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Orthodox Judaism and Feminism

Updated on March 1, 2017

A feminist in a new world

Being raised as a secular Jew, I would always fantasize about the big Shabat meals and close-knit communities the Orthodox Jews are able to enjoy. On April 1st, 2016, I decided to live with my aunt in Chicago and move away from the secular world I was provided with in Florida. After weeks passed, I started to notice unsettling truths about traditional religious social roles. Orthodox Jewish women are told time and time again that they are special, but are constantly denied opportunities that are provided to men. Such as the fact that men are allowed to sit and pray in the same room as the Holy Torah, but women are not.

One morning during my Jewish law class I became fed up with the discrimination against women hidden within the texts we would read on a daily basis. I asked my teacher why the young girls sitting in this Jewish law class would never get to actually make a Jewish law. My teacher replied to me, in her thick Hebrew accent, that women have the "power to influence their husbands". I pointed out that this situation is eerily similar to times in America before 1920 when women did not have the power to vote, but instead the power to influence their husbands. Before I knew it the entire class of girls started shouting at me. One girl wearing a thick, long sleeved, uniform shirt, required for the female students but not the males, told me that women don't have the time to learn enough to make Jewish laws because they have to clean, cook, and raise a family. She concluded her speech with a comment to the girl sitting next to her, "this is why I hate feminism." What shocked me the most was not the fact that she did not want to stick up for Jewish women, but the fact that she said she hates feminism. Feminism is the reason why she can vote, get a job, learn, and even debate with me. How could she hate it?

After a few more days of hearing whispers and taunts directed at me for being a feminist, I decided that there had to be a change. Since then I have been asking more questions in class about women's rights in Judaism than ever before. I do not care what the school thinks about me, because one day the female student body will respect feminism. I will help young girls realize that they deserve to be treated just as well as the boys do. No one can tell them that they are unequal or that they cannot do what a man can. Women are not born just to give birth and raise children. As half of the human population, women deserve to have the same unalienable rights, opportunities and civil liberties that men have. This belief is something I will continue to stand by, and I will take action again when the situation calls for it.

Judaism is a religion that is very close to my heart. I plan to continue my Jewish education and continue my orthodox lifestyle. Though Judaism is a fair system of belief, the roles of women in Orthodox Judaism need to changed to better conform to our modern society.


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