JOFA's blog

My Conversation with the Rabbi about Feminism

Thu, 05/02/2013 - 10:01am -- JOFA

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

I had an enlightening conversation recently with an Orthodox rabbi in which I got a clear glimpse into what some people think of feminists.

The rabbi wanted to know what JOFA is, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, where I work as Executive Director. When I explained that we advance women’s inclusion in all areas of religious Jewish life, he responded, “That’s nice, and it sounds like something I might support, but have you thought about your name?”

Rabbi Kalb On Women Of The Wall

Thu, 04/11/2013 - 8:01pm -- JOFA

The following is a text version of a speech delivered by Rabbi David Kalb at a Solidarity Minyan (Prayer Service) in Support of Women of the Wall at Town and Village Synagogue on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, Tuesday, March 13 2013. Some minor changes were made from the original.

Shalom and Chodesh Tov (Have A Good Month). I am an Orthodox Rabbi and I believe that every Jew should have the right to pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall in his or her own way. I might not personally agree with the way every individual or community approaches Tefilah, Prayer. I might even disagree on Halachic, Jewish legal grounds. However, the fact that I might disagree, or that anyone else might disagree, does not take away from their right to pray at the Kotel.

This is a civil rights issue, this is a civil liberties issue and it is an issue of separation between religion and government, but it is also a spiritual issue. Sefer Bereshit (The Book of Genesis) Chapter 1, Line 27, teaches that all human beings are created Bselem Elokim, in the Image of God.

My Rebbe (My Rabbi, My Teacher) Rav (Rabbi) Yitz Greenberg teaches the following. The literal meaning of the phrase Bselem Elokim is that human beings are pictures of God. How can this be? We know that Judaism forbids pictures of God. No matter how different any of our Synagogues may be, not one of them has a picture of God on its wall. Let me pose a few questions. The most common picture in the world of George Washington, what is it worth? $1. The most common picture in the world of Abraham Lincoln, what is it worth? $5. The most common picture in the world of Alexander Hamilton, what is it worth? $10. Now, here is the tough question. What is a picture of God worth? Priceless or infinite value, and who are the pictures of God? We are: human beings.

Israeli Women, Jewish Women and the Challenges of Multiple Identities

Thu, 04/11/2013 - 1:30pm -- JOFA

BJ Israel PanelOver 100 people gathered in the community room at B’nai Jeshuran synagogue on New York’s Upper West Side on Sunday, March 10th for a unique program marking International Women’s Day.  The program was part of a month-long observance of Women’s History Month that the AZM and WZO jointly mark as “FeminIsrael.  Each year FeminIsrael explores the challenges facing Israeli women and celebrates their accomplishments and the accomplishments of women worldwide.

Interview with JOFA's Office Manager Heather G. Stoltz

Tue, 04/09/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

Heather StoltzJOFA is blessed to have a dedicated, diverse professional staff, a team comprised of women with strong passions and impressive skills that all contribute to JOFA programming. Heather Stoltz, whose official position is JOFA Office Manager, is not only an invaluable asset to JOFA daily operations, but also brings with her a rich background in Jewish text study and art. This year, Heather was designated one of the 2012 “36 under 36” by the Jewish Week, and has had several exhibitions that have given her some well-deserved exposure. She is also the Co-­president of the Women’s Caucus for Art New York Chapter and received a 2011 Manhattan Community Art Funds grant for Temporary Shelter, her installation piece about homeless New Yorkers. Her work has been exhibited nationally and featured in Jewish Threads, Creative Quilting: The Journal Quilt Project and several other publications. She was a Drisha Arts Fellow 2008-­2010 and was an Artist-in­-Residence at the 2008 National Havurah Committee Summer Institute.  

Heather splits her time between JOFA and her art work. JOFA is very proud to have Heather on staff, and is thrilled that she is pursuing Jewish feminism through art.  JOFA Director Elana Sztokman spoke with Heather about her work and recent achievements:

How Art Met Feminism in “New Moon: A Festival of the Arts”

Fri, 04/05/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

By Chana Tolchin, Barnard College JOFA Fellow

Chana Tolchin, Barnard FellowOn a college campus, involvement in the arts is hard for anyone. Commitment to a play, a cappella group, or dance troupe is an “all-or nothing” deal; the hours are long and being active in any of these activities requires weekend and late night sacrifices. It’s a lot for any college student to handle, but for religious women on campus, art opportunities pose the issues of modesty on stage (including the restriction of Kol Isha) and scheduling conflicts with Shabbat, as all plays in college have Saturday performances.

In high school, my life revolved around artistic activities. I performed in school musicals and the school choir, and in my junior and senior year I helped plan and run an arts-fundraiser event that was open to the community at large. In college, I sought similar opportunities  - even auditioned and got in to the Jewish women’s a cappella group – but I struggled with the requirements of my courses and ultimately felt that the time commitment was just too much. I wanted a more doable artistic outlet but didn’t know where on campus to find it. I put all my efforts into other pursuits that were important to me, concluding that performance would not be possible during my college career.

The price of a ski vacation

Thu, 04/04/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

By Mona Berdugo

This time of year – just before Pesach – is always a bit crazy in just about every Jewish household. There's the cleaning, feeling guilty for not cleaning enough, menu planning, trying to come up with interesting things to do or say at the seder that can keep everyone interested etc. This year, in addition to all the usual pre-Pesach things to contend with, I also had a family ski trip, a daughter starting her army service (which apparently requires way more shopping than I ever imagined,) and a party celebrating my father-in-law's 80th birthday. Not that I am complaining – these are all wonderful excuses to procrastinate, for which I am truly grateful – but according to the daf yomi schedule I had to finish Masechet Shabbat somewhere in there too, so this was not a good time for me to fall behind.
My family is certainly not one of those that goes on European vacations every year, but I love skiing and there's not much of it in Israel. My kids really wanted to go so we'd been dreaming about a family ski trip for a few years. Now that my oldest was about to begin her army service I figured if we don't do it now we probably won't get another chance for a long time so off we went.

“Women are not accustomed to pouring wine”: On Women and Liberation

Thu, 03/21/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

By Naama Goldberg

The holiday of freedom sets the tone for the entire month of Nisan –  the month of freedom – during which time the concept of freedom is expressed through a whole range of halachot, especially some of those connected to Seder night. The Mishnah in Pesachim  (10:1) reads: “On the night of Passover ….. even the poorest of Israel shall not eat until he reclines, and shall drink no less than four cups of wine, even if it comes from the tamhui (soup kitchen)”

One of the laws that most emphatically expresses the idea of freedom on Seder night is that of reclining. According to Rambam, “We are commanded to eat while reclining in order to eat the way of kings and great men, the way of freedom.” The Jerusalem Talmud (Pesachim 90:1) similarly writes: “Rabbi Levy says: Since the way of the slaves is to eat standing up, therefore  we eat while reclining in order to pronounce that we have gone from slavery to freedom.” The Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 108a) relates a debate about the obligation to recline while drinking the four cups, a debate from which we learn that the obligation is only upon those who are able to fully experience the feeling of being free. For this reason, women in the presence of their husbands and students in the presence of their rabbis are exempt (but not students in the presence of their vocational teachers or sons in the presence of their fathers).

Privileges and Responsibilities of the First Generation

Wed, 03/20/2013 - 4:00pm -- JOFA

Rachel LiebermanBy Rachel Lieberman

The bechor, the firstborn son, is a prominent theme on Passover. The bechor appears in the Haggadah, in the Torah readings for Passover and in the customs that surround the holiday. Makat haBechorot, the tenth plague where God slew the Egyptians’ firstborn sons and saved the Israelites’ sons is so significant that it is given as an answer for the redemption from Egypt.

God commands, “When your children say to you, ‘What is this service to you?’ You will say, ‘It is the Pascal sacrifice to God, who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when God smote the Egyptians, but God saved our households.” (Ex. 12:25-27)

Kolech Arev: Women's Voices and Shir Hashirim

Wed, 03/20/2013 - 2:00pm -- JOFA

Hinda EisenBy Hinda Tzivia Eisen

My junior year at Boston University, I produced a painting as the final project for a class about the literary afterlife of the book of Genesis. The day of the presentation, my class was given the opportunity to interpret my work before I was to give its explanation. I remember that some of what my classmates read into my painting was spot-on: the colors I had chosen, the positioning of the imagery, the symbols. Other ideas that they read into it jived with the message I was trying to send but hadn’t been intended. Still one or two interpretations of my painting were so off-base I began to regret the choices that even remotely led my classmates there.

Be it Bible, fiction, or biography, I always try to read a text or see a piece of artwork for what it is, considering its original context and the intention of its author. Shir Hashirim, the biblical Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) has taken an interpretive beating.

A d'var Torah for Passover: Stepping up to the Role

Wed, 03/20/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

Rori Picker NeissBy Rori Picker Neiss

Moses, the hero (at least flesh-and-blood hero) of our Passover story, has only a singular mention in the entire Passover Haggadah-- within the context of a biblical quote.

On some level, this fact should not be surprising to us. Moses is well-known for his humility. Famously, in the Bible, when God first revealed Godself to Moses at the burning bush, “Moses hid his face - ויסתר משה פניו” (Exodus 3:6). In fact, the Midrash in Leviticus Rabbah (Vilna 1:5) teaches that it was for that reason, for Moses’s very humility, that God chose to send Moses as God’s messenger to Pharaoh: “ועתה לכה ואשלחך אל פרעה והוצא את עמי בני ישראל ממצרים - And now go, I will send you to Pharaoh, and you shall free My people, the Israelites, from Egypt” (Exodus 3:10).

However, Rabbi Elazar points out that there is an extra letter “ה” in the word לכה - go. He expounds that the extra letter serves to emphasize the word. Moses must go to free the Israelites from Egypt, because if he were not to go, no one else could go in his place. This is not merely a suggestion from God or even an exhortation, but an imperative.

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