How to Raise a Jewish Feminist
Some useful tips for raising children in a religion--and world--that still tends to privilege what is male.
Reprinted with permission from JewishFamily.com.
For the past year or so, my wife and I have been referring to God as "she" in order to counter in our children's minds the male God imagery that abounds. And every once in a while, Aliza, our four-and-a-half year old tells us that it is wrong to call God a "he" or a "she" because God is not a person. She doesn't use the word "gender" yet, but her imaging of God has an innocent and insightful non-gender purity about it.
Raising girls in a world that is still dominated by boys is a challenge. Raising religious girls in a world that overwhelmingly affirms the image of God as male is even more difficult. As a father, I want Aliza and Hallel to dream and be able to accomplish their dreams without the barriers of gender. As a Jewish father, I want my daughters to feel as if they have every right to spirituality, leadership and innovation within Judaism. I would love for them to follow in the footsteps of their rabbi mother, but not feel her pains of alienation from tradition.
Raising girls to be Jewish feminists is probably easier than raising boys to be feminists. Yet the task for our generation of parents is aided by the fact that our children will be part of the first American Jewish generation that will have a critical mass of women rabbis, thinkers, writers, and leaders to serve as role models. Indeed, it is somewhat of a novelty for our children to meet male rabbis.
I want our daughters to be raised as Jewish feminists not only because I want their religious self-esteem to be high, but because Judaism itself needs this corrective after 4,000 years of development. By including the voices of the other half of the Jewish world, I suspect Judaism would become far more dynamic and relevant.
Here are some ideas to help you raise Jewish feminists:
1) God talk. If we teach our children that we are all made in God's image, we can't then tell them that God sits in a chair in Heaven, stroking his beard, and decides who shall live and who shall die. The first images we plant in those fertile, spiritual minds is likely to stick and it should not be of a male God. The second commandment tells us not to erect idols. Creating God as a male God is a form of idolatry and can potentially disempower girls spiritually.
2) Draw. Have your children draw things in our world that show aspects and attributes of God. Encourage them to conceptualize situations when God exists in our lives, like when we help a friend or do a mitzvah. That way they see that God exists in everyone.
3) Role Modeling. Jewish feminism is not only about religion, but also sociology. How do you and your partner relate to each other in front of your children? The dynamics of your relationships will teach your children about the roles they can play as they grow up. In our home, I do the cooking and shopping and Susan does the cleaning and laundry. We strive for our decision making to be fair. And when it is time for Friday night kiddush, the eyes of my children gravitate to my wife, who leads most of our rituals.
4) Books. So many of the videos and books in our homes send messages that are unhelpful, whether it is Cinderella or even The Cat in the Hat. For younger children, read In God's Name by Sandy Sasso. All older kids should receive at their bar and bat mitzvah a copy of Judith Plaskow's Standing Again At Sinai. And teens and parents should check out a wonderful new anthology and study guide by Hadassah, Jewish Women: Living the Challenge.
5) Rituals and holidays. Don't just dress up for Purim, but make sure the story is told since it is one of the few Jewish holiday stories with a female lead. Passover has already several feminist rituals, like a cup for the prophetess Miriam and the placement of an orange on the seder plate. With your daughters, start participating in monthly Rosh Hodesh (new moon) groups, which are filled with creative energy.
I know my daughters will not live their lives free of sexism in the general society or in the Jewish community. But by raising them to be proud female Jews, I hope they will have the confidence and tools to deal with the bigots they will encounter and the barriers they will inevitably face. And perhaps, in their journeys, they will have the chutzpah to smash a couple of idols along the way.
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