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Life

Second Edition Feminism

This is the fourth entry of an ongoing series exploring Jewish feminism.

In the introduction to my first book, “The New Jewish Wedding,” I wrote, “References to the rabbi as him/or her do no more than acknowledge the decision to ordain women by the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements.”

That was 1985. When I revised the book in 2001, I couldn’t quite believe that I’d written those words. I suppose I felt the need to remind readers about what were, back then, relatively new facts on the ground. Even worse, I think I was worried about offending someone by telling a simple truth.

I left that sentence out in the second edition, as well as a few other apologetic asides that pointed out what has since become ubiquitous and obvious: Jewish women are leaders and teachers, rabbis and cantors, theologians and prophets.

For the first time in our history, women’s voices — not just singular and extraordinary characters, but a large and varied chorus — are part of the public discourse about everything: about God and halacha, about the governance of our synagogues, about marriage and how we educate our children, about our money, about the substance and fire of our lives.

This unprecedented participation of women results from the work and wisdom of two generations of adult Jewish women and men who understand that feminism is nothing less than a profound expression of Judaism’s mission and part of the Torah’s mandate for justice and the sanctification of life.

The basic insight of feminism is that women are human beings. I don’t think you can be a serious Jew and not be a feminist.

Our sources provide proof texts for many of the changes wrought by Jewish feminists. Miriam the prophet is the foremother for women’s leadership roles. Hannah is honored as the inventor of the personal prayers women have added to communal and private devotion. Ruth and Esther are ancient avatars of feminine courage.

But in addition to these well-argued and footnoted antecedents, we should own up to the fact that there won’t be proof texts for every feminist insight and invention. We are creating the Miriam we need — musician, performance artist, prophet; we give her a timbrel and a place at the Seder, we write new songs for her, and we create an exemplar that reflects contemporary models of female leadership. This kind of “translation” has been done by men for centuries. It is the juicy, growing part of our tree of life, which kept Judaism from atrophy and death. And this is the gift of Jewish feminism — new fruit on the tree of life.

Anita Diamant is the author of 12 books, including the novels “The Red Tent” and, most recently, “Day After Night.” She is a founder and board president of Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and the Paula Brody and Family Education Center.

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