The lecture will explore my personal religious-feminist journey, addressing the question of what it means to be an academic as well as a religious woman. Is it possible to combine religious belief and commitment with a secular, critical, and feminist academic life? Does it make sense to define myself as a radical feminist observant Jew?
I have navigated religion and gender conflicts myentire life, having grownup in a Jewish nationalist-Ultra-Orthodox settlement in the Gaza Strip. My feminist sensibilities began to emerge in middle school, studying Torahand arguing with the teacher about Eve’s creation. “Ha, we have here a little feminist,” she ridiculed me, though she would not explain what a feminist was, only saying something about crazy women who want to imitate men. Eleven years later, as a 23-year-old social worker, married, pregnant, and an MA student at The Hebrew University, I decided to find out who those crazy women were. I took all the Women’s Studies courses the university offered.
A class on Advanced Feminist Theories helped me articulate a long-sensed relationship between religion, body, and sexuality. The concept of the male gaze made me realize that from early childhood I had been taught that it was my responsibility to be covered to protect men. I began to ask myself: Should I really choose to hide my body? Did I want my second child at 26, when I was struggling to complete my MA? Why do I, together with other religious women, partake in these practices? I cried uncontrollably at times: the daughter, granddaughter, and wife of rabbis, I understood that religion controlled every vein in my body. These feelings helped me join the Shira Hadasha(“New Song”). This community was formed in Jerusalem as an Orthodox feminist alternative in a city where religious extremism is spreading. I am an active member of this community and a partner in social change and the creation of a religious-feminist alternative for women and men.
My unfinished business took me directly to the strictest community I knew – the Ultra-Orthodox. My PhD dissertation was on Ultra-Orthodox women’s media exposure patterns and reading behaviors. This taught me what agency was: Even the most devoted women were decision-makers in their families. I uncovered how they critiqued the texts they read and circumvented their community’s expectations. My work in women, gender, and religion has not been limited to the classroom. While pursuing my MA and PhD, to support my family I worked as a social worker with religious women. My work showed me the practical utility of thinking as a feminist. These women with full-time jobs and eight children taught me not only about juggling, but also to pay attention to the subtle tensions between their words and their deeds. My political journey from the right-wing to the Left helped me to decide to serve as a facilitator for Jewish-Palestinian and religious-secular discussion groups. This experience taught me how religion both helps and hinders women’s efforts to work across national, gender,and class boundaries.
After completing my PhD, I was a Fulbright post-doctoral fellow and scholar-in-residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, where I worked on a project about new and renewed rituals created by women. My unfinished business with strict religious communities then led me to a comparison of Amish and Ultra-Orthodox women. I argue that studying how these women navigate and cope with their surrounding societies and media technologycan shed light on questions about the social world,and reframes our understanding of negotiation of continuity and change.
Following the feminist motto “the personal is political,” thelecture will explore my and my generation’s personal, political, religious, academic, and feminist contexts. The audience will be tasked with dealing with the conflicts of a female researcher with an unmistakably religious appearance, still trying to find the meaningful answer to the question, “What does it really mean to be an academic and a religious woman?”