Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Jewish Feminist....Me?

About half the Jewish population and half of the 7 billion humans on this planet are females. This week, the country celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and although Rev. King fought for the rights of a different portion of Americans, women all over the world still face a schism between the equality they posses and that which they deserve. Recently, Israel passed a controversial abortion law, requiring the government to pay for such procedures. Buzz Feed contributor Kate Nocera noted the paradox between Republicans’ non-negotiable support for the Jewish state and the party’s platform on abortions. Throughout the US, Jewish and non-Jewish women experience varying circumstances when they desire certain kinds of medical attention as well as a troublesome professional disadvantage. Jon Stewart recently joked about Mary T. Barra, new General Motors chief executive officer, being referred to as the company’s “car gal” by her coworkers. Stewart suggested she tell her fellow board members to simply address her as “CEO”.  Of all the medical and physical struggles for women, media bombards women with ideal values and images on a daily basis. This issue pervades the walls of every synagogue, every Hillel, and every Jewish and non-Jewish household in the country and around the world. 
            Judaism, however, offers insight and opportunity to women that some other faiths lack. People often criticize religion as an obstacle for women’s rights, but Judaism can be extraordinarily progressive when interpreted properly.  The Torah, of all places, recounts a continual recognition of women as participatory members in society society. The stories of the Bible feature Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet they also retell the significant lives of Miriam, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Although one could view the Bible as a primary source of Judaism-some Jews still require women to light Shabbos candles to compensate Eve’s turning against God in Eden, the women of the Bible perform equally magnificent tasks to their male counterparts. As Moses guides the people out of Egypt, Miriam sings praise to God, embodying the spirit of a nation. Sometimes, the women of the Bible act more righteous than the men. While Isaac’s stories feature subterfuge against his father to gain Esau’s inheritance, Rebecca welcomes Isaac into her home in a key Jewish moment about hospitality. The Jewish tradition is not anti-woman when read with a careful, if not occasionally squinting, eye. Some Reform Jews might call this talent, “crafty interpretation” but others simply designate it as adaptation of the ancient text for the 21st century. Feminism and Judaism do not necessarily antagonize each other, but just as with women and men, coexistence between the two ideologies requires a collective effort and widespread open-mindedness.
As with all other aspects of Judaism, the right-wing Orthodox, the middle-grounded Conservative, and the liberal Reform Movements do not agree on the issues facing Jewish women around the world. From a progressive standpoint, the Reform movement believes in the complete equality and freedom of women, but Reform Jews believe in an open discourse between the sects of Judaism. This conservation only exceeds its bounds as it obstructs a Reform woman’s capability to worship as she pleases. The Western Wall, for instance, is divided by gender in an area ratio of about 4 square units for men to 1 for women. Rather than attack Israel’s predominantly right-wing government, progressive advocates hope to partition the wall into even thirds with each of the following designations: men only, women only, and mixed. Seeking coexistence, the Jews of left wish not to demonize or disrespect the right. Furthermore, a politician is not irredeemable for being pro-life, but when he or she uses that political power to close clinics and to inhibit another’s capability to complete this procedure, he or she crosses the boundary between personal value and invasive policy. Conversely, the new Israeli law enables those seeking an abortion without forcing anyone to visit the clinic. Equality is reached when all belief systems are aloud to execute their respect values while not intruding on one another. The chances of convincing one another to switch sides are slim, but the opportunity to peacefully agree to disagree is ever present. From one Torah stems varying value systems, but these separated moralities can not split the cultural roots that connect the Jewish people.
            With abortion, the media, the professional world, birth control, and equal rights at the Western Wall, the role of feminism in our lives often becomes overwhelming or indiscernible.  I work with the following definition: feminism is the belief in the equality of women, be it social, political, economic, or cultural. On the contrary, I view the modern context of feminism to occasionally exceed its bounds. The above definition should neither morph into a demonization of men nor make anyone feel as though he or she walks on path of eggshells toward political correctness. I detest the women who call me misunderstanding for writing this blog because of the gender I possess. Like racism, bigotry, or anti-Semitism for that matter, a difference exists between advocacy and nuisance. Antagonizing supporters, like myself, or embattling the other side makes a feminist weak and equally obtrusive as his or her political enemies. I view myself as a feminist, for I uphold the equality among human beings and believe in its guarantee and the promise of freedom regardless of any circumstances. I also see myself as a Jew who is proud to be part of a religion that has the full potential to welcome women and provide an egalitarian spiritual experience.

            Perhaps my blog covered too much subject matter in too few words because I so rarely engage in women’s issues. Maybe, I should have spent a week on the women on the wall, another on abortion around the globe, another on the effect of Lucille Ball and Miley Cyrus (a reality facing woman not even mentioned), and another on how any number of blogs could not cover the complexity of this issue. All I know is tonight was a start, and it began by putting on shoes and crushing those eggshells.