- Blood and Ink: Israeli Feminism Liberating Judaism by Bonna Devora Haberman
Bonna Devora Haberman, a founding member of Women of the Wall (WOW), could not have chosen a better time to publish her academically written yet activism-focused book, Blood and Ink: Israeli Feminism Liberating Judaism. Recently, WOW's struggle to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, in full voice, in a group, with tallitot, tefillin and a Torah scroll, has become a subject of almost daily news flashes. This book sheds light on what Haberman sees as the deeper, more subversive message of that almost-25-year-struggle and illuminates why she feels this cause is so vital to her personal vision of a world repaired through religious feminism. As a long-time active member of the group and a woman rabbi in Israel, I share Haberman's vision of full egalitarianism in a non-gender-segregated society. Reading this book re-inspired me toward the cause of Women of the Wall, but at the same time it raised questions for me as to my own place in the group.
Women of the Wall is a group of women from all denominations of Judaism who pray together on the New Moon of each Jewish month in the women's section at the Wall, a public holy site that has been dominated by the ultra-Orthodox since Israel took over the site in 1967. In general, women pray there only as individuals and in silence, as opposed to the men, who pray in groups, in full voice and with ritual accoutrements. Because of WOW's avowedly pluralistic nature, it has made efforts to accommodate all of its participants, including those who believe that a group of women may not recite prayers that require the presence of a minyan (a prayer quorum, traditionally consisting of ten men). Thus, the group decided that if ten women are present who want to call themselves a minyan, they can recite those prayers as long as it is understood by all that those who do not count themselves in the minyan are not included in it, but are participating in the service in a different capacity.
The history of WOW's gains, successes and setbacks form the background to the broad sweep of Haberman's book. Haberman sees Israel as the embodiment of living Judaism, and she uses WOW as a case in point for how a combination of textual analysis and on-the-ground activism can change the face of Israeli society and thus of Judaism in general. [End Page 151]
In the first chapter of this courageous and ground-breaking book, Haberman argues that religion, if it is to be a redemptive force in the world, must rid itself of the gender regimes and roles that even the most modern and democratic societies let it perpetuate under the banner of freedom of religious expression. As long as the men who wield the power in the patriarchy are allowed to protect and maintain the status quo, the goal of an equal and just society will never be reached. And as long as women's voices and experiences are not welcomed into all areas of human life, Haberman argues, society will not move beyond the violence, discrimination, conflict and oppression in which it is mired.
Through an analysis of four issues that WOW challenges—women wearing sacred prayer shawls, raising their voices in prayer, changing the custom of a sacred place and counting in a prayer quorum—Haberman critiques traditional Jewish approaches to gender and presents often radical and redemptive feminist reinterpretations.
For example, discussing the idea that a woman's voice is sexually distracting and therefore should not be raised in places of prayer, Haberman brings the original source for this notion, from the Talmud, where a woman's voice is called "lewd." The proof text is a line from the biblical love poem Song of Songs, where a woman's voice is described as alluring. "Let me hear your voice," declares the male lover to his female beloved; yet the Rabbis...