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Jewish feminism


Jewish feminism

Jewish feminism is a movement that seeks to improve the religious, legal, and social status of women within Judaism and to open up new opportunities for religious experience and leadership for Jewish women. Feminist movements, with varying approaches and successes, have opened up within all major branches of Judaism.

In its modern form, the Jewish feminist movement can be traced to the early 1970s in the United States. According to Judith Plaskow, who has focused on feminism in Reform Judaism, the main needs for early Jewish feminists were the exclusion from the all-male prayer group or minyan, the exemption from positive time-bound mitzvot, and women's inability to function as witnesses and to initiate divorce.[1]

According to historian Paula Hyman, two articles published in the 1970s on the role of women in Judaism were particularly influential: "The Unfreedom of Jewish Women," published in 1970 in the Jewish Spectator by its editor, Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, which criticized the treatment of women in Jewish law, and an article by Rachel Adler, then an Orthodox Jew and currently a professor at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, called "The Jew Who Wasn't There: Halacha and the Jewish Woman," published in 1971 in Davka, a countercultural magazine.[2][3]


  • Agunah 1
  • Israel and Jewish feminism 2
  • Jewish feminist theology 3
  • Orthodox Judaism and Jewish feminism 4
    • Haredi positions on feminism 4.1
    • Orthodox Jewish feminism 4.2
  • Women in Jewish religious law, clergy, schools, and rituals 5
    • Women as sofrot (scribes) 5.1
  • Women in Humanistic Judaism 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • Further reading 9


  • Feldman, Emmanuel. "Orthodox Feminism and Feminist Orthodoxy" PDF (101 KB). Jewish Action, Winter 1999
  • "Girls Just Wanna Be 'Frum': JOFA conference speaker says feminism lags at Talmud study programs in Israel", NY Jewish Week, February 2007.
  • Anita Diamant. "Holding Up Half the Sky: Feminist Judaism", Patheos
  • Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez. "An Ever-Evolving Judaism: Women Meeting the Needs of the Community", Patheos
  • Jewish women and the feminist revolution, an exhibit of the Jewish Women's Archive (Flash interactive site)
  • Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA)
  • Adler, Rachel. "The Jew Who Wasn't There: Halakha and the Jewish Woman," in Heschel, S. (ed). On Being a Jewish Feminist: A Reader, Schocken, 1983.
  • Adler, Rachel. Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics. Beacon Press, 1998.
  • Adler, Rachel. "Feminist Judaism: Past and Future", Crosscurrents, Winter 2002, Vol. 51, No 4.
  • Greenberg, Blu. "Will There Be Orthodox Women Rabbis?". Judaism 33.1 (Winter 1984): 23–33.
  • "Is Now the Time for Orthodox Women Rabbis?". Moment Dec. 1992: 50–53, 74.
  • Hartman, Tova, Feminism Encounters Traditional Judaism: Resistance and Accommodation. Brandeis University Press, 2007. ISBN 1-58465-658-1.
  • Hyman, Paula. "The Other Half: Women in the Jewish Tradition" in E. Koltun. The Jewish Woman: New Perspectives, Shocken 1976.
  • Hyman, E. Paula & Dash Moore, Deborah. (eds) (1997) Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Routledge, ISBN 0-415-91934-7
  • Hyman, E. Paula & Dalia Ofer. (eds) (2006) Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Jewish Publication Society CD-ROM
  • Lavie, Smadar. "Mizrahi Feminism and the Question of Palestine." Journal of Middle East Women Studies. Vol. 7 (2): 56-88
  • Ner-David, Haviva. Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Toward Traditional Rabbinic Ordination. Needham, MA: JFL Books, 2000.
  • Nussbaum Cohen, Debra. "The women’s movement, Jewish identity and the story of a religion transformed," The Jewish Week, 17 June 2004
  • Ozick, Cynthia. "Notes toward finding the right question" in Heschel, S. On Being a Jewish Feminist: A Reader. Schocken, 1983.
  • Plaskow, Judith. "The right question is theological" in Heschel, S. On being a Jewish Feminist: A Reader, Shocken, 1983(a).
  • "Language, God and Liturgy: A Feminist Perspective," Response 44:3–14, 1983(b).
  • Plaskow, Judith. Standing again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective, Harper and Row, 1990(a)
  • "Beyond Egalitarianism," Tikkun 5.6:79–81, 1990(b).
  • "Facing the Ambiguity of God," Tikkun. 6.5:70-1, 1991.
  • Reinhartz, Adele.
  • Ruttenberg, Danya., ed. "Yentl's Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism." Seal Press, 2001.
  • Teman, Elly. "Birthing a Mother: the Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self." Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.
  • Umansky, E. & Ashton, D. (eds) Four Centuries of Jewish Women's Spirituality: A Sourcebook, Beacon, 1992.
  • Wolowelsky, Joel B. "Feminism and Orthodox Judaism", Judaism, 188, 47:4, 1998, 499–507.

Further reading

  1. ^ Plaskow, Judith. "Jewish Feminist Thought" in Frank, Daniel H. & Leaman, Oliver. History of Jewish Philosophy, Routledge, first published 1997; this edition 2003.
  2. ^ Adler, Rachel. ""The Jew Who Wasn't There: Halacha and the Jewish Woman." Davka (Summer 1972) 7–11.
  3. ^ Google Drive Viewer
  4. ^ Rabbinical Council of America (RCA)
  5. ^ International Rabbinic Fellowship Takes Historic Step to Prevent Future Agunot | International Rabbinical Fellowship
  6. ^ Sanders, Edmund (26 July 2013). "Israel divorce law traps women in marriages that died long ago". Los Angeles Times. 
  7. ^ Weiss, Susan. "The Tort of Get Refusal: Why Tort and Why Not?". Conversations. Orthodoxy: Family & Gender Issues (5). Archived from the original on 3 July 2011. Retrieved July 19, 2011. 
  8. ^ Montevideo - Uruguay Chief Rabbi Institutes Rabbinic Pre-Nuptial Agreement
  9. ^ Israel's Rabbis Keep Lock On Jewish Marriage - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East
  10. ^ a b c Bet Din and Judges
  11. ^ a b 2010 Human Rights Report: Israel and the occupied territories. U.S. Department of state. This article incorporates public domain material from this source.
  12. ^ a b c Israeli Chief Rabbinical Council OKs eulogies by women | Religion | Jewish Journal
  13. ^ Civil Marriage in Israel - My Jewish Learning
  14. ^ Izenberg, Dan; Mandel, Jonah (January 6, 2011). "Court scraps ‘mehadrin’ buses". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2011-03-08. 
  15. ^ a b c "Halachic ruling: Women may say Kaddish". ynet. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  16. ^ Israel raises minimum marriage age from 17 to 18 | The Times of Israel
  17. ^ Israel Hayom | In a first, women to sit on rabbinic judges selection panel
  18. ^ Rabbinate opens kashrut supervision to women - National Israel News | Haaretz
  19. ^ End to Forced Inspections for Women at Mikveh - Inside Israel - News - Arutz Sheva
  20. ^ Rudoren, Jodi (December 25, 2012). "Israel to Review Curbs on Women's Prayer at Western Wall". The New York Times. Retrieved December 25, 2012. 
  21. ^ "For the First Time Ever, Women of the Wall Hold Torah Reading at the Kotel". Shalom Life. 
  22. ^ "Jewish Feminist Theology: A Survey". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  23. ^ "Standing at Sinai". Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  24. ^ Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah: New Insights and Scholarship - Frederick Greenspahn - Google Books. Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  25. ^
  26. ^ "This genderless God also represents a profound betrayal of the Torah narrative." Matthew Berke, "God and Gender in Judaism", in Copyright (c) 1996 First Things 64 (June/July 1996): 33–38
  27. ^ The slimline siddur with a touch of Bob Dylan | The Jewish Chronicle
  28. ^ Siddur Lev Chadash
  29. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (3 September 2007). "In New Prayer Book, Signs of Broad Change". The New York Times. 
  30. ^ The Female Face of God in Auschwitz: A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust (Religion and Gender): Melissa Raphael: 9780415236652: Books
  31. ^ Feminist Theology | Jewish Women's Archive
  32. ^ Gordimer, Avrohom (June 3, 2013). "Ordaining Women and the Role of Mesorah". Cross-currents. Retrieved February 26, 2014. 
  33. ^ Heller, Rebbetzin Tziporah (8 January 2000). "Feminism & Judaism". Retrieved 23 July 2012. 
  34. ^ El-Or, Tamar (1994). Educated and Ignorant: Ultraorthodox Jewish Women and their World .:. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Pub. 
  35. ^ Jeffay, Nathan (January 10, 2013). "Israeli elections: Charedi women refuse to vote". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved February 26, 2014. 
  36. ^ Haaretz (Jan 22, 2014). "Next goal of Shas leader's daughter: Israeli presidency Adina Bar Shalom, oldest daughter of Ovadia Yosef and founder of ultra-Orthodox college in Jerusalem, said to be angling for Shimon Peres' job.". Haaretz. Retrieved February 26, 2014. 
  37. ^ Bar-Shalom, Adidna. "Haredi feminism is already here". Translated by Elana Maryles Sztokman. 
  38. ^ Rieder-Indosrky, Esty (March 9, 2014). "Dear Israeli women, don't patronize us". YNet (Hebrew). Retrieved March 9, 2014. 
  39. ^ JOFA. 
  40. ^ Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. (14 April 2011). Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  41. ^ a b Klein, Abigail. (2007-07-13) Leaders Lift Spirit in Orthodox Women's Section. Women's eNews. Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  42. ^ Sztokman, Elana (2011). The Men's Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World. Brandeis University Press. 
  43. ^ "Sara Hurwitz Adopts the Title of Maharat". Jewish Women's Archives. January 27, 2010. 
  44. ^ Reimer-Torn, Susan (2013-06-19). "Maharats March Into Jewish World First-ever ordination at Orthodox women’s seminary seen as ‘sea change,’ but steep hurdles persist.". The Jewish Week. Retrieved February 26, 2014. 
  45. ^ a b Dr. Tamar Frankiel | Academy for Jewish Religion, California
  46. ^ a b c d Orthodox woman, a first | Los Angeles | Jewish Journal
  47. ^ Landmark US program graduates first female halachic advisers | The Times of Israel
  48. ^ Graetz, Naomi (2003). Women and Religion in Israel. in Melanie Rich and Kalpana Misra, Jewish feminism in Israel: Brandeis University Press. p. 37. 
  49. ^ "Julie Rosewald: America's first woman cantor". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  50. ^ "Julie Rosewald: America's first woman cantor". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  51. ^ "The Forgotten Woman Cantor: Julie Rosewald Now Getting Her Due - The Jewish Week". The Jewish Week. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  52. ^ "Julie Rosewald: America's first woman cantor". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  53. ^ "Julie Rosewald: America's first woman cantor". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  54. ^ "The Forgotten Woman Cantor: Julie Rosewald Now Getting Her Due - The Jewish Week". The Jewish Week. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  55. ^ a b c "The First American Bat Mitvah". 1922-03-18. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  56. ^ Waskow, Arthur Ocean and Phyllis Ocean Berman. Excerpt from A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC at "History of Bat Mizvah". Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-10. 
  57. ^ a b c d Conservative Judaism in the United States | Jewish Women's Archive
  58. ^ Women's Tefillah Movement | Jewish Women's Archive
  59. ^ America’s First Female Rabbi Reflects on Four Decades Since Ordination
  60. ^ Newspaper clipping highlights one of world’s first female rabbis - Special Collections The University of Southern Mississippi Libraries
  61. ^ Zola, Gary Phillip, ed. (1996). Women Rabbis: Exploration & Celebration: Papers Delivered at an Academic Conference Honoring Twenty Years of Women in the Rabbinate, 1972-1992. Hebrew Union College Press. p. 20.  
  62. ^ Paula Hyman, Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution, Jewish Women's Archive. (2006)
  63. ^ Women Equal with Men in Minyan | Jewish Telegraphic Agency
  64. ^ "This Week in History – Sandy Sasso ordained as first female Reconstructionist rabbi | Jewish Women's Archive". May 19, 1974. Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  65. ^ a b c d e "Cantors: American Jewish Women | Jewish Women's Archive". Retrieved 2012-07-09. 
  66. ^ This Week in History – E.M. Broner publishes "The Telling" | Jewish Women's Archive. (1 March 1993). Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  67. ^ Non-Fiction: The Many Seders of Passover. Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  68. ^ The Women's Haggadah (9780060611439): E. M. Broner, Naomi Nimrod: Books. Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  69. ^ Esther M. Broner | Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  70. ^ Women-Only Seder Held in Westmoreland County - Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | HighBeam Research
  71. ^ Women celebrate non-traditional Seder – Britt Durgin Journalism. (2 October 2010). Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  72. ^ Miriam's Cup: Miriam's Cup rituals for the family Passover seder. Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  73. ^ a b c
  74. ^ Tamara Cohen. "An Orange on the Seder Plate". Retrieved 28 March 2010. 
  75. ^ a b c d Jewish Rituals for On the Seder Table. Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  76. ^ Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution (Jewish Women's Archive)
  77. ^ a b Project MUSE - A Congenial Anarchy: An Affirmation of Jewish Feminist Space
  78. ^ A Spiritual Life: A Jewish Feminist Journey - Merle Feld - Google Books
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  80. ^ "Amy Eilberg | Jewish Women's Archive". Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  81. ^ Goldman, Ari L. (September 19, 1990). "A Bar to Women as Cantors Is Lifted". The New York Times. 
  82. ^ "Society for Humanistic Judaism – Rabbis and Leadership". Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  83. ^ "Contributions of Jewish Women to Music and Women to Jewish Music". JMWC. Retrieved 2012-07-09. 
  84. ^ [2] PDF (194 KB)
  85. ^ "Cantor Sharon Hordes". Retrieved 2012-07-09. 
  86. ^ This Week in History - Kohenet: the Hebrew Priestess Institute, Launches its first Training Institute in Accord, NY | Jewish Women's Archive
  87. ^ a b Kohenet: Hebrew Priestess Institute
  88. ^ a b c Jewish American Priestess: Kohenet Institute ordains women for a new Jewish world | j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California
  89. ^ Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz, Mikveh and the Sanctity of Family Relations, Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Rabbinical Assembly, December 6, 2006
  90. ^ Rabbi Susan Grossman, MIKVEH AND THE SANCTITY OF BEING CREATED HUMAN, Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Rabbinical Assembly, December 6, 2006
  91. ^ Rabbi Avram Reisner, OBSERVING NIDDAH IN OUR DAY: AN INQUIRY ON THE STATUS OF PURITY AND THE PROHIBITION OF SEXUAL ACTIVITY WITH A MENSTRUANT, Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Rabbinical Assembly, December 6, 2006
  92. ^ Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz, RESHAPING THE LAWS OF FAMILY PURITY FOR THE MODERN WORLD, Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Rabbinical Assembly, December 6, 2006
  93. ^ "Cantorial/Hazzanut/Liturgical - CD Cantor Susan Wehle OB"M Songs of Healing & Hope | J. Levine Books & Judaica |". 2005-07-26. Retrieved 2012-07-09. 
  94. ^ Haughney, Christine (February 15, 2009). "'It's Not Even Six Degrees of Separation. It's One.'". The New York Times. 
  95. ^ "home - Yeshivat Maharat". Retrieved 1 February 2011. 
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  98. ^ Rabba" Sara Hurwitz Rocks the Orthodox""". Heeb Magazine. March 10, 2010. Retrieved 13 March 2010. 
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  102. ^ "The Jewish Chronicle - Classifieds, News, Business, and Events". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
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  104. ^ "Roots of Rabbi Alysa Stanton’s journey in Colorado". January 21, 2010. Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  105. ^ "Tikkun v'Or, Ithaca, NY - Celebration in honor of Cantor Abbe Lyons". 2010-02-07. Retrieved 2012-07-09. 
  106. ^ a b Reconstructionists Pick First Woman, Lesbian As Denominational Leader | The Jewish Week
  107. ^ Trailblazing Reconstructionist Deborah Waxman Relishes Challenges of Judaism –
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  109. ^ Malka Schaps becomes first female Haredi dean at Israeli university - National Israel News | Haaretz
  110. ^ The Jewish Press » » NYC Orthodox High School Lets Girls Put On Tefillin
  111. ^ a b First Halacha Sefer By Women Makes Waves in Israeli Orthodox World - JP Updates | JP Updates
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  117. ^ As New Year Dawns, Jewish Women Mark Milestones –
  118. ^ Women’s Torah dedicated in Seattle | Jewish Telegraphic Agency
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  133. ^


See also

Humanistic Judaism is a movement in Judaism that offers a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life. It defines Judaism as the cultural and historical experience of the Jewish people and encourages humanistic and secular Jews to celebrate their Jewish identity by participating in Jewish holidays and life cycle events (such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvah) with inspirational ceremonies that draw upon but go beyond traditional literature. Humanistic Judaism ordains both men and women as rabbis, and its first rabbi was a woman, Tamara Kolton, who was ordained in 1999.[128] Its first cantor was also a woman, Deborah Davis, ordained in 2001; however, Humanistic Judaism has since stopped ordaining cantors.[129] The Society for Humanistic Judaism issued a statement in 1996 stating in part, "we affirm that a woman has the moral right and should have the continuing legal right to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy in accordance with her own ethical standards. Because a decision to terminate a pregnancy carries serious, irreversible consequences, it is one to be made with great care and with keen awareness of the complex psychological, emotional, and ethical implications." [130] They also issued a statement in 2011 condemning the then-recent passage of the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” by the U.S. House of Representatives, which they called "a direct attack on a woman’s right to choose".[131] In 2012 they issued a resolution opposing conscience clauses that allow religious-affiliated institutions to be exempt from generally applicable requirements mandating reproductive healthcare services to individuals or employees.[132] In 2013 they issued a resolution stating in part, "Therefore, be it resolved that: The Society for Humanistic Judaism wholeheartedly supports the observance of Women's Equality Day on August 26 to commemorate the anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing women to vote; The Society condemns gender discrimination in all its forms, including restriction of rights, limited access to education, violence, and subjugation; and The Society commits itself to maintain vigilance and speak out in the fight to bring gender equality to our generation and to the generations that follow." [133]

Women in Humanistic Judaism

From October 2010 until spring 2011, Julie Seltzer, one of the female sofrot from the Women's Torah Project, scribed a Sefer Torah as part of an exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. This makes her the first American female sofer to scribe a Sefer Torah; Julie Seltzer was born in Philadelphia and is non-denominationally Jewish.[119][120][121][122] From spring 2011 until August 2012 she scribed another Sefer Torah, this time for the Reform congregation Beth Israel in San Diego.[123][124] Seltzer was taught mostly by Jen Taylor Friedman.[123] On September 22, 2013, Congregation Beth Elohim of New York dedicated a new Torah, which members of Beth Elohim said was the first Torah in New York City to be completed by a woman.[125] The Torah was scribed by Linda Coppleson.[126] As of 2014, there are an estimated 50 female sofers in the world. [127]

A Sofer, Sopher, Sofer SeTaM, or Sofer ST"M (Heb: "scribe", סופר סת״ם) is a Jewish scribe who can transcribe Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzot, and other religious writings. (ST"M, סת״ם, is an abbreviation for Sefer Torahs, Tefillin, and Mezuzot. The plural of sofer is "soferim", סופרים.) Forming the basis for the discussion of women becoming soferim, Talmud Gittin 45b states: "Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot written by a heretic, a star-worshipper, a slave, a woman, a minor, a Cuthean, or an apostate Jew, are unfit for ritual use."[113] The rulings on Mezuzah and Tefillin are virtually undisputed among those who hold to the Talmudic Law. While Arba'ah Turim does not include women in its list of those ineligible to write Sifrei Torah, some see this as proof that women are permitted to write a Torah scroll.[114] However today, virtually all Orthodox (both Modern and Ultra) authorities contest the idea that a woman is permitted to write a Sefer Torah. Yet women are permitted to inscribe Ketubot (marriage contracts), STaM not intended for ritual use, and other writings of Sofrut beyond simple STaM. In 2003 Canadian Aviel Barclay became the world's first known traditionally trained female sofer.[115][116] In 2007 Jen Taylor Friedman, a British woman, became the first female sofer to scribe a Sefer Torah.[117] In 2010 the first Sefer Torah scribed by a group of women (six female sofers, who were from Brazil, Canada, Israel, and the United States) was completed;[118] this was known as the Women's Torah Project.[119]

Women as sofrot (scribes)

In 2014, Dr. Michelle Friedman became the first woman on the Beth Din of America’s board of directors. [112]

In 2014 the first ever book of halachic decisions written by women who were ordained to serve as poskim (Idit Bartov and Anat Novoselsky) was published.[111] The women were ordained by the municipal chief rabbi of Efrat, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, after completing Midreshet Lindenbaum women’s college’s five-year ordination course in advanced studies in Jewish law, as well as passing examinations equivalent to the rabbinate’s requirement for men.[111]

In 2013 SAR High School in Riverdale, New York began allowing girls to wrap tefillin during Shacharit-morning prayer; it is probably the first Modern Orthodox high school in the U.S. to do so.[110]

In 2013 the Israeli Orthodox rabbinical organization Beit Hillel issued a halachic ruling which allows women, for the first time, to say the Kaddish prayer in memory of their deceased parents.[15]

In 2013 Malka Schaps became the first female haredi dean at an Israeli university when she was appointed dean of Bar Ilan University's Faculty of Exact Sciences.[109]

In October 2013, Rabbi Deborah Waxman was elected as the President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.[106][107] As the President, she is believed to be the first woman and first lesbian to lead a Jewish congregational union, and the first female rabbi and first lesbian to lead a Jewish seminary; the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College is both a congregational union and a seminary.[106][108]

In January 2013 Tamar Frankiel became the president of the [45][46] The school itself is transdenominational, not Orthodox.[46]

In 2010 the first American women to be ordained as cantors in Jewish Renewal after Susan Wehle's ordination, Michal Rubin and Abbe Lyons, were both ordained.[105]

Also in 2009, Alysa Stanton became the first African-American female rabbi.[104]

Also in 2009 Tannoz Bahremand Foruzanfar, who was born in Iran, became the first Persian woman to be ordained as a cantor in the United States.[103]

In June 2009, [65]

Also in 2006, Susan Wehle became the first American female cantor in Jewish Renewal;[93] however she died in 2009.[94]

In 2006, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of Conservative Judaism adopted three responsa on the subject of niddah, which reaffirmed an obligation of Conservative women to abstain from sexual relations during and following menstruation and to immerse in a mikvah prior to resumption, while liberalizing observance requirements including shortening the length of the niddah period, lifting restrictions on non-sexual contact during niddah, and reducing the circumstances under which spotting and similar conditions would mandate abstinence.[89][90][91][92]

In 2005, the [87]

Also in 2002, Avitall Gerstetter, who lived in Germany, became the first female cantor in Jewish Renewal (and the first female cantor in Germany).

Also in 2002, Sharon Hordes became the first cantor of either sex (and therefore, since she was female, the first female cantor) in Reconstructionist Judaism.[85]

In 2002, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of Conservative Judaism adapted a responsum by Rabbi David Fine, Women and the Minyan, which provides an official religious-law foundation for counting women in a minyan and explains the current Conservative approach to the role of women in prayer.[84] This responsum holds that although Jewish women do not traditionally have the same obligations as men, Conservative women have, as a collective whole, voluntarily undertaken them. Because of this collective undertaking, the Fine responsum holds that Conservative women are eligible to serve as agents and decision-makers for others. The responsum also holds that traditionally-minded communities and individual women can opt out without being regarded by the Conservative movement as sinning. By adopting this responsum, the CJLS found itself in a position to provide a considered Jewish-law justification for its egalitarian practices, without having to rely on potentially unconvincing arguments, undermine the religious importance of community and clergy, ask individual women intrusive questions, repudiate the halakhic tradition, or label women following traditional practices as sinners.

In 2001 Deborah Davis became the first cantor of either sex (and therefore, since she was female, the first female cantor) in Humanistic Judaism; however, Humanistic Judaism has since stopped graduating cantors.[83]

In 1999 Tamara Kolton became the very first rabbi (and therefore, since she was female, the first female rabbi) in Humanistic Judaism.[82]

In 1997 Gail Billig became the first female president of a major Orthodox synagogue, at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, N.J.[41]

[81] In 1987

In October 1983, the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), the main educational institution of the Conservative movement, announced its decision to accept women as rabbis and cantors. Paula Hyman took part in the vote as a member of the JTS faculty. Amy Eilberg became the first female rabbi in Conservative Judaism in 1985. [80]

Also in 1981, Lynn Gottlieb became the first female rabbi in Jewish Renewal. [79]

In 1981 the Jewish feminist group "B'not Esh", Hebrew for "Daughters of Fire", was founded.[76][77] As of 2011, this group meets for five days every year over Memorial Day weekend at the Grail, a Catholic laywomen's retreat center in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York.[77] There they, to quote Merle Feld, one of their members, "explore issues of spirituality, social change, and the feminist transformation of Judaism." [78]

In 1976, the first women-only Passover seder was held in [65][72] According to Jewish feminist writer Tamara Cohen, the practice of filling a cup with water to symbolize Miriam’s inclusion in the seder originated at a Rosh Chodesh group in Boston in 1989.[73] Miriam is associated with water because rabbis attribute to Miriam the well that traveled with the Israelites throughout their wandering in the desert.[73] In the Book of Numbers, the well dries up immediately following Miriam’s death.[73] Furthermore, some Jews include an orange on the seder plate. The orange represents the fruitfulness for all Jews when all marginalized peoples are included, particularly women and gay people.[74] An incorrect but common rumor says that this tradition began when a man told Susannah Heschel that a woman belongs on the bimah as an orange on the seder plate; however, it actually began when in the early 1980s, while when speaking at Oberlin College Hillel, Susannah Heschel was introduced to an early feminist Haggadah that suggested adding a crust of bread on the seder plate, as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians (as some would say there's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate).[75] Heschel felt that to put bread on the seder plate would be to accept that Jewish lesbians and gay men violate Judaism like chametz violates Passover.[75] So, at her next seder, she chose an orange as a symbol of inclusion of gays and lesbians and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community.[75] In addition, each orange segment had a few seeds that had to be spit out – a gesture of spitting out and repudiating the homophobia of traditional Judaism.[75]

In 1975, [65]

In 1974 Sandy Eisenberg Sasso became the first female rabbi in Reconstructionist Judaism. [64]

In 1973, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of Conservative Judaism voted to count men and women equally as members of a minyan.[63]

Also in 1972, a group of ten New York Jewish feminists calling themselves Ezrat Nashim (the women's section in a synagogue, but also "women's help"), took the issue of equality for women to the 1972 convention of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly, presenting a document on 14 March that they named the "Call for Change." The rabbis received the document in their convention packets, but Ezrat Nashim presented it during a meeting with the rabbis' wives. The Call for Change demanded that women be accepted as witnesses before Jewish law, be considered as bound to perform all mitzvot, be allowed full participation in religious observances, have equal rights in marriage and be allowed to initiate divorce, be counted in the minyan, and be permitted to assume positions of leadership in the synagogue and within the general Jewish community. Paula Hyman, who was a member of Ezrat Nashim, wrote that: "We recognized that the subordinate status of women was linked to their exemption from positive time-bound mitzvot (commandments), and we therefore accepted increased obligation as the corollary of equality."[62]

In 1972 Sally Priesand became America's first female rabbi ordained by a rabbinical seminary, and the second formally ordained female rabbi, after Regina Jonas. [59] [60] Priesand was ordained by the Reform Jewish Seminary Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion on June 3rd, 1972, at the Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati.[61]

In 1955, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of Conservative Judaism declared that women were eligible to chant the blessings before and after the reading of the Torah.[57] In the late 1960s, the first Orthodox Jewish women's tefillah (prayer) group was created, on the holiday of Simhat Torah at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan.[58] In 1973, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards passed a takkanah (ruling) allowing women to count in a minyan equally with men.[57] Also in 1973, the United Synagogue of America, Conservative Judaism’s congregational association (now called the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism) resolved to allow women to participate in synagogue rituals and to promote equal opportunity for women for positions of leadership, authority, and responsibility in congregational life.[57] In 1974, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards adopted a series of proposals that equalized men and women in all areas of ritual, including serving as prayer leaders.[57]

In 1935 Regina Jonas became the first formally ordained female rabbi. [55]

On March 18th, 1922, the American rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan held the first public celebration of a bat mitzvah in the United States, for his daughter Judith, at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, his synagogue in New York City.[55][56] Judith Kaplan recited the preliminary blessing, read a portion of that week's Torah portion in Hebrew and English, and then intoned the closing blessing.[55] Kaplan, who at that time claimed to be an Orthodox rabbi, joined Conservative Judaism and then became the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, and influenced Jews from all branches of non-Orthodox Judaism through his position at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

In 1884, Julie Rosewald became America’s first female cantor (though she was born in Germany); she served San Francisco’s Temple Emanu-El, although she was not ordained. [49] [50] [51] She served as a cantor there until 1893. [52] [53] [54]

Women in Jewish religious law, clergy, schools, and rituals

Also in 2013, the first class of female halachic advisers trained to practice in the US graduated; they graduated from the North American branch of Nishmat’s yoetzet halacha program in a ceremony at Congregation Sheartith Israel, Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Manhattan.[47] However, this event was met with only faint enthusiasm among Orthodox feminists for several reasons. One is that Nishmat consistently distances itself from feminism, as its founder Chana Henkin often pronounces that she is not a feminist and that the women who graduate from Nishmat do not adjudicate halakha but always ask male rabbis. Another reason is that against the backdrop of the graduation of women from Yeshivat Maharat, in which women are full leaders with complete authority to adjudicate and function as communal rabbis this event does not necessarily represent the greatest advancement for Orthodox women and is arguably a step backward. That is, women counseling women only on "women's issues" without any real halakhic authority of their own keeps women in a somewhat more official version of traditional gender roles.[48]

In 2013 the Israeli Orthodox rabbinical organization Beit Hillel issued a halachic ruling which allows women, for the first time, to say the Kaddish prayer in memory of their deceased parents.[15]

In January 2013 Tamar Frankiel became the president of the [45][46] The school itself is transdenominational, not Orthodox.[46]

Another major historical event of Orthodox feminism occurred in 2009, when Rabba Sara Hurwitz became the first publicly ordained Orthodox woman rabbi. Supported by Rabbi Avi Weiss, she launched a training school for Orthodox women in rabbinic positions, Yeshivat Maharat (acronym for "Morah hilkhatit rabbanit toranit"—a rabbinic, halakhic Torah teacher.) Rabbi Weiss had originally announced that graduates would be called "rabba", but when the Rabbinical Council of America threatened to oust him, he recanted and created the term Maharat.[43] The first cohort of Maharats graduated in June 2013: Maharats Ruth Balinksy-Friedman, Rachel Kohl Finegold and Abby Brown Scheier.[44]

In 2002, the first partnership minyan was established—Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem, and Darkhei Noam in New York City. These are Orthodox communities that maximize women's participation in the prayer to the full extent possible within halakha. Although critics of partnership minyan argue that these are not "Orthodox", the communities themselves vehemently insist that they are Orthodox. The fact that the synagogues have partitions and do not count women as part of the minyan (and thus do not allow women to lead any parts of services that require a quorum) demonstrate the loyalty to Orthodox practice. Dr. Elana Sztokman, former Executive Director of JOFA, wrote extensively about this phenomenon in her book The Men's Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World, and examined this dynamic in which the partnership minyan considers itself Orthodox but is often rejected as Orthodox by other members of the community. Today there are over 35 partnership minyans around the world.[42]

Also in 1997, Gail Billig became the first female president of a major Orthodox synagogue, at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, N.J.[41]

In 1997, Blu Greenberg founded the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) to advocate for women's increased participation and leadership in Modern Orthodox Jewish life and to create a community for women and men dedicated to such change.[40] JOFA has focused on issues including: agunah, bat mitzvah, women's scholarship, women's prayer, ritual, women's synagogue leadership, and women's religious leadership.

Orthodox feminism works within the halakhic system and works with rabbis and rabbinical institutions to create more inclusive practices within Orthodox communal life and leadership. Orthodox feminism tends to focus on issues, such as the problems of agunah, fostering women's education, leadership, and ritual participation, women's leadership and making synagogue more women-friendly. Unlike other denominations, Orthodox feminists retain the partition in synagogue and do not count women in a minyan. The all-women's prayer group—Women's Tefilla Group, is an Orthodox practice that began in the 1970s and continues today.[39]

Modern Orthodox feminism, unlike its Conservative and Reform/Reconstructionist counterparts, seeks to change the position of women from within Jewish law (halakha).

Orthodox Jewish feminism

These are signs of the beginnings of feminist movement in the haredi community in Israel.

Another emerging haredi voice is that of Esty Reider-Indorsky. She "came out" in March 2014 as a popular haredi columnist who had been writing under a man's name -- "Ari Solomon"—and has a large following under her pseudonym. In an article in YNet, Reider-Indorsky claimed that there is a strong feminist movement brewing in the haredi community, and asked non-haredi women to stay out of their own internal revolution. "Don't patronize us," she writes to non-haredi feminists. "Don't make revolutions for us, or try to clean out our backyard. We are doing it in our own way and we are doing it better: There is an abundance of haredi women lawyers and women in start-up.... There are haredi women who choose an academic career, and there are haredi women leading change in every area imaginable... The change will happen. it's already happening."[38]

One of the most interesting voices of haredi feminism is that of Adina Bar-Shalom, daughter of the late Israeli Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Bar Shalom established the Haredi College of Jerusalem, regularly speaks out about the importance of women's education and work, and in 2013 established a women's-only political party in the haredi town of Elad. In addition, in early 2014 she considered a bid to become the president of Israel.[36] In March 2014, Bar-Shalom wrote that the haredi feminist revolution is already here. "The train has left the station," she wrote.[37]

However, despite this very traditionalist approach to gender, there are some signs of a feminist movement beginning to sprout in the haredi world, especially in Israel. During the 2013 Israeli elections, Esti Shushan led a feminist drive to force haredi political parties to allow women to run on their lists (the parties currently forbid women from running). The campaign, called on haredi women to refuse to vote for parties that exclude women.[35] In addition, during the 2013 municipal elections in Israel, three haredi women took an unprecedented step and ran for their local municipalities—Shira Gergi in Safed, Ruth Colian in Petach Tikva, and Racheli Ibenboim in Jerusalem. Gergi is the only one who was elected, becoming the first haredi woman to sit on a municipal council, and becoming the first woman on the Safed council in twenty years.

There is currently no movement within haredi Judaism to train women as rabbis, and there is no visible movement to advance women's Talmudic knowledge. Nevertheless, haredi women are exposed to modern ideas and secular education, unlike most haredi men. Prof. Tamar El-or explored changes in women's lives and the impact of mixed educational cultures on women's empowerment in her seminal book, Educated and Ignorant about the education of women in the Gur Hassidic community.[34]

The most important thrust of haredi education for girls and young women is to educate, train and encourage them to become wives and mothers within large families devoted to the strictest Torah Judaism way of life. While most haredi women receive schooling in Beis Yaakov schools designed for them exclusively, the curriculum of these schools does not teach Talmud and neither encourages nor teaches its female students to study the same subjects as young haredi men in the haredi yeshivas. In some haredi communities, the education of girls in secular subjects (such as mathematics) is superior to that of boys. This is partly because of the greater time devoted to sacred subjects in the case of boys, and partly because many haredi women work in paid jobs to enable their husbands to engage in full-time Torah study or to bring in a second income.

Haredi Judaism also espouses strict essentialist differences between men and women, rooted in ideas about God's will and creation. The haredi worldview espouses the idea of womanhood as expressed in King Solomon's poem "A Woman of Valor," which praises a woman for maintaining the home, care for the family, and food-preparation, practices which the poem admire in women as part of their wisdom, courage, creativity, dedication, selflessness, and perhaps business acumen.[33]

The leaders of Haredi Judaism regularly pronounce all forms of feminism as "Reform", as non-Jewish, or as a threat to Jewish tradition. An article in Cross-currents criticizing advancing women's leadership writes that: "The entirety of traditional Jewish religious life, including its age-old ritual norms and societal norms, even if they lack formal codification, reflects Torah values, be they halachic or hashkafic; every aspect of our multi-millenia traditional religious communal modality is embedded in or predicated upon halachic or hashkafic axioms. These axioms may not be apparent to the uninitiated, yet failure to perceive them does not grant license to negate, dismiss or reform."[32] The haredi claim is that feminism is changing Torah.

Haredi positions on feminism

Orthodox Judaism and Jewish feminism

In 2003 "The Female Face of God in Auschwitz", the first full-length feminist theology of the Holocaust, written by Melissa Raphael, was published.[30] Judith Plaskow’s "Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective" (1991), and Rachel Adler’s "Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics" (1999) are the only two full-length Jewish feminist works to focus entirely on theology in general (rather than specific aspects such as Holocaust theology.) [31] Thus, "Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective" (1991) is the first book of Jewish feminist theology ever written.

These views are highly controversial even within liberal Jewish movements.[26] Orthodox Jews and many Conservative Jews hold that it is wrong to use English female pronouns for God, viewing such usage as an intrusion of modern feminist ideology into Jewish tradition. Liberal prayerbooks tend increasingly to also avoid male-specific words and pronouns, seeking that all references to God in translations be made in gender-neutral language. For example, the UK Liberal movement's Siddur Lev Chadash (1995) does so, as does the UK Reform Movement's Forms of Prayer (2008).[27][28] In Mishkan T'filah, the American Reform Jewish prayer book released in 2007, references to God as “He” have been removed, and whenever Jewish patriarchs are named (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), so also are the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.) [29]

Feminine imagery of God does not in any way threaten Judaism. On the contrary, it enhances the Jewish understanding of God, which should not be limited to masculine metaphors. All language that humans use to describe God is only a metaphor. Using masculine and feminine metaphors for God is one way to remind ourselves that gendered descriptions of God are just metaphors. God is beyond gender.

Ahuva Zache affirms that using both masculine and feminine language for God can be a positive thing, but reminds her Reform Jewish readership that God is beyond gender (Is God male, female, both or neither? How should we phrase our prayers in response to God’s gender?, in the Union for Reform Judaism's iTorah, [1]):

Those who want to use God/She language want to affirm womanhood and the feminine aspect of the deity. They do this by emphasizing that which most clearly distinguishes the female experience from the male. A male or female deity can create through speech or through action, but the metaphor for creation which is uniquely feminine is birth. Once God is called female, then, the metaphor of birth and the identification of the deity with nature and its processes become inevitable

Rabbi Paula Reimers ("Feminism, Judaism, and God the Mother", Conservative Judaism 46 (1993)) comments:

[25] wrote the sermon, "God is a Woman and She is Growing Older," which as of 2011 has been published ten times (three times in German) and preached by rabbis from Australia to California.Margaret Wenig. In 1990 Margaret Wenig and Naomi Janowitz was self-published in 1976 by Siddur Nashim
The experience of praying with Siddur Nashim [the first Sabbath prayer book to refer to God using female pronouns and imagery] ... transformed my relationship with God. For the first time, I understood what it meant to be made in God's image. To think of God as a woman like myself, to see Her as both powerful and nurturing, to see Her imaged with a woman's body, with womb, with breasts – this was an experience of ultimate significance. Was this the relationship that men have had with God for all these millennia? How wonderful to gain access to those feelings and perceptions.

Reconstructionist Rabbi Rebecca Alpert (Reform Judaism, Winter 1991) comments:

In 1976, Rita Gross published the article "Female God Language in a Jewish Context" (Davka Magazine 17), which Jewish scholar and feminist Judith Plaskow considers "probably the first article to deal theoretically with the issue of female God-language in a Jewish context".[22][23]  Gross was Jewish herself at this time.[24]

Some of these theologies promote the idea that it is important to have a feminine characterisation of God within the siddur (Jewish prayerbook) and service.

Various versions of feminist theology exist within the Jewish community.

Jewish feminist theology

In October 2014 Women of the Wall smuggled in a Torah scroll to the Western Wall women's section and held their first Torah reading by a woman at the site, which was part of the bat mitzvah of Sasha Lutt. However, Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, issued a statement saying in part, "In future, efforts will be made to ensure that this does not happen again, and the introduction of Torah scrolls will be banned for everyone - men and women." [21]

In May 2013, after Women of the Wall, led by Anat Hoffman, had engaged in civil disobedience to exercise freedom of religion, a judge ruled that a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court ruling prohibiting women from carrying a Torah or wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall had been misinterpreted and that Women of the Wall prayer gatherings at the Western Wall should not be deemed illegal.[20]

Also in 2013, the Minister of Religious Affairs and Chief Rabbis issued statements telling ritual bath attendants only to inspect women who want inspection, putting an end to forced inspections of women at mikvehs.[19]

Also in 2013, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate promised to remove the obstacles preventing women from working as supervisors in the state kosher certification system, and Emunah announced the first supervisor certification course for women in Israel.[18]

Also in 2013, the Religious Judges Law in Israel was amended to say that at least four women must be included in the religious judges' nomination committee, including a female advocate in the religious courts, and that the total number of committee members shall be eleven.[17]

Also in 2013, the minimum marriage age in Israel became 18 for females and males.[16]

In 2013 the Israeli Orthodox rabbinical organization Beit Hillel issued a halachic ruling which allows women, for the first time, to say the Kaddish prayer in memory of their deceased parents.[15]

On September 28, 2010, the Israeli Supreme Court outlawed public gender segregation in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood in response to a petition submitted after extremist Haredi men physically and verbally assaulted women for walking on a designated men's only road. However, in January 2011, a ruling of the Israeli High Court of Justice allowed the continuation of the gender segregation in public buses on a strictly voluntary basis for a one-year experimental period.[14]

In 2010, Israel passed the Civil Union Law, allowing a couple to marry civilly in Israel if they are both registered as officially not belonging to any religion.[13]

In 2006, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that women should be allowed to deliver eulogies and that the burial societies, or chevra kadisha, should not impose gender segregation in the cemetery.[12] The ruling was in response to an incident in Petach Tikvah in which a woman was stopped from eulogizing her father.[12] However, the court’s ruling was not backed up by the Religious Services Ministry until 2012, when Israel’s Chief Rabbinical Council ruled that women can deliver eulogies at funerals, but that it is up to the community rabbi to decide on a case-by-case basis.[12]

In 1947 [10] However, a Muslim woman in Israel may petition for and receive a divorce through the Sharia courts without her husband's consent under certain conditions, and a marriage contract may provide for other circumstances in which she may obtain a divorce without her husband's consent. A Muslim man in Israel may divorce his wife without her consent and without petitioning the court.[11] Christians in Israel may seek official separations or divorces, depending on the denomination, through ecclesiastical courts.[11]

Israel and Jewish feminism

In 2014 the Rabbinate of Uruguay instituted the requirement for all Jewish couples that marry under its auspices to sign a Rabbinic Pre-nuptial Agreement. The agreement states that in the case of the couple divorcing civilly, the husband is obligated to immediately deliver to his wife a get. The initiative was launched by Sara Winkowski, a director of the Kehila, the Comunidad Israelita del Uruguay (Jewish Community of Uruguay), who is also a Vice President of the World Jewish Congress and longtime activist for the rights of women within Jewish law.[8]

In 2004, Justice Menachem HaCohen of the Center for Women's Justice as one of a number of successful lawsuits filed in Israeli civil courts claiming financial damages against recalcitrant husbands.[7]

In 1995 the Israeli parliament gave the rabbinical court expanded legal power to sanction men who refuse to give their wives a get by suspending their driver's licenses, seizing their bank accounts, preventing travel abroad and even imprisoning those who do not comply with an order to grant a divorce; however, women's groups say the 1995 law is not very effective because the court uses sanctions in less than 2% of cases.[6]

In 1990 Agunah Day was established by ICAR - The International Coalition for Agunah Rights - to raise public awareness of the plight of the Agunah and galvanize action to solve the problem. It is observed on the Jewish calendar date of the Fast of Esther.

In 1968, by a unanimous vote of the law committee, it was decided that the Joint Bet Din of the Conservative movement could annul marriages as a last resort, based on the Talmudic principle of hafka'at kiddushin. According to Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz, the Chairman of the Joint Bet Din of the Conservative Movement, just the threat of this action was sometimes enough to compel the former husband to grant a get.

Beginning in the 1950s, some Conservative rabbis have used the Lieberman clause, named for Talmudic scholar and Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) professor Saul Lieberman, in the ketuba, requiring that a get be granted if a civil divorce is ever issued. Most Orthodox rabbis have rejected the Lieberman clause, although leaders of the Conservative movement claim that the original intent was to find a solution that could be used by Orthodox and Conservative rabbis alike, and that leaders of Orthodox Judaism's Rabbinical Council of America, and respected Orthodox rabbis, including Joseph B. Soloveitchik, supposedly recognized the clause as valid. Later, because some civil courts viewed the enforcement of a religious document as a violation of the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state, Conservative rabbis began to require couples to sign a separate letter, stating that the clause had been explained to them as part of pre-marital counseling, and that both parties understood and agreed to its conditions, recognizing that this letter would constitute a separate civil document, enforceable in a civilian court. However, many Conservative rabbis, including some on the movement's own law committee, had growing misgivings about the clause for religious reasons.


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