A common question posed to Orthodox feminist is given the great conflicts between their feminism and their religious environment (which I mentioned here and is discussed here), why don’t they just leave and join a non-Orthodox denomination?
Two thoughtful authors, Elana Sztokman and Leah Sarna address this issue in:
Here are some of the points they make:
- A monopoly on expertise
I simply could not keep halacha on my own. I am not prepared to build and maintain my own eruv, slaughter my own animals, make my own wine and cheese, write my own Torah scrolls, home school my children or care for my own dead.
- Community– the Orthodox community is strong, engaged, educated Jewishly , kind, hospitable, creative, with kind, caring leaders.
- Connection to the past and a feeling of continuity with our ancestors, observing the same rituals and studying the same texts.
- Familiarity– I’ve never known anything else. All my friends are here. These are my people, whatever their flaws
- I like being in a halakhic community- a bazzillion brave points to Elana Sztokman for acknowledging that the Conservative movement is also a halakhic movement
- It is an-all -encompassing life style that gives me an identity and allows me to easily recognise people “in the club”. It provides a rhythm to my life and defines how I dress and eat.
These reasons (except maybe the ones in the first bullet, which have some problems) are all are echoed in a beautiful essay The Rise of Social Orthodoxy: A Personal Account. But through this essay I came to understand my underlying problem with these reasons and my respectful disagreement with Orthodox feminists. It is that the reasons that feminist or intellectually questioning or pro-LGBT people give for not leaving Orthodoxy are all sociological. “I love the community, I love the observances, I love the ritual etc.” And what bothers me is the assumption that one cannot have a meaningful, observant community outside of Orthodoxy- because I do have one.
And my kids are educated and engaged and taught in their day schools by both observant and non-observant teachers, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox. Most recently I spent Purim at Reform shul in the evening and at a hip partnership Minyan in the morning- at both I met other parents from my kids day schools and other members of the two (other!) shuls I actually belong to. I could go on about the possibility of a non-Orthodox observant life…
The point is- staying in Orthodoxy is certainly a respectable choice, but it is not the only option for an observant community. And to imply that it is the only choice is insulting to those of us who are observant but not Orthodox.
Also one can say only a small minority of non-Orthodox Jews live in a communities of engaged, educated, immersive observance, which is a totally valid point. But you can also say that a small minority of Orthodox Jews are self-defined as feminist or pro gay rights- so you are in a small community whatever you do.
If anyone who wrote these posts sees this, I would love to hear you thoughts.