confessions of an orthodox feminist

28 Oct

Some musings of mine published recently on the Forward’s Sisterhood blog, which I haven’t written for for quite a while.

These thoughts were triggered after the whole shul (synagogue)-going binge over the high holidays, during which I came to the (disquieting) realisation that I, the supposed feminist, still feel a bit too at home in not very feminist-friendly shul settings.

Was pleased to see the article prompted a good flurry of comments, some of which attacked me for my complacency in this sphere.

Here are the opening paragraphs of the piece – click here for a link to the full article (and comments):


Confessions of an Orthodox Feminist

By Rebecca S

Over the recent (and somewhat endless) round of high holidays this year, I came to some disconcerting realizations about my attitude to shul-going as a woman and a feminist.

Coming from an orthodox background, I have realized that however much of a feminist I am, I still don’t feel comfortable in prayer settings of other denominations where real equality reigns. It’s a dismaying head-versus-heart dilemma, and I’m trapped by it. Why is it that I, a supposed 21st century feminist, still feel more at home in a segregated prayer service than at an egalitarian service where women are fully active participants, not just onlookers?

Again and again, I confess that I betray my feminist sensibilities by seeking out the comfort of orthodox shul settings. And I find myself squirreling away quietly behind the mechitza (the partition separating men and women) in the women’s section, instead of joining in the services as an equal participant, and as a real feminist should.

This year, for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, my husband and I chose to attend a small hasidic (“ultra-orthodox”) shul in our neighborhood of Riverdale, in the Bronx. We usually go to a more modern orthodox shul, which is very large and can be quite impersonal. But I yearned for a more intimate prayer experience — and also hoped the services might not drag on as long


2 Responses to “confessions of an orthodox feminist”

  1. Chaya December 17, 2013 at 15:58 #

    I recently stumbled across your site, and I’ve been enjoying many of your posts. This one makes me uncomfortable.

    I have to object to your definition of a “real feminist.” Feminism is a broad spectrum, and only one branch argues that the ultimate goal should be erasing the difference between men and women. Many feminists in the past and present are comfortable with seperations between male and female in ways that other feminists are not.

    As an Orthodox feminist who feels uncomfortable davening without a mechitzah, I don’t find these things to be in such direct conflict as you portray. Feminism to me is about allowing myself the choice to daven in any way that feels comfortable. Removal of that choice seems very anti-feminist to me.

    • rebeccainspace December 23, 2013 at 01:42 #

      Hi Chaya, Thanks for your insights. On the one hand I agree with you – of course feminists should have the choice to decide on their own lifestyles. However, I don’t agree with you that I was in any way arguing in this post that ‘the ultimate goal shouldbe erasing the difference between men and women’. Also, I want to question this issue of choice – is there any point when we should object to a woman’s choice and say NO as feminists we should fight against this oppressive system: for example if she ‘chooses’ to cover her entire face except for a slit over her eyes, or if she ‘chooses’ to circumcise her daughter? Maybe sometimes feminists from all over the world do have to stand up and say societies have created oppressive systems for women and we have to fight these even if some of the women in those societies seem consensual.
      I guess I’m broadening out the discussion to universal matters.
      PS Also I was defining ‘real feminist’ in my own terms, not as an objective definition!
      Thanks again for joining the debate.

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