JOFA's blog

JOFA Launches in the UK to an Eager Reception

Fri, 03/15/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

By Dina Brawer

JOFA UKThey came from all across London on an unseasonably cold and blustery night. Many of the women and men who attended the launch of JOFA UK on Tuesday night spoke of feeling present at an historic and momentous occasion. JOFA UK ambassador Dina Brawer who organised the event introduced the evening by framing the definitions of Orthodoxy and Feminism. She also gave a moving account of how JOFA helped her embark on her own Orthodox feminist journey and spoke of the many outstanding women she met through JOFA who continue to be a deep source of inspiration. JOFA in the UK sets out to be a horizontal organisation in which anyone with passion and ideas can get involved and take their ideas forward. To this end the major part of the evening was dedicated to working with ‘Open Space Technology’, a method that invites participants to stand up, select and take responsibility for the issues they passionately care about. 

The Dividing Wall

Thu, 03/14/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

By Ricki Heicklen 

Ricki Heicklen picThe Jewish people have been encountering walls for nearly as long as we have existed. These walls have ranged from physical barriers–the ghettoization of Jews throughout Europe comes to mind–to a broader feeling of separation and isolation from the outside world. And despite being walled in, fenced out, or generally forced onto the “other side” of any non-Jewish community, Jews have endured and prospered.

Most recently, the Jewish people re-acquired a wall of our own. The Western Wall, the last remaining fortification of the Second Temple, has been the source of much public controversy and political contention since it passed into Israeli hands in 1967. But over the past few years, a much more fragile barrier has spurred controversy from inside the Jewish community, dividing religious Jews on the topic of public prayer.

Interview with JOFA Journal editor Roselyn Bell

Wed, 03/13/2013 - 8:00pm -- JOFA

The JOFA Journal has been a phenomenal instrument for creating a world-wide community engagement and connection Orthodox feminists. Now going on its thirty-third issue, the JOFA Journal has covered a broad range of topics, such as women’s leadership, birth rituals, wedding rituals, gender in day schools, women the arts, body issues, women in philanthropy, and more. JOFA Board Member Roselyn Bell, the engine behind the JOFA journal who became editor in 2012, brings to the job a love and a passion for the project, as well as a wealth of editorial experience. As the Spring 2013 issue hits mailboxes – a fascinating issue which covers the vital and often under-reported topic of gender and aging in the Jewish community – Roselyn Bell shared some of her insights with JOFA Executive Director Elana Sztokman:

Roselyn Bell


I was born in Houston, Texas, to a mainstream Jewish (traditional Conservative) family and first encountered Orthodox Judaism in Israel at Hebrew University and in Berkeley, California, at Congregation Beth Israel. I was fortunate that my early rabbis were among the greats of modern Orthodoxy—Rabbi Saul Berman, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Rabbi Yosef Leibowitz—and I was much influenced by their open and engaged view of halacha and Jewish issues of the day. I participated in Drisha from its beginning, serving on its first board and studying with Rabbi David Silber, whose literary and wide-ranging approach to the biblical text opened my eyes to the richness of close text study.

A Visit to Shushan

Wed, 03/13/2013 - 5:00pm -- JOFA

By Bracha Jaffe

Purim and drama have always been passions in my family. This year they intertwined in a totally unexpected and unique way.Shachar Purim

Having recently moved to Riverdale, I immediately joined the Shachar partnership Minyan which happily cushioned my arrival in a new neighborhood. After actively participating in a few Tefilot, I casually asked whether they read the Megila on Purim. The answer was:

  • “Of course, but we do it a bit differently”
  • “Hmm” (I wondered) “what could that be?”
  • “Think of the Megila as a play…”
  • “Cool – different - how do you do it?”

“Here’s how we do it”

Partnership Minyanim: A Follow Up Response to Rabbi Freundel

Wed, 03/13/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

by Dr. Chaim Trachtman

Rabbi Freundel’s detailed analysis of the halakhic basis for Partnership Minyanim demonstrates an impressive mastery of the relevant texts. But, in assessing this new practice, it is important to examine not only the halakhic responsa but also some of the underlying assumptions about women, men, and the formulation of law within the Orthodox community that are implied in his analysis. 

One recurrent theme among those who contend that Partnership Minyanim is not supported by the halakha is that people like me who attend Partnership Minyanim and find them meaningful are ends-driven. That is to say, Partnership Minyanim supporters are thought to act solely on an emotional basis and to use halakha in service of their personal needs and desires, to satisfy ulterior motives. On a very simple level, I would invite anyone who questions the validity of Partnership Minyanim to attend one. After observing the delicate maneuvering around the mechitzah and careful attention to roles during the tefila, I would ask if they cannot recognize the effort to remain firmly connected to Orthodox practice. What kind of ulterior motive would someone have for the spending the same amount of time on Shabbat morning, saying the same tefillot, listening to a Dvar Torah with women doing select portions unless they felt themselves to be Orthodox?

Celebrating the Work of Jewish Women on International Women's Day

Tue, 03/12/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

By Elana Sztokman

This year on International Women’s Day on March 8, Jewish women have quite a lot to be proud of – but we also have a lot of work left to do. 

Jewish women are leaders in politics, law, business, social activism, sports, and science and technology. We are innovators, engineers, writers, thinkers, activists, speakers and fighters.  We are at the forefront of important movements in every major area of life, and we are helping to mold and shape culture and society not only in America but around the world.

Chief JusticesA few examples that stand out in politics: Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsberg have given Jewish women a disproportionate representation on the Supreme Court. Senator Dianne Feinstein is the Chair of the Intelligence Committee and Senator Barbara Boxer chairs both the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Ethics Committee. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the Chair of the Democratic National Committee. And Gabrielle Giffords has proven to be one of the most formidable personalities in American politics, recovering with incredible strength from her shooting last year and emerging as a vibrant spokeswoman for gun control and other important issues.

Bemakom She’ein Isha…

Mon, 03/11/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

In a place where there is no woman… 

The case for Orthodox female chaplains. 

 Female ChaplainBy Chaplain Daniel Coleman 

 I often wonder what it would take to encourage Orthodox females to become chaplains. 

 Board-certified chaplains are members of interdisciplinary healthcare teams, providing spiritual care to patients, families, and staff in moments of illness, loss, crisis, transition, and celebration. To become a chaplain, advanced post-high school Jewish education and clinical chaplaincy training are required; Semichah (rabbinic ordination) is not.  When it comes to suffering or healing on humanity, God doesn’t discriminate. In the same vein, chaplains are trained to bring healing by providing care that is sensitive to all people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, faith (or lack of it), etc.  That said, the lack of Modern Orthodox female chaplains in this country leaves the profession poorer. Their voice, along with many other qualities that can help educate and sensitize healthcare professionals to the unique concerns of observant women, is missing. 

Modesty: Whose Responsibility?

Fri, 03/08/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

By Batya Ungar-Sargon

Batya Ungar-Sargon“No one has a right to tell a woman what to wear, least of all a man who thinks his fear of women's sexuality gives him some kind of divine right to control.” This was said to me in a recent interview with Chana Cohen, 30, a freelancer in Queens, NY who recently stopped observing the Orthodox Jewish laws of modesty or tzniut.

Orthodox Judaism places certain restrictions on what women are permitted to wear, though the status of these restrictions is contested: are they halachah (law) or minhag (custom)? It’s hard to say. While the concept of erva or “sexual incitement” comes up in the Talmud, it rarely names explicit body parts that one must cover or hide. One of the few named is the thigh: “A woman’s leg is a sexual incitement,” the Talmud says in Berachot 24a, “Uncover the leg, pass through the river. Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen.” The latter is a quote from Isaiah, as though the Talmudists needed a verse describing God’s anger at the people of Israel to inform them under what circumstances to be aroused. While the Talmudists then attempt to compare a pinky finger to Makom Hatoref (literally, the place of filth or pudenda, but idiomatically, the place that devours, an excellent pun), they are quickly shut down. 

Stand Up for What you Believe In

Thu, 03/07/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

By Bat Sheva Marcus 

Photo from Mohammed YassinMarissa Mayer has been blasted as of late because of her move to get the Yahoo employees back into the office. There are any number of groups viciously attacking her, some with fairly reasonable arguments but many with purely ad hominem attacks. One group that seems to be on the war path are the feminists who seem to feel that equality somehow comes with an inbuilt guarantee of job flexibility and a work-from-anywhere approach. Sorry. As a fellow feminist, I respectfully disagree. 

A Rebbetzin is not a Rabbi

Tue, 03/05/2013 - 2:20pm -- JOFA

By Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez

I have been involved in a few conversations lately about a topic that really agitates me, so when I saw the premise used to prove the exact opposite, I simply couldn’t not say my piece publicly any longer.

A Rebbetzin is not a female Rabbi. Sorry Orthodox Jewry, but its just not reality.

While many Rebbetzins or Rabbanits (not getting into the semantics on this one now, been there done that) do serve as leaders in their communities, many do not. While some have a high level of education, some do not. And on the flip side, while some women who want to be leaders in the community marry Rabbis, others do not. The premise is that all women who want to lead have to marry Rabbis, and that all Rabbis have to marry women who want to be leaders. This is not realistic and it is not fair.


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