Past Events

GCRL Lunchtime Seminar

March 15, 2017 

As part of the HBI's Spring Seminar, Female Interpreters of Religious Law: Women's Leadership as Clergy, Educators, Advisers and Judges, Gail Labovitz, HBI Scholar-in-Residence, spoke on her paper, With Righteousness and Justice: Creating a Connection Between Equitable Marriage and Equitable Divorce in Jewish Law.  
How Jews marry and divorce are integrally connected: marriage based on structural inequities yields inequitable divorce procedures, and a key means to achieve equitable divorce is to begin with equitable marriage. Could Jewish law provide for, or at least accommodate, alternative means of marriage and divorce? And if so, what other options might we find within the traditional legal sources by which to structure an egalitarian marital commitment between two persons and a concomitant procedure for undoing such a commitment.

GCRL Lunchtime Seminar

February 27, 2017 

As part of the HBI's Spring Seminar, Female Interpreters of Religious Law: Women's Leadership as Clergy, Educators, Advisers and Judges, Hikmet Kocamaner, HBI Scholar-in-Residence, spoke on Governing the Family Through Religion: Secularism, Religious Expertise, and the Politics of the Family in the New Turkey.

Since the ruling Muslim-conservative government came to power in 2002, Turkey has witnessed an explosion of political discourses, government policies, and faith-based initiatives aimed at  "strengthening the family" and protecting so-called "family values." Kocamaner's lecture explored the family counseling services provided by a government-run faith-based initiative: Family Guidance and Religious Counseling Bureaus that operate under the Directorate of Religious Affairs. 

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In case you missed the event on January 30, 2017, you can watch it in its entirety below:

GCRL Lunchtime Seminar

December 12, 2016 

Geraldine Gudefin, Helen Gartner Hammer Scholar-in-Residence, spoke on Jewish Family Life in the Age of Mass Migration: A Comparative Case Study of France and the United States

Gudefin presented a comparative overview of the impact of mass immigration on Jewish family life in the early-twentieth century. Her lecture will discuss various aspects of the disruptions of Jewish family life (including desertion and bigamy), and showed the repeated attempts, on the part of the American and French Jewish communal institutions, to end the practice of clandestine marriages and divorces. 

GCRL Lunchtime Seminar

December 5, 2016 

Riki Shapira-Rosenberg, Helen Gartner Hammer Scholar-in-Residence, spoke on Legal Claims and Social Change: The Case of Sexual Harassment in Israel

Shapira-Rosenberg presented regulation introduced in Israel following the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law. Her lecture discussed the different cultural features that form the foundation of these regulations and seek to show that they are not always compatible with the goals of the law, raising serious questions about their capacity to promote social change.

GCRL Lunchtime Seminar

November 21, 2016 

Avishalom Westreich, Helen Gartner Hammer Scholar-in-Residence, spoke on Changing Motherhood Paradigms: Jewish Law, Civil Law and Society

Westreich argued that within Jewish law, we are witnessing a fascinating process, a conceptual paradigmatic change from a substantive approach to parenthood to a functionalist one. He further noted that the conceptual change connects to the practical interaction between law, religion and society. It facilitates greater flexibility in Jewish law's response to the practical needs of society, going to the very heart of the concept of motherhood in cases of assisted reproductive technologies.

Women, Jewish Law and Legal Change in Israel

November 17, 2016

A panel discussion with three of our Helen Gartner Hammer Scholars-in-Residence. Professor Avishalom Westreich (College of Law and Business, Ramat Gan) spoke on important cases involving agunot in the rabbinical courts. Attorney and Israeli feminist Orthodox activist, Riki Shapira-Rosenberg, discussed cases involving litigation in the civil courts to restore women's rights to equal access to the public sphere. Professor Ronit Irshai (Bar-Ilan University) proposed a theoretical model to account for how and why this legal change is happening in Israel.

The event was moderated by HBI's associate director, Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, Ph.D.

GCRL Lunchtime Seminar

November 14, 2016

Ronit Irshai, Helen Gartner Hammer Scholar-in-Residence, spoke on Essentialism and Homosexuality in Contemporary Jewish Law
The Torah explicitly prohibits homosexuality. Yet, Irshai identified a number of key areas in the evolution of halakhic attitude toward homosexuals in Orthodoxy, raising the question of how the rabbis understand masculinity through the prism of homosexuality.
In this lecture, Irshai analyzed some central writings in contemporary Jewish Ultra-Orthodoxy and tried to trace the ways through which masculinity is being built and its gender implications. 

The Boston Jewish Film Festival

Screening of “Sand Storm” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Saturday, November 12, 2016, 8:45 PM

The MFA screened of “Sand Storm,” which was introduced by HBI associate director, Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, Ph.D. For more information about “Sand Storm,” visit

GCRL Lunchtime Seminar

October 20, 2016

HBI and co-sponsor, Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, welcomed Professor Orna Sasson-Levy, Department of Sociology and Anthropology Chair at Bar Ilan University, to speak on Israeli Women Soldiers and Citizenship: Gendered Encounters with the State. Sasson-Levy's publications include Points of Reference: Changing Identities and Social Positioning in Israeli Society and Identities in Uniform: Masculinities and Femininities in the Israeli Military, Jerusalem.

2016 Diane Markowicz Memorial Lecture on Gender and Human Rights

Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Women's Struggles Against Fundamentalism in Muslim Majority Contexts - Karima Bennoune

April 3, 2016

The 2016 Diane Markowicz Memorial Lecture by Karima Bennoune, Professor of International Law at the University of California - Davis, School of Law. Bennoune is Professor of International Law at the University of California-Davis, School of Law. She is the author of Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism and the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.

Brandeis University Co-sponsors: Department of Anthropology; The Feminist Sexual Ethics Project; International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life;  Master of Arts in Sustainable International Development Program; Master of Arts in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence Program; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program; and the Women’s Studies Research Center.

GCRL Spring Seminar: New Approaches to the Agunah Problem

April 29, 2015

The HBI Project on Gender, Culture, Religion, and the Law is generously funded by a gift from the Dan Fischel and Sylvia Neil Philanthropic Fund. The Seminar on New Approaches to the Agunah Problem is also supported by gifts from Estanne Fawer and the Phyllis and Michael (z"l) Hammer Fund.

Final Workshop presentation by seminar scholars, Dr. Susan Weiss, Dr. Haim Sperber, and Rabbi Aryeh Klapper.

2011/2012 Diane Markowicz Lectures on Gender and Human Rights

The Woes of WOW: The Women of the Wall as a Metaphor for Diaspora Relations - Professor Pnina Lahav 

January 25, 2012

Professor Pnina Lahav explored the disturbing trend of making women increasingly invisible in public life in Israel. The evening began with the New England premiere of the Anat Zuria film "Black Bus," which documents the rise of sex segregation in Orthodox life, and culminated with the 4th Annual Diane Markowicz Memorial Lecture on Gender and Human Rights. Noted legal historian Pnina Lahav traced the relationship between women's exclusion in religious and public spheres, both in Israel and in the Jewish diaspora.

Co-sponsored by: the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life; the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project, which is funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation; the Near Eastern and Judaic studies department; the film studies department; the National Center for Jewish Film; women's and gender studies; the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.


For more information and other ways to get involved, see the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance website.


November 7-8, 2010

The practice of plural marriage poses ethical and legal challenges for the liberal state. Internal minorities demand the toleration of polygamous practices. Migrant groups demand recognition of polygynous marriages contracted legitimately under foreign legal regimes. Critics of monogamy ask why the state should limit recognition to dyadic relationships. Critics of marriage ask why the state should impose the terms of intimate relationships rather than allowing the parties to set these themselves.

This international conference, hosted by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Project on Gender, Culture, Religion, and the Law and co-sponsored by the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project, explored a range of issues related to polygamy, polygyny and polyamory in the United States and around the world.

Click here to view the conference program.

Click here to visit the conference website.

The 2010 Diane (Dina) Markowicz Lectures on Gender and Human Rights

Polygamy and Gender Justice in the 21st Century: Reflections on Basic Principles - Dr. Abdullahi An-Na'im

November 7, 2010

Dr. Abdullahi An-Na'im, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory Law School, spoke on "Polygamy and Gender Justice in the 21st Century: Reflections on Basic Principles." Approaching the issue with a radically open mind, he examined how polygamy compares to monogamy in social and personal terms and discussed the implications for the theory and practice of human rights.

Additional support and co-sponsors: the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis University; the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project at Brandeis University, which is funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation; the Near Eastern and Judaic studies department at Brandeis University; and the West African Research Association.

Jewish and Muslim Women Reclaim Their Rights

The first release in the HBI Series on Gender, Culture, Religion, and Law, "Citizenship, Feminism, and Faith: Jewish and Muslim Women Reclaim Their Rights" is the first book to examine religious feminist activists in Israel, the United States and Kuwait.  Author Jan Feldman and Islamic law specialist Zainb Alwani discussed the creative strategies these women employ to balance their desire for gender equality with their commitment to traditional religious observance.

2009 Diane (Dina) Markowicz Lectures on Gender and Human Rights

What History Teaches Us: Gender and Human Rights in the New Century - Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella
March 8, 2009

Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella's theories on gender equality have influenced courts and legislatures around the world. The first Jewish woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, she was previously a family court justice of the Court of Appeal. Justice Abella has chaired the Ontario Labour Relations Board, the Ontario Law Reform Commission and the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment. Her recent opinion in the landmark case of Bruker v. Markowitz (2008) recognized the rights of Jewish wives to sue for damages in circumstances where their husbands use their power under Jewish law to deny them divorce.

Co-sponsored by the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life at Brandeis University.

The 2008 Diane (Dina) Markowicz Memorial Lecture on Gender and Human Rights 

Nobel Laureates Shirin Ebadi and Jody Williams

Monday, April 14, 2008

An Iranian lawyer and human rights activist, Dr. Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her significant and pioneering efforts in democracy and human rights, especially for the rights of women and children. Jody Williams is the Sam and Cele Keeper Endowed Professor in Peace and Social Justice at the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston. She was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, leading to the creation of an international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines.

In 2006, Ebadi and Williams founded the Nobel Women's Intiative to use the visibility and prestige of the Nobel prize to promote, spotlight and amplify the work of women's rights activists, researchers, and organizations worldwide.

Dr. Ebadi has recently been subjected to increased persecution in Iran.

Untying the Knots: Theorizing Conflicts between Gender Equality and Religious Laws 

Brandeis University, April 14-15, 2008

An international conference brought together theorists, policymakers and activists to discuss ways of conceptualizing and engaging with gender and culture/religion conflicts. Speakers discussed struggles in Canada, Iran, Israel, Senegal, South Africa, and the U.S.A.

Keynote Lecture: Is Pluralism an Ideal or a Compromise?
Professor Martha Minow, Jeremiah Smith Jr. Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Professor Minow writes about human rights and advocacy for members of racial and religious minorities and for women, children and persons with disabilities. She is the author of many books including "Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History After Genocide and Mass Violence" (1998), which was awarded the American Society of International Law Certificate of Merit, 2000. She served on the Independent International Commission Kosovo and helped to launch Imagine Co-existence, a program of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, to promote peaceful development in post-conflict societies. She recently completed a five-year partnership with the federal Department of Education and the Center for Applied Special Technology to expand access to the general curriculum for students with disabilities. She directs the Seevak Fund for Facing History at Harvard Law School.  Minow's research interests include: equality and inequality, human rights and transitional societies, law and social change, religion and pluralism, civil rights, privatization of governmental activities and the rule of law.

Read Professor Minow's keynote address (pdf)

Additional Featured Speakers:

Fatou Camara, Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, (Senegal) on The Temple of Initiated Women: A Framework for Culturally Meaningful Feminist Expression in Rural Areas (pdf)

Ronit Ir-Shai, Bar-Ilan University/Harvard Divinity School, on Women's Dignity and the Philosophy of Halakhah: What is the Right Question?  (pdf)

Norma Baumel Joseph, Concordia University, on Civil Solutions to Religious Problems: A Feminist Perspective (pdf)

Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, Bar-Ilan University, on Gender and the Struggle Over Jurisdiction Between Rabbinical Courts and Civil Courts in Israel

Irit Koren, Columbia University, on Orthodoxy, Feminism and the Traditional Jewish Wedding Ritual: What it Takes for Foster Change in a Religious System. (pdf)

Rashida Manjoo, University of Cape Town, on The Recognition of Muslim Personal Laws in South Africa: Implications for Women's Human Rights (pdf)

Likhapha Mbatha, University of the Witwatersrand, on Recognition of Polygamous Marriages in South Africa

Linda McClain, Boston University, on Marriage Pluralism in the United States (pdf)

Michal Roness, Nishmat Women's Hotline, on Institution of Change: On Being a Yoetzet Halacha (pdf)

Anne Saris, Université du Québec à Montréal, on Between State and Religious Orders: The Resolution of Family Conflicts by Canadian Muslim Women (pdf)

Susan Weiss, Centre for Women's Justice, on How the Tort of Get-Refusal can Help Unravel the Israeli Version of the Multi-Cultural Dilemma: Theory and Practice (pdf)

This conference was generously funded by gifts from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Hadassah Endowment and the Dan Fischel and Sylvia Neil Philanthropic Fund.

This conference was co-sponsored by the following:
Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Center for the  Study of Women in Judaism at Bar-Ilan University, The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life and the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies.

Days of Study on Women and Religious Law 

These one-day intensive programs brought together scholars and the public for a day of learning about gender and religion conflicts in a particular context. The format was designed to include lecture, discussion and arts elements. 

Day of Study on Women, Gender Equality and Jewish Law (2007)

Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, Chair of the Rackman Centre for the Advancement of Jewish Women at Bar Ilan University spoke on discrimination against women in Israeli rabbinical family courts. There was a screening of "Mekudeshet: Sentenced to Marriage" and "The Cohen's Wife," as well as a panel discussion with Halperin-Kaddari and Rabbi Susan Fendrick of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, moderated by Lisa Fishbayn Joffe.