Orthodox women fight the power

By Michael May

Women ride a bus frequented by ultra-Orthodox Jews to protest a plan to enforce gender seperation in public places. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

In Israel, a new feminist group is rising up to challenge an extremist—and patriarchal—worldview.

But these feminists are Orthodox Jewish women, and they’re backed by a host of sympathetic Orthodox rabbis.

The move is a reaction to a growing radicalism in the Orthodox community in Israel, which has led to a series of scandals in recent months. It made news around the world in December when a group of men aligned with the ultra-orthodox Sikrikim sect spat on an eight year-old Orthodox girl—they said she wasn’t dressed modestly enough. Orthodox groups have also tried to impose a law that would force women to ride at the back of public buses so they wouldn’t sit next to men.

The new group, Beit Hillel, say they represent the “silent majority” of religious Israeli Jews who are disturbed by these sorts of actions and the overall denigration of women in those communities.

The organization plans to form a study center that will examine the laws in the Torah concerning women. The goal is to find new interpretations of the Jewish laws that concern women’s roles in society and within the synagogue. “It can’t be that women, who do everything in every field, have no [religious] standing,” said Oshra Koren, a Torah scholar and one of the founders of Beit Hillel. “Women must be partners in the halakhic discourse.”

Read more from the Israeli paper Haaretz by clicking on the link below.


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