Third Conference of European
Women Rabbis, Jewish Community Politicians, Activists and Scholars
POWER AND RESPONSIBILITY
from Jewish Women’s Perspectives
May, 22-25, 2003
Iyar, 20-23, 5763
The theme of “power” always has been a delicate subject for Jews in the Diaspora. In general, Jews have had limited opportunities to influence the non-Jewish majority. At the same time, Jews have had to fight continuously against the anti-Semitic notion that as Jews they would undermine existing power structures and substitute it with their own “world power.” In fact, European Jewish history is a sad testament to centuries of powerlessness, a condition that also typified Jewish identity.
From the perspective of Jewish women, the theme of ‘power’ is even more problematic than in society at large. It goes without saying that many women have an ambivalent relationship to power, in part because they virtually were excluded from positions of power in public life for centuries (exceptions prove the rule).
In Jewish life, there is the added obstacle that women who reached positions of authority and influence were quickly seen as a threat to tradition, supposedly even signifying “the end of Jewry.” Many could not imagine Judaism functioning outside the traditional patriarchal framework.
But in a positive sense, ‘power’ is defined first and foremost as the readiness to take on responsibility. Jewish women who have chosen to live in Europe today are faced with the challenge of bringing the Judaism they inherited forward into the future. The task can be fulfilled only through cooperative work toward remodelling Judaism, both in relation to communal issues and to overarching societal issues. In order to fulfil this goal, women must prepare themselves to understand the positive aspects of power.
Lara Dämmig and Elisa Klapheck
_How does Jewish tradition relate to the theme of “Women and Power”? What does the Bible have to say? And how do the rabbinical texts deal with this question?
_How does today’s situation appear to committed women in the Jewish community? In which areas are they politically, religiously, socially or educationally active? What status do they enjoy?
_How much control do women have over the definition of Judaism? For example, how much influence do they have in Jewish educational content? How strongly do they express themselves on general themes that affect them directly as women, for example, human rights, nutritional matters and marriage rights?
_To what extent do Jewish women avoid speaking openly with each other? What roles do competition and solidarity play? Who has the power to define questions related to Judaism and feminism? What power structures influence relationships between Jewish women from the east and west?
_What do Jewish women bring to society? To what extent do Europe’s new political conditions present a challenge to Jewish women? Do they bring their own views to issues such as multi-cultural society, Jewish-Islamic dialog and immigration policies?
_What responsibilities do men bear in the promotion of equality within Judaism?