As I’ve been branching out into learning, looking at, thinking more about the history of pre-Abrahamic religion, including Goddess worshiping traditions, nature-based rituals and some Wiccan and Pagan stuff, I’ve been reading Starhawk’s classic, “The Spiral Dance” (Starhawk herself was raised Jewish, incidentally–Here I thought I’d drifted far afield from my foray into Judaism of last year, and now I find that, in someways at least, maybe I haven’t;-). I noticed that she recommended Judith Plaskow’s work for a feminist take on Judaism, so I’ve picked up Standing Again at Sinai by Plaskow, again (one advantage to having a small space is all your books are always right at your elbow), & leafing through that a little I’m still impressed with her. Let’s think on this insightful passage here a little bit:
If we are to take seriously, however, the importance of community in human life, we cannot repeat in relation to Judaism the liberal feminist mistake of seeing women as individuals who happen to be discriminated against in the Jewish system. If women fight for equality on liberal terms, then we will gain access to a community that structures its central ideas and institutions around male norms, without changing the character of those ideas or institutions. Women in Judaism–like women in any patriarchal culture–are rendered invisible as a class; we are seen as Other as a class; we are deprived of agency as a class. Until we understand and change the ways in which Judaism as a system supports the subordination of Jewish women as a subcommunity within the Jewish people, genuine equality of women and men is impossible.
The real challenge of feminism to Judaism emerges, not when women as individual Jews demand equal participation in the male tradition, but when women demand equality as Jewish women, as the class that has up until now been seen as Other. To phrase the feminist challenge to Judaism in an other than liberal way, we might say that the central issue in the feminist redefinition of Israel is the place of difference in community. Judaism can absorb many women rabbis, teachers, and communal leaders; it can ignore or change certain laws and make adjustments around the edges; it can live with the ensuing contradictions and tensions without fundamentally altering its self-understanding. But when women, with our own history and spirituality and attitudes and experiences, demand equality in a community that will allow itself to be changed by our differences, when we ask that our memories become part of Jewish memory and our presence change the present, then we make a demand that is radical and transforming. Then we begin the arduous experiment of trying to create a Jewish community in which difference is neither hierarchalized nor tolerated but truly honored. Then we begin to struggle for the only equality that is genuine.
Substitute society at large for the phrase “Jewish community” in those words, and you’ll have an eloquently articulated vision of full equality for women, as well as a good illustration of some of the key differences between radicalism and liberalism with regards to feminist thought. I might change the phrase “male norms” to “male-supremist norms” in her first paragraph (the problem is not biological maleness–that is, being born with a Y chromosome and male genitals–in and of itself; the problem is the socially constructed notion that those biologically male traits ought to confer a superior social status on the person born with them; that’s the essence of patriarchy in a nutshell (pun intended;-). I admire Plaskow’s goals though, and what a shame it still feels difficult (for me at least) to find both Jewish community and feminist community in the same spot.