Thursday, May 19, 2005

Rethinking the divine

My review of Tamar Ross's book Expanding the Palace of Torah: Orthodoxy and Feminism appears in the Forward this week:
In 1982, noted Israeli thinker Yeshayahu Leibowitz wrote that "the question of women and Judaism is more crucial than all the political problems of the people and its state. Failure to deal with it seriously threatens the viability of the Judaism of Torah and Mitzvoth in the contemporary world."
Despite the passage of 20 years, and several advances for Orthodox women, the question of women and Judaism — that is, Orthodox Judaism — remains just as pressing, if not more pressing, than it was in Leibowitz's day. Tamar Ross, in her new book, "Expanding the Palace of Torah," analyzes why feminism poses such a great challenge to the Orthodox establishment and why there has been no systematic resolution. Ross, an associate professor of Jewish thought at Bar-Ilan University, suggests an alternative theological framework, which, she believes, will allow the Jewish legal system, known as Halacha, to accommodate feminism while maintaining continuity with tradition. Her book is — per Leibowitz's prescription — a brave, in many ways radical and essential, attempt to deal with the problem seriously, and is a model of erudition and scholarship. And yet, even Ross cannot provide an answer that is likely to satisfy Orthodox feminists unhappy with their lot.
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