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March 14: Feminism and Judaism

Lawrence Bush
March 14, 2010

paula_hyman_teachingOn this day in 1972, a Jewish feminist collective, Ezrat Nashim (named for the women’s section of synagogue), petitioned the Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinical arm of the movement for Conservative Judaism, to count women in minyans, ordain women as rabbis and cantors, permit women to initiate religious divorce proceedings and serve as witnesses in religious courts, and consider women to be fully equal with men in the fulfillment of mitzvot. While the Reform movement ordained America’s first woman rabbi, Sally Priesand, in June of that year, the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary would wait eleven years before enrolling women. Members of Ezrat Nashim, including Paula Hyman, Martha Ackelsberg and Elizabeth Koltun, played catalytic roles in opening the world of American Judaism to feminist influence and transforming the rabbinate, congregation, and the ritual and spiritual lives of American Jews.
“For too many centuries, the Jewish woman has been a golem, created by Jewish society. She cooked and bore and did her master’s will, and when her tasks were done, the Divine Name was removed from her mouth. It is time for the golem to demand a soul.” — Rachel Adler

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.