Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On Moving On From Orthodox Jewish Feminism

Last month, I announced the end of my short-lived Jewcy column, The Ballabuster. I made the decision to stop writing it for one very simple reason--I didn't have anything new to say.

I'm not referring to the Ecclesiastic sentiment--"There's nothing new under the sun," or its creative writing counterpart, "All content is derivative." And I don't mean there is nothing new to write about Judaism and feminism. There are tons of things happening, including the first graduating class from Yeshivat Mahara"t that is creating all kinds of controversy and sparking discussion about women's roles in Modern Orthodoxy. What I mean is there is little left for me to say.

When I began writing about women's issues within Orthodox Judaism many years ago, I was deeply mired in that world. I was still marginally observant and figuring out my practice. I was attending egalitarian yet halachic services with others who mostly upheld Shabbat and kashrut. Though I eschew personal essay writing as a form of therapy--I don't want to read anyone else's diary and I won't make them read mine if I bothered to keep one--I admit that I used some of my essays as a space to work out my own ideas and beliefs about Judaism. Generally, I was decided on a topic by the time I sat to write it but only recently so. It was fairly fresh and perhaps lacking in the requisite distance and perspective.

But my last big shifts took place at least a few years ago and since then I've settled into a pretty consistent practice--or non-practice to be more accurate. One of only places where I remained engaged was in my professional life as a writer for Jewish websites and publications. I wrote articles about Jewish topics but my bread and butter was feminism, especially as it pertained to Orthodox Judaism.

I greatly enjoyed writing about Orthodox law and how it did and didn't conform to egalitarian principles. I certainly got a kick out of rebutting many of misogynistic statements I heard from rabbis while I was growing up. But in the last few months, it was getting more and more difficult to find topics that I could bring some fresh perspective to--I mean aside from jumping and pointing like a monkey and yelling, "Look at this misogynistic Orthodox Jew!"

I mean-don't get me wrong. It's easy and can be fun at times. But to what end?

As I was writing the final Ballabuster column, a piece of writing I'm actually pleased with, I kept asking myself--I'm not part of this community anymore so why am I busting this guy's balls over his column, however misguided I feel his views are? Why don't I leave that to women (and men) who are still invested in that world, who still have skin in the game?

(Don't interpret the above statement as some sort of apology--I don't feel bad about what I wrote and I firmly believe in all of it.)

If Orthodoxy became completely egalitarian tomorrow I doubt I would return. I've built a life that I'm happy with outside of that sphere and have no desire to go back. Since leaving Orthodoxy, my world has widened. I've been exposed to new people and ideas and experiences. I couldn't imagine making it smaller to fit back into the halachic framework. Folks--size does matter.

So I decided to stop writing the column. I'd rather see someone like Avital Chizhik fill that sort of role--someone who is part of the community and writes with a perspective on history and doesn't offer bullshit apologetics. I don't know if she wishes to change her community but at least she asks better questions about it than many others, Orthodox or secular, do.

Now, I make no promises to stay away from the topic of Orthodox Jewish feminism entirely. I'm only human and it's a huge part of my past and sensibility. And I'm certain that some idiotic rabbi somewhere will say something so misogynistic or clueless that I'll be forced to bare my snark fangs.  I feel just like Buffy did in the pilot as she explained to Giles that she planned to scale back her slaying. "I didn't say I'd never slay another vampire. It's not like I have all of these fluffy bunny feelings for them. I'm just not going to get way extracurricular with it."

So there you have it--still Jewish and feminist and my past remains my past. I'm just not going to get way extracurricular with it anymore.

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