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Women and Judaism

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  • Rabba, Maharat, Rabbanit, Rebbetzin

    Rabbi Daniel Sperber

    Rabba, Maharat, Rabbanit, Rebbetzin: Women with Leadership Authority According to Halachah examines in detail the legitimacy for feminine leadership in Jewish law. Exploring the various manifestations of female leadership, whether as women clergy or other forms of female halachic adjudication, Rabba, Maharat, Rabbanit, Rebbetzin responds to the standard criticisms leveled at the recent phenomenon of female authority within the Orthodox community. In this groundbreaking book, Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber argues the halachic, political, and sociological levels of female leadership in Judaism. 

    About the Author:

    Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber is a leading scholar of Jewish law, customs, and ethics. He taught in the Talmud Department of Bar-Ilan University, where he also served as dean of the Faculty of Jewish Studies and president of the Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Studies. In 1992, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Jewish Studies. Prof. Sperber currently serves as rabbi of the Menachem Zion Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem. 
    The descendant of a line of distinguished Orthodox rabbis, Prof. Sperber was born in 1940 in a castle in Ruthin, Wales, and studied in the Yeshivot of Kol Torah and Hevron in Jerusalem. He earned a BA in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art and received a PhD in classics, ancient history, and Hebrew studies from University College, London.
    Prof. Sperber has published more than thirty books and four hundred articles on the subjects of Talmud and Jewish socio-economic history, law and customs, classical philology, and Jewish art. Among his major works is a well-known, eight-volume series, Minhagei Yisrael, on the history of Jewish customs. More recently, he has written books on halachic methodology and rabbinic decision-making in confrontation with modernity, and has established an independent beit din dealing with agunah issues. He is the author of On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations; On the Relationship of Mitzvot Between Man and His Neighbor and Man and His Maker, and The Importance of the Community Rabbi: Leading with Compassionate Halachah, all published by Urim Publications. 

    Rabbanit Dr. Michal Tikochinsky heads the Women's Beit Midrash and Halachic writing program at Herzog College as well as the Halachah program for Rabbaniot at Migdal Oz. Previously, she headed the Beit Midrash program for women at Beit Morasha. She also lectures at Shalem College, and is a widely published author of Torah and halachic research articles that appear in scholarly Torah journals. Rabbanit Tikochinsky has a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in Law and a PhD in Talmud from Bar-Ilan University. Her book on the scholarship of the Minchat Chinuch is set to be published soon. She and her husband, Yakir, live in Nof Ayalon, where they are raising their seven children. 

    Preliminary Clarification
    1. Introductory Remarks
    2. Women in Rabbinic Positions
    3. Women in Positions of Communal Authority
    4. Can Women Serve in Positions of Authority?
    5. Conclusion
    6. Postscript
    7. Reactions of Rabbinic Organizations to Sara Hurwitz's Semichah
    8. Women Rabbis? by Rabbi Hershel Schachter
    9. Response to Rabbi Schachter
    10. Concluding Remarks
    11. Afterword: Women in Positions of Halachic Leadership by Rabbanit Dr. Michal Tikochinsky
    Appendix I: Orthodox Union Statement on Female Clergy (February 2017) / Responses from Rabbi Herzl Hefter and Rabbi Ethan Tucker
    Appendix II: Rabbi Soloveitchik's Position on Women as Shohatot and the Development of Customs of Abstention / Rabbi Jeffrey S. Fox
    Appendix III: Wanted: Precision, Nuance, and Avodat Hashem / Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey R. Woolf
    Appendix IV: What is "Mesorah" / Tradition?
    Appendix V: Tradition and Innovation, by R Samuel Sperber zt"l


    Subject Index
    Name Index
    Source Index 

    About the Authors

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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: By Ilana Kurshan, Jewish Review of Book

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  • Journey to Open Orthodoxy

    Avraham ''Avi'' Weiss

    1 Review(s)

    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 to register. To arrange visual presentations and lectures, please contact the author at

    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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  • 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
  • Moses’ Women

    Shera Aranoff Tuchman and Sandra E. Rapoport

    The story of the man Moses, born Hebrew and raised as Egyptian royalty, cannot be told without an understanding of the women in his life. The Bible tells us that Moses was born to Yocheved, daughter of Levi, third son of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob. He was watched over by his sister, Miriam, drawn from the Nile waters by Batya, daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh, and married to Zipporah, daughter of the high priest of Midian.
    This book draws upon the midrash, the Talmud and other Rabbinic sources to reveal stories of the women who reared Moses, bore his children, advised him, and shared the glorious life of history's premiere religious heroic figure. Moses' women intervened to save him time and again, when his very life was trembling in the balance, helping to mold Moses into an empathic man, leader and teacher. Moses' Women tells the riveting stories of these and other women of the exodus. Learn More
  • Dybbuks and Jewish Women In Social History, Mysticism and Folklore

    Rachel Elior

    How and why a person comes to be possessed by a dybbuk (the possession of a living body by the soul of a deceased person), and what consequences ensue from such possession, form the subject of this book. While possession by a dybbuk may have been understood as punishment for a terrible sin, it may also be seen as a mechanism used by desperate individuals - often women - who had no other means of escape from the demands and expectations of an all-encompassing patriarchal social order. Dybbuks and Jewish Women examines these and other aspects of dybbuk possession from historical and phenomenological perspectives, with particular attention to the gender significance of the subject.

    About the Author
    Rachel Elior is the John and Golda Cohen Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Jewish Mystical Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the chair of the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University and has been a research fellow and a visiting professor at University College London, the University of Amsterdam, Oberlin College, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Case Western University, Yeshiva University, Tokyo University, and Princeton University. She is the author of numerous works on Jewish mysticism and hasidism, including The Paradoxical Ascent to God: The Kabbalistic Theosophy of Habad Hasidism (1992). Three of her books were published by the Littman Library: The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism (2004), The Mystical Origins of Hasidism (2006), and Jewish Mysticism: The Infinite Expression of Freedom (2007). The recipient of many honors, she was awarded the 2006 Gershom Scholem Prize for the study of Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

    Praise for Dybbuks and Jewish Women

    Dybbuks"disembodied spirits that inhabit the bodies of the living"have long been a part of Jewish history and myth. Like golems, these fantastical, folkloric creatures may seem foreign to contemporary Judaism, but their stories still capture our imaginations.

    In the new book Dybbuks and Jewish Women in Social History, Mysticism, and Folklore, Rachel Elior examines how the legend of the dybbuk first took hold, and how it reflects the values and fears of its time. Elior argues that for women, dybbuks could be a means to escape the demands of a confining society. Once possessed by a dybbuk (or at least claiming to be), women were no longer considered responsible for their own actions, and were exempt from arranged marriages and relieved of wifely duties. Thought to be the souls of sinners, these spirits gave a certain degree of power to the powerless, freeing them from the norms of routine life and its conventional ordering.

    Elior, a native Jerusalemite, has been a professor of Jewish mysticism for over thirty years, and currently teaches at Hebrew University. The recipient of the 2006 Gershom Scholem prize for the study of kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, she has written extensively about Jewish mysticism and Hasidism, and edited the 2004 book Men and Women: Gender, Judaism and Democracy.

    What exactly is a dybbuk?

    "Dybbuk" is the Jewish name for the spirit of a dead person that enters and possesses a living body. Significantly, the spirit is always male and the body is nearly always female. Being possessed by a foreign spirit makes a person's body and soul behave in uncontrollable ways. In Jewish folklore"deriving from kabbalistic theories of the soul and mystical literature"the spirit of a dead sinner often finds refuge in the bodies of weak, fragile women, women who are not able to handle the expectations of society. Those who are possessed are always from the margins of society"maids, orphan girls who have been set up to wed elderly widowers, or young females whose marriages have been arranged against their will. In today's etiology we would define this possession as acute depression or socially deviant behavior. Previously it was defined as hysteria.

    Dybbuks and possessed souls are very different from the rational Judaism that I grew up with. How large of a following did these mystical trends have in Jewish history?

    You were not growing up in the medieval Europe of the eighteenth century. It might sound like a contradiction, but it is a fact that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, rural Eastern Europe was totally medieval, in the sense that there was no distinction between the spiritual and the mundane. The belief in the presence of angels, demons, and spirits in everyday life was common. While the Enlightenment did not reach Eastern European villages, mystical literature, folk legends, and possession stories did. The majority of the Jewish population lived in the shtetl where they heard very little about Freud and Mendelssohn, but quite a lot about the popular mystical literature concerning demons and transmigration of souls, golems, and angels. Dybbuks served as a link between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

    In your book, you argue that dybbuks provided women a means of escape from the expectations and demands of society. Are there contemporary parallels to dybbuks?

    Today we would say an unhappy bride is depressed, or under great stress. Saying that the bride was possessed by a dead spirit"meaning she lost control of her body and soul"is not so different. When you say that one is depressed, there is not much you can do about it, though one might attempt to treat it medically. But when a traditional society declared that a person was possessed by a dead spirit, the community would try to exorcise it. Whether we take Prozac or perform an exorcism, the common denominator is that human beings often fail to live up to the expectations of their society, and need to react to this tension somehow.

    One should take into consideration that many, if not most, remarkable women known to us in recent centuries were unmarried women, or women without children"women who chose to live alone for various reasons. In the American context, you may think of Emily Dickinson. In the Israeli context, the poet Rachel was single, the poet Zelda never had children, Leah Goldberg was never married. It is striking that many great female writers and poets are women who chose"or were forced"to live single or childless lives in defiance of conventional family expectations.

    Your expertise is in Jewish mysticism, yet many of your books and articles focus on issues of gender. What drew you to writing about these topics?

    I was studying the Dead Sea Scrolls, and I found a text where it was explicitly written that women are not allowed where angels are present. It drew my attention to the fact that women were not welcome in places of holiness, which signified purity, eternity, and divine presence. This translated later on to synagogues and study houses. In the National Jewish Library in Jerusalem, from the beginning of printing until the nineteenth century, we have more or less one hundred thousand titles and not a single book authored by a woman in either Hebrew or Aramaic. I wanted to know why. How did the library of the People of the Book become the library of half the People of the Book?

    For centuries, there were always a very few gifted women who knew how to read, but they were taught to read at home"they were daughters of either scribes or rabbis. We know, for instance, that Rashi's daughters were taught to read because he didn't have sons. There were other examples in later centuries, but these female scholars were the exception and not the rule. Most women were denied any form of formal education. I wanted to understand how that came about in a community that revered scholarship. Because of this, I have focused on the presence and absence of women in the Hebrew language, and in Jewish culture as well as in Israeli life today.

    You write about the patriarchal lens through which Jewish law and society developed. Do you see this reflected in the present day?

    I try to show how our present is heavily informed by our past. The boundary lines between past and present are less firm with regard to social history in general, and relations between the sexes in particular, than they are with regard to other areas of history. I was asking this question: Should men and women of the twenty-first century let biases from the past affect our daily experiences of the present? In Israel there is no option for non-Orthodox marriage. Orthodox marriage laws reflect a culture of thousands of years ago when women were illiterate and totally dependent on their fathers or other males. Nowadays, when women are not dependent or illiterate, why should they do this? I don't want to be bought or sold by anyone or feel like a possession. I find it remote from modern sensibilities of equality and human dignity, and would like to see the concepts reworked so as not be offensive to anyone, while still keeping within the tradition as much as possible.

    Do you believe in dybbuks or the supernatural?

    No. I believe profoundly in the infinite, creative force of the human mind that creates the unnatural in order to explain natural phenomena that cannot be easily explained. In particular, anything that has to do with the exceptional"such as unusual genius, or unusual cruelty, or unusual tragedy"will always be explained with the help of the unnatural.

    However, I do not exclude unnatural powers. I believe in the limit of human knowledge today. We may find in the next century that there are powers that are not yet known to us, just like we found out in the last century about lasers and X-rays. In the meantime, I have tried in this book to evoke silenced voices, and explain the circumstances underlying a myth.
    ~ Sarah Breger, Nextbook

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  • If We Could Hear Them Now

    Alice Becker Lehrer

    In If We Could Hear Them Now, Jewish heroines come to life from different eras of Jewish history. The author conducts interviews with different greats of the past, allowing each woman to tell her story from a personal point of view. History is brought down from the shelves of libraries and study halls and put in the readers’ hands. Written in a contemporary and riveting fashion, this book illustrates what sets a hero apart and what lessons we can learn and incorporate from these remarkable lives.

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