Friday, October 15, 2010

"Jewish? And feminist? Did I hear you right?"

No, I'm not Jewish. But a good friend of mine is, and when I posed the question "can feminism and religion truly coexist?" she was the first person to step up to the plate.

I consider myself a Unitarian Universalist, humanitarian, secular humanist - whatever you want to call it - so I know next to nothing about the inner mechanations of the major world religions. I wanted to write about feminism and Christianity, feminism and Islam, feminism and Buddhism (and so on), but it would be pretty hypocritical/stupid of me to try to write when I'm not "on the inside," if that makes sense.

Here to speak on behalf of Judaism is my good friend Talia, authoress of a blog cleverly titled Star of Davida. Talia describes herself as "A loudmouth, opinionated teenage Femidox (feminist Orthodox) Jew with a love of unadulterated Judaism, a fascination with her people's historical women, and way too much time on her hands," so you can bet her blog is worth checking out!

Here's what she said in response to my question:

"In June, someone asked me what my summer plans were. 'Well, I’m going to work on my Jewish feminist blog Star of Davida,' I replied. The person I was talking to looked confused. I could tell he was holding back from saying, 'Jewish? And feminist? Did I hear you right?'

It’s a reaction I’ve gotten from quite a few people; no one seems to be able to comprehend an Orthodox Jewwho’s also a feminist. I find it kind sad that Judaism, a religion that is so feminist, has been labeled as a patriarchal, sexist religion when it’s really not. The Torah, the central holy book of Judaism, continually affirms women’s equality.

When the Jews were given the Torah, God said to Moses, “So shall you say to the House of Jacob and the Children of Israel” (Exodus 19:3). The term “Children of Israel” is how the Bible refers to the Jewish nation, so commentators question the seemingly-extra “House of Jacob.” Most explain that “House of Jacob” refers to the women, while “Children of Israel” refers to the men. The commentators (who lived in medieval communities not famed for being pro-feminist) next question why it puts the women before the men.
At Creation, God created Adam and told him not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. God then created Eve, but did not tell her to abstain from the Tree directly, leaving it to Adam to pass on the message. The snake was then able to convince Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, Eve convinced Adam, and the two were expelled from the Garden of Eden.

Seeing how it didn’t work out so well when God didn’t command womankind, God made up for it and commanded the women first at the giving of the Torah. It worked this time: when Moses didn’t come down from Mount Sinai on the expected date and the Jews created the Golden Calf as his replacement, the women didn’t participate.

This is one example of many in Judaism that shows that neither men nor women should have supremacy. Having ovaries does not make someone less of a person, and Judaism is fully aware of the fact. God wants equality for all people, of any gender, race, or religion."

Well, what's your opinion? Can feminism and religion truly coexist? Whether you're Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, athiest, agnostic, or a Unitarian like me, send me your answers! I'd love to hear from you and publish your thoughts in an upcoming post, along with your name, blog, and anything else you'd like to promote. Check out the submission rules here.


  1. Well, if you're not an idiot or a hypocrite, then your feminism and your religious beliefs should be compatible. Considering that every major religion has a wide range of interpretations and practices, you should not have trouble making feminism fit into your faith so long as your thoughts remain flexible.

  2. Feminism and religion can definitely coexist! I'm a Muslim girl and I identify with feminism. Yeah, I know, one doesn't typically hear 'feminist' and 'Islam' in the same breath, but here I am! Islam is occasionally- who am I kidding? Always- perceived as a sexist religion also, when it most definitely is not. It is certain cultures that associate with Islam, that limit the rights of women to their liking. Islam is very empowering to women. The sad thing is that some Muslim women don't realize this, aka they don't know their rights. Something I always tell people who think Islam and women's rights are not compatible is that in Islam, women were granted rights naturally; by the decree of God. While here in the west, women had to forcibly gain their rights and even then, various circumstances such as shortage of men and industrial revolution aided in the evolution of those rights.

    ALso, I have a friend who is a hardcore Buddhist feminist :D

  3. Talia and Danielle, I love both of your blogs!I am also and Orthodox Jewish feminist, and i have found that frequently observant Jews will use Jewish law/tradition as an excuse for their sexism, and that leads people to think that Judaism/the Torah is sexist.

    Zei, I have a question for you- I really don't want to be offensive and I really hope you take this question as an honestly curious question and not anything else. I recently read Infidel by Aayan Hirsi Ali and in it she says that the Koran explicitly states that it is okay to beat wives. Of course, I have not studied the Koran at all and I don't know if this is true. Is that accurate, and if it is, how do you reconcile that with your feminism?

  4. I think. the reason why people dont see why judaism and feminism cannot coexist is because jewish(from the ones ive seen) segregate the genders by the men on one side women on the other as well as that many churches dont allow female leadership. Again it prob has nothing to do with the torah but social tradition in judaism can be very sexist but from what i have seen its improving.

  5. That's very true- The main problem with orthodox Judaism is not that the genders are separated for prayer, it's that all the action goes on in the men's section. however, there are many organizations that are working on this problem. This past Sabbath I was able to attend services at a synogouge where women participate so much more than usual while still within Jewish law, and it felt so right compared with the synogouge my family attends, where the women are in the back and only watch what's going on in the men's section. Most of the things in Judaism that seem very sexist are tradition and not law, and there are people trying to change them.

  6. @She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named (A.K.A. Avigayil)

    Wow, I just stumbled on this again..Hooray for favorites!

    Thank you for your question and don't ever feel hesitant to ask anything! To answer your question, the Quran is open to many interpretations and many verses are not supposed be taken literally. Also, we have something called ahadith which refers to sayings or actions by the Prophet Muhammed and his companions.

    The Quran does say to "beat them," however, in a hadeeth the prophet clarified saying to tap them (wives) with a miswak (a twig).

    Overall, domestic violence is not in accordance with Islam. On his death bed, the prophet (peace be upon him) said the best among you is he who is good to his wife.

    Please let me know if you have any questions. I'll do my best to answer them.


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