JOFA's blog

JOFA's Response to Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan's Attack of Women's Groups and Denial of Agunot

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

We at JOFA are deeply disappointed by the recent comments of Israeli Knesset candidate Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, former head of the Jerusalem rabbinical court, who claims that there is no real problem of agunot, but merely a problem caused by "women's groups" that are trying to unfairly besmirch the Rabbinical Court with supposedly fabricated claims of gett refusal. These statements may serve Rabbi Dahan well in his bid for a Knesset seat, but they reflect a short-sighted and misogynistic view of women's real lives.

We Need A Security Dome In The Home

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By Dr. Ruti Feuchtwanger

“The sword without, and terror within” (Deut. 32:25)

On November 18, the fifth day of Operation "Pillar of Cloud”, the body of a fifty-year-old woman was found dead in her home in Ofakim. The police suspect that she was killed by her spouse. Many people have never heard of this story – even an internet search comes up with very few results, all with few details, (like this one and not a single news item in English.

It is hard not to compare the coverage of this death with the coverage of the deaths of three people in Kiryat Mal'achi – not far from Ofakim – a few days earlier. The three victims from Kiryat Mal'achi have names and faces, and the Ofakim victim remains anonymous; they were killed by the missile of a foreign enemy, and she was (allegedly) murdered by the stabs of a “loved one” in her home; their death got widespread coverage, while hers was barely mentioned in the margin of the news.

Assessing Problems of Women’s Status in Israel

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

Israel Panel

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen 

Nearly every month, it seems, there is troubling news relating to the status of women in Israel. Late last year it was women forced to sit at the back of public buses, and then Haredim attacking schoolgirls in Beit Shemesh for being insufficiently modest. In October the leader of Women of the Wall was arrested and allegedly mistreated by police for leading others in prayer at the Kotel. And recently, according to the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, Knesset candidate Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan declared that the agunah issue is caused by women’s groups trying to besmirch the rabbinical courts, rather than by husbands who refuse to divorce their estranged wives.

So How Does She Do It?

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By Elana Sztokman

Elana SztokmanSince I began working at JOFA, first as Interim Director and then as Executive Director, the staff and I have been inundated with the question: “How does she do it?” I tend to wonder what “it” is – work in a high-pressure job, leave my kids once in a while, or take a job that I really love? But let’s assume that for the most part the question refers to the issue of my travel and living arrangements; after all, I live in Israel and work in New York, and I have four children ages 9-19, and that feels like an impossible combination.

JOFA Appoints Elana Sztokman as Executive Director

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

Robin & ElanaNYC, November 28, 2012 -- Longtime Orthodox feminist activist Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman has been named the new Executive Director of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, effective immediately. Dr. Sztokman, 42, who holds a doctorate in gender and education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is the author of two books on gender issues in Orthodoxy, and is one of the founders of the organization Mavoi Satum, which helps women denied divorce in Israel. She brings a rich and varied background to the position, and a strong passion for the issue. 

“We are very excited to have an Executive Director with such a lifelong commitment to Orthodox feminism” said JOFA President Judy Heicklen. “We look forward to JOFA’s next chapter with Elana, where we will work together to expand women’s leadership roles and bring about greater ritual inclusion for women in Orthodox life.”

The Agunah Issue Goes Mainstream

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By Elana Sztokman

I was excited to participate last week in a colloquium of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) on the subject of “The Chief Rabbinate and Israel-Diaspora Relations” because it marked a very important moment for women advancing social change in Israel. The colloquium, organized by Dr. Steven Bayme, brought together some 50 leaders of Jewish organizations from Israel and America to discuss the impact of the state rabbinical institutions on Jewish identity in Israel and America. The event was not only a welcome opportunity to engage with top Jewish minds on topics of great interest, but more importantly signaled an important stage of development in the impact of so-called “women’s issues” on Jewish discourse at large. It was a moment, I believe, when we can say that the agunah issue has gone mainstream.

Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) to launch in the UK

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By JOFA Staff

Dina BrawerJOFA is to launch activities and programs in London. This follows the comprehensive JLC report entitled Inspiring Women Leaders: Advancing Gender Equality in Jewish Communal Life.

While only one element of the report focused on ritual participation for women, this issue received disproportionate attention from the women who attended the consultation meeting held on March 22, 2012. Numerous women raised the issue of their lack of participation in Orthodox ritual life and expressed their frustration that their voices were not being heard by the Orthodox rabbinic leadership.

Kol Ishah - Don’t Drown Out a Woman’s Voice

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld

Vayishlach, 5773 

As Yaakov is preparing to meet his brother Esav and he is afraid of what his wicked brother might do, the Torah tells us that Yaakov brings his eleven children across the river to meet Esav (Genesis 32:23).

Rashi citing the Midrash immediately notices that Yaakov has not eleven children, but twelve. Rashi asks: “Vedinah heichan haytah? Where was Dinah?” Rashi answers:

He put her into a box and locked her in, so that Esav would not set eyes on her. Therefore, Jacob was punished for withholding her from his brother- because perhaps she would cause him to improve his ways-and she fell into the hands of Shechem. [Rashi 32:23, from Gen. Rabbah 75:9]

Profile of Rachel Kohl Finegold

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

RKFRachel (pronounced ra-ĤEL) Kohl Finegold, The Education and Ritual Director of Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation, where she also holds the Dr. Carol Fuchs Kaufman Rabbanit Chair, will be part of the first graduating class of Yeshivat Maharat this coming June. As a member of the newest cohort of religious women leaders in the Orthodox world, and one of a handful of women around the country who hold official clergy positions in Orthodox shuls, Ms. Finegold has a vital perspective on religious life in America and on the transformations around gender and leadership that the community is witnessing today. Ms. Finegold, the 32-year-old mother of two, spoke with JOFA Executive Director Elana Sztokman about the changes happening for Orthodox women leaders, and about the special role that JOFA supporters have in this process:  

My Daughter at the Pulpit

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

Chaye KohlBy Chaye Kohl 


March 14, 2008 

Author's note: The Purim story highlights the leadership of Queen Esther. Today, in the modern Orthodox community, more young women have become leaders within Jewish communal life, providing services that until now were the purview of assistant rabbis. This column highlights Rachel Kohl Finegold, a former resident of Highland Park, now Education and Ritual Director at Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation in Lakeview, Chicago. The writer is her proud Mom. 

JOFA Changing of the Guard: My conversation with Robin Bodner

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

When I decided to take this job as Executive Director of JOFA, one of the most thrilling incentives for me was that I would have the opportunity to work with women whose work I have admired for so long. The image of standing on the shoulders of giants keeps returning to me, as I learn more about the organization and its powerful history of making change. To honor this truth, and to give the well-deserved respect to women whose dedication to gender advancement in Orthodox life built this organization, the staff and I have decided that we are going to use the space of the Spotlight Blog to profile the JOFA leadership. We started with JOFA treasurer Allie Alperovich, and we will continue to do so throughout the year.  

Now, as I enter this privileged role leading the organization, I sat down with my predecessor, Robin Bodner, who served as Executive Director for ten years and steered JOFA through most of its journey until now. I wanted to gain wisdom from her experiences, her about her dreams and vision, and of course honor her vital contribution to the cause. The interview was moving, engaging, and enlightening, and gave me some great motivation in moving forward:  

Robin BodnerHow did you come to work for JOFA?

In 1997, I went to the first international conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy. It was exciting to see so many people who were thinking and talking about issues that were on my mind.  I remember feeling back then that I wanted  to be part of this movement. 

Women's Organizations to Party Leaders

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

This is a statement sent out by Kolech and Mavoi Satum in Israel about a mutual respect campaign.  

Women's organizations to party leaders: "Do not support extortion during divorce proceedings"

30 organizations have sent a letter to political party leaders demanding legislation to prevent get refusal and extortion during divorce proceedings.  

Yesterday thirty women's organizations led by "Mavoi Satum" and Kolech " asked all political party leaders to support a solution to get refusal during divorce proceedings in Israel. In a letter to party leaders  the organizations suggested a way to avoid the phenomenon of extortion and get refusal by encouraging couples to sign a prenuptial agreement known as the “mutual respect agreement”. 

Inclusive Language: One Reason Why We Still Need Jewish Orthodox Feminism

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By Ilanna Newman 

 Ilanna NewmanEarlier this month, a friend sent me a video by The Factuary called “What Do Feminists Have Left?”  It argued that though we have come incredibly far in the last century, there are five things feminists in America have left to fight for: equal pay, access to reproductive care, greater media representation, an end to rape culture, and an end to microaggression.  I hadn’t encountered the term microaggression before, so I delved into its history and broadened meaning. The term was coined in 2007 by the psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce and originally was used to describe the use of racial slurs in both intentional and unintentional insults. Microaggression also refers to the derogatory use of a term for any marginalized group, even if the speaker does not intend for the use to be offensive toward that group.  The LGBT rights movement has done a spectacular job campaigning against one of the most common offenders – “That’s so gay.” 

First Women’s Tefillah Group at The Hampton Synagogue

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By Chavie Kahn

The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, New York held its first Women’s Tefillah Group on August 18, 2012 in celebration of my daughter Sarina Kofman’s Bat Mitzvah.  In short, a part of my Jewish dream for my daughter came true.

My daughter had the opportunity to leyn for the first time in her life, as did I. As it was both Rosh Chodesh Elul and Shabbat, Sarina chanted Hallel andleyned the first aliyah of Parashat Re’eh, the maftir aliyah for Rosh Chodesh and the haftarah for Rosh Chodesh.   The remainder of the aliyot were chanted by close female family members and friends. 

Training the Next Generation--Youth involvement in the Shaarei Tefillah Women’s Tefillah Group

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By Joanne Kamens Niewood

Shaarei TefillahOne of the first special events of the Shaarei Tefillah Women’s Tefillah Group (WTG) was a Bat Mitzvah. Since that time, girls and young women in our kahal (congregation) have actively participated in many aspects of ritual including leading Shabbat services, reading Torah, participating in a women’s Simchat Torah service, and reading from Megilot Esther, Eichah and Ruth. We have also developed an innovative Bat Mitzvah tutoring program where older girls (15 and older) have the opportunity to teach the younger girls for their B'not Mitzvah.  We are currently exploring ways to expand the WTG’s community activities beyond ritual, and into other areas such as learning. This will likely give more girls (and women) a chance to participate after Bat Mitzvah.  Not all girls (just like not all boys) enjoy the public performance aspect of leading a service or chanting from the Torah.  While we are advocates of teaching all girls to read and appreciate the Torah trope, in my opinion, we will do well to find ways for the girls that don’t enjoy that aspect of synagogue involvement to participate in other ways with the WTG community of women.

Hayyei Sarah: A Midrash about Beauty

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By Hannah Hashkes

In loving memory of my aunt, Sarah Vakshtok, and my cousin, Rachel Toiber, beautiful women.

This week’s parashaHayyei Sarah, begins with the count of Sarah’s days, a rare occurrence where women are concerned in the Torah: וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי שָׂרָה. 

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years, the years of the life of Sarah.  

But stating the length of Sarah’s life is not the only unusual feature of the verse. A similar structure is used in the reports of Avraham’s and Yitzhak’s deaths as well; still, it is here that Rashi comments on the multiple uses of the word year in the account of Sarah’s death. He notices the separation of the digits making up the numbers of her years by the word year and cites Bereishit Rabba:  

Women Completing the Talmud along with Men

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

by JOFA Staff

If anyone is looking for proof that women’s advanced Talmud learning has come of age, the August 6 Modern Orthodox Siyum Hashas was it.  The packed crowd at Congregation Shearith Israel (The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue) in Manhattan was full of women and men from different backgrounds learning together in a colorful array of classes and sessions taught by both women and men. The celebration, which was coordinated by Rabbi Dov Linzer and proudly co-sponsored by JOFA along with many modern Orthodox institutions, marked the completion of the twelfth cycle of daf yomi, and arguably the first time that women were included as full and equal partners in the process. Daf yomi is the practice of learning a folio of Talmud each day so as to complete the entire Talmud in 7.5 years.

Young Jewish Women Leaders Bring in the New Year with the JOFA Campus Fellowship's Leadership Seminar

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

by JOFA Staff JOFA 2012 Fellows and Speakers

The next generation of Orthodox feminist leaders kicked off the New Year on Sunday with an intense leadership development seminar.  The JOFA Campus Fellowship is an innovative JOFA program that cultivates leadership among outstanding young Orthodox women. The JOFA Campus Fellows gathered for a day of seminars, lectures and workshops about promoting a feminist consciousness in the Orthodox community, as well as riveting talks from some of the women whose life work has been dedicated to advancing Jewish women. 

Introducing JOFA’s new Associate Director: Dr. Ali Yares

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

Ali YaresDr. Ali Yares, the new JOFA Associate Director, brings with her a decade of Jewish organizational experience and a doctorate in communication design. The 31-year-old mother of two, who did her undergraduate degrees in the joint Columbia University JTS program, recently moved from Baltimore, Maryland, to Syosset, New York, in order to work at JOFA. She spoke to the JOFA Spotlight team about her ideas, impressions, and dreams:

Ushpizot: Inviting Sacred Women into the Sukkah

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

by JOFA Staff

The “Ushpizin”, literally “guests”, is a Jewish custom to invite the spirits of our ancestors into the Sukkah during the seven nights of the traditional holiday (eight in the Diaspora). The Ushpizin represent the commandment to open one’s house to poor people, as well as the more kabbalistic idea that each guest has a unique character trait or energy that we would like to invite into our lives, families, communities and world. The seven traditional Ushpizin are all men. Over the past few years, women have created parallel rituals to invite “Ushpizot”, women spiritual guests, each night a different woman. Although some Ushpizot texts use the seven women who are traditionally believed to have been prophetesses, others vary the names invoked based on women whose lives had particular meaning. The ceremony suggested below uses seven Jewish ancestral women based on particular traits that they embodied, with a suggested variation at the end.

Atlanta, Georgia: Where a teenage girl is leading change for Orthodox women

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

by JOFA Staff 

Eden FarberThe women of the Orthodox community of Atlanta, Georgia, are going to be celebrating Simchat Torah like they have never celebrated before – and it’s all thanks to the hard work and vision of a young woman who led the way. Fifteen-year-old Eden Farber wanted more opportunities for women’s ritual inclusion, and spent the past six months working with her rabbi and community in a series of events that will be culminating with the first ever women’s Torah reading on Simchat Torah at the Young Israel of Toco Hills. 

Eden, who studies frequently at the Drisha Institute and learns daf yomi, has been frustrated with women’s limited roles in synagogue, which she wrote in an article published in Fresh Ink for Teens last year:  (

Rabba Hurwitz Online

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By: Deborah Fineblum Raub  

Tell me that you’re surprised.

Since last February when the creators of MAKERS launched their website to spotlight the women who’ve changed the face of America and the world, quite of few of these trailblazers turn out to be Jewish.

Among the MAKERS are Ruth Bader Ginsburg of course and Barbara Walters. There’s Madeleine Albright(a latecomer to be sure but we’ll take her) and Nora Ephron, whose recent passing left the world with a serious irony deficiency.

Tales from the Field: Anecdotes and Reflections on Gender in Early Childhood Education

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By Chaya R. Gorsetman and Amy T. Ament

Reprinted from the Summer 2011 Jofa Journal 

“One of the long term goals of early education is to strengthen and support children’s inborn tendencies to be curious and deeply engaged in making the best sense they can of their experiences.”1 

Life in our modern Orthodox communities is changing. What might have been true about the role of women only a generation ago can no longer be taken for granted. Women are learning, consulting on halakha, taking active leadership roles sitting on shul boards, and taking on more mitzvot, such as insisting on hearing the shofar and sitting in a sukkah.

However, the social reality is not necessarily in concert with the messages being transmitted in day schools. This problem should be of utmost concern to educators, particularly in light of the abundant research demonstrating the ways in which children acquire knowledge by making connections between what they are learning and what they have already experienced.2 The central question, therefore, is: What happens when a child experiences something in school that contradicts his or her social context or personal experience? The reality for most boys and girls attending modern Orthodox day schools includes men and women who are educated professionals—successful doctors, lawyers, scientists and professors who take an active role in public life. Often, however, the subtle messages they receive in school, specifically in the context of Jewish life, conflict with the social context with which they are familiar. Children 
experience a disparity between the home and school, and schools have thus far been ill equipped to address the impact of this disparity on the development of young children.

The following stories from the field illustrate these ideas in very poignant ways. All interactions described occurred between teachers and students within modern Orthodox day school settings. each highlights important questions and challenges the reader to imagine how it might have gone differently.

Tzizit1. Some boys in a kindergarten class were not consistently wearing tzitzit to school. The teacher invited the school rabbi to help the boys understand why they should wear tzitzit. The rabbi, speaking to the entire coed class, was so 
effective in his speech that a young girl commented, “If this mitzvah comes from the Torah and it is so important, I want to wear 
tzitzit, too.”  The Rabbi then gave the explanation of kevod bat melekh penimah—because girls 
are innately more spiritual, they don’t need reminders such as 
kippah and tzitzit. As a result of this conversation, the director fielded several calls from parents the following day, reporting that their sons came home under the 
impression that girls are more special than boys.

One Small Step for a Feminist, One Giant Leap for Womankind

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By Eden Farber

A crisp fall morning. A march of beautiful, resonating voices. Joyous celebratory dancing. Tears; tears of both simhah and longing for more. One Torah reading by women, for women. 

TorahFor the first time ever, this year my shul held a for-women-by-women Torah reading for Simhat Torah. Practicing with the Torah the day before yom tov, I was excited to have the opportunity to leyn again—this was something I’ve done before and feel is one of my most connected religious experiences. Yet what made me emotional was not when I stood at the Torah—but when my mother did. Hearing her read from the Torah for the first time in her entire life—her perfect cantilation, her poise—I just stood there, in front of the entire group, and cried. My Ima, reading the Torah—it was then that I realized how important this really was. This was about mothers showing daughters, daughters showing mothers that religion is for us, too. Three generations of women would read Torah the next day—bonding and uniting with each other through this incredible religious experience of reciting the words of our God.

Meet the JOFA Leadership: Allie Alperovich

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

Allie Alperovich

JOFA Treasurer and Board Member Allie Alperovich received the honor of being “Kallat Bereishit” this year at her synagogue, Darkhei Noam,, on the holiday of Simchat Torah. Ms. Alperovich, 36, is an attorney at Ropes and Gray and mother of two who was named one of "36 under 36" Jewish leaders by the Jewish Week in 2011.  She is an integral part of the JOFA lay leadership, with a strong vision for women’s inclusion in Orthodox Jewish life.

JOFA Interim Director Elana Sztokman interviewed Ms. Alperovich following her Kallat Bereishit honor: Allie Alperovich

How did you get involved with JOFA?

I got involved with JOFA prior to the 2007 conference when JOFA put out a call for volunteers to work on programming. I volunteered for the conference and really enjoyed it, and got very involved first in the conference and then in other aspects of the organization. And then I eventually asked to be on the board, and I’ve been here ever since.

Community on the Lower East Side in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

By Rachel Lieberman

As I traveled down to the Lower East Side on Friday morning, I saw a startling version of Manhattan. Buildings and traffic lights were dark. A few stores were open, and operating by candle light. Army trucks were positioned on the streets.  Shuttle buses were packed to the gills, unable to stop to pick up passengers waiting on the streets. Hydrants outside of buildings were open, with a trickle of water, so that residents without water could gather a pail of water. Lines snaked around multiple blocks as people stood in line for drinking water, ice, food and a chance to charge their cellphones. It was an incredibly grim, disorienting, and heartbreaking picture—a majestic city paralyzed.

But the heartbreak outside stood in stark contrast to the acts of kindness that took place inside many apartment buildings.


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