We are well into the 21st century and Jewish women are not only the majority of
the Jewish people, they are highly educated, articulate and well organized. So
why haven’t they achieved equality? The International Council of Jewish Women,
an umbrella organization with affiliates in 43 countries, held a demonstration
at the Knesset on Sunday, entitled “Jewish Women Worldwide Demand
Dressed in white and carrying placards with the flags of over
20 countries, women from the US, UK, Israel, France, Switzerland, Belgium,
Australia, South Africa, Canada, Columbia, Uruguay, Slovakia, Croatia, stood
silently but powerfully. They reminded us that despite the remarkable progress
made by women in the “Feminist Revolution” of the past 50 years, women in
general and Jewish women in particular still suffer from inequality in almost
every area of contemporary life.
• Decision-making in government is still
dominated almost entirely by men. Yes, the recent elections in Israel have
resulted in the largest number of female MKs serving in the Knesset – but that
number is 27.
Certainly not 50 percent and therefore not even close to
equality. Several female ministers hold important portfolios, but the cabinet is
clearly male-dominated and decision making at the highest levels of government
is controlled by men.
• Economic equality, as recently shown in several
studies, does not exist. Women earn over 30% less than men, even when they hold
executive positions. This inequality exists despite the fact that in Israel
women are more highly educated than men. Somehow, the academic achievement of
Jewish women does not translated into economic equality.
economic inequality is found in the public as well as private sectors, it is
particularly prevalent in Jewish communal organizations worldwide. Jewish women
are rarely hired as CEOs of major Jewish organizations, and when they do break
through that glass ceiling they are paid less than their male
• Religious inequality is perhaps the most glaring and
painful form of inequality. The Jewish divorce process is completely controlled
by male Orthodox rabbis. We are all aware of the tragic and shameful existence
of agunot, women trapped in an unwanted or non-existent marriage because their
husbands refuse to give them a get, or bill of divorce.
Women cannot be
appointed as rabbinical court judges (dayanim) and the statutory Commission to
Appoint Dayanim is currently unable to function because for the first time in
almost two decades not even one woman has been appointed or elected to the
commission. Women’s organizations petitioned the Supreme Court to rectify this
situation and the case is pending. Legislation has been proposed which would
guarantee three places on the 10-member commission to women and add another
position which would be held for a woman. Even if this legislation should pass,
which is doubtful, women would still be in the minority on the
The Women of the Wall have shown us that Jewish women are
barred from praying according to their wishes, though Jewish men seem to be able
to pray in any manner they choose. The shocking photos of women being arrested
for wearing a tallit or carrying a Torah are a source of shame to the State of
Israel and the Jewish religion worldwide.
The recent Jerusalem District
Court decision made it very clear that Jewish women have the right to pray as
they wish at the Kotel and cannot be arrested for wearing a tallit. These heroic
women will be celebrating Rosh Hodesh on Friday, May 10, and the world will be
watching to see if those religious fanatics who attack the women will be
arrested or allowed to continue their verbal and physical abuse unheeded by the
• Domestic violence and other forms of violence against
Jewish women continue to exist, despite good legislation and more robust
enforcement of these laws by the criminal justice system. Almost weekly the
media reports still another case of a woman murdered by her husband or partner.
Rape continues to be a regular occurrence and Jewish women are not safe in their
• Sexual harassment in the workplace seems to be rampant. The
current spotlight is on the media with the case of Emanuel Rosen dominating the
However, as Seth Frantzman pointed out in a recent article in
this newspaper (“Institutionalized harassment of women,” April 30), the
male-dominated workplace has been much too tolerant of sexual harassment,
whether it is in universities, government offices, private companies or the
army. Women who complain to their superiors are likely to become ostracized and
their careers shattered. If they file police complaints they will be considered
• Equality in the Jewish home is still
Even when a woman has achieved a successful career, she
returns home to take on the major role in child-rearing, cooking, shopping,
car-pooling and cleaning.
Her modern, liberal, educated husband or
partner seems blind to the need for him to take on an equal share of the work at
Yes, despite a great deal of progress in the last 50 years, Jewish
women have not yet achieved full equality.
We should all be joining
efforts to achieve this goal.
The writer is a Jerusalem-based lawyer and
director of the International Jewish Women’s Rights Project of the International
Council of Jewish Women. She was the only woman who served two terms on the
Commission to Appoint Dayanim as the elected representative of the Israel Bar
Association from 2003 to 2009.