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Women and Judaism

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  • Under My Hat

    Sally Berkovic

    Sally Berkovic chronicles the challenges of raising daughters while straddling the tensions between an Orthodox religious life and the competing forces of secularism. First published in 1997, Under My Hat presciently raised issues that have since dominated the Orthodox world. This new edition is augmented by an extensive introduction delving into the impact of more than 20 years of evolutionary change. Sally Berkovic's insights and analysis demonstrate how women's scholarship and mastery of Talmudic texts, the burgeoning movement of Orthodox women clergy, enhanced ritual participation, women's political and communal leadership and the pushback against the 'modesty wars' are shaping an Orthodox community that is struggling to be 'fit for purpose' in contemporary society. She does not hesitate to ask the difficult questions, acknowledging that answers may be elusive. Her bold predictions for the future may infuriate, but they cannot be easily ignored.

    About the Author:

    Sally Berkovic was born in Australia and is the daughter of Slovakian Holocaust survivors. She studied at Melbourne University and worked as a social worker and academic for ten years. Sally lived in Jerusalem and New York before an epistolary romance brought her to London in 1993 where she established a freelance writing career while her children were young. Since 2009, she has been the CEO of the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe, supporting Jewish heritage and culture across Europe.

    Praise for Under My Hat:

    Peppered with wit, warmth and humor, painful anomalies were portrayed with honesty, alongside a conviction that rather than seek neat solutions, living with the tensions would lead to new and unexpected breakthroughs. An updated chapter introducing this republication of Berkovic's original work offers a well-informed and optimistic prognosis to those seeking a realistic alternative to the bitter rancor that often accompanies discussion the of women's status in traditional Judaism.
    --Professor Tamar Ross, author, Expanding the Palace of the Torah


    The positive changes Sally applauded 20 years ago--and has helped fuel in the intervening decades--are here to stay, and reading this wide-ranging and perceptive accounting is both a pleasure and a challenge to further action.
    --Susan Weidman Schneider, Editor in Chief, Lilith magazine

    …What is unique in Sally's writing is her affectionate, bemused and sometimes very funny depiction of the resistance of her community to any hint of feminism. Her conclusion is optimistic as she summarizes the astonishing transformation in the prospects of women over the last two decades. The acute, concerned and unconventional voice of a social anthropologist who writes from the inside.
    --Dr Aviva Zornberg, author, Moses, A Human Life

    Reviews:

    https://jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/5561/setting-the-table/ By Ilana Kurshan, Jewish Review of Book


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  • Journey to Open Orthodoxy

    Avraham ''Avi'' Weiss

    In Journey to Open Orthodoxy, Rabbi Avi Weiss outlines his vision of Judaism - a vision that in recent years has become known as ''Open Orthodoxy.'' The scope of this work reveals that Open Orthodoxy goes well beyond such controversial issues as women's ordination and LGBT+ inclusion. For Rav Avi, Open Orthodoxy is holistic, embracing the whole of Jewish spiritual, religious, halakhic and national life. The title of the book, Journey to Open Orthodoxy, invites readers to evaluate the book's content while assessing their own journeys, leading, it may be hoped, to a consideration of an Orthodoxy that is inclusive, non-judgmental, loving, modern and open.

    Topics Include:
    Mesorah: Bridging Past and Future
    Is Halakha (Jewish Law) Ethical?
    Da'at Torah: Do Decisions of the Rabbis Close Off Discussion?
    Nation Is Family
    Creating Spaces for those with Disabilities
    Embracing the Elderly
    Alternatives to Kiruv (Outreach)
    Interdenominational and Interfaith Relations
    Infusing Halakha with Spirituality
    Women Rabbis
    Belief and Doubt
    Coping with Adversity
    Jewish Leadership
    Reining in Israel s Chief Rabbinate
    Conversion: Building Walls or Welcoming People In?
    Mission-Driven Judaism
    Ritualizing the Shoah
    The Holiness of Israeli Soldiers

    "[Rabbi Weiss'] writings… his reflections on how his worldview has grown, matured and diversified are a welcome addition to our literature... A wide-ranging audience will, through this work, have the chance to examine and be moved by Rabbi Weiss up close and personally." --Professor Jeffrey S. Gurock

    About the Author

    Rabbi Avi Weiss is the Founding Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale-the Bayit, and founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and Yeshivat Maharat. He is also the co-founder of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), an international organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis. Rabbi Weiss served as National Chairman of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) from 1982-1991 and subsequently as National President for AMCHA - the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, raising a voice of moral conscience on behalf of the Jewish people and humankind throughout the world. In 2013, Newsweek ranked him the 10th most prominent rabbi in the United States. Rabbi Weiss is the author of Holistic Prayer, Women at Prayer, and Spiritual Activism.

    Click here for LA Jewish Journal feature review of Journey to Open Orthodoxy 


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  • Walking the Exodus

    Margaret Malka Rawicz

    Leading biblical scholars and archaeologists have argued for decades about the actual route of the biblical Exodus from Egypt. Join Rawicz as she follows the route that Moses and the Israelites took as they fled Egypt three and a half millennia ago. Margaret Malka Rawicz treks through treacherous deserts and terrain with her Bedouin guides, in order to rediscover and identify the sites of the first fifteen known Israelite encampments. She then explores another eighteen encampments in Eastern Sinai, along the Israeli/Sinai border and in the Negev Desert, and the final nine in Jordan. 
    Including photographs and personal stories, Walking the Exodus is not only one individual's discovery, but also a personal and spiritual transformation of one's life. 
     
     

    About the Author

    Margaret Malka Rawicz has developed and refined lectures on the Exodus for many years after extensively traveling through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Southern Africa, North and South America, Eastern Europe, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Antarctica. As an environmental management consultant, she has received numerous awards on groundbreaking national work. Rawicz has delivered many presentations on the Exodus, and her extensive trip through the Sinai desert has been adapted into a TV documentary, Forty Years to Freedom. She acknowledges the support of her late husband during all this time.  
     
    Margaret Rawicz can arrange trips to take people on tours of the Exodus route. If you are interested in going on a tour, please visit www.WalkingTheExodus.co.za to register. To arrange visual presentations and lectures, please contact the author at margaraw@netactive.co.za.
     
     

    Praise for Walking the Exodus

    “When, in one individual, an intrepid spirit meets an insatiable appetite for discovery, some delightful odyssey is bound to be the outcome. Malka (Margaret) Rawicz has pioneered creative ways of discovering and presenting facets of Torah that would daunt other students and seasoned educators. She also has a knack for blithely embarking on jaw-dropping journeys, from the African bush to the Antarctic. In this book, which reads like a cross between a camel-back adventure story and a piece of meticulous research, the author shares with the reader both these fascinating facets of herself. It is particularly refreshing that the research takes the biblical account of the Exodus and the subsequent journeys of the Israelites at its word. It seeks to verify that account by geographical, physical, and linguistic evidence.”
    – Rabbi Levy Wineberg
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  • Gender Equality and Prayer in Jewish Law

    Rabbi Ethan Tucker and Rabbi Micha'el Hadar

    As gender equality has spread throughout society, including its religiously observant sectors, traditional communities turn to their guiding sources to re-examine old questions. This book opens the reader’s eyes to the wealth of Jewish legal material surrounding gender and prayer, with a particular focus on who can lead the prayers in a traditional service and who can constitute the communal quorum—or minyan—that they require. With honesty, transparency, and rigor, Gender Equality and Prayer in Jewish Law is a powerful resource for grappling with these complex questions. The authors not only explore this specific issue in depth, but they also model how we can mine the Jewish legal tradition for its underlying values, enabling its complex sources to serve as effective guides for contemporary communal decision-making.

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  • Biblical Seductions

    Sandra E. Rappaport

    3 Review(s)

    Biblical Seductions retells six compelling stories in which women of the Bible become heroines as a direct result of their audacious acts. These stories are often skipped or censored because of their disturbing and provocative subject matter. First- and fiftieth-time readers alike will be mesmerized by this interweaving of Bible and legend which entertains, reflects and reproves. Through Rapoport's deft storytelling, readers revisit the story of Lot's daughters, who seduce their father in a mountain cave and bear his sons. The tale of Dinah, who is abducted and raped by Shechem, the local prince. The drama of Tamar, who disguises herself and seduces her father-in-law. The story of King David's lust for Batsheva, wife of his prized officer, and of the king's plot to murder her husband so he can wed her. The tragic account of Princess Tamar, Daughter of King David, who is lured, trapped and raped by her half-brother, Amnon, sparking vengeful fratricide and a civil war. Finally, readers encounter the Moabite widow, Ruth, who seduces Boaz, a tribal leader, and becomes great-grandmother of King David. In Rapoport's skilled hands these transformative stories become accessible and relevant, and the women in them unforgettable.

    2011 National Jewish Book Award Finalist

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  • Girl Meets God

    Joannie Tansky

    Glistening with the colors of her evolving religious life (as a ba’alat teshuva) with warmth, humor and the sixth sense elicited from an evolving awareness, Joannie Tansky creates an absorbing read for anyone interested in the power of faith and the possibilities that open up to a woman in search of her spiritual self. 

    Her vignettes span more than seventeen years of experiences embracing the feminine point of view of Judaism including Shabbat, kashrut, mikvah, menopause, holidays, and world travel visiting Jewish institutions. One goal of her writing is to inspire those who are already Torah observant, yet find themselves feeling stale or bored. Another is to allay the fears of women (and perhaps men) who are just beginning their journey, explaining with humor and depth that one does not have to embrace all of Judaism at once. 

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  • Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life

    Deena Zimmerman

    9 Review(s)

    A Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life was written to help married -- or about to be married -- couples of all ages learn the halachot of taharat hamishpachah, the laws of Jewish marital life. In addition, particular emphasis was placed on achieving an understanding of the interplay between Jewish law and women’s health issues throughout the life cycle. 

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  • Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology

    Rivkah Slonim and Liz Rosenberg

    In this best-selling collection of fifty essays and stories about the mikvah (the Jewish ritual bath), women and men contribute their thoughts on this ancient Jewish tradition.


    About the Editor
    Rivkah Slonim is the education director at the Chabad House Jewish Student Center in Binghamton, New York, and a nationally known teacher, lecturer, and activist. She travels widely, addressing the intersection of traditional Jewish observance and contemporary life, with a special focus on Jewish women in Jewish law and life. During the last two decades she has lectured throughout the United States and abroad, counseled individuals, and served as a consultant to educators and outreach professionals on the subject of Mikvah and the observance of Taharat Hamishpachah, Family Purity. She and her husband are the parents of nine children.


    Softcover, revised second edition, 319 pages
    ISBN 965-7108-68-3
    publication: 2006



    Praise for Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology:


    "This is a remarkable book, unlike any I've seen on Mikvah or, for that matter, on any aspect of Jewish practice. Philosophical reflections, history, essays for and by men, personal vignettes that pierce to the heart"all combine to make a masterpiece. If you're interested in Mikvah, and even if you're not, you must dip into this unique testimony to Jewish women's experience and thought. Perhaps you too will come to cherish total immersion."
    -Tamar Frankiel, author of The Voice of Sarah



    "In Total Immersion Rivkah Slonim has assembled a much-needed and delightfully constructed anthology about one of the most central rituals in Jewish family life. Much neglected and misunderstood, Mikvah lies at the heart of the beauty and spirituality of the marital relationship, endowing it with a unique dimension of sanctity and grace. There can be few areas of religious life more in need of rediscovery, and I know of no more informative and moving introduction than the essays contained in this book."
    -Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Saks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth



    "Total Immersion is a refreshing collection of thought-provoking and often inspiring essays. Ranging from the philosophical to the experiential, from the halachic to the psychological, the pieces are especially noteworthy for the honesty of the personal accounts by women of their intimate attitudes toward the various phases of the mivkah cycle. This is a well written, sophisticated, and often humorous collection; an engaging book for the initiated and -uninitiated reader."
    -Dr. Aviva Zornberg, Author, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire



    "The Publication of Total Immersion establishes Rivkah Slonim as a most eloquent and inspiring spokesperson and teacher of taharat hamishpacha, the practice of Jewish family purity. Her writing and editing on this sensitive subject is comprehensive and articulate -- yet gentle and nonjudgmental.


    It is likely that Total Immersion will inspire many heretofore uninformed or reluctant men and women to take the plunge into the Mikvah. In those waters they will surely find one of the most essential ingredients for harmonious marital living and future Jewish survival."
    -Ephraim Buchwald, Director, National Jewish Outreach Program



    "Total Immersion is an unusual and illuminating collection of essays and excerpts, including philosophic, psychological, mystical, halachic, practical, historical, and personal approaches."
    -The Jewish Week



    "Through theory and thought, personal experience and story, the contributors show how the sexual and the sacred converge, transcending blood taboos and accusations of misogyny to create a source of spiritual and physical renewal."
    -Publishers Weekly



    "Total Immersion offers the reader 47 essays on various topics related to Mikvah. The book is divided in three parts: In theory and Practice; Voices; Memories and Tales.


    The essays offer numerous points of view on Mikvah. Among the topics discussed are: the young bride going to the Mikvah for the first time; the menopausal woman who discovers Mikvah when she does not have many cycles left; and men and Mikvah.


    Poignant stories include the woman suffering with infertility for whom Mikvah becomes a lifeline; the woman who immerses in a Mikvah in Israel amid the falling scud missiles of the Persian Gulf War; and taking a dip in a different gulf -- in Aruba.


    Although I like to concentrate on the spiritual aspects of the ritual, the Mikvah also provides a powerful way to get in touch with yourself as a woman, to sanctify your body's cycle, as a human being who's part of a universe that has its own cycles,' writes Pamela Steinberg in her essay, Renewal.' Just as we celebrate the waxing and waning of the moon, we can celebrate our bodies, not degrade them.'


    The well thought-out collection of essays will make you laugh, cry and, certainly, think. It is a perfect anthology for the new bride, as well as for those women who have been married a while.
    -Cleveland Jewish News



    "Although there has been a revival of interest in the observance of Mikvah, knowledge of what the concept of Taharat Hamishpachah (family purity) encompasses, its physical and spiritual significance, are still shrouded in mystery.


    Rivkah Slonim, Education Director at the Chabad House Jewish Student Center in Binghamton, NY, sets out to bring the ritual of Mikvah out of the shadow and into the light.' She accomplishes this by creating a readable anthology comprising 47 essays by various authors, providing a rich patchwork of theological and historical information, inspiration, and intellectual and emotional perspectives. Most of the contributors are observant women, but men and non-traditional voices are also represented. The editor's introduction testifies to a passionate dedication and a zeal for sharing her own experience with the widest possible audience, but in a gentle, non-judgmental manner.


    Part I: In theory and Practice' discusses this topic from historical, theological, philosophical, mystical and practical viewpoints. Since each chapter is written by a different person, there is some overlap, but each author contributes something unique and worthwhile. Part II: Voices' offers eighteen authentic, honest responses to this rite. Part III: Memories and Tales' comprised of nineteen mivkah stories, some factual, others legendary, from all over the globe and spanning several centuries. Quality of writing varies, but each experience contributes another dimension to the multi-layered experience of Mikvah. In our time, when stability and lasting joy are sorely lacking in many marriages, we ought at the very least to learn about the wisdom and beauty of Taharat Hamishpachah. In addition, many Jewish women are searching out methods of connecting to their heritage in tangible and spiritual ways, and Mikvah appears to offer an avenue to both physical and spiritual awareness of their bodies and sexuality.


    Whether you are familiar with this subject or not, your understanding will be expanded and deepened by reading this book. A selected bibliography is included.
    -AJL Newsletter



    This book is a compilation of fifty essays, stories and first-hand accounts about the experience, reasons, benefits, and philosophies behind the Jewish tradition of "Mikvah" and the centrality of it to Jewish life. A mikvah can be defined as a natural body of water or a gathering of water that has a designated connection to a natural source, such as fresh spring water, rainwater, or even melted snow. The pool is designed specifically for immersion, according to the rules and customs of Jewish law. The purpose of the mikvah is solely ritual purification, not physical cleanliness. One must thoroughly bathe before entering into and being purified by a mikvah.


    The collection of laws described in Leviticus as "the laws of family purity," but more widely known as the "laws of mikvah" (Lev. 15:19-33) or Taharat Hamishpacha observance, introduces times of separation and reunion as part of a cycle in married life. Separation begins with the onset of the menstrual flow. It is a time when the depth of the husband-wife relationship is expressed without physical intimacy. It is a period of anticipation and preparation for mikvah immersion. The reunion, which follows, holds the highest potential for sanctity in marriage.


    "The focus of the Mikvah laws is on establishing strong marriages by providing lifelong sexual satisfaction and excitement within the weeded union. Spiritually, the system is even more ambitious. It seeks to elevate every sexual act to the realm of holiness. There is a sexual mnage a trois at the heart of Judaism: husband, wife and God." (p. 39)


    The essay by Sarah Robinson: Investigating the Biblical Roots of Niddah, delves into the Bible and rabbinical commentaries to explain this term. "A woman who is menstruating is known as niddah, literally, separated temporally" (p. 89). This monthly suspension of intimacy for the duration of the women's menstruation, in addition to seven days after the complete cessation of her menses, is a defining characteristic of a Jewish marriage. Husband and wife resume intimacy after she has immersed in the mikvah.


    The editor, Rivkah Slonim, a Lubavitcher orthodox Jew well know for her speaking engagements around the country to woman from all levels of observance, speaks from her own experiences and feelings regarding this mitzvah, and the benefits that it bestows into the life of the married couple. She is the educational director of the Chabad House Jewish Student Center in Binghamton, New York, co founded with her husband in 1985, and which has gained recognition as one of the most successful campus outreach programs in the nation.


    Slonim presents here a compilation of essays , some of them previously published in its original Hebrew, and translated here into English, emanating from different sources: books, magazines and public addresses. Some of the articles were contributed by very well know personalities like Dr. Abraham Boyarski, Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, Dr. Yaffa Eliach, Rabbi Manis Friedman, Dr. Tamar Frankiel, Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn, Rabbi Maurice Lamm, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, and many women who were willing to share their most intimate emotions and uplifting moments with the readers.


    The book is divided in three parts: Part I, called In Theory and Practice, presents various essays that discuss Mikvah and the consequences of its use from the theological, philosophical, historical, mystical and practical perspectives. We also find here an interesting essay about the history and development of the Mikvah in America. In Part II, called Voices, we found stories and testimonies, mostly from women, but some men too, about the experience of mikvah in their lives. It presents some of the earliest prayers, speeches and writings on the subject as well as testimonies by women from all paths. Part III, called Memories and Tales, contains many Mikvah stories of altruism and faith on the part of women who observed the mikvah laws, from the former Soviet Union, to the ghetto, and even in modern-day America. These stories add a very inspirational side to this book.


    There are very few books on the subject that are available for the everyday reader. There are even less titles that will include personal stories and testimonies. On one hand, this is a subject that for many generations was only talked in hushed tones. The old associations of Mikvah with physical dirt didn't help to bring the subject to light either. Rarely, has the Mikvah been a subject for public discourses or the subject of editorials. In observant Jewish homes, Mikvah and the Laws of Family Purity are a fact of life closely associated with the sexual rhythm of a couple. But the natural modesty of a religious lifestyle precludes Mikvah from becoming a family term.


    As the author explains in the preface, "this anthology grew out of my desire to bring the ritual of Mikvah out of the shadow and into the light".


    The importance of this book is that although some other English titles aboard the subject of marriage, sex, and family in Judaism, there are seldom any works where we can find personal testimonies, both from women and men, which speak to the heart. A similar book: Women and Water : Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law, edited by Rahel R. Wasserfall, (University Press of New England [for] Brandeis University Press, c1999.) also presents a compilation of numerous authors, but the approach, in contrast, is more of an historical, ethnographic, anthropological and sociological point of view instead of the personal stories presented here by Slonim.


    Another classical book on the subject: Waters of Eden, the Mystery of the Mikvah, by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (NCSY/Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, 1976) answers many basic questions relating to the laws of family purity based on the teachings of the Bible, Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah, Rashi, Ramban and many others. In this book, Kaplan explores the kabbalistic significance of the Mikvah which he considers the secret to Jewish survival.


    Total Immersion includes a list of suggested readings and resources (all of them from an orthodox denomination) that could be useful to a person wanting to "dip in" to the subject.
    -Sonia Smith Silva
    Women in Judaism journal

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  • The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature

    Volume 1

    Menachem Brayer

    Rabbi Brayer's study traces the views of the rabbis, from the Talmuds and Midrashim, through later works and down to the responsa literature of our own time - Halacha, Agada, psychological observation and historical incident all find their place into his encyclopedic work. Learn More
  • Sarah’s Daughters Sing a Sampler of Poems by Jewish Women

    This first fruit of the Jewish Women's Poetry Project contains 180 poems by Jewish women singing the life of Jewish daughter, sister, wife, friend, lover; mother and ancestor of future generations; worshipper and questioner of God. The book opens with three triads: Lilith and Eve with Adam; Hagar and Sarah with Abraham; Leah and Rachel with Jacob. In the next section, themes taken from these lives find their counterpoint in the lives of women now. Rachel's hunger for a child echoes in the questions of a young woman considering insemination by an unknown donor. The sisterhood of Eve and Lilith, embodied in tomorrow's daughters, faces the sons of Adam and Abraham. These poems are robustly female and deeply Jewish. They tell of what it is to be a woman, a Jewish woman, yesterday, today, tomorrow, and in terms that both men and women can understand. More than sixty illustrations enhance the text Learn More

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