F R O M O U R E X E C U T I V E D I R E C T O R
By Daphne Lazar Price
In 1997 I attended the First International Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy in New York City. It was the precursor to what was to become the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. I arrived with a friend and, despite all the hype, my expectations were fuzzy. But I left that groundbreaking two-day, 1,000+ attendee gathering with a clear sense of purpose, a whole new community, and a renewed excitement for my own Jewish engagement.
It was at that conference where calls to action by pioneering Orthodox feminists made such an impact on me that they continue to inspire me today. In the years since those sparks were first ignited, Jofa has driven this mission forward in numerous ways, engaging countless Orthodox women and men—clergy, educators, and lay leaders alike—in advocating for expanding women’s rights and opportunities within the framework of halakhah to a vibrant and equitable Orthodox community for us all.
Today, as we celebrate Jofa’s first quarter-century, Orthodox girls and women are engaging in deeper learning, taking on more advanced leadership roles, and participating in more enriching ritual experiences in unprecedented numbers. Jofa is the long-established leader in providing extensive tools and resources, educational programs, and conferences, and investing in the full spectrum of Orthodox women’s leadership across the educational, communal, spiritual, and halakhic spheres, actively guiding our communities, increasing knowledge and awareness, and developing our next generation.
Twenty-five years ago, when Blu Greenberg rallied the audience with her oft-quoted “Where there’s a rabbinic will, there’s a halakhic way,” it was a call to end the agunah crisis, which painfully remains today, despite some steps forward. Of course, what Blu was referencing more broadly was the “rabbinic will” of men—and this points to one of the most significant areas of advancement that the Orthodox feminist movement has made during Jofa’s lifespan: Today, women play vital roles in many more fundamental aspects of Orthodox life, including actively participating in the halakhic process and working toward halakhic solutions. I am proud to know numerous women who have earned the designations of yoatzot, rabbis, spiritual leaders, and Talmud scholars. Not only are women unquestionably capable of serving in these capacities, but we must also appreciate that their training became possible in the first place because of the significant increase in institutions and programs that offer Orthodox women the opportunity to earn such designations.
Even though the ongoing debates about the role of women within Orthodox Judaism can feel exhausting, progress unimaginable when Jofa was founded contin- ues apace and amounts to a sea change of which we can all be proud. Communities are increasingly recog- nizing the significant value and potential of women’s leadership, as they question the underpinning assump- tions that have dictated so many of the gender roles that we take for granted within Orthodoxy. In other words, more and more communities are reaching the realiza- tion that just because traditionally women never played certain roles, this doesn’t mean they halakhically can’t or shouldn’t.
Although Judaism has historically been a male-led tradition that is cautiously reluctant to accept change— especially regarding women’s roles—seeing the trajec- tory of growth over these past twenty-five years tells us that these trends will continue to gain steam through the efforts of religious community members who deep- ly love, care about, and are bound to our Orthodox tradition.
Every organization that I know of engages in a strategic plan, looking ahead to the next three, five, or ten years. Jofa, too, has a vision for the future of Orthodoxy. In that strategic vision, community engagement means that all people, regardless of gender, are counted in and counted upon. It means that our key Orthodox institutions (schools, synagogues, and communal organizations) seek to find all the ways, big and small, to ensure that girls and boys and women and men are provided opportunities to lead, and where they all know they belong. It means that issues like the agunah crisis, silencing of women’s voices, and erasure of women’s names and images from publications become vestiges of the past.
In this vision of our Orthodox communities, people who seek to expand women’s engagement won’t be seen as trying to undermine Orthodoxy, but rather they will be recognized as visionaries seeking to strengthen it. And together, we will fulfill the vision of an Orthodox community that is truly vibrant and equitable for all.