Women Remak­ing Amer­i­can Judaism

Riv-Ellen Prell, ed.; David Wein­berg, fwd.
  • Review
By – March 9, 2012

Prell’s anthol­o­gy traces the impact of three decades of fem­i­nism on Jew­ish life in Amer­i­ca. The essays high­light how Jew­ish fem­i­nists have re-envi­sioned Judaism…redefined Judaism, and… re-framed it,” influ­enc­ing and inspir­ing Jews to define and inte­grate fem­i­nist val­ues into Jew­ish prac­tice in dis­tinc­tive ways. 

Essays address the rad­i­cal revi­sion of Judaism over three decades, includ­ing the devel­op­ment of the field of fem­i­nist the­ol­o­gy. Also doc­u­ment­ed are efforts to accom­mo­date fem­i­nist ideals with­out under­min­ing the author­i­ty of the estab­lished tra­di­tion, such as the ini­ti­a­tion of new Jew­ish rit­u­als like women’s Rosh Chodesh cel­e­bra­tions and the cre­ation of rit­u­al objects to high­light women’s roles in the tra­di­tion, such as Miriam’s cup at the Passover seder. Espe­cial­ly note­wor­thy is the essay by Adri­ane Lev­een, uti­liz­ing fem­i­nist bib­li­cal schol­ar­ship to inves­ti­gate the pop­u­lar­i­ty of the nov­el The Red Tent, to dis­tin­guish between exca­va­tion (search­ing inside the text for the fem­i­nine) and recon­struc­tion (cre­at­ing a fic­ti­tious pres­ence of women in the text where before there was none). Also excep­tion­al is Pamela Nadell’s essay reflect­ing on the first gen­er­a­tion of women rab­bis and their ground­break­ing work to lend Jew­ish author­i­ty to their fem­i­nist cri­tiques of Judaism. The essay by Rochelle Millen, too, reflect­ing on the expan­sive and pro­found field of Jew­ish fem­i­nist the­ol­o­gy (includ­ing the writ­ings of such diverse thinkers as Judith Plaskow, Mar­cia Falk, Tamar Ross, and Rachel Adler), pro­vides a thought­ful and inspir­ing per­spec­tive on the inter­face between fem­i­nism and Judaism. 

The time­line of Jew­ish and Unit­ed States fem­i­nism at the end of the book includes impor­tant recent con­tri­bu­tions to the Jew­ish fem­i­nist canon, though schol­ar­ship by the next gen­er­a­tion of young women is absent from the text itself. Still, the anthol­o­gy is extra­or­di­nary in its breadth and its depth: con­trib­u­tors range the gamut of Juda­ic schol­ar­ship and denomination. 

The con­trib­u­tors to this anthol­o­gy are the mid­wives of Jew­ish fem­i­nism: over the years, their voic­es cre­at­ed a rev­o­lu­tion of thought and prax­is in the Jew­ish world. Their reflec­tions here com­prise a gor­geous col­lec­tion of writ­ings — pro­found, provoca­tive, and impor­tant. In edit­ing Women Remak­ing Amer­i­can Judaism, Riv-Ellen Prell gifts the Jew­ish lit­er­ary world again with their wisdom.

Julie Pelc Adler is a rab­bi and a co-edi­tor of the anthol­o­gy Join­ing the Sis­ter­hood: Young Jew­ish Women Write Their Lives (State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York Press, 2003). She is the assis­tant direc­tor of the Kals­man Insti­tute on Judaism and Health at HUC in Los Ange­les and also teach­es under­grad­u­ate cours­es in the Lit­er­a­ture and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Depart­ment at the Amer­i­can Jew­ish University.

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