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December 6, 2013 by

Orthodox Judaism and the F Word


by Jina Davidovich

I was educated to believe that “Feminism” was the F word. I was raised to think that, while women should excel in the classroom and the boardroom, they should ultimately succumb to their inextricably feminine natures and center their lives on the home. At a young age it seemed that even the rich textual tradition at the heart of Jewish practice vindicated these ideas: Eve sought knowledge and was punished with pain, Tamar was forced to seduce her father-in-law, Judah, to pursue justice, and for centuries women were prohibited from assuming any leadership positions within the Jewish community. To be honest, a structure which did not permit women to achieve success – professional, personal, and spiritual – on the same level as their male counterparts never sat well with me. Despite my deep commitment to the Orthodox Jewish community, feminism was never the “f word” for me – it connoted a different f-word: freedom. Feminism is a philosophy that raised me up and made me a human, rather than just a future wife or mother. 

Enter JOFA. The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, an organization I found in my second year at Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University’s undergraduate women’s college, was a haven for me to synergize my long-held belief that I could be both a feminist and practitioner of traditional Judaism. But I was a member of JOFA long before I became a participant in their campus fellowship and long before I was asked to perform at the upcoming JOFA conference. It isn’t often that one finds a cause that so readily resonates with values that they hold so dear – values that may seem paradoxical, but are, in fact, bound together with the ties of the Jewish tradition. My tradition is one that tells me that God created both men and women in his image; that it is the responsibility of both men and women to educate their children; and that it is the entirety of the Jewish people who are responsible for casting the light of peace, justice, and unity onto the world. So when I found JOFA, it didn’t take much convincing for me to see how special they were – and are – and how lucky I was to have found them. 

In the past few years, I have started exploring the joint themes of feminism and Jewish tradition in my spoken word poetry. This artistic avenue has given me the opportunity to dig beneath the surface of a relationship whose participants I have come to think of as soulmates. Next week, I will have the privilege to perform some of my work at the JOFA conference where women of all stripes and colors will come together, not simply under the banner of feminism, but under the belief that when women come together to share, inspire, and evoke change, there is no limit to what we can achieve. 

Learn more about JOFA at their upcoming “Voices of Change” conference in New York on December 7-8.