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.