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Feminism Encounters Traditional Judaism
Resistance and Accommodation
Tova Hartman

HBI Series on Jewish Women

2007 • 184 pp. 6 x 9"
Women's Studies / Jewish Studies

$19.95 Paperback, 978-1-58465-659-3

“[D]elightfully perceptive . . . [Hartman's] observations of the Modern Orthodoxy movement are so insightful that this work should be required reading for students of contemporary Judaism, whether or not they have any interest in feminism.”—American Jewish Libraries Newsletter

An innovative analysis of how creative tensions between modern Orthodox Judaism and feminism can lead to unexpected perspectives and beliefs

University professor and social activist Tova Hartman, discouraged by failed attempts to make her modern Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem more inclusive of women, together with other worshippers, set about creating their own own, Shira Hadasha (“a new song”).

Since it opened in 2002, this new synagogue’s mission—to develop a religious community that embraces halakhah (Jewish law), tefillah (prayer), and feminism—has drawn thousands to services. The courageous act of creating the synagogue—against amazing odds—is testimony to Hartman’s own deeply felt commitment to both feminism and modern Orthodox Judaism.

The story of the creation and ongoing development of similar “partnership minyans” in Jerusalem and elsewhere anchors and ties together this book’s five essays, each of which explores a vital contact point between contemporary feminist thought and aspects of Jewish tradition. Hartman discusses three feminist analyses of Freudian psychology for reading Jewish texts; modesty and the religious male gaze; the backlash against feminism by traditional rabbis; the male imagery in liturgy; and Orthodox women and purity rituals. Throughout, Hartman emphasizes the importance of reinterpretation, asking her readers to view as “creative tensions” what seem like obvious and insurmountable contradictions between traditional and modern beliefs. Such tensions can offer unexpected connections as well as painful compromises. The conclusion revisits the construction of the synagogue as well as discusses its impediments and actualizing these types of social and religious changes.

Hartman’s book will speak directly to scholars and students of gender, religion, and psychology, as well as anyone interested in the negotiation of feminism and tradition.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“[Hartman's] new book presents a radical perspective on being a modern Orthodox Jewish feminist. She confronts every difficult issue for a feminist in Jewish practice, locates the issues in universal terms informed by the latest feminist scholarship as well as by a deep knowledge of Jewish texts, and presents innovative perspectives that are important for anyone who wishes to maintain a religious commitment and still be intellectually and spiritually honest. This book is also a powerful reminder that the debates in Halachah (Jewish law) retain their appeal to many because they are intellectually exciting even when one doesn't accept the Orthodox premises from which they begin.” Tikkun

"It is a "must-read" for anyone interested in religious feminism for any stripe."

“Stressing reinterpretation and creative tensions, Hartman juxtaposes moving personal reflection with trenchant diagnoses of the means by which and reasons why (some) Jewish traditionalists refuse to acknowledge feelings of religious marginalization and alienation experienced by (some) Jewish women . . . Recommended.” Choice

“Hartman is the first Jewish feminist thinker to point out how the western and Orthodox paradigms of sexuality mirror each other in objectifying women and depriving them of their personhood. . . . Following thinkers such as Carol Gilligan and Sara Ruddick, Hartman suggests that male imagery of God might remain in its liturgical place, while inviting new meanings for such imagery. She offers a personalized perspective on nidah and the mikveh ritual. A very important aspect of the book is Hartman’s sharing her experience in helping to establish Shira Hadasha, the most egalitarian Orthodox congregation in Jerusalem. Together with other founders of the congregation, Hartman outlined a formula to bring together people with different ideas concerning gender and halakhah. Let us hope that this fragile but extremely creative theological and communal venture will outlast the ‘conflicting spirits of our time’ and pave a middle-of-the-road way for our gender-perplexed Jewish people.”Studies in Contemporary Jewry

"With intellectual clarity, Hartman draws on her own life, her experience as an academic and psychologist, and Jewish scholarship to discover 'creative tensions' . . . She does not avoid hard questions but looks for new models for a healthy relationship between feminism and traditional Judaism."—
JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance)

"What distinguishes Hartman's work, and makes it particularly compelling, is the narrative backdrop on which the ideas unfold. This is not just an academic exercise, but the kind of thinking that fortifies one's courage to challenge tradition from within . . . While "Feminism Encounters Traditional Judaism" is not presented as a manifesto for the partnership minyan, it does serve that function. Hartman seeks to prove that through engaging with traditional Jewish texts and by creating facts on the ground through the establishment of a new (and before, unthinkable) Jewish institution, it is possible not just to be an Orthodox feminist, but for Orthodoxy to be improved and made more holy when it is subject to a feminist critique."—

"Feminism Encounters Traditional Judaism is a "good read," as well as an inside look at an innovative phenomenon in contemporary Jewish life. It illuminates the concerns of men and women who are committed to traditional Jewish lifestyles and values, but are equally committed to bringing Orthodoxy into practical as well as intellectual dialogue with feminist ideas. This book is sure to be cherished by book clubs and individual readers, and would be a good choice for classes on American Jewish life and women's studies."—

"Hartman's text will be valuable not only to students of Judaism, but also to students of any traditional religious culture. Beyond the specifics of its analysis of modern Orthodoxy, this work frames a conversation between tradition and modernity. It is a powerful articulation of how and why a person can value both a traditional culture and the values of modernity-- and what happens when she demands that both inform one another."—
AJS Review

“The book . . . does not seek to change Jewish law, but instead provides points of contact between feminism and Orthodoxy. Feminism Encounters Traditional Judaism is successful in creating a dialogue that continues to open up the door toward equal participation of women within Orthodoxy, and does so in a manner that is approachable by all.”—
Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal

“This book is an intellectual/analytical feast and a spiritual delight. Using feminist criticism and theory for deeper insights into the relationship of modern Orthodox tradition and women, Hartman comes up with fresh, surprising and varied models which critique and confirm the tradition and the feminist critiques of tradition. Not many books have crisp, solid scholarship; fewer have wisdom. This book has both.”—Rabbi Irving Greenberg, President Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation

“This smart, subtle, and intensely personal book provides a fresh inquiry into an enduring dilemma: How can women committed at once to established religious tradition and to the ethical claims of modern feminism, resolve the tensions between them? Hartman elegantly charts her own complex process of intellectual and spiritual engagement and her dogged refusal to deny or evade the hard questions that religion and feminism continue to pose one another. It's a gem of a book, and one I can't wait to teach.”—Marie Griffith, Professor of Religion, Princeton University


Winner of the National Jewish Book Award

Author Photo

TOVA HARTMAN is a lecturer at Bar Ilan University and author of Appropriately Subversive: Modern Mothers in Traditional Religions (2002).

Tue, 15 May 2018 13:01:46 -0500