In recent threads about religion, some people have asked, simply, why? Why be religious? Why put in all of the effort to redefine a feminist Judaism? Why maintain an association with these historically and presently oppressive institutions?
For me, there’s a few reasons that stand out in my head.
First, there’s a sense, for me at least, that I’m not choosing Judaism, per se. I believe in the Jewish God, the Shechina, HaShem, Avinu Malkeinu, Shadai, the God of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. And I can’t really change that belief because, for me, it’s an internal Truth. And, because I believe in the Jewish God, I follow Judaism. Unlike some religions, which have a focus on spirituality, the predominant focus in much of Judaism is in ritual and community practice. Oh, sure, there’s philosophy and mysticism (Kabbalah!) and focus on becoming a better person (Mussar!) and so on. But, my Jewish practice is in keeping kosher, in wearing tefillin, keeping Shabbat, in praying with a community, in learning Torah, and more, all of which require or are augmented within a community structure.
Which brings me to the second reason: community. When I was at camp, we learned a cute song.
“Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish.
You’re never alone when you say you’re a Jew.
When you’re not home, and you’re somewhere kind of new-ish,
the odds are, don’t look far, ’cause they’re Jewish too.”
And, for me at least, it’s largely been true. I’ve done a decent amount of traveling, and, almost everywhere, I’ve found people who want to meet me because I’m Jewish and I’m new in town. I’m invited for meals or board games. I’ve been invited out for drinks and met some awesome friends. It’s insta-community. Along those same lines, I’ve been astounded at the support that my Jewish community offers. A couple of my friends have been really sick recently, and it’s been incredible to see the community mobilize around them. And, in my eyes, that’s enormous. As activists, we talk so much about supporting people who are marginalized, and some of the best work that I’ve seen towards this end is through my synagogue. My ill friends were brought food and volunteers ran their errands. They needed volunteers to manage the volunteers. Furthermore, my synagogue offers consistent quiet support to members in the community who have fallen on hard times and may need some meals or financial help. So, when activists talk about how damaging religion is and how we should do away with it, I really worry about that train of thought, because this kind of grassroots support is exactly what we’re trying to facilitate. It seems like throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Of course, this kind of community comes with a price. There are expectations of conformity, particularly in very religious communities. And there’s very real misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia in many religious communities that make them toxic for some members. But I think that’s where feminist religion steps in. How do we preserve the good things about religion, while excising the bad? It’s a hard question, and I understand why some people might argue that we can’t.
Lastly, is a resistance to a kind of imperialism. I feel frustrated when people talk about how I should just embrace spirituality, over religion, because my spirituality comes from my religious practice. It’s a very Christian idea that thoughts and emotions, not actions, are what’s important for spiritual practice. I feel frustrated when people try to separate out my religion from my culture, to say that the culture is acceptable but the religion is not. They’re so tightly knit for me.
and, again, I feel like it’s a very Christian, Western idea that they can be easily separated.* So, for the non-Christians in the room, discussions of the compatibility of feminism and religion can be particularly loaded. It’s frequently white, Christian-raised folks who ask this question in the first place. Though someone may have rejected their Christian upbringing, they may still hold onto ideas and prejudices that they didn’t even know were there, because there is privilege that comes with being raised in a Christian household.
So those are my reasons. Now I’d like to hear yours! Why are you a feminist Buddhist? Or a feminist Pagan? Or a feminist Sikh? Why are you a feminist Muslim? I want to hear your stories!
I do also want to hear from Christian feminists, though I’d really like to center non-Christians for this conversation. I feel like every religion thread on Feministe turns into Why-Christianity-Sucks and I’d really like to hear from minority religious practitioners, for once. So, Christian Feminists, feel free to add, but try to keep your privilege in check.
For those of you who disagree with my premise that religion and feminism are compatible, I would prefer not to have that discussion in this thread. Please respect that decision. Feel free to ask questions, but try to respect the identities of everyone posting.
I’ll be monitoring this thread pretty closely until 8:30 Pacific Time, at which point I’ll decide to either leave things open and unmoderated in my absence or close the comments for Shabbat.
*EDIT: As many people have pointed out, this sentence is not quite right and unfairly erases atheist Jews. I sincerely apologize for it.