PROJECT 5764: WOMEN
OF THE WALL
year, for the first time, the board has decided to return to a previous year’s
tzedakah project. We supported
Women of the Wall a number of years ago, and we feel strongly that it’s time
to do so again.
those of you who may not be familiar with WoW, the organization started in 1988
as part of the first ever International Jewish Feminist Conference.
Women attending the conference gathered to pray at the Kotel (the Western
Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, considered to be Judaism’s most sacred site).
They were met with immediate hostility, including both physical and
verbal assaults. Despite this,
women continued to meet and pray at the Kotel each Rosh Chodesh.
In March 1989 the women took their case to the Israeli Supreme Court.
WoW has been in and out of court ever since.
Despite favorable rulings, the government has refused to implement the
Court’s decisions, instead forming commission after commission to “study”
the issue. These commissions have acted as apologists for the
ultra-Orthodox, adopting their reasoning and throwing up roadblocks to the
enforcement of the Court’s rulings. WoW
continues to fight for its rights, both in the Knesset and in the courts.
is this such a big issue? After
all, there is a women’s section at the Wall.
There have also been many suggestions for other places near the Kotel
where the women could pray with tallitot and Torahs.
Why is WoW insisting on praying at this particular spot, with female
reasons have to do with the importance of ritual, and thus WoW is an especially
appropriate choice for our tzedakah efforts this year.
Much of the ritual creating we do centers on women’s private lifecycle
events. We have felt that
childbirth, menopause, becoming a grandmother, and so forth are moments that
deserve to be honored, even though our tradition has not done so. It is important that we engage in such rituals because they
help us find ways to connect on a personal level to our Judaism.
private rituals are not the only kind that deserves our attention.
Judaism is much more than a collection of individuals.
We are a community, a people-klal Yisrael.
Much of our affirmation of that community is designed to be done
publicly, in the presence of our Jewish family.
If women cannot participate fully in this affirmation, we cannot feel
ourselves a full part of the community. And
what is it that makes us a people? It
is Torah-our gift from God, our family’s story, our past, present and future.
Torah is God’s part of the brit in which we all joined at Sinai.
Following Torah is our part. Torah
is a living thing, constantly evolving, always responsive to the needs of its
people. We hear Torah calling us to
listen, to learn and then to act. WoW
seeks to act in the most fundamentally Jewish way, to pray with the Torah at our
ancient and holy site.
is crucial that Israel make the public commitment to give women full and equal
status as Jews in the public sphere. Everywhere
in the world, women have taken their rightful places in their Jewish
communities. But in Israel, a group
of intransigent reactionaries continues to deny us the place God gave to us when
we all stood together at Sinai. The
Orthodox in other countries may decide to practice Judaism the way that seems
appropriate to them. But Israel
belongs to all of us. It should reflect the consensus of the majority of the
worldwide Jewish community. We must
be able to pray publicly as our texts command.
We support Women of the Wall in their ongoing efforts to bring about this
reality in Eretz Israel.
you would like more information on WoW, please visit their website at http://womenofthewall.org/.
On Friday, January 23, we will have a family Shabbat potluck dinner to celebrate Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat. The evening will include a brief Kabbalat Shabbat service. This all-ages event begins at 6 PM at the LZC. Please bring a dairy or parve dish to serve 6-8.
Mark the weekend of February 7-8 on your calendar! This year’s Women’s Shabbat Service will be held on Saturday, February 7 at 9:30 AM. The parsha is Beshallach, which deals with the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. This is a very appropriate parsha because it provides a fitting segue into the exhibition that opens at the JCC the following evening. The Mikva Project is a traveling exhibition of photographs and interviews, which documents the resurgence of the Jewish rite of immersion in a ritual bath. The opening event features photographer Janice Rubin and writer Leah Lax and a performance by Kol Isha, a local Jewish women’s theater group. The opening will be held at the JCC at 7 PM. Both the service and the opening are free and the public is welcome. We will have a longer article about the Mikva Project in our next newsletter.
Except where noted, all of these events are open to Jewish women bat mitzvah age and above. Feel free to bring friends! For more information, please email us or call (412) 422-8044.
SUNY Press also has a book called Dreaming
the Actual: Contemporary
Fiction and Poetry by Israeli Women Writers.
Edited by. Miriyam
Glazer, the book includes pieces originally written in Hebrew, Russian and
Arabic as well as English. This
sounds like a valuable addition to our knowledge about the reality of Israeli
women today, especially since the literary work of Israeli women is not well
publicized here in the US.
Women Watching has done it again! See their site, http://www.jewishwomenwatching.com/actions.html,
for their first annual Greasy Latke Awards, highlighting organizations that have
“saturat[ed] our community with their greasy behavior”.
As always with JWW, be warned that this is controversial material.
If you have recommendations for this column, please send them along.
We’ll be glad to share them with the JWC membership.
Larissa Myaskovsky and Russell Goldstein announced their engagement on October 30th, 2003. They plan a March 2004 wedding in Los Angeles, where Larissa’s family lives. Mazel tov to both!…Judith Finkelstein updates us about her various professional activities. She is funded by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts/National Endowment for the Arts for 10 day Residencies in schools in her five county area around Cambria County, PA (in and around Johnstown). The residencies allow her to work with kids of all grades to learn about art in depth from the perspective of one artist. Judith develops a single project in her chosen medium (collage/assembly) for the kids to work with and complete, so as to round out the art experience in a totally experiential way. The residencies can be conducted at any site: schools, senior citizen centers, nursing homes, shelters, etc… This is from Carol Schubert: As an outgrowth of the Jewish/Muslim dialogue group I'm involved with, I ended up taking a consulting position as project manager for Tobacco Free Communities Initiative. TFRI is the outreach program to the Asian American community as part of the tobacco settlement funds that came to Allegheny County. My co-workers on the project are all Bangladeshi (three Muslim and one Hindu), so it's really exciting. Keep up the good work, Carol!…Malke and Ivan Frank are expecting their first grandchild in early spring of next year. We look forward to hearing the announcement!…Our condolences go to Barbara Baumann and Howard Aizenstein on the loss of Howard’s grandmother. This has been a difficult year for Barbara and Howard in this regard, and we hope for less sadness in the upcoming year.
If you have news about
yourself or a family member that you would like to share with the JWC, email it
to me anytime, and it will appear in the upcoming newsletter.
In our last issue, we included an article about the upcoming study of
women in the rabbinate being conducted by the Rabbinical Assembly of the
Conservative movement. The Jewish
Chronicle produced a piece surveying the thoughts of local women rabbis, an
edited version of which is reproduced here.
This piece appeared on September 18 of 2003. An editorial comment: take this as you will.
I’d like to hear the discussion these women would have among
themselves, wouldn’t you?
rabbis feel they are treated as equals
By Stephanie Siegel
Although the largest congregations in Pittsburgh are led by men, female rabbis in the area believe that they are treated as equals to their male colleagues. When it comes to issues such as respect, salary and job competition, Pittsburgh's female rabbis, for the most part, said they did not face discrimination or disparities in favor of men.
some said equality did not come easily. "I
had to earn [respect]," said Rabbi Susan Miller Rheins, religious school
principal of Temple David, a Reform congregation in Monroeville. "For many
men, they go into a situation and they have respect. It's theirs to lose. I had
to prove that I was legitimate."
rabbis don't always get the same level of respect, said Rabbi Amy Greenbaum, the
only Conservative female rabbi in the Pittsburgh area. "Some people look at
men and women rabbis the same, others do not," she said. "But once
people get to know women rabbis and see them in a rabbinic role, especially if
they take them through a life cycle event, after that point, they give them
in the rabbinate have been an extremely positive influence in the Jewish
community," said Greenbaum, who works as the part-time rabbi at Beth Israel
Center in Pleasant Hills. She also called herself a "guest rabbi" at
Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, where she sometimes shares rabbinic
duties with her husband, Rabbi Alexander Greenbaum.
presence of women rabbis changed the men's rabbinate as well," said Rabbi
Sharyn Henry, rabbi/educator at Rodef Shalom. Women brought different concerns
and values about family life and success. They wanted a rich family life and
questioned whether the biggest congregation meant the best job. "It made a
difference in the men's lives."
work and family, an issue first raised by women, is now a concern for men too.
Rabbi Jessica Locketz, formerly an associate rabbi at Rodef Shalom and now an
associate rabbi at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in northern Virginia, said she
increasingly sees her male colleagues ask for paternity leave in their
contracts. "It's the difficulty of juggling the very demanding career with
the demands of having time for your family and time for yourself," she
many of Pittsburgh's female rabbis, those demands play a major part in their
decisions about what kind of positions they take. "In Pittsburgh, there are
a number of women rabbis. They tend to not be in the highest positions,"
Locketz said. "They have chosen their positions. They are where they are
because they wanted to be."
number of Pittsburgh's female rabbis have left pulpit positions to take jobs
that allow them to spend more time at home.
issue that the R.A. plans to examine in its study is the assumption that men are
more likely than women to be hired for posts at the largest and most prestigious
congregations, but some female rabbis said the reason may be that women simply
don't want those jobs.
don't necessarily want the biggest congregation that there is," Henry said.
She first moved to Pittsburgh for a pulpit position at Temple Ohav Shalom, where
she led the congregation for six years. But after she got married and had her
first child, she wanted to spend more time with her family. "I left because
I wanted to have Shabbat dinner with my family," she said. "For two
years I baked challah every week for Shabbat."
leaving Ohav Shalom, Henry taught at Community Day School (CDS) and School of
Advanced Jewish Studies (SAJS) for two years before becoming the religious
school principal at Rodef Shalom, a position that did not require any pulpit
duties. Gradually she has taken on additional responsibilities at Rodef Shalom,
and now carries the title rabbi/educator, a position that does include some
took a similar career path. She served as an assistant rabbi at a congregation
in Rhode Island, the first female congregational rabbi in that state, for two
years before having children. After her first child was born and she moved to
New York with her husband, Rabbi Richard Rheins, she said a part-time job was
all she could find. Once she moved to Pittsburgh, she taught at the Jewish
Education Institute and at the Florence Melton Adult Mini School before taking
her current position as principal of Temple David's religious school in 1999.
Rabbi Stephanie Wolfe is a teacher at CDS, but previously led a Reform
congregation. She said fewer women want and apply for positions at large
congregations, but the ones who do are equally considered.
everyone agrees. Shoshana Kaminsky, rabbi of Beth Samuel Jewish Center in
Ambridge, a Reconstructionist congregation, said she thinks men are more likely
to get positions at large, prestigious congregations than women.
"In the Reform movement it was big news when a woman was selected at
a congregation of 700," she said. "Women work at large congregations,
but not generally as the senior rabbi."
Kaminsky doesn't think that congregations purposely discriminate against
female rabbis, but "they may subconsciously feel that a man is more
fatherly and has the control that they need for a large congregation," she
said some discrimination may keep women from getting some jobs. "I do have
colleagues that I know from R.A. meetings that are looking for jobs and are
qualified women, and they're having trouble," she said.
the largest congregations often come the largest salaries and while some rabbis
believe a salary gap exists between male and female rabbis, most agreed that a
more notable salary gap exists between rabbis of small and large congregations.
"It tends to be dictated by the size of the synagogue and what they can
afford to pay," Locketz said. But that is true for both men and women, most
rabbis agreed. "That's the thing about the rabbinate," Rheins said.
"It's an equal opportunity career. It's what you make of it."
The article below appeared in the Forward of November 28.
This is an edited version.
by Nathaniel Popper
case, which has received intense media coverage in recent years, was brought by
Helen Chayie Sieger, a member of the Bobov chasidic sect in Brooklyn. She sued
the rabbis handling her divorce proceeding after they issued a rare rabbinic
injunction, known as a heter meah rabonim, which released her husband
from their marriage without her consent and allowed him to take another wife.
alleged that her husband, Chaim Sieger, bribed the rabbis in exchange for their
issuance of the heter, and that the resulting document defamed her by
wrongfully accusing her of breaking numerous rabbinic laws, effectively branding
her as irreligious.
New York ruling has been hailed by several key Orthodox organizations, including
the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, which argued that the secular
courts have no role to play in monitoring rabbinic tribunals.
Sieger, backed by Orthodox women's rights activists, counters that in this case
and others, the First Amendment is being used to protect corruption in rabbinic
divorce courts to which the community has turned a "blind eye." In an
interview with the Forward, Sieger declared her intention to appeal the case
"to the highest court in the country."
ruling by the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division — the second-highest
court in the state — reversed a decision last January by a New York Supreme
Court judge, who had ordered the case to trial. In two concurring opinions, the
appellate judges were unanimous in dismissing the case on constitutional
grounds. Both opinions agreed that secular review of any religious tribunal
would be an "infringement upon a religious community's 'independence from
secular control or manipulation.'"
the majority opinion, signed by four of the five judges, also addressed some of
the material facts of the case, concluding that Mrs. Sieger's allegations of
bribery were "unsubstantiated and speculative."
judges' words should prompt serious discussion within the Jewish community, said
David Zwiebel, executive vice president for government and public affairs of
Agudath Israel, an Orthodox advocacy organization. In light of the vast media
attention given to Sieger's bribery allegations, Zwiebel said, "I think
these rabbis are owed a tremendous apology." The rabbis' lawyer concurred.
"She has spread these false allegations for six years," said
Washington attorney Nathan Lewin, a prominent constitutional lawyer, "and
now it's finally proved that it is untrue."
supporters argued while the majority opinion had dismissed the bribery
allegations, the justices had failed to address some of the key evidence in the
case. In particular, they noted, the rabbis had been unable to produce the 100
clergymen's signatures required for a heter. The defendants say they
threw out the signatures after receiving them and subsequently forgot the names.
the end, however, the main grounds for dismissal, even in the majority opinion,
were constitutional. Addressing
Sieger's allegations of defamation, the four-judge majority ruled that a
rabbinic tribunal is guaranteed the right to say whatever it wants in the
"discharge of private duty" by the so-called establishment clause of
the First Amendment, as long as the rabbis do not act with a specific, malicious
intent. The concurring decision, written by Chief Justice Milton Williams,
refused to consider any of the merits of Sieger's claims, calling the case
"nonjudiciable" on constitutional grounds.
leaves Sieger with the option of voluntarily leaving the Orthodox fold, but she
insisted that she does not want to leave New York's tight-knit Bobov community.
"I am an Orthodox person," Sieger said. "I have lived that
lifestyle and I have no intention of changing. My religion has not disappointed
me. It's just some people of my religion."
cheered the court's decision. "On a broad level we are pleased to see that
a secular court sees it appropriate to leave religious matters to religious
courts," he said. Rabbi J. David Bleich, a professor of law at Cardozo Law
School of Yeshiva University in New York, used stronger words in approving the
decision. "She had no business being in the Supreme Court even if she was
right," Bleich said. "The claims of bribery would have been better
taken to a rabbinic court."
says she would never have taken this case to the secular courts if she had any
other option within the rabbinic legal system. Rivka Haut, an Orthodox women's
rights activist, said the basic problem that provoked the case is the lack of an
appeals process in the rabbinic court system in America. "Jewish law was
historically the most compassionate and just," Haut said. "But
unfortunately, in America, it's now lagging behind civil courts. When Jews feel
they have to appeal to a civil court for redress in a matter of Jewish law, it
is tremendously sad. But they have to do it because there is no other way."
women's rights activists argue that Sieger's situation is a product of deep
structural problems in America's Orthodox rabbinic courts, including the
practice of allowing a husband to choose any tribunal that will produce a
favorable opinion. An equally problematic issue, activists said, is the standard
practice under which the husband pays the rabbis for their services in the
issuance of a heter.
agreed that the system is not perfect. "There would be an advantage in
having [divorce courts] that are not reliant on the litigants themselves for
raising money," he said.
on both sides agreed that the latest decision appears to rule out a role for
civil courts as a force for change in the rabbinic legal system. The only
workable way to spark reform, most experts say, is for the broader Jewish
community to create some sort of appeals mechanism within the rabbinic courts.
At the very least, observers said, rabbinic courts should be registered with a
recognized communal body and subject to communal oversight. "If you had
groups that were communally chosen, you wouldn't have these ad hoc courts that
go off and do whatever they want," Bleich said. Orthodox legal experts say
there have been numerous discussions about creating some appellate mechanism,
but that many rabbis have resisted change. "It's a challenge, and the
rabbis need to grapple with it," Zwiebel said.
cannot come soon enough, according to Haut, who said that use of the heter
has risen sharply, frequently in violation of centuries-old rabbinic procedure.
chance of reforms being implemented anytime soon is unlikely, according to Rabbi
Michael Broyde of Emory Law School, a member of a leading rabbinic court.
Referring to the disparate wings of Orthodoxy, Broyde said: "It requires a
level of community that we don't have. It requires a commitment from many
different communities to accept the common polity of all Jews."
the years, the JWC has done many potlucks, and several dishes have gained
particular popularity. Here are two
of our favorites, generously shared with us by Mimi Reznik.
Thanks Mimi-but this doesn’t mean that you should stop bringing these
to our potlucks!
1 lb. regular spaghetti- cooked 1 med. onion- diced
2 cans tomato soup (regular) combined with 1 can milk- heated
6-8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated 1 green pepper- diced
Combine all in greased 8 x 12 pan (I like Pyrex because it browns better)
Bake 350 for 1 hr. Serves 6-8.
½ lb. fine noodles, cooked 3 eggs, beaten
1 8 oz. package farmers cheese 2 tsp vanilla
12 oz. cream cheese 2 cups milk
¾ cup sugar ½ cup raisins, plumped in boiling water
¾ stick margarine
Cream together in mixer farmer’s cheese, cream cheese and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, milk and raisins. Melt margarine in a 9x13 pan. Pour in mixture. Top with ½ stick melted margarine and 1 cup (or to taste) crushed Frosted Flakes. Bake at 350 for one hour. Serves 8.
JEWISH WOMEN’S CENTER
P.O. BOX 81924 Pittsburgh, PA 15217
JEWISH WOMEN EXPLORE RITUAL
EVENTS FOR 5764/2003-2004
Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat Friday, January 23 LZC
Family Shabbat Dinner I 6 PM
Women’s Shabbat Service Saturday, February 7 TBA
Parshat Beshalach 9:30 AM
Rosh Chodesh Adar Sunday, February 22 JCC
Mikvah Project Gallery Tour 10:30 AM
Ta’anit Esther Thursday, March 4 LZC
Rosh Chodesh Nisan Monday, March 22 LZC
Women’s Pesach Seder Sunday, April 11 LZC
Rosh Chodesh Iyar Wednesday, April 21 LZC
Rosh Chodesh Sivan Thursday, May 20 LZC
Annual Meeting 7:30 PM
Rosh Chodesh Tammuz Friday, June 18 LZC
Family Shabbat Dinner II 6 PM
Rosh Chodesh Elul Monday, August 16 TBA
Women’s Picnic 6:30 PM
*The Labor Zionist Center is located at 6328 Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
Gayle Abrams Ritual/Program/Archive (412) 421-6912
Barbara Baumann Membership (412) 421-9713
Pat Cluss President (412) 421-2219
Melissa Jones Library/Good and Welfare (412) 799-0132
Lynne Feinberg Ritual/Program/Archives (412) 242-6601
Malke Frank Ritual/Program/Archives (412) 422-8044
Elizabeth Gordon Publicity (412) 661-5020
Larissa Mysakovsky Membership (412) 344-8899
Miri Rabinowitz Treasurer (412) 241-8131
Julie Newman (ex officio)
Jewish Women’s Center is a community of women of all backgrounds that provides
educational opportunities and spiritual experiences rooted in Jewish values and
feminist ideals. The JWC is a
supportive environment for broadening our knowledge and involvement in Jewish
life. The programs and resources of
the JWC create opportunities for Jewish women’s learning, leadership,
spiritual growth and ritual practice.
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If so, please indicate below and write one check for both membership and
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Please return this form with your check to:
Jewish Women’s Center of Pittsburgh
c/o 304 Dewey Ave.
Pgh., PA 15218