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Reshaping American Jewish Womanhood: How #MeToo, Renewal, and LILITH Inform Gender, Identity, and the Body

Mon, December 17, 1:15 to 2:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Harborview 3 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel brings together scholars whose research interprets the meaning of sexual harassment and assault, being single, and using symbols on the physical body as subversive acts to reshape Jewish womanhood. McGinity will explore the term “single” and the experiences of American Jewish women during a time of rapid social change in America, 1976-present. Although it has often been used as if its meaning was a foregone conclusion—an unwed female—“single” can be understood in myriad ways as a result of both choice and lack thereof. Her paper illustrates how the narrative about single Jewish women evolved in the pages of Lilith magazine during this time period. It will argue that, in various ways, Lilith’s portrayal and treatment of single women was ahead of its time relative to the contemporary American Jewish community at large...and remains so today. Milligan’s paper will consider the role Jewish feminist reclamation of the literal physical body in Jewish ritual life, with particular attention to the innovations of the Renewal Movement. She contends that Jewish Renewal feminists, existing on the fringes of both secular and religious culture, articulate their intersecting identities through the literal embodiment of their Yiddishkeit (Jewishness). By engaging symbol sets that had previously been denied to women— yarmulkes, tallisim, tefillin, upsherin, literal physical presence at the bimah and in holding the Torah scrolls, as well as other deliberate religious subversions like tattoos, protest clothing, and jewelry—they use their bodies as a place of political subversion. In doing so, they not only claim space for themselves in ritual and religious life, but they also pave the way for the next generation of Jewish women. Rosenbaum’s paper will examine the ways that sexual harassment and assault shape the gender and Jewish identities of American Jewish women. Drawing on the Archiving #MeToo project of the Jewish Women’s Archive as well as the writing and reflections of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellows, she considers the role of the body, of experiences of harassment and assault, and of communal responses to these experiences in the identity formation and expression of American Jewish women.

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