Jewish Feminism in Israel, Research Paper Example
Words: 2789Research Paper
Israeli Jews are subjected to personal laws, inclusive of rabbinical, Muslim, and Christianity, which perpetuate a separation of communities, a pattern of divisive politics and gender issues, and as government pursue ambivalent roles to emphasize political equality, it provides space for the articulation and aggregation of workers interest on one hand, while legitimizing and preserving institutionalized discrimination, based on religious and other customs, on the other hand, reports Misra, Rich et al. (2003).
The women of Israel were locked in a struggle to either accept the government restrictions and condemn themselves to lives of underachievement, stagnations and perpetual male dominations, or use the little political capital available through different women movements and external supports, to overcome the odds against them, and achieve the recognition, legitimacy and visibility needed to live more meaningful and productive lives at all levels in the Jewish society.
Feminist discourse has been plagued with a central problem of defining what is the meaning of feminism, so that it could serve as a point of unification to construct theories or to engage in meaning praxis, according to Hooks (1998), but defining it as a movement to end sexual oppression, so that it not only benefit one particular set of women, race, or class, or give women privilege over men, but to transform into meaningful ways of living for all societal stakeholders, would be more progressive and beneficial.
Feminism, defined and communicated as a movement, according to Hooks (1998), lays the foundation for the development of theories which would pave the way for further exploration and analysis, which would the women engage in gender studies to chart more successful courses for their national advancement.
However, Johnson Lewis (2012) defines Feminism using four different perspectives, with the first as a set of ideas and beliefs about what a culture is like for a woman because she is a woman compare to what it is like for a man because he is a man. In the second definition Johnson Lewis (2012), argues that feminism should be a prescription of what goals and visions should be ethically embraced in a culture to facilitate women interest and development.
The third perspective, Johnson Lewis (2012) infers, should be the use of ideas and beliefs about the importance of values to move society from point A to point B, by the evoking of statements of commitment and compliance in terms of behavioral attitudes to reflect the change, while the fourth definition, which runs parallel with Hooks’(1998) definition, states that feminism should be a movement or a coalition of loosely connected groups and individuals, committed to organize actions that are likely to lead to changes in the behaviors of members of a movement as well people in the wider society that can identify and relate to the various issues.
Feminism has also been challenged by other ideas and oppositions, even open ridicule, as in the case of columnist Bob Green writing for a San Francisco paper in an article entitled Sister-Under the Skin, remarked that he found it curious that many women who obviously believed in the same shared beliefs as other proud feminists, dismissed the concept, by defining it as something unpleasant or a movement not to be associated with in society (Hooks, 1988).
The political effect in the fight against feminism, according to Hooks (1988), has been strong in that although women often acknowledge that they benefit from feminist generated reform measures, they do not desire to be participants in feminist movements. This could be the scenario in Israel at the time Golda Mair became Prime Minister and the first female head of state for the this Jewish nation, which is not a theocratic or a state control government .
The Prime Minister adds to the dilemma facing Jewish Feminism when she was quoted in part saying that a specific group of women who were engage in protest march to demand their rights, were nuts for pursuing such course of action, according to Misra and Rich (2003).
Jewish Feminist Theory and the Historical Development of Movements
Jewish Studies, like many other grew out of feminist theory, which was preceded by broader feminists movements, in the second wave of American feminist activism of the late 19th and 205th century, according to Kuzmack (1990), Hyman and Moore (1977) and Kaplan (1979), and according to Heschel (1983) and Pogrebin (1991, by the 1970’s activist in Israel began demanding for Jewish women to be included in all type of Jewish communal life as equals.
The call for inclusion Hyman and Moore (1997), Kaplan (1999), and Levitt (1997) argued, originated from the legacy if Jewish emancipation in the West, where the middle class Jewish men were being granted rights as citizens of liberal nations states, although they were not liberated as Jews. These men the authors report, were able to give up various forms of their Jewish communal authority so that they could become part of the universal fabric of the French and American revolutions, but their female counterpart, whether wives, daughters, sisters or other family relatives remained disenfranchised, according to Glanzberg-Kranin and Levitt (2009).
However, the development caused these females to begin questioning their future and the real importance and legitimacy of the religious, cultural and legal restrictions placed on their way of life at that point, according to Glanzberg-Kranin and Levitt (2009).
These feelings led to the development of large movements which focus, according to Kaplan (1979), Kuzmack (1990), and Hyman and Moore (1997), on making demands for the right to vote as well as to own property. Goldman (2000) reported that these women movements led to dramatic increases in the number of women attending public worship and to the opening up of once gender segregated seating arrangements in many Jewish synagogues.
Success bred success, and according to Glanzberg-Kranin and Levitt (2009), Jewish Feminist organizations made use of the political strategy which emphasize liberal justice and equality to demand even greater inclusion in all aspects of communal worship because from their perception these Jewish practices were outdated, had caused them to be excluded for too long, and made them inferior to men.
The Politics of Yom Kippur and Jewish Feminism
A defining moment during which feminism re-surface in Israel, according to Misra, and Rich (2003), was during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, as well as in its aftermath. The nation was so badly shaken, not only because of the very long war, which tied up resources for months, but due to the unforgiveable failure of the male dominated intelligence services to forewarn the nation of the impending attack.
From the perspective of feminist movements, according to Misra and Rich (2003), the event exposed ways in which Zionism and Israeli Nationalism was gendered. The war took the nation by surprise, had high causality, but critically had also revealed a glaring inequality that had been perpetuated by the Israeli politicians, which had now to come to haunt the nation in a most embarrassing manner.
While the men were at war, many business places had to close, due to lack of qualified male in the appropriate age structure, and there were also no male driver and bus transportation system throughout the country had not one single female in their employ to address this gender bias employment policy, which was now hurting the nation, according to Misra and Rich (2003).
The gender bias and short sightedness of an ambivalent government manifested, when it issued commands to women to make contributions to the war, by knitting woolen caps and baking cakes for the soldiers, but according to Misra and Rich (2003), feminist movement leaders consider such actions greatly insulting, and a waste of vital human resources that could have been used to advance the cause of the nation militarily, socially, morally, industrially and economically.
Feminist movement however, according to Misra and Rich (2003/), had little in terms of political capital to source and disseminate information of troubling issues affecting their gender, due to the lack of professionally trained personnel among the female population and the youthfulness of a high percentage of the group. Misra and Rich (2003) infer that there was not enough resources to help women to channel their anger towards the government in a legitimate manner to effect the political changes desired, in the period during and after the Yom Kippur war.
Ben Guiron had boldly framed the essence of Zionist Ideology by stating that women should serve their country by bearing and raising up to four children, while on the other hand men should do their part by defending the homeland and engaging in productive labor, according to Misra and Rich (2003).
However, the men were often always rewarded when pursuing their national duties, but women’s effort for years have gone unrewarded based on gender bias and faulty political ideology. The fallacy of the Zionist Ideology became apparent in the case of the Yom Kippur war, where the men were fleeing from the enemy, the nation was almost defenseless and women were largely underutilized in a situation where they could have been trained to offer more than woolen caps and baked products.
Prayer, Theology and Rituals
In Israel there are no separation of church and state, neither is it a theocracy or completely secular, despite the fact that there are statewide recognitions for Jewish, Muslim, Druze, Bahia, and Christian religions, according to Misra and Rich (2003).
This prevailing climate is conducive for the practice of severe discrimination against women, especially when it comes to the role women are required to play with respect to prayer, in that they are required to conform to the Hannah model in 1st Samuel 2, where she prayed silently not moving her lips, and this is regarded secondary and inferior treatment, according to Misra and Rich (2003).
They are also not obligated to pray at other times\ like the privilege offered to men, are not counted in the minyans, organized before certain prayers can be said, and in the Orthodox world this treatment is perceived as second class, according to Misra and Rich (2003).
The impact of American Jewish Feminist on Contemporary Issues
The growth of American Feminism seems to have inspired Israeli professional women by the mid 1980’s, to establish their own form of feminism based on their own culture, and have begun to use the legislature, the courts, and government agencies to bring about more changes in women lives across the political divide, despite the successful efforts of government to force several of these movement to go underground, according to Misra and Rich (2003).
Critical to the development of the Jewish Feminism movement, had been the ability of the leaders of these organizations to secure high levels of financing from known women of power, authority and influence in model organizations in the United States, and this provided the opportunity to disseminate information on critical issues that galvanized the grass root support needed to grow the movement into a political force that can influence the government to cede to the demands of women, who had been discriminated and ostracized for years.
The Women’s Party
The Feministic movement fought and succeeded in establishing a Women’s Party in Israel for the first time in 1977, through constant airing of public issues like gender discrimination, stereotyping, and deprivation of economic, educational, political, and religious rights across the country, and the receiving of the support from the population at large in terms of voter support and representation in the Knesset, according to Azaryahu (1980).
In terms of seat gained the Women’s Party had gained only one, but demographically they had made tremendous progress, according to Misra and Rich (2003) because women from across the country had voted for them and they now had instant access to prospective members for future political engagements, that no doubt will produce great political representation, given the financial and other support they now have at their disposal..
The elections also brought unexpected professional support, through an influx of academic, professionals, lawyers, journalist and politicians to help advance the fledgling organization. The political process had work for Jewish Feminist organization in Israel through the decision to contest the general elections to enter the Knesset and to use that platform to campaign for removal of all the restrictive, inferior, outdated, and gender bias policies and cultures that the government had imposed on women in general.
A turning point had been reached through the Women’s movement and the Israeli Government and its opposition now have a new player in the political process that they will now have to consider, especially the level of grass root support and the desire to emulate the success of their American counterpart that they will bring to the table in future engagements.
Jewish Feminism in Israel and its growth through strong resilience and determination of women who refuse to accept the status quo as it relates to Zionist and other religious and cultural ideology, has become a model that women elsewhere can replicate to gain foothold in government political positions, where they can better fight for their liberation using the legal and other means.
The personal laws resulting from rabbinical, Bahia, Druze, and Christian religious rules and other rules that were heavily stacked against these women had helped to create divisive politics which the government was quick to exploit when necessary, had also brought severe discrimination, gender bias, and even exploitation against Jewish women in Israel, but through support, especially in terms of financing, and the influx of new intellectual and professional personnel, these women were able to gain political representation for the entire female Jewish population.
They could now more effectively seek the right to own property, seek better education, pressure spiritual leaders for greater involvement in prayer meetings and communal activities, from which they were previously excluded and made to feel secondary and inferior to the male.
It could be argued that on that basis of the achievement of the Jewish and the body of feminist theory that had developed through years of research and the effective dissemination of these information, that the Jewish women had developed an appropriate understanding of the definition of feminism, in that many had personally engaged in a movement, which is the term that Hooks (1998) had used to define the concepts, and had personal success in the process.
Greater volumes of feminist theories can now be constructed and used to build stronger bonds of unity among Jewish women in order to chart courses that will ensure generations to come will be less restricted in their pursuit of political, economical, spiritual and other ambitions, nationally and globally.
The Jewish women had overcome the persistent government ambivalence, divisive politics, spiritual isolation, employment discrimination and have overcome Zionism Ideology and scorn form Ben Guiron and Golda Mair respectively, and changed the political and social landscape for good.
Jewish men, especially those in France and USA, who had abandon various aspects of their Jewish authority in order to gain acceptance as part of the fabric of the societies they were in, had no knowledge that they were paving the way for their relatives and fellow citizens in Israel, may need to have their ethics and commitment and loyalty questioned.
Finally, the Yom Kippur war may have brought humiliation and embarrassment to the nation of Israel, but it also exposed the fallacy of Zionism and the weakness of the social hierarchical system established by the government to keep women under subjugation, especially during times of conflicts. The closures of business places and the lack of drivers to provide transportation to keep the wheels of industry, employees, and resources moving freely across the nation, should serve as enduring reminders to not only the Israeli government, but also other governments elsewhere that have continued embrace anti -feminism measures, to advance their control and domination strategies over women in their respective societies.
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Glanzberg-Kranin, D. & Levitt, L. (2009). Feminist Theory and Jewish Studies Religion Compass Vol. 3 Issue 2 pp. 241- 252
Heschel, S. (1983). On being a Jewish Feminist Schocken Books NY.
Misra, K. & Rich, M.S., (2003). Jewish Feminism in Israel Brandeis University Press New England Hanover, NH
Hooks, B. (1998). Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression In Sandra Kemp and Judith Squires Eds. Feminism (pp.22-29) Oxford University Press Oxford www.mcc.osu.edu/posts/documents/sexism-bhooks.pdf , 04/10/12
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Hyman, P.E., Moore, D.D. (1997). Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia Vol. 2 Routledge New York NY
Kaplan, M.A. (1979). The Jewish Feminism Movement in Germany: Campaign of Judisher Frauebund 1904-1938. Greenwood Press Westport CT
Johnson Lewis, J. (2012) Feminism Women History www.womenhistory.about.com/od/feminism/a/feminism.htm, 04/10/12
Kuzmack, L.G. (1990). Woman’s Cause: The Jewish Woman’s Movement in England and the United States 1881-1933 Ohio State University Press Columbus OH
Levitt, L. (1997). Jews and Feminism: The Ambivalent Search for Home Routledge New York NY
Pogrebin, L.C. (1991). Debora, Golda and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America Crown Publishers, New York
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