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Karen Reiss Medwed

Pursue Justice, Not a Religious War on Women

We must learn to celebrate our collective diversity and recognize Sh’china who dwells amidst us, as we celebrate Rosh Hodesh Elul during these divisive times. 

“Girls go sit in the back of the bus,”

“Be as passive as you can,”

“Women witnesses a major misstep”

It is remarkable, how time and again, when life is mired in existential crisis, the focus turns to limiting, restricting and controlling women, their agency, their presence and their bodies. These three quotes happened not one hundred years ago, and not thirty years ago, but in the last week, in the seven days leading up to Rosh Chodesh Elul.

How is it possible that in this week leading to Rosh Chodesh Elul, a month of contemplation and introspection, when more than ever we are called upon to embrace and welcome the New moon to our midst and in doing so welcome the presence of the Shechina (Sanhedrin 42a) that instead we find an increase in others, usually male identifying, willing to make choices that desecrate female identifying agency, personhood, authority and sacred being.

Parashat Shoftim instructs us, “justice, justice you shall pursue,” and a Jewishly just world must be one wherein halakha, Jewish morals and ethics and radical belonging sustain and nourish our souls, our minds and our bodies. Perhaps it continues to be the case that for some Jews, making space for an egalitarian system of Judaism, an inclusive Judaism wherein categorizing (be it by gender, sexuality, ableisms, race), and essentializing is no longer normative, will mean a dismantling of what they have always believed was a closer symbiotic halakhic compatibility with historical Judaism or with extreme Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis.  We can respect and sit alongside their religious struggles, but it can no longer dictate our communal practices in the name of our halakha.  Hiding behind religious identities and choices to permit this assault on women contradicts the joyful celebration of halakha and egalitarian Judaism, in which we choose and pursue that which is just and invite to our midst the presence of Shechina.

This week, as we welcome a new moon during parashat Shoftim, we are invited to create sacred communal spaces within which we talk, we connect, we empathize and we rediscover together the threads which bind us to one another, not categorize and discriminate us apart.  There is a shared humility and shared grace of our common halakhic oneness and to be present together in this conversation we will need to recognize and uphold our equal humanity, agency and authorities, to continue to move forward in this work together we can no longer afford the fall back on religious excuses to permit discrimination.

In this sacred egalitarian Jewish world we are building we must learn how to spiral into productive conversations that circle into one another and not away from one another.  We must nurture the individual Jewish agency and authority of all and not of only some. Justice, justice we must pursue, so that Shechina will continue to dwell in our midst.

About the Author
Rabbi Karen G Reiss Medwed, Ph.D. is the only certified practicing female identifying mesadder gittin in the Conservative movement, and is an appointed member of the Joint Bet Din of the Rabbinical Assembly. She works as a Teaching Professor at the College of Professional Studies of Northeastern University.
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