Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

The 'Orthodox Feminist Revolution'

by Rachel Levitt

Tags: Spirituality, faith, Judaism, Orthodox, synagogue, gender equality, Moment,

Girl reading Torah

Gender equality is a constant source of controversy within Orthodox Judaism. According to tradition and interpretation of the Old Testament, women must remain separate from men in synagogue and cannot go anywhere near the sacred scrolls of the Torah. They also do not count as part of the minyan, or quorum, needed to conduct services.

The latest issue of Moment —a magazine of independent, Jewish thought—profiles Tova Hartman, the "Orthodox feminist revolutionary" who cofounded Shira Hadasha, a traditional Orthodox synagogue that allows women privileges unthinkinkable for most Orthodox communities: the right to handle and read from the Torah. And to lead services—in front of men.

Hartman's progressive ideas were born of her own experiences. When Hartman was 15 years old, she moved with her family from Montreal to Jerusalem. Back in Canada, she'd always felt at home in her family's shul. Once in Jerusalem, however, her family began worshiping at a traditional Orthodox synagogue "where women were relegated to the balcony," and Hartman realized that she could not truly feel at home in a temple where women were so ignored.

For her ideas, Hartman has come up against plenty of resistance, both in Israel and abroad, but she's also found ample support. As Jessica Ravitz writes for Moment: Hartman is "smack in the middle of what some have called the 'Orthodox feminist revolution.' "

Image by jonny.hunter, licensed under Creative Commons.