Reflections on the Future of Jewish Feminism and Jewish Feminist Scholarship
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Reflections on the Future of Jewish Feminism and Jewish Feminist Scholarship1

Something in the announced topic of the roundtable at the AJS where these remarks were delivered made me a little anxious: "The Future of Jewish Feminism and Jewish Feminist Scholarship." Not only is the future an uncertain place, but to inquire about the future of anything suggests the worry that it might not have much of a future. Feminism, which, for many of us present at that forum, was our own first intellectual and personal raison d'etre, has became another "f" word; there are those, in the younger generations of students, who consider feminism dated, either because the mission is accomplished, or—on the contrary—because such changes as were effected resulted in losses as well as dubious gains. Still startled by these trends, we self-proclaimed Jewish feminists feel a sudden call to rouse ourselves, reassess the field, energize, reconnect, and set an inspiring strategic agenda.

For me, this call to action comes not only in response to the present panel and its sister panel at the AJS, but also in the contexts of two of my engagements in the past year. I have been involved with a small group of women that has convened to think about what work we may want to do together next, as Jewish feminists. Kolot—the Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies that I direct at RRC—has itself, in the context of our collaboration with the Women's Studies program at Temple University, begun to convene a Jewish feminist scholars' circle in Philadelphia, for the stated purposes of forming a communal network and ultimately discovering new directions.

Asking about the future of Jewish feminism and Jewish feminist scholarship will, I feel sure, drive us into the past: We will talk about where we have been, how far we have come, what we feel remains to be done. As feminists, we will want to locate ourselves along the intersecting trajectories of feminism [End Page 218] and Judaism in the academy and in the world, and we will worry over the relationships among ideology, activism, scholarship, and theory, and between analytic and religious practices.

Lilith magazine did its assessment of the field shortly after Kolot was founded in 1996. At the time, I talked about the marriage of Jewish Studies to Women's Studies—those two mamzerim of the academy—precocious but suspect. Today, I would want also to reflect on the role of money in interdisciplinary enterprises. This is expressed, on the one hand, in the consequences of being constituted as programs rather than as departments, often with limited full-time equivalent faculty positions. On the other hand, it is also expressed in the power that we have accrued from attracting targeted donor dollars, the creativity born of having been in mixed disciplinary company, the freedoms and constraints of being simultaneously inside and outside the classical disciplinary borders at a time when pluralism and multiculturalism, identity theory and otherness enjoyed a paradoxical privilege. But we have come to the other side of "Otherness," and its over-simplifications; we cringe at victim studies, and loyal as we may be to our fields of Jewish Studies and Women's Studies (and existentially bound up in Judaism and feminism as we may be), this work has, I think, begun to call many of us to look beyond the borders of the relatively new states of Jewish Studies, Women's Studies, and Jewish Women's Studies. And to the extent that we have achieved some of the goals of integrating women's and gender studies into the various areas of Jewish studies, we face the question of the ongoing value of the balkanization of our work.

Because I hold a named Chair in Gender and Judaism at a progressive rabbinical college, I am in the business of both Jewish feminism (with its implied emphasis on work in the community) and the presumably more academic Jewish Feminist Studies. From where I sit, the "and" in the title of this roundtable—which carries both disjunction and conjunction—is potentially awkward. Judaism—in all of its meanings—has been transformed by feminist...