By Pam Scheininger
As I sat down to write this article, I kept coming back to the thought, “What do I have to say about COVID that has not already been said?” The global experience of COVID, and the myriad ways it has affected us individually and communally, have been analyzed and expounded upon by philosophers, politicians, economists, and theologians around the world. Much has already been written about what we might learn from this pandemic, and more will be shared as we continue to experience its impact and adapt to living in an altered reality.
COVID has been universally and uniquely disruptive in very significant ways, and disruption is not usually regarded as a positive phenomenon. We generally prefer our world to be predictable. We like to plan and to be able to rely on broadly accepted rules. However, as Orthodox feminists, disruption is often our friend. The traditional, longstanding norms of Orthodox Judaism do not readily allow the space for women that we want and need. So we embrace—and sometimes create—disruption in order to challenge those rules and norms, with the goal of forging a new reality that encompasses a vibrant and equitable Orthodox community.
The disruptions for humanity caused by COVID have been largely negative; this has been no less true in our own communities. Many of the disruptions experienced in the Orthodox world were gendered. As shuls began to reopen, men were often prioritized and women marginalized even more than usual, as they were excluded from the count of those permitted to attend services. Mikveh became far more challenging and complicated as halakhah clashed with health concerns. Many mothers shouldered a disproportionate burden, struggling to work while their children were learning remotely and in and out of quarantines.
But as with all disruptions, there have also been positive developments. The call for articles for this edition of the JOFA Journal was met with an unprecedented response. As a result, we have a rich collection of articles that cover community building during quarantine, examining and redefining our relationship with mikveh, and the power of institutions and organizations to pivot to online platforms and tools in order to continue their good work—as well as personal stories of challenges, strength, and positive growth in this unique time in history.
As an organization, JOFA has taken advantage of opportunities presented by COVID to adapt our programming. For example, we convened our first online conference, which reached participants in more than 60 cities and seven countries—and we continue to use our online platforms to carry out our mission, while reevaluating what Orthodox feminism looks like in the time of COVID.
On a philosophical and theological plane too, COVID has been deeply disruptive. Many of these disruptions have been difficult and painful. But some have led to the formation of new spaces for engagement; new ways of thinking and acting; and new ways to experience ourselves, our families, our communities, and our lives as Orthodox feminists. The articles in this issue of the JOFA Journal reflect a range of thoughts and voices about this ongoing experience and exploration of our new reality.
Ruthie Braffman Shulman
Ruthie Braffman Shulman served as a Devorah Scholar at the United Orthodox Synagogue in Houston, TX. There she held the role of Director of Education and