June 2017

Topic of the Week: Jewish Feminism?

June 30, 2017

Bad Week for Jewish Feminism

By Amy Powell

After a brief feel good moment, prompted by the landmark decision against El Al, Jewish feminists had a bad week with the scuttling of the mixed prayer plan for the Kotel and the anti-Semitism at the Chicago Dyke March.  

 The good news concerned  82-year-old Holocaust survivor and a former lawyer, Renee Rabinowitz who sued El Al for gender discrimination. The decision, successfully argued by HBI 2016 Scholar-in-residence Riki Shapira- Rosenberg of the Israel Religious Action Center,  means flight attendants can no longer ask passengers to change seats to accommodate ultra-Orthodox men who do not want to sit next to women, a frequent occurrence on flights to Israel. Both The Guardian with Israeli airline can't make women move seats for religious reasons, court rules and the New York Times with Israeli Woman Who Sued El Al for Sexism Wins Landmark Ruling outline the case.

 After this happy moment, the mood declined when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scuttled plans to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel. Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel, with support of American Jews, had been working on this agreement for years. Women in Israel, especially Women of the Wall, have been working on this for nearly 30 years. The plan had already been approved in January 2016, but not implemented as Netanyahu faced pressure from the powerful ultra-Orthodox members of his coalition government.

Read more in the New York Times  In About Face, Israel Freezes Western Wall Mixed Prayer Plan or a useful explainer piece in Vox, Israel’s prime minister is keeping gender segregation at Judaism’s holiest site.

The week didn’t get much better for Jews participating in Chicago’s Dyke March when three women were barred for waving the Jewish Pride flag. They were told the flags made people feel unsafe and that the march was “anti-Zionist” and “pro-Palestinian.”  This is the latest salvo in an intensifying debate about intersectionality and the ability for Zionism to coexist with women’s issues as well as LGBTQ+ rights.

 Judith Rosenbaum, executive director of the Jewish Women’s Archive, weighed in on intersectionality and the ways it is misunderstood in a piece in The Huffington Post, Doing Better at Intersectionality. Tablet Magazine calls it “old-fashioned anti-Semitism,” in Dykes vs. Kikes and looks at other ways that Jews are being written out of progressive movements.

Amy Powell is the HBI Communications Director


Topic of the Week: New HBI Director

June 16, 2017

Brandeis Names Lisa Fishbayn Joffe Director of HBI

By Amy Sessler Powell

Brandeis University has appointed Lisa Fishbayn Joffe to serve as interim director of Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI), effective July 1. Joffe will begin work in the role upon the retirement of HBI founding director Shulamit Reinharz.

Joffe is currently HBI’s associate director, and director of HBI’s Project on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law and of the Boston Agunah Task Force. In addition to serving as interim director of HBI, Joffe will teach “Gender, Multiculturalism and The Law,” cross-listed in the Philosophy and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies departments. Professor Sylvia Barack Fishman will continue to serve as Co-Director of HBI.

Read the full article in BrandeisNOW.


Topic of the Week: New HBI Staff

June 7, 2017

HBI Welcomes Rachel Putterman to New Role

By Amy Sessler Powell

Three summers ago, Rachel Putterman, then a first year rabbinical students was a graduate intern in HBI’s summer Internship Program. Today, she is the academic advisor of the Gilda Slifka Summer Internship with the job of supervising and assisting HBI’s seven interns with their independent research projects.

How did Putterman make the leap in just three short years? To start, Putterman was a somewhat non-traditional summer intern. Now a third-year rabbinical student at Hebrew College, and a rabbinical intern at Boston College, Putterman had a prior career as a public interest attorney representing domestic violence survivors in their family law cases. After her summer internship, she continued during her school year as a research assistant and member of the Boston Agunah Taskforce, a program of HBI’s project on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law, blending her unique sets of expertise to find solutions to the agunah problem. She became a 2015 HBI Helen Gartner Hammer Scholar in residence.

HBI welcomes Putterman to this new role. “When we find someone good, we stick with them,” said Shulamit Reinharz, HBI founding director. 

HBI’s interns spend their summer supporting the research of a scholar, creating their own independent research project, attending scholarly talks and on field trips to Jewish sights around the greater Boston area. When not working or studying, Putterman enjoys spending time with her family, practicing yoga, hiking and reading.