Orthodox hope to woo women outside home

By Zoe Winograd, March 15, 2013

An Orthodox Jewish woman threw down an unorthodox challenge this week: “Let’s reclaim the F word.”

But Dina Brawer meant “feminism,” and she wants to make it fashionable.

She was speaking at the inaugural meeting of Jofa, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, where she told more than 70 women — and several men — that Jofa should “facilitate a conversation about feminism and Orthodoxy” in the UK.

Women, she said, “should have many access points into religion,” and “opportunities to engage with rabbis in a constructive manner.”

Speaking to women in London this week from a number of denominations, Mrs Brawer addressed the need amongst Orthodox women to practise Jewish rituals beyond the home and a desire to be more involved in synagogue and community services.

She mentioned the Women of the Wall as an example of feminists attempting to participate in “ritual halacha”. Women of the Wall meet at the Kotel in Jerusalem once a month to pray in protest at the government’s restrictions on the ritual for women.

“Whether it is Orthodox custom or not, you can not arrest a woman for wearing a tallit,” Mrs Brawer said. “It is important we have equal access within halacha — there are so many avenues to be explored and so much room in halacha for conversation.”

Those who attended the meeting held small group discussions on issues facing Orthodox women. These topics included taking leadership in prayer, being more involved in the community, children’s education and creating meaningful batmitzvah services.

The Jofa initiative in the UK was built on the findings of the Jewish Leadership Council’s women’s commission report, published in July 2012.

Commission chair Laura Marks attended the Jofa launch and explained that the event was part of “a whole slew of new projects to encourage women to step-up to the plate.”

She said: “We pushed the issue of women up the agenda and we are ready to start the implementation phase. Every woman – Orthodox or not – our objective is to support them”.

Last updated: 12:45pm, March 15 2013