French, Jewish, Orthodox and Feminists

woman.jpgJanine Elkouby and Sonia Sarah Lipsyc have published a book entitled Quand les femmes lisent la Bible, When Women Read the Bible. The term “Bible” is to be understood as both written Torah and oral Torah, since in Judaism one cannot be understood without the other.

Their book is a compilation of essays by twenty women. The first part of the book deals with women figures in the Bible, individual women (one essay deals with Dinah, another one with Sarah) as well as group of women (for instance the women who have no name in the Torah, such as Noah’s wife or Job’s wife or the daughters of Zelophehad). The second part is devoted to modern issues regarding women within the framework of Orthodox Judaism.

Both women are Orthodox and Sonia Lypsic was a student of Nechama Leibowitz. Janine is a Classics teacher whereas Sonia Sarah is a sociologist. The twenty authors or so are French-speaking women, with two notable exceptions, namely Tamar Ross and Leah Shakdiel. Their book certainly fills a void within French Jewry.

To understand the significance of their work, you need to know that there is no such thing as Modern Orthodoxy in France. Undoubtedly there are rabbis and individuals with Modern Orthodox sympathies and practices but there are no organized MO body.

Another important element in France is the haredization of French Judaism; that is to say a definite move to the right (for want of a better word) and a consequent tendency to view stringency as more religious. What follows is that women are discouraged to learn and especially to study the Talmud.

Thus there is not one single Jewish high school in France where girls are taught Talmudic studies.

If this is continues we are entitled to fear a widening of the gap between religious women who will have little access to Jewish texts and educated women who will assimilate all the more quickly as they will be led to believe that Judaism has nothing stimulating to offer them.