5 Things Jewish Women Will Do in 2015

Lior Zaltzman

In 2014 we saw everyone from Beyoncé to Joseph Gordon-Levitt embrace feminism, a video clip titled “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” spark a debate about street harassment, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg become a cultural icon. As 2015 begins here are five trends to look out for.

Funny Women Will Get Funnier

From Jenny Slate in her film “Obvious Child” to Lena Dunham’s publication of her memoir “Not That Kind of Girl,” this has been a great year for Jewish women in comedy. But some of the most feminist comedians are poised to reach new audiences and acclaim in 2015. “Inside Amy Schumer” provided what might have been the best TV scene of the year with her sketch “A Very Realistic Military Game,” highlighting the issue of sexual assault in America’s military. Schumer is set to raise her profile in 2015, hosting the MTV movie awards, writing and starring in a Judd Apatow-directed movie, and executive-producing a pilot for Comedy Central starring fellow comedian Rachel Feinstein. Similarly, the co-stars and creators of “Broad City,” Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, managed to both embrace and subvert female stereotypes in the show’s first season. The show is back in January, and as the two women strengthen their comedic voices this ode to female friendship will soar to new heights.

Pregnancy Options Will Normalize

When Apple and Facebook announced new 2014 policies that gave employees coverage of up to $20K for fertility-related expenses, there was an outcry over the perceived attack on work-life balance. But for many, this conversation over pregnancy options — including infertility, surrogacy, and egg-freezing — has already been taking place (albeit quietly). That’s why Rachel Sklar’s essay on Medium, “I’m 41, Single and Pregnant,” was so refreshing. Sklar writes frankly and openly about her pregnancy and her desire to break the “bizarre cone of silence” surrounding fertility challenges. As more and more women buck the traditional model for motherhood, the coming year will bring unapologetic discussions of subjects that were previously taboo.

Israeli Haredi Women Will Gain Political Power

In the lead-up to Israel’s March elections, Haredi women are demanding a larger voice in the political arena. In early December, a campaign called “No Representation, No Vote” was launched to pressure Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism to include women on their party ticket. The women behind the campaign sent an open letter to Haredi party leaders, warning them that they would refuse to vote for any party that did not include a female candidate. In response, Rabbi Mordechai Blau of UTJ threatened excommunication to any women not voting along party lines. There were murmurings that Adina Bar-Shalom, daughter of the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and one of the most influential women in the ultra-Orthodox community, would break ranks and run for the Knesset. In the end she chose instead to stay within the system, heading a Shas women’s advisory council along with Yaffa Deri, wife of party leader Aryeh Deri. But as many ultra-Orthodox women become better educated and serve as principal family breadwinners, their voices won’t stay silent for long.

New Sexual Assault Policies Will Be Enacted — Both On and Off Campus

This past year has seen an increased awareness of the prevalence of sexual assaults on college campuses, and the failure of universities to properly handle rape allegations. This in turn has launched a discussion of a need for “affirmative consent” — not just the absence of refusal — in sexual encounters leading to the passing of California’s “yes means yes” law covering all public universities in the state, with other states considering similar legislation.

The White House launched a task force on the issue in January 2014, and the U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating 86 colleges for violations of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in any federally funded education program or activity. Additionally, a bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act should reach a Senate vote in 2015.

Expect colleges to change their policies, with reforms of the disciplinary process and incentives for victims to report crimes. At the same time, expect pushback from those who believe this infringes on men’s civil rights. Harvard Law School professors have already objected to Harvard’s new guidelines on the subject, writing in an open letter that the new policies “lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process” and “are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused.”

Mikveh and Conversion Practices Will Be Reformed

The arrest of the Washington, D.C., rabbi Barry Freundel, and the subsequent charge of voyeurism, including placing cameras in the mikveh in order to spy on women while they immersed, shocked the Jewish community. It also opened a dialogue about current mikveh practices and, more broadly, about rabbinical authority in the conversion process. These discussions have resulted in calls for women to have more control over the space as well as in various organizations — such as the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance — publishing guidelines or “best practices” for mikvehs. Perhaps most significantly, the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest council of Orthodox rabbis worldwide, established a committee that included six women to review its conversion process.

Two rabbis — Jeffrey S. Fox, head of Yeshivat Maharat, and Ysoscher Katz, director of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s Lindenbaum Center for Halakhic Studies — have issued halachic responsa stating that male rabbis need not be present for a female convert’s ritual immersion. “There is no reason for the woman to feel as though her body is being inspected by a group of men,” Fox wrote. While some could argue that these rabbis are not mainstream enough to effect change, Yesh Atid Knesset member Rabbi Dov Lipman has suggested the same thing to Israel’s Ministry of Religious Services.

Sarah Breger is the editor of The Sisterhood, contact her at breger@forward.com

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