Op-Ed – “The Leadership of a Jewish Woman in Israel”
Throughout Jewish history, women have had prominent roles varying from strong mothers and wives to leaders of the Jewish people. We can trace the role of women in Judaism all the way back to Biblical times and move forward to present times. Looking back to Sarah, the first of the very strong Jewish women in the Bible, we find a woman who was as much a part of the story in Genesis as Abraham. The Bible presents many more great examples of very strong Jewish women who played great roles in the Jewish story, including Yocheved, Miriam, Deborah, Naomi, Ruth (a Jew by Choice), and Esther. In post-Biblical times, in the time of the Talmud, there were few women named, but those who were named were considered to be of great influence: Bruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meir, Rachel, the wife of Rabbi Akiva, and Yalta, the wife of Rabbi Nachman.
If we fast forward to contemporary times, we find even more examples of strong Jewish women. Examples of these strong Jewish women include Golda Meir, the first female Prime Minister of Israel, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish female justice of the Supreme Court, Ruth Messinger, the founder of American Jewish World Service, and Anat Hoffman, the director of the Israel Religious Action Center and Women of the Wall. Anat Hoffman, a strong and inspirational leader in Israel has been the source of many newspaper, magazine and journal articles in the past 15 years or so. Why? Hoffman fights for her belief that Jewish women should have the same rights as Jewish men, including holding and carrying the Torah, the sacred text of the Jewish people. This strong brave woman has been arrested numerous times for attempts to participate in the Jewish tradition to which she feels so strongly connected.
When the 10 Commandments were given to the Children of Israel in Exodus 20, they were given to the entire people – men, women and children. Every member of this group was given the opportunity to accept them and every member responded in the affirmative. While it is true that much of the Bible is written in gendered language, in this section the reference to the Children of Israel is presented as “the people,” not all men or all women. However, in Israel, the far right wing of the Orthodox movement has a vice-like grasp on all religious decisions. As such, women are not allowed to even participate in even the most basic religious practice of carrying the Torah. This is a travesty and Anat Hoffman has been working diligently to change these unfortunate laws.
While attending the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial in Washington, DC this past weekend (December 14-18), I had the honor and privilege of meeting Anat Hoffman. She was extremely gracious and kind. On Saturday morning during Shabbat services, I watched as she ran from her seat in the back of the hall to those who were carrying the Torah. She remarked, “Look there are no police…may I carry the Torah?” Watching Anat take the Torah and carry it around freely and openly made me extremely proud as an American Reform Jewish man. After all, in the United States of America, in the progressive Jewish world, women are allowed – encouraged!- to carry the Torah and participate in Jewish practices. She had a smile that was heart warming and showed how proud she was to be able to carry the Torah amongst 6,000 other Jews who celebrated her for doing so.
Anat Hoffman continues to be an inspiration to Jews throughout the world for her undying devotion to all Jews – making sure that all Jews are accepted, no matter their gender or sect of Judaism. For Hoffman, being Jewish is something more than the labels applied to a person from others. Anat Hoffman believes in equality for all Jews…and I would argue for all peoples around the world.