Rachel Adler

How Adler uses feminist ideas to challenge Jewish law.

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In Engendering Judaism, Adler selected the issue of marriage as a means to illustrate the nature of her overarching approach to Judaism. She noted that classical halakhah employed the metaphor of kinyan (acquisition) to grant religious sanction to the relationship that is created between a man and a woman when they marry.

Adler condemned this metaphor as inappropriate for two principal reasons. First, in the traditional marriage ceremony it is the husband who "acquires" the wife. This was clearly offensive to her egalitarian sensibilities. More significantly, Adler maintained that a "metaphor of acquisition" failed to express the feelings of reciprocity and concern that more properly characterize the bonds that obtain between two persons who wish to sanctify their devotion to one another as permanent partners.

Lovers' Covenant

Adler therefore turned to the notion of covenant and maintained that this ideal provided a more fitting metaphor for the relationship of mutuality and love that existed between these two people. Drawing upon diverse examples of covenantal commitment and care found throughout the tradition, Adler composed a document she entitled a Brit Ahuvim, a Lovers' Covenant that could be used by both heterosexual and same sex couples to celebrate and consecrate their enduring connections.

In writing this document Adler granted ritual expression in the realm of praxis to the theological ideals she had articulated and employed Jewish law and texts in an original and innovative manner. Her book provided a bold understanding of how the resources available in the tradition could be reconstructed and reconfigured to provide novel directions for Jewish life and thought.

Adler's Impact

Adler has continued to be a productive author whose writings touch on a wide array of topics. While her approach to these subjects--ranging from sexual abuse and exploitation to the Holocaust--remains grounded in feminist thought, she also employs diverse literary and social scientific methods to approach topics of concern to men and women, Jews and gentiles.

Her current research centers around issues of individual suffering and pain and she plans to produce a book-length treatment on this topic in the near future. Rachel Adler is by all standards one of the preeminent "mothers" of modern Jewish feminism who has been responsible for moving feminist concerns and sensibilities from the margins to the center of modern Jewish life and thought.

She will undoubtedly continue through her ongoing writings to promote these concerns even more and to enhance her position as one of the most significant Jewish theologians of the modern era.

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Rabbi David Ellenson

Rabbi David Ellenson is President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and I.H. Anna Grancell Professor of Jewish Religious Thought. As a distinguished scholar and leader of the Reform Movement, he is recognized for his research in Jewish religious thought, ethics, and modern Jewish history. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University and was ordained by HUC-JIR.