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  • Engaging Jewish Feminist Diversity Issues:Seven Concepts and Several Questions
  • Marla Brettschneider (bio) and Dawn Robinson Rose (bio)

In many non-Orthodox U.S. congregations today, Jewish children grow up relatively unaware of the traditional separation between men's and women's roles in Judaism. This fact alone stands as quiet testimony to the changes produced by a multifaceted Jewish feminist movement. In fact, few congregations have remained completely immune to feminist movement in Jewish community life.

But as we hope to show in this article, much more remains to be done. Similar to feminisms that have emerged from numerous other U.S. minority communities, Jewish feminisms have relied tremendously on developing insights that have grown from intersecting webs of feminist and other communities. Unlike most other minority feminisms, however, Jewish feminism in the U.S. [End Page 180] has paid little attention to the dynamics of multiculturalism within its understanding of itself. Further, as Jewish communities have been homogenized in (U.S.) American minds and media (Jewish or otherwise) as "almost" white, Ashkenazi, middle-class, liberal, and materialist, the diversity of U.S. Jewish feminists is also pigeonholed and/or erased from visibility, along with the diverse roots and origins of many U.S. Jews. Despite how much Jewish feminisms have impacted Jewish life, for a variety of reasons their multiculturalism remainsunseen, under-acknowledged, and unexamined.

It is, therefore, important for Jewish feminists to examine diversity issues among ourselves and as Jews within a larger feminist movement. In the following pages, we offer seven concepts to begin this discussion: accessibility, particularism/universalism, legitimacy, authority, boundaries, accountability, and relationship. Our aim, of course, is not to limit discussion to these specific categories. Rather, we hope that by naming issues and formulating questions within a coherent cluster of concepts, we will facilitate an examination of power and diversity within Jewish feminism while also illuminating concerns of Jewish feminists within a multicultural feminist movement.


How are contemporary Jewish feminists, particularly in the U.S., finding the material to build their feminisms as Jews? Grounding oneself primarily within Jewish, religious, secular, and/or non-Jewish communities involves risks, privileges, and limitations. The educational backgrounds of the co-authors illustrate two opposing/complementary paths that exemplify Jewish feminists' issues of accessibility to resources vital to our activity. These resources include a web of institutions and organizations, a variety of feminist and Jewish theories and methods, mentors and peers. Rose received her Ph.D. in Jewish Theology from the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), concentrating in Jewish feminist theology and ethics. At that time, no courses were offered at JTS on Jewish women—much less on Jewish feminism. Thus, perhaps ironically, she turned to the Union Theological Seminary, a liberal Christian institution across the street from JTS, for courses on feminist theory, and for comrades, peers, and a dissertation advisor. Brettschneider, on the other hand, received her Ph.D. in Political Philosophy from New York University, where she focused on feminist, gender, and queer theories and built a vibrant peer group who [End Page 181] now are her close friends and colleagues in academia. In this secular setting, Brettschneider was left to her own devices regarding her training in Jewish studies. In either case, what constitutes preparation and risk-taking differ. We must ask: "how do various types of Jewish feminist training provide long-term strength for taking those risks?"

Without substantial educational background in both Judaism and feminism, Jewish feminist academics risk bad scholarship, in which superficial methods, fragments of history, and misunderstood theories may be affixed to opposing paradigms. Similar problems of access exist outside academia. Whether one's primary sources are activist communities, Jewish texts, and/or feminist theory, developing deep feminist and Jewish lives that inform Jewish feminist work is difficult. Emotionally and politically, Jewish feminists also need—in a primary way—other feminists in all their diversity: communities of feminists sharing, celebrating, protesting, learning, and processing.


To understand Jewish feminism in its multicultural context, we must examine the relationships between particulars and universals. Patriarchal philosophies in the West often aspire to universal principles specifically divorced from the particularities of those principles' roots and applications. Feminism and multiculturalism have...


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