Future of Judaism
Holding Up Half the Sky: Feminist Judaism
New Jewish Feminism is evidence of this profound change, this life-giving renewal of Jewish life and of Judaism itself. As Rabbi Elyse Goldstein points out in the introduction, this enormous transformation has taken place over an extremely short period of time and yet so much of it is already taken for granted that the revolution is virtually invisible.
Ima on the bima is just no big deal. How cool is that?
As Jews, we reflexively look back to our sources for prototypes that root change in tradition. We cite texts -- the older and more sacred the better -- to link us to the past and thus legitimize our innovations. For years now, we have been citing Miriam the prophet as the foremother for many of our leadership roles. We claim Hannah, the spiritual seeker, as the inventor of the personal prayer we have added to communal and private devotion. We explicate Ruth and Esther as exemplars of distinctively feminine forms of courage.
These are legitimate antecedents, well-argued and footnoted and given expression by learned and learning Jewish women -- and men -- who have studied long and deep and, in the process, opened the library doors to the entire Jewish world.
And here is another radical gift of Jewish feminism. Despite our tradition's long-standing reverence for learning, the truth is, serious study was an elite practice limited to rabbis and men rich enough or lucky enough to be supported by their families. Never mind women.
Only in our time, thanks to the advent of a feminist Judaism, which is to say an inclusive Judaism, has it become possible to imagine the entire community, regardless of age or sex or previous Jewish literacy, as a nation of students and teachers. This undercuts the unexamined notion -- the fantasy, really -- that the Jews of yore were more learned and thus more pious and authentic than we are today. The radical democratization of Jewish learning, with the possibility of universal life-long learning, is one of the fruits of women's growing participation and leadership in university settings as well as in seminaries and yeshivas.
Hooray for us! But now that we have attained this level of learning and power (with miles to go, I know, I know), it's time to own up to the fact that we are not going to find proof texts for all of our insights and inventions. It's time to be honest that we are creating the Miriam we need -- musician, performance artist, prophet -- that we give her a timbrel and a place at the Seder and put new songs in her mouth. We give her words that speak to our spiritual quests and reflect contemporary models of female leadership. This is perfectly kosher. It's been done by many men before us. It is the juicy, growing part of our tree of life, which kept us from atrophy and death.
We must embrace the fact that we are sanctifying what was not viewed as sacred in the past: the stories of our lives, the power and wisdom of our grandmothers, the sacrifice and triumph of the counter-histories, the counter-narratives, the counter-theologies, of the Jewish past.
Transforming the marginal into the normative is the business of the arts. The mandate for hiddur mitzvah -- the beautification of Jewish life -- has never been more pressing; for starters, our dramaturgy -- the aesthetic of prayer -- is in need of a serious tune-up, from liturgy to music to movement.