And I wasn’t even there.
This was the late 1960s in the Conservative movement. The "women’s movement" was also in its infancy. It would be 20 years before a Conservative woman rabbi was ordained. Bat mitzvahs were becoming more common, but certainly not the norm yet. The seminal (that SO seems like the wrong word here) document for Conservative feminism would not be presented to the annual assembly meeting until 1972. This "Call for Change" demanded that women:
- be accepted as witnesses before Jewish law
- be considered as bound to perform all mitzvot
- be allowed full participation in religious observances
- have equal rights in marriage and be allowed to initiate divorce
- be counted in the minyan
- and be permitted to assume positions of leadership in the synagogue and within the general Jewish community.
So when I read a comment like this on RenReb, in response to a post about baby naming ceremonies for girls (and Ren Reb wasn’t even advocating such ceremonies), I get more than a bit irritated:
Anyone who hosts a "brita" or "brit bat" is saying that they suffer from feminine insecurity and a need to copy anything that boys have. Why else would parents search so far and wide to make up ceremonies like washing baby girls feet in mikva water or dunking a baby girl in a mikva (yes really), instead of simply celebrating the birth? Why else would it be called a brit bat instead of a simchat bat or mesibat bat or, hey here's a radical idea, a "kiddush."
My sons came into the world with a deficiency that Hashem commanded us to fix, then welcoming them to the covenent. My daughters came into the world already how Hashem wanted them to be, and already in the covenent. Our celebration of all births were not effected by having an extra mitzva to perform for the sons. Claiming that baby girls need an extra ceremony seems to me to be an insult to them and to G-d. Why not just celebrate their birth? I'm posting this anonymously since I know I'll get in trouble for this.
This comment was made anonymously, but I’m making a couple of assumptions here:
1. The commentor is a male.
2. The commentor is some strain of Orthodox.
3. The commentor has very little exposure to or education in true feminism
(meaning feminism unfiltered through Orthodoxy or Limbaugh-like lenses).
It’s an old canard to say that feminists who want girl-centered and girl-honoring rituals are "insecure" and need to "copy anything boys have."
The real truth of the matter is that women have been systematically denied access to the power structures of Judaism since its inception. Women did not write the powerful guiding myths of our people. Women were not asked our opinion when entire volumes of Talmud related to things like nidda were redacted. (Can you imagine men accepting entire volumes of Talmud about men’s bodies that were written by women?) Women were not participants in the codification of Jewish law. Women are conspicuously absent in so many arenas of Jewish importance, even today*.
What I really don’t get (at all )if the uproar from men when women want to add celebrations that honor girls, young women, and women. What harm does it do, exactly, for a girl to have a simcha bat, or a public naming ceremony in which she is formally welcomed into the covenant? What do men lose? Is a bris less of a celebration because the boy’s sister gets a simcha bat, too? It seems like a win-win to me.
What’s the downside?
Some links and resources. I really encourage everyone to visit the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) site. These feminists are concerned with feminism and maintaining the boundaries of halacha and tradition. Imagine that.
Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance
The Jewish Women's Archive
Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project
The Velveteen Rabbi
* One report I read recently indicated that of the 40 largest Federations in the United States, only one (one!) has a female CEO. How many of you have women Board presidents? Women principals? Women CEOs, CFOs, or VPs? In many Jewish organizations, even "liberal" ones, women are still relegated to doing much of the work but never rising to the top of the game.