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Real Feminism on Display

Friday, 24 January, 2014 - 12:35 pm

There has been a lot ink (or bytes) used over the last few decades in discussing the role of women in Judaism. As the Feminist movement evolved and spread into more and more elements of society, this question became even more glaring. While this forum is insufficient for addressing the issue per se (not enough bytes…), I would like to briefly address a peripheral element of the issue. (Our website deals with the issues more comprehensively.) For many the efforts to define the role of women in Judaism has led to seeking “equality” for women in Synagogue settings. Interestingly, this approach takes on the nature of the popular direction of the Feminist movement, where in an effort to achieve equality, feminism became women acting like men. The Jewish manifestation of this is women being called up to the Torah, wearing a Talit, being part of a minyan etc. (For a good read on this issue see One might think that true feminism is not women seeking to emulate men but rather finding liberation through self-expression as women.

This week a Modern-Orthodox high-school in the Bronx decided to allow their female students to wear Tefillin during morning services. The reactions have been predictable on both sides. The irony is that just few miles away in Brooklyn the most powerful gathering of Jewish women is taking place. I refer to the International Shluchos Conference. A Shlucha is a female emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. While not a single participant will be wearing Tefillin or getting an Aliya, there is no greater assertion of Jewish womanhood than this conference.

These women have been entrusted with a double mission. On one hand they are partners with their husbands in directing institutions and coordinating activities and programs in their respective communities. Yet they have an equally sacred, if not more so, task of nurturing the next generation of soldiers in the army of Hashem. They defy all of the myths and misconceptions about religious Jewish women being relegated to second class status. Not only are they leaders in the communities, but they occupy that role while bearing and caring for large families (with the help of their husbands of course). Had King Solomon met a Chabad Shlucha he would have felt obligated to add a few additional verses to his ode to the Woman of Valor.

On Sunday night beginning at 4:30 PM, the highlight of the conference – the banquet - will be broadcast live and can be viewed at Please utilize the opportunity to be inspired by this powerful group of Jewish women who are changing the world.

Now I must get back to my kids, who, because of the conference, are not only without their mother, but are also off from school. But it’s ok. In my modern view a father can do anything that a mother can right? Wrong! And I am not ashamed to admit it. I will be happy to resume sharing the duties of parenting with Malkie when she returns. In the meantime I hope that she and the few thousand women that are her colleagues have a wonderful weekend and a successful conference.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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