Egalitarian approaches to female scribes

People often assume that discarding the trappings of traditional Jewish practice is somehow necessary and sufficient for gender-egalitarian Jewish practice. These people are often surprised to learn that there are Jews out there who observe the laws of kashrut, who observe the laws of Shabbat, who are essentially indistinguishable from your average American Orthodox Jew except that in ritual, women are held to have the same levels of obligation and privilege as men.

So, let me assure you now. There are Jews out there who observe the laws of kashrut, who observe the laws of Shabbat, who are essentially indistinguishable from your average American Orthodox Jew except that in ritual, women are held to have the same levels of obligation and privilege as men. Not all egalitarian Jews feel free to discard all of halakha, and not all Jews who discard halakha indulge in egalitarian practice; see Venn diagram at right.1 These relationships fall under the broad heading “philosophies of egalitarian halakha,” and different groups of Jews take different approaches to it.

Essentially, rabbinic Judaism has its own built-in mechanisms for recognising societal change, so even the most entrenched rulings may be altered if there is an overwhelming moral imperative (rejecting slavery, for example). Woven into the fabric of rabbinic Judaism are certain assumptions about the role women play in society vis-a-vis men, in particular concerning the nature of women’s obligation in mitzvot from which they have traditionally been exempt.

Where non-egalitarian Jews and I differ is that I and my community think that there is an overwhelming moral imperative to alter those assumptions in a fundamental way. My community chooses to say axiomatically that we should view women as equal to men, and that women should have the same obligations (and hence the same ritual capabilities) as men. Non-egalitarian Judaism does not.

In any case, I find that the sceptical aren’t so interested in the details; the message I care about halakha just as much as you do and don’t have any interest in making you change your life is the important one. The ways we implement it happen to be different, is mostly all.

Jen Taylor Friedman's Torah site