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Debbie Friedman died yesterday at age 59 after years of suffering from multiple sclerosis. For those of you who have not heard of her, she is a Jewish singer/songwriter, famous for writing Jewish folk/rock music that has become popular in many Conservative and Reform synagogues and schools. The above link is a really nice obituary, if you’re interested.

One thing that Debbie Friedman is famous for is her use of gender-sensitive language. In the song L’chi Lach she uses the female command “L’chi Lach” instead of “Lech Lecha,” the command that is found in the Torah, to show that Sarah was commanded to make the same journey that Abraham made.

It’s a beautiful song, I think–and one that is a welcome addition to the plethora of male-centered Judaica that we have today.

From “Not by Might” to her rendition of “Misheberach,” I’ve heard and learned so many of Debbie Friedman’s songs since I was a little girl: her music has been a huge presence in my repertoire of Jewish music. Although it’s a tragedy that she died at such a young age and after so much suffering, I know that her legacy will live on in the memories and voices of the Jewish community.

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The Senate repeals Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Yes.

“I don’t care who you love,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said as the debate opened. “If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldn’t have to hide who you are.”

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My stepmother just sent me this note from NIF (the New Israel Fund), an organization that is near and dear to her heart. What separates NIF from other US-based groups dealing with Israel is its focus on domestic issues, which are often overlooked in light of Israel’s international political symbolism. Domestic issues all around the world are in large part comprised of issues of women’s rights, which, as we know quite well, intersect with marriage rights.

Check out this release from NIF:

This Sunday, for the second year in a row, NIF is sponsoring a wedding. It’s Tu B’Av, Israel’s Valentine’s Day, and like most Jewish weddings in Israel there will be flowers, dancing and a chuppah. But unlike most weddings in Israel, this one will be a Jewish alternative ceremony, joining the lives of two young people without the assistance or interference of Israel’s Orthodox-only Chief Rabbinate.

In Israel, the only way to have a legally recognized wedding is to have an Orthodox ceremony, and the only way to have an Orthodox ceremony is to meet the ever-harsher requirements of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate.  Yulia and Stas, the bride and groom, are choosing a public ceremony in Tel Aviv to help raise awareness about the need for a civil marriage alternative in Israel.

By sundown on Sunday, Yulia and Stas will have had a Jewish wedding, but not one recognized by the laws of the State of Israel. Like many couples who wish to avoid the involvement of the Orthodox rabbinate in their wedding, Yulia and Stas will have to get married outside of Israel in order for their union to be legally recognized in their own country.

The need for a civil wedding option in Israel was driven home dramatically during the last few weeks, as emotions have flared in Israel and throughout the diaspora over the Rotem bill legislation introduced into the Knesset that, if passed, will grant the ultra-Orthodox an iron monopoly on conversion and on who is a Jew.

It’s one thing to get married in the United States, where a marriage does not have to involve religion and where the core issue at hand is denial of same-sex marriages. In Israel, there is another issue that falls under the umbrella of marriage equality: denominational representation. The ultra-Orthodox rabbinate controls marriage laws in Israel where there is not an option for a justice of the peace AND there is no such thing as a marriage that is not performed by an Orthodox rabbi in observance of very specific halakha.

The scary part is that many of these ultra-Orthodox rituals and observances go against the beliefs of the majority of the population. A marriage, an act that is supposed to create a union of two identities, ends up contradicting the beliefs of the two people who are united.

So take action now and contact Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to recognize all forms of Judaism as valid.

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Tomorrow, for the first time, four women (out of 33) will compete in the Indianapolis 500! Now, I do not follow cars at all, to say the least, but a friend of mine told me about it as if it were a big deal so I decided to look into it. And who knew—it is!

So some facts about racing: 33 years ago, in 1977, Janet Guthrie, an aerospace engineer, became the first woman to compete in the 500. And in 2007, three women participated.

Interestingly, NASCAR’s Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, a race that is also going on tomorrow, will not have a single woman driver out of their 43. Some people say that it is because of the cars’ bulkier size and the potential physical difficulties that women could encounter, although many people disagree.

Now, I know nothing about racing, but I think it’s significant that women are making their way into the racing world, albeit slowly. So I thought I’d share this piece of news. Maybe one day people will stop making “women are all bad drivers” jokes, too…

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This just in and sparking serious conversations on listservs and blogs galore – the Rabbinic Council of America, after their 51st annual conference, issued a press release on the status of women in Orthodox Jewish life:

1) The flowering of Torah study and teaching by God-fearing Orthodox women in recent decades stands as a significant achievement. The Rabbinical Council of America is gratified that our chaverim [members] have played a prominent role in facilitating these accomplishments.2) We members of the Rabbinical Council of America see as our sacred and joyful duty the practice and transmission of Judaism in all of its extraordinary, multifaceted depth and richness – halakhah[Jewish law], hashkafah[Jewish thought], tradition and historical memory.

3) In light of the opportunity created by advanced women’s learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halakhically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage. Due to our aforesaid commitment to sacred continuity, however, we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title.

4) Young Orthodox women are now being reared, educated, and inspired by mothers, teachers and mentors who are themselves beneficiaries of advanced women’s Torah education.  As members of the new generation rise to positions of influence and stature, we pray that they will contribute to an ever-broadening and ever-deepening wellspring of talmud Torah, yir’at Shamayim[fear of Heaven], and dikduk be-mitzvot[scrupulous observance of commandments].

I’m a little confused. How does the Rabbinical Council of America transmit Judaism “in all its depth” when they do not transmit the title of rabbi or the training that creates the process of becoming one to women? When the future of Judaism depends on more members of the community actively practicing Judaism, it would make sense to make it accessible everyone who wants to learn. If women are already receiving “advanced women’s Torah education” (question: how is this different from advanced men’s Torah education?), what should stop them from becoming rabbis? Furthermore, how can they contribute to this “ever-broadening” and “ever-deepening” well of Judaism if they are not given the training, title, or pulpit to do so?

Bottom line: this portion of the press release seems extremely unproductive. Nothing new is being said in terms of women in Orthodoxy. As the discrimination continues so does the inaction to end it. Yes, there are halakhic reasons, but as for those, I ask: Who created halakha? Male rabbis. Would halakha be different had women participated in its binding structure? Absolutely. Were they able to? No. That is why I am writing this post. It’s time to include women in positions of leadership across the denominations so that – one day – Judaism becomes inclusive and empowering to all who desire the power rather than exclusive and male-centric.

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Today, Obama signed the health care bill. And I’m excited, because personally I think that health care should be a right, not a privilege, and it’s about time America made that a reality.

So how will the bill affect women?

Well, women are a part of the general population, and a bill that will provide coverage to 32 million uninsured people is sure to help a lot of women. But some people are saying that the bill will help women in particular, as it will require private insurance companies to pay for preventative care (which includes mammograms). In addition, the bill will help women, who are four times more likely than men to contract an autoimmune disease, by getting rid of lifetime coverage limits. So it seems to be pretty good, right?

But on the other hand, what about abortion? An interesting article by Jodi Jacobson explains that the Nelson Ammendment requires every person to write two healthcare checks if they choose a plan that covers abortions, one for their regular premium and one for the money that could potentially go for abortions. Today more than 85 percent of women with private insurance are enrolled in plans that cover abortions. However, if insurance companies must go through a complicated process to provide people with the option of abortion, they potential cost of doing so will act as a deterrent and probably decrease the number of insurance plans covering abortions. In addition, there is no requirement that in each insurance exchange there must be at least one plan covering abortion, which means that for some women, it may be impossible for them to find a plan with abortion coverage at all.

NARAL Pro-Choice America made the following statement yesterday:

The legislation includes an onerous provision that requires Americans to write two separate checks if the insurance plan they choose includes abortion coverage. This unacceptable bureaucratic stigmatization could cause insurance carriers to drop abortion coverage, even though more than 85 percent of private plans currently cover this care for women. Our message to our allies in Congress and in the White House is clear: We do not accept this bill as the final word on how abortion coverage will be defined in the new health-care system. We are committed to finding opportunities to repeal these unacceptable restrictions as the new system takes shape…At the same time, we recognize that the bill will bring more than 30 million Americans into a system that includes affordable family-planning services, better access to contraception, and maternity care. …We applaud this tremendous progress, but we will continue to work toward a day when these kinds of achievements can be made without undermining women’s access to abortion coverage.

And I think that basically sums up the big problem that pro-choice legislators had to deal with: which is more important, health care expansion or ensured abortion coverage? And I guess at this point in time, health care won out, especially in light of the need for anti-choice support for the bill. So I, at least, am excited to see how much this health care change will do for the US, but also know that looking forward there is still a need for changes to be enacted to ensure that women have the abortion coverage that they deserve.

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The Women of the Wall were (you guessed it) praying at the Western Wall this morning like they do every Rosh Chodesh morning. At least, they were trying to pray; praying is made pretty difficult when rather large plastic chairs are being thrown at you from behind a mechitza that resembles a tent.

The work of the Women of the Wall is considered civil disobedience – a nonviolent fight for the right to pray where women have not been traditionally allowed to pray through doing the very act they are prohibited from doing. This is a historical practice, a form of protest that exists in the exertion of positive rights. It is the practice of the great heroes who have changed the world like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Alice Paul. Now, it is also the practice of Anat Hoffman and all those who pray with her.

But who was really being “disobedient” this morning? Who were the Women of the Wall disobeying? Certainly not their religion, a minority fraction of their government, and then the men on the other side of the wall who somehow think that they have the right to take away the religious entitlements of their wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers. It seems to me that the Haredi men throwing the chairs were the ones doing the disobeying and it was so far from civil.

These outbreaks are terrifying. They remind us of how far we have to go as Jewish feminists and they remind us of the ridiculous nature of some people who would interrupt their own prayers to throw chairs at women. One would think that if they were that into davenning they wouldn’t want to shave time off of a spiritual practice to hit women.

These outbreaks simultaneously help the movement because they show the irrational cruelty of those who claim they are the opposition and the sanity of the allies who instead of fight for equality practice it and resist the fight for inequality that comes in the form of chairs interrupting prayers.

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