight of agunot, nothing can be done without the will of God. In order to ensure that agunot are redeemed, we must keep them in mind and do everything we can to unchain them from the bleak situation they are in. There is a specific prayer for agunot, but in the brakha dedicated to obtaining justice and a Jewish justice system, we should keep our chained sisters close to our hearts.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Inconsistent People Annoy Me

I have one teacher for three different courses in school, and she is really quite sexist (the teacher discussed in my previous post about Abigail). Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what to make of her; one week she’ll tell us how women lawyers can’t have happy marriages (yes, believe it or not, she actually said that), and the next week she’ll reference the feminist movement as a good thing. But since the sexist comments outnumber the feminist ones, I’m counting her in the sexist party. But if she’s going to be a sexist, I want her to be a consistent, logical sexist.

She was teaching us about a portion of the Talmud discussing Rabbi Halbo's statement that a home has no blessing if a husband doesn’t respect his wife. Rabbi Halbo said in another part of the Talmud that if a person witnesses a Torah being ripped, he or she has to rip his or her clothes two times - one for the rip in the parchment, one for the rip in the letters. The reasoning behind this is that a letter depends on the parchment to be seen; the letter is the active, the parchment is the passive. My teacher connected this to men’s and women’s roles in Judaism. According to her, men are supposed to be the active, seen spouse; women are supposed to be passive and behind the scenes, supporting the man in their lives in all his endeavors. She then connected to this to Rabbi Halbo’s original concept of a home with no blessing because God gives blessings in secretive, passive ways; if a husband doesn’t give respect to the wife who acts passively, God will not give gifts in The Holy One’s usual, passive way.

My teacher then began explaining that Eve was made from Adam’s rib because the rib is hidden, a “behind the scenes” body part. “Two people can’t be king,” she explained. “It won’t work. One person must be active and go outside the home and get all the credit. An actor can’t go onstage if no one is behind him, if not then there will be no play!”

Earlier in the day, we had been learning Jewish history by reading a page of the Talmud with this teacher. (I had actually learned the portion of the Talmud in my middle school, which I found ironic, since this right-wing teacher doesn’t believe in girls learning the Talmud. Another thing I don’t really understand about her is that she’ll teach us portions of the Gemara. How does she justify that?) The time period in discussion is the era directly after the destruction of the second Beit HaMikdash (Temple). The nasi (leader) of the Jewish nation, Rabban Gamaliel II, had embarrassed a colleague, Rabbi Joshua, several times, and the people asked him to step down because of it. They appointed Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaria in his stead. After a day, Rabbi Joshua forgave Rabban Gamaliel, and the congregation was in a quandary as to whether they should take back Gamaliel and fire Eleazar or not. The decided to compromise and the two co-officiated: Eleazar decided on the halakha (Jewish law), Gamaliel enforced it, and the two switched off lectures.

Two people can’t be kings, hmm? Two people can’t work together, in unison?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 10, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

Sound the Great Shofar for our freedom, raise the banner to gather our exiles and gather us together from the four corners of the earth. Blessed are You, God, Who gathers in the dispersed of the people Israel.

תְּקַע בְּשׁוֹפָר גָּדוֹל לְחֵרוּתֵֽנוּ, וְשָׂא נֵס לְקַבֵּץ גָּלֻיּוֹתֵֽינוּ, וְקַבְּצֵֽנוּ יַֽחַד מְהֵרָה מֵאַרְבַּע כַּנְפוֹת הָאָֽרֶץ לְאַרְצֵֽנוּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, מְקַבֵּץ נִדְחֵי עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל

This brakha, identified as Kibbutz Galiot, prays that the Jews should be speedily restored to their homeland, Israel. Jews can only reach their full potential when living in Israel. “If that concentration of the cunningest brains in the world were going to be made in a free country (bar Scotland), I think it would be politic to stop it. It will not be well to let the race find out its strength. If the horses knew theirs, we should not ride any more,” Mark Twain wrote in his essay "Concerning the Jews."

Throughout the women’s movement’s history, there have been dozens of splits within feminist organizations. The American Equal Rights Association (AERA), created in 1866, split in 1869 into the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) over support for the Fifteenth Amendment. They merged in 1890 to the more-familiar National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). After women’s suffrage was passed in the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, NAWSA was renamed the League of Women Voters. The National Woman’s Party (NWP) was a splinter group from NAWSA that actually got the Nineteenth Amendment passed. That’s only in America! British and other feminist movements also had dozens of internal breaks.

The feminist movement is still fraught with infighting. Radical feminists pull their hair out over conservative feminists, who hate separatists, who wish that moderate feminists would just choose already, and…well, you get the point. Nobody gets along anymore.

As we say this brakha, we should pray that the feminist world will unite. We all have one common goal: elevate women’s status in society. We’re all fighting for the same rights. The feminist community just needs to sit down, talk over the factions’ differences, and start fighting together. One huge army fighting for the same purpose is better than a bunch of small battalions who fight against each other when they’re really on the same side.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Gender Separation on Buses: Yes, It's Really True

When my school was headed to a hotel for our annual Shabbaton, or weekend dedicated to celebrating Shabbat (Sabbath) together, everyone boarded the bus and started laughing. “They sent us kosher buses!” my friends said. I saw a curtain separating the front from the back of the bus. I was, I’m embarrassed to say, completely clueless as to what a kosher bus was, or why a curtain made it so. What were they talking about, kosher buses?

So I did my research and discovered that very right-wing bus services in Israel (and America) offer buses that have separate seating for men and women - women in the back, men in the front. I don’t have to convince people how upsetting this is, or make parallels to the civil rights movement and the separation there had been between races before gains were made to enfranchise African-Americans. It makes me feel ashamed of the Orthodox Jewish community for acting in such a reactionary way.

Honestly, I think the separation of genders has gotten blown out of proportion by the ultra-Orthodox community because of what I call the outfrummingness factor. The word frum in Yiddish means observant, and I define outfrummingness as the desire of people to act “frummer,” or more religious, than others. While the aspiration to be closer to God and do more mitzvot (commandments) is noble, its manifestation in outfrummigness cases is anything but. The men of the ultra-Orthodox community want to “prove” to others how frum they are, so how do they do it? Subjugate the women who are already beneath them anyway.

Obviously not every ultra-Orthodox person has the outfrummingness factor and not every ultra-Orthodox man is a sexist pig, but right now I’m talking about the ones who are, and who have been making it into the news recently.

Nonetheless, there has recently been increased pressure on women to act and dress with tzniut (modesty). The gender separation on buses is just another way the ultra-Orthodox men are enforcing tzniut among their women. If a man can’t see her, then she’s definitely being modest, right? (I don’t want to address tzniut in its entirety right now, since I’m working on another blog post about it, and I don’t want to ruin all the fun.) These men are taking it so extremely that they are physically and verbally threatening those who oppose gender separation on buses.

I commend the women and men who are fighting this outrageous violation of women's rights. So far protesters have gotten the Israeli courts to rule that it is illegal to set up public gender barriers. The Transport Minister Yisrael Katz appointed a Supreme Court-ordered committee that decided that gender segregated buses should not be allowed, but Katz so far has done next to nothing, advocating voluntary separation.

I just find it interesting that one of the groups that support gender separation on buses call themselves the Sikrikim. The second Beit HaMikdash (Temple) was destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred for other people. When the Romans who would end up destroying the Beit HaMikdash surrounded Jerusalem, the sages of the time wanted to speak with them and negotiate a peace treaty. The Sikarikim were an extremist group at the time who refused to allow for peace and wanted to fight for the Beit HaMikdash, killing other Jews in order to do so, even burning a twenty-one year food supply stockpiled in Jerusalem so that they would have to fight, resulting in the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. I just find the current Sikrikim interesting for naming their group after such a reviled faction in history.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Star of Davida Interviews Mohelet Carol Roberts Gerson

There has been debate in the Jewish community since the time of the Egyptian enslavement as to whether or not a woman can perform a brit milah (ritual circumcision). Most commentators believe that they can within the confines of halakha (Jewish law). In recent years, women have embraced the ability to perform the brit milah ceremony and become mohelot (female circumcisers). One such woman is Carol Roberts Gerson, a Chicagoan mohelet who I had the honor of interviewing.

Talia bat Pessi: Did you aspire to be a doctor when you were a child, or did you fall into it?
Mohelet Carol Roberts Gerson: When I was quite young, I wanted to be a pathologist like my uncle. That went away for a long time and eventually I decided to go to medical school after working in a state mental hospital. I thought I would be a psychiatrist, but ended up a surgeon. Instant gratification won out over long term psychotherapy with uncertain results.

Why did you become a mohelet?
With a husband and daughter who are both rabbis, it seemed like the perfect melding of the two halves of my life, Judaism and surgery. It is a unique role that as a physician I am able to fulfill and is a privilege. It is a real honor to have people welcome you into their homes and trust you with their newborn. It is also a time of great emotion linking generations.

Does your family - parents, husband, children - support you?
My family supports me completely, except that my daughters say that no one they ever date will know what it is that I do. Too likely to scare them away.

Do you find that being female adds or detracts from your role as mohelet?
Women are often less threatening as surgeons in general. We tend to be more nurturing as well, which is a very good thing for a new mom and dad dealing with post-partum emotional ups and downs. A Jewish mother appreciating your little new baby may be easier for them to hand the little guy to.

Do you have an opinion on how girls should be welcomed in the Jewish community in a celebration parallel to a brit milah?
My husband has always done lovely baby naming ceremonies for little girls. Most of my ceremony is adapted from his baby naming ceremony. If you don’t have to expose your newborn to a lot of people, I would recommend not doing a brit bat (girls’ naming ceremony) on the eighth day, like necessary with a boy's brit milah, but waiting a bit longer. It is not time bound, so you have great flexibility in planning it.

What advice would you give to other women who want to follow your lead and pursue a position as mohelet?
Any physician (all Reform mohalim are physicians), whether male or female, can attend a few britot (circumcisions) with another Reform mohel/et and see if it is appealing. You have to prove that you know how to do the surgery and then apply to the Berit Mila Board of Reform Judaism to take the course offered in the religious aspects of brit milah. There is then a process after that to demonstrate you have the medical and Judaic knowledge and once that is done, you are then certified. It's a gratifying experience and I would recommend it to anyone in the medical field who is also an affiliated Jew.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Shining Stars and Black Holes of Cheerleading

I think the TV show Glee has popularized the stereotype of the stupid, sexually promiscuous, mean cheerleader character. Quinn, the cheerleading captain, had always been mean to Rachel, a dork, and ends up getting pregnant; Brittany is known for saying things like “I think my cat is reading my diary” and misspelling her own name; and Santana has said things like “My dad’s a doctor, so he went to college or something.” Not every cheerleader has indiscriminate sex and acts stupid, though. The Central High School in Bridgeport’s cheerleading squad certainly doesn’t.

Recently, girls on the cheerleading team complained to the Bridgeport board of education about the skimpy cheerleading outfits they were given, saying that the uniforms show too much skin, especially the midriff. One team member pointed out that the outfits violate the National Federation Spirit Rules, stating that the midriff must be covered when the wearer is standing, while other cheerleaders mentioned their personal feelings towards the outfits: “I don’t feel comfortable wearing this” and “It really hurts our self-esteem” were the comments of two cheer squad members.

I really commend these girls for standing up for themselves and not being afraid of making waves, in addition to trying to break the stereotype most of us have of promiscuous cheerleaders. They didn’t want to be objectified by bringing attention their bodies rather than their athletic talent. (Some of the things cheerleaders do are amazing - I’m not terribly sporty, so I can appreciate how amazing the people who are athletically gifted are.) They succeeded in bringing this issue to the attention of the nation, and eventually got black body suits to wear underneath the objectionable outfits.

I’m also glad that they’re stomping on every stereotype of the brainless cheerleader who walks around school in skimpy outfits. These girls showed that they’re bright young women who aren’t afraid of demanding that their voices are heard.

While I’m discussing cheerleading and women’s rights, I would also like to mention the sexual assault case in Silsbee, Texas. A cheerleader, a minor identified as HS, had been sexually assaulted by three of her peers at a post-game party in 2008, two of which (Rakheem Bolton and Christian Rountree) were on the team. Bolton was sentenced to a year in jail, but the judge gave him two years of probation, a $2,500 fine, community service, and anger management courses instead.

Not only did the judge in Bolton’s case pervert justice, but so did school officials. Instead of suspending or expelling Bolton and the other assaulters, the school authorities told HS to keep a low profile and to avoid homecoming activities. HS had the courage and bravery to ignore their suggestion and continued cheerleading. When Bolton went back on the team, she refused to cheer for him, resulting in her suspension from the squad. When her parents sued, the court threw out the case. So not only does HS have to suffer from the psychological aftereffects of the assault, she can’t even be a cheerleader anymore and live as normal a life she can lead. What a horrific, misogynistic way to look at this situation.

I beg of you readers to send an email to Richard Bain (, the Silsbee school district superintendent, and Eldon Franco (, the school’s principal. I CCed them and sent this:

I think it's horrible that you not only told HS, a female student who was sexually assaulted at your school, to cheer for her attacker (Rakheem Bolton), but then kicked her off of the cheerleading squad for rightly refusing to do so. If you have any sense of decency, you will issue her an apology and reinstate her to the team. You are adding insult to injury. If she was your daughter, would you want her to cheer for her attacker?

I induct the Central High School in Bridgeport’s cheerleading squad, and HS, into the Shining Stars of Davida, and Silsbee High School and school district into the Black Holes of Davida.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 9, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

Bless on our behalf, O Lord, our God, this year and all its kinds of crops for the best, and give a [blessing/rain and dew] on the face of the earth, and satisfy us from Your bounty, and bless our year like the best years. Blessed are You, God, Who blesses the years.

בָּרֵךְ עָלֵֽינוּ, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ, אֶת הַשָּׁנָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת כָּל מִינֵי תְבוּאָתָהּ לְטוֹבָה (וְתֵן בְּרָכָה/וְתֵן טַל וּמָטָר לִבְרָכָה) עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, וְשַׂבְּעֵֽנוּ מִטּוּבָהּ, וּבָרֵךְ שְׁנָתֵֽנוּ כַּשָּׁנִים הַטּוֹבוֹת לִבְרָכָה, כִּי אֵל טוֹב וּמֵטִיב אָֽתָּה, וּמְבָרֵךְ הַשָּׁנִים. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, מְבָרֵךְ הַשָּׁנִים

This brakha, called Birkat HaShanim, asks God to take care of us financially (the brakha refers to crops as wealth) and give us all the staples of life in a non-fraudulent way.

World hunger affects over a billion people across the globe, 915 million of them in developing countries. Approximately 146 million children, or 15% hunger victims in developing countries, are underweight as a result of hunger. 17 million children a year are born underweight because of their mothers’ malnutrition during pregnancy. Due to society’s sexist dictates, women are the primary food producers, and as a result are more impacted by world hunger. 50% of pregnant women in developing countries suffer from nutrient deficiencies, and as a result 315,000 of these women die during childbirth a year. Pregnant and nursing women require specific diets and nutrients that hunger-stricken countries cannot provide for them.

America also suffers from hunger. In 2008, 49.1 million people lived in food-insecure households; 37.2% of those homes were headed by single women. The economic crisis also hasn’t made life any easier for American women. As women have made 77 cents to men’s dollar anyway every year since 2001, the economy affects women even more than it does men. Women comprise 68.2% of low-income workers, the vast majority. More women than men suffered from the foreclosure epidemic, 32% compared to 24%. 39% of women are below the poverty line, compared to 26% of men.

When we say this brakha, we should ask God to provide food and a sufficient income to our sisters in foreign countries and closer to home. Women will continue to be oppressed as long as a large percentage of them need to worry about basic survival, whether they don’t know where to get their next meal or how they’re going to pay their mortgage. We should also pray that women should receive salaries equal to men’s during this brakha. Without equal footing in the workforce, women can’t ever hope to receive the same treatment in the world at large.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Women and Brit Milah

“This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your offspring after you: for every male among you to be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days every male among you shall be circumcised, throughout your generations…An uncircumcised one, a male who will not circumcise the flesh of his foreskin - that soul shall be cut off from its people; he has invalidated My covenant” (Gen 17:10-12, 14).

Brit milah (circumcision) is a mitzvah (commandment) that has garnered a lot of controversy over the years. Proponents discuss its health benefits; opponents call it barbaric and a violation of human rights. Despite the debate, observant Jews still circumcise their sons, keeping the covenant that God gave to Abraham in Genesis (as read above). Many secular Jews also circumcise their sons, continuing the tradition of their foreparents.

Brit milah has typically been considered a men’s mitzvah; anyone who has witnessed a brit milah can attest that the people directly involved are usually male. The Talmud in Kidushin 29a commands only fathers to circumcise their sons, even specifying that women are exempt. That didn’t stop Zipporah, Moses’ wife, from doing so.

“24 When he was on the way, at the inn, God encountered him and sought to kill him. 25 So Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and touched it to his feet; and she said, ‘A husband of blood you are to me!’ 26 So he loosened his hold on him; then she said, ‘A husband of blood because of circumcision’” (Ex 4:24-26).

This short portion of the Torah has been discussed at length by commentators trying to explain the vague language of the text. I could go on forever and write a five-page analysis of these three verses, but I’ll keep it short, as it’s not really the aim of this piece.

The usual interpretation is that the “he” referred to in verse 24 is Moses. Moses had just been commanded by God at the Burning Bush to ask Pharaoh to free the Jews from slavery, and was on his way to Egypt during this episode. It’s unclear why God wanted to kill Moses until verse 25, when the narrative explains that Zipporah circumcised her son. The commentators interpret this as a cause-effect: Moses didn’t circumcise his son on the eighth day from his birth, and so God wanted to kill him. When commentators question how Zipporah figured out the cause, they explain that a messenger of God engulfed Moses up to the place of circumcision. Zipporah realized that her eight-day-old son was not yet circumcised, and she took it into her own hands. Once the infant was circumcised, the messenger loosened its hold on Moses. I interpret Zipporah’s cryptic statement “a husband of blood you are to me” as an olden-day way to say “idiot;” she was an irate wife with a newborn child yelling at her husband, “You almost caused your own death, your own bloodshed - idiot!” (I haven’t found a commentator who agrees with me, but hey, you never know.)

Zipporah’s action brings up questions about whether or not a woman can circumcise a boy in a kosher brit milah ceremony. Most rabbis hold that women are indeed completely within their rights to mohelot (female circumcisers). R Johanan of the Talmud uses the example of Zipporah as proof that women are allowed to circumcise, and other major commentators agree with him. The reasoning behind the allowance for mohelot is that while a father is commanded to circumcise his son, if he fails to do so, the beit din (religious court) must do so. When it becomes the responsibility of the beit din, the Jewish community at large is also commanded to take charge of the circumcision. Women are part of the Jewish community, and even if they are not specifically commanded to circumcise the boys, they can still do so if they want to. (Just as women are not specifically commanded to wave the Four Species on the holiday of Sukkot, they are allowed to if they want to.)

Some rabbis cite that in the commandment of circumcision, it says that only one who is circumcised is allowed to circumcise others, using this as proof that women cannot perform brit milah. Other commentators use the same proof that women can perform circumcision, since women are not born with a foreskin, so it is considered as if they are born circumcised. The majority of rabbis agree with the latter interpretation, allowing women to become mohelot.

In recent years, women have embraced the ability to perform the brit milah ceremony and become mohelot. While male mohalim still outnumber the women in the profession, women are on their way to equality. When Jeanette Rankin ran for the House of Representatives in 1916, she was the first and only woman there. Women now hold 16.8% of all Congress seats. While that number is disproportionate to population of women, it’s still a lot more than in 1916. Women have made progress so far; with God’s help, we will continue.

This blog post is dedicated in memory of Feige bat Ita, my grandmother. The name Feige is the Yiddish equivalent of the Hebrew name Zipporah. My grandmother lived a well-off life in Europe before she was taken to Auschwitz. She survived the Holocaust with her husband and made a new life in America. She never described herself as a feminist, but she was always a strong woman, part of the Line we have in our family, passing down Judaism to the next generation of women. May her nishama (soul) reach the highest levels of Olam HaBa (heaven).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 8, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

Heal us, God, then we will be healed; save us, then we will be saved, for You are our praise. Bring complete recovery for all our ailments [may it be Your will, God, my god, and the God of my ancestors, that You quickly send a complete recovery from heaven, spiritual healing and physical healing to the patient (name) son/daughter of (mother’s name) among the other patients of Israel] for You are God, Ruler, the Faithful and Compassionate Healer. Blessed are You, God, Who heals the sick of God’s nation, Israel.

רְפָאֵֽנוּ, יְיָ, וְנֵרָפֵא, הוֹשִׁיעֵֽנוּ וְנִוָּשֵֽׁעָה, כִּי תְהִלָּתֵֽנוּ אָֽתָּה, וְהַעֲלֵה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה לְכָל מַכּוֹתֵֽינוּ. כִּי אֵל מֶֽלֶךְ רוֹפֵא נֶאֱמָן וְרַחֲמָן אָתָּה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, רוֹפֵא חוֹלֵי עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל

The brakha (blessing) of Refuah is about physical (and spiritual) healing. We are praying to God that we remain healthy, and that those we know who are sick have a full recovery.

Only healthy people can properly fight for their rights. Inez Milholland, a suffragist, campaigned with Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party in the 1910s as part of the fight for the vote. Despite the fact that she suffered from pernicious anemia, she went on a lecture tour in the West, and collapsed in the middle of a speech. She died on November 25, 1916. Her last words were, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” (In the end, they waited four years - the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in August 1920.)

In this brakha, we should pray for women’s health. The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2010, 207,090 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and 20% of those cases will be fatal. In 2002, 7.3 million women used infertility services. Approximately a third of the 35,962 American women diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in 2007 died. The leading causes of death for American women are heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Despite all the health risks women face, 15% of women under the age of 65 don’t have health insurance.

Women across the globe face even worse health conditions than American women do. In Africa, 61% of HIV-positive adults are women. Between 15% and 71% of women across the globe have been physically or sexually assaulted; 1 in 5 of those assaults happened before the age of 15. Every day, 1,600 women die in childbirth, 99% of them in developing countries. As Danielle at Experimentations of a Teenage Feminist pointed out, women out of America have to deal with daily survival rather than rights.

As we say this brakha, we should pray for our own health, and for the health of women around the world. A woman has to be healthy in order to fight for her rights! Whether the right in question is suffrage, like Inez Milholland was campaigning for, or literacy, as women in Africa are crusading for, only a healthy woman can scream loudly enough to be heard. We should keep our already-sick sisters in mind for a refuah sheleimah (full recovery), and pray that those women who are still healthy remain that way.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Black Holes of Davida: Jim DeMint

Should certain people be barred from teaching? Apparently South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint thinks so. DeMint, who’s now running for a second term, said at a church rally on October 1 that homosexuals and sexually active single women shouldn’t be allowed to teach. This isn’t the first time he stomped on civil rights: during a debate in 2004, when he was first running for office, he stated that openly gay people should be barred from teaching. When further asked about his stance, he defended himself with “I would have given the same answer when asked if a single woman, who was pregnant and living with her boyfriend, should be hired to teach my third-grade children.” The reasoning behind his prehistoric attitudes? “We need the folks that are teaching in schools to represent our values.” Isn’t this country supposed to be a melting pot with varied opinions? Can’t people value gay rights?

This situation actually reminds me of a play I saw a little while ago, Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party. The play is about a gay teacher who writes Lincoln’s possible homosexuality into a fourth grade Christmas play, her subsequent dismissal, and the trial against her, plus the controversy between the opposing lawyers and the prosecutor’s son’s homosexuality. The play really explored the concepts of bigotry, especially homophobia, and how it needlessly ruins so many lives.

Terry O’Neill, the president of NOW, released a statement regarding DeMint’s chauvinistic comments saying, “[DeMint] thinks gay women and men and sexually active single women should be banned from teaching, but he said nothing about sexually active, single straight men.” Double standard much? What if his third-grade children had a single, sexually active male teacher who was living with a pregnant girlfriend - would he feel that he should be fired for his sexual activity?

Randi Weingarten, the openly gay president of the American Federation of Teachers, said, “On a personal level, as a gay woman, I am very disappointed that a senator would place more emphasis on who we are as human beings than on what we do as professionals. That is not the UNITED States of America.” Ms. Weingarten really summed it up in my opinion. A teacher’s personal life is none of anybody’s business. They teach. As long as they do their job, who cares if they’re pregnant out of wedlock or gay?

Jim DeMint also opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, unless it endangers the mother’s life. So if a woman teacher is raped and gets pregnant, she can’t teach anymore, but she can’t get an abortion either…makes a lot of sense.

His opponent, Inez Tenenbaum, was State Superintendent of Education from 1998-2007, and became the head of the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2009. Ms. Tenenbaum is not Jewish, but her husband Samuel is, and she is actively pro-Israel. While she is pro-choice, she voted against gay marriage. (Hey, at least she’s halfway there…)

I dub Jim DeMint into Black Holes of Davida - people who let us feminists down by advocating misogyny, sexism, abuse, and other anti-woman thoughts and actions.