The record of an Orthodox feminist | Naava Shafner
When I am asked to define myself, I usually churn out my list of labels, my identity salad.
Human. Mom. Wife. American. Israeli. Religious-Zionist. Activist. Liberal. Orthodox-feminist. ADHD.
But in recent years, many of my self-imposed labels have been taken away from me. Whether they are co-opted by extremists or completely dragged through the mud, my identity markers no longer correspond to me.
Recent Events questioned another of my labels, that of feminist-Orthodox.
And the question that rings in my head is this: What happens when your standard bearers disappoint?
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Although the Orthodox feminist movement began before I was born, I did not identify with it until adulthood. Little did I know there were others who were challenging the status quo, unable to be contained by kol kvoda bat melech pnima, a princess’s honor is internal – the idea that nice Jewish girls should be gentle and reserved. Little did I know that I wasn’t the only one who wanted to have a deeper relationship with the religion that has shaped every moment of my life, while remaining true to my self-worth and need for representation. Or wanting more through knowledge and skills, an upbringing that was not given to me growing up as an Orthodox girl.
Orthodox feminism provided me with a space and community where I could safely learn, grow, and challenge such that long-awaited change became possible and eventually even the norm in many places.
I am no longer alone.
I stand with my sisters on solid halachic and societal ground in my participation in the ritual, defending agunot, deciphering a difficult Tossafot in a daf yomi learning session. Fortunately, times have changed.
Over the past few decades, what used to be taboo has become the status quo, and this is just the beginning. I am grateful and inspired to be part of the most learned generation of Jewish women in the history of the world. We know more, have experienced more in regards to our sacred ritual, and therefore are empowered.
We are now blessed to know that the weight of what used to be the world, that of our Orthodox women and daughters, is supported by individuals and organizations around the world.
The idea of vocally defending Agunot and solving the central problem was unknown before the seeds of orthodox feminism were planted. The notion of women reading from a megilah was considered blasphemous. This is no longer the case. We know better, do better and are stronger now.
Specific organizations — like Matane, Yeshivat Maharat, Nishmat, Stone Ohr Torah, Drisha, Yeshivat Harel, Midreshet Lindenbaum, Migdal Oz, Hadran, The Eden Centerand other educational institutions — to provide my generation with a cadre of female leaders with equal or equitable access to knowledge and skills to lead and serve as spiritual and halachic leaders.
Organizations including ORA, Center for Women’s Justice, Yad La’Isha, Mavoi Satum, Bat Melech, Magen, GETTall France, Chochmat Nashim and many more worldwide empowering women living in violent homes to seek help and fight to end Aginut. They have experts for their psychological, legal and halakhic needs.
On the topics of religion and the state in Israel, organizations like ilm, Ne’emanei Torah V’Avodaand kolech defend us in the halls of government and beyond.
Today, Orthodox feminism is no longer monolithic. He does not live under one roof. It lives in our individual homes, but it also thrives in our synagogues, schools, courthouses, and beyond. We live intentional Orthodox feminist lives, continue to push for equality, and educate the next generation to be better.
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So what happens when your standard bearers disappoint?
This question has deep and personal implications for me, and after struggling with my neshama – I have my answer:
This label is the one I will fight to keep.
There may be a winding road ahead of us, but we are moving forward.
We are now the standard bearers.
We know that the movement lives in all of us and we will proudly carry the torch.
Naava Shafner is a social activist, Orthodox feminist, Zionist, Jerusalem, mother, wife and donut lover.