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Must-Reads on Judaism and Gender

Two fabulous Jewish magazines have new issues out that are must-reads for anyone interested in Judaism and gender.

The first is Lilith’s new issue, which proclaims, in big black letters on a red background, that “Boys are the New Girls.”

It’s an interesting premise, highlighting the much-needed attention paid lately to boys. Boys — and men — are unfortunately missing in action from Jewish life in liberal (i.e. non-Orthodox) precincts. In this New York Times article back in February 2006, I explored this issue as it relates to the Reform movement, which was the first major Jewish institution to grapple with the gender imbalance in its youth groups, camps and synagogues.

The new Lilith issue includes, among other items on the topic, essays on what it means to be a Jewish man today by Rabbi Steven Greenberg (the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi), a provocatively titled essay, “Bottoming for God,” by Forward contributor Jay Michaelson, a look at King David as a model of manhood by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Manhattan’s Congregation Ansche Chesed, and a piece on not fitting into stereotypes of boyhood by self-proclaimed “wimp” Paul Zakrzewski. The Lilith package also includes an interview with Sally Gottesman, who is co-founder and board chair of the organization Moving Traditions, which is developing a program to reach adolescent Jewish boys.

The new issue of the semi-annual journal of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) is devoted to a treasure trove of essays and articles looking at the concept of modesty from many perspectives.

Scholar Devorah Zlochower, a marvelous teacher, pens the cover article examining “Dress, Gender and Jewish Law,” looking at Orthodox dictates as to how women (and men) must dress in the context of different eras in Jewish history and different Jewish legal decisors’ points of view.

Raquel Ukeles, a professor of Islamic and Jewish Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, reflects in the JOFA Journal on modest dress in both religions’ cultures, Karen Miller Jackson examines the importance the Bible places on clothing, through examining the Adam and Eve passage, a midrash on Ezekiel, and in the Joseph narrative, which in both the written Torah and its rabbinic commentaries is rich with associations and interpretations of the importance of various aspects of Joseph’s garb.

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, director of the Beit Midrash Program at the rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, writes about the unexpected multiplicity of perspectives on tzniut, or modesty, in Chasidic literature.And writer Nessa Rapoport takes a light-hearted but serious look at how directives about modesty are communicated to Orthodox Jewish girls and their parents. She argues for an appreciation — rather than suppression or diminution — of the beauty of young women.

As someone who was once a young woman myself, (though not then aware of Orthodox perspectives on femininity and modesty,) when I didn’t see myself as beautiful, I say that anything that helps women — and men — feel beautiful, strong and precious in the eyes of ourselves and God is a good thing.

Set aside an evening or two to read the new issues of Lilith and the JOFA Journal. They will enrich your thinking about what it means to be a Jewish woman or man today.

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