Text Rachel Adler, “The Jew Who Wasn’t There: Halacha and the Jewish Woman.” Response: A Contemporary Jewish Review, Summer 1973. p.80-81
Make no mistake; for centuries, the lot of the Jewish woman was infinitely better than that of her non-Jewish counterpart. She had rights which other women lacked until a century ago...the problem is that very little has been done since then (1000 CE) to ameliorate the position of Jewish women in observant society. All of this can quickly be rectified if one steps outside of Jewish tradition and Halacha. The problem is how to attain some justice and some growing room for the Jewish woman if one is committed to remaining within Halacha. Some of these problems are more easily solved than others. For example, there is ample precedent for decisions permitting women to study Talmud, and it should become the policy of Jewish day schools to teach their girls Talmud. It would not be difficult to find a basis for giving women aliyot to the Torah. Moreover, it is both feasible and desirable for the community to begin educating women to take on the positive time-bound mitzvot from which they are now excused; in which case, those mitzvot would eventually become incumbent upon women. The more difficult questions are those involving minyan and mechitza (segregation at prayers). There are problems concerning the right of women to be rabbis, witness in Jewish courts, judges and leaders of religious services. We need decisions on these problems which will permit Jewish women to develop roles and role models in which righteousness springs from self-actualization, in contrast to the masochistic, self-annihilating model of the post-Biblical tzadeket. The halachic scholars must examine our problem anew, right now, with open minds and with empathy. THey must make it possible for women to claim their share in the Torah and begin to do the things a Jew was created to do. If necesssary we must agitate until the scholars are willing to see us as Jewish souls in distress rather than as tools with which men do mitzvot. If they continue to turn a deaf ear to us, the most learned and halachically committed among us must make halachic decisions for the rest. That is a move to be saved for desperate straits, for eve the most learned of us have been barred from acquiring the systematic halachic knowledge which a rabbi has. But to paraphrase Hillel, in a place where there are no menschen, we may have to generate our own menschlichkeit. There is no time to waste. For too many centuries, the Jewish woman has been a golem, created by Jewish society. She cooked and bore and did her master's will, and when her tasks were done, the Divine Name was removed from her mouth. It is time for the golem to demand a soul.

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. How do you respond to Adler's call to action? Who must act?

2. What does it mean that, "the most learned and halachically committed among us must make halachic decisions for the rest?"

3. What is the role of education in empowering Jewish women?

Time Period: Contemporary (The Yom Kippur War until the present-day)