Abstract: Jewish social justice education is an active and growing field of practice, encompassing a diverse range of agendas and practices: teaching Jewish texts and values around issues of refugees, human rights and environmental justice; organising members of the Jewish community to oppose the occupation of the Palestinian territories and support the Israeli Left; advancing gender equality and LGBT+ inclusion within the community through informal education and training; engaging Jewish students in volunteer service-learning projects to alleviate poverty in the developing world; building inter-faith coalitions to work on local agendas such as housing, crime and healthcare; encouraging a culture of charitable giving and volunteering among Jewish young people; and mobilising Jews in the national and international political arenas around issues such as gun violence, climate change, immigration, hate crime and antisemitism. Yet Jewish social justice education remains an under-researched and under-theorised phenomenon. This theoretical lacuna has practical implications for the thousands of educators and activists across the world who are attempting to achieve social justice ends through the medium of Jewish education but have no well thought-out rationale as to what this might mean and, consequently, cannot know if it has any chance of success. This thesis explores possible theoretical foundations for Jewish social justice education by creating a hermeneutical dialogue between Freirean critical pedagogy, Catholic models of social justice education, Jewish social justice literature and interviews with thinkers and practitioners who consider themselves to be part of the Jewish social justice education enterprise. After drawing out and analysing the philosophical, political and educational themes that emerge from this dialogue, I propose three possible directions a coherent normative theory of Jewish social justice education could take: ‘Jewish politics in a renewed public sphere’, ‘Jewish education for relational community building’ and ‘Jewish critical pedagogy for cultural emancipation’.
Topics: Orthodox Judaism, Jewish Women, Religious Observance and Practice, Main Topic: Identity and Community
Abstract: Though the exclusion of contemporary Orthodox Jewish women from active roles in public worship and other central religious activities has been condemned as patriarchal oppression by feminists and lauded as freeing women for sacred domestic duties by Orthodox apologists, little research has been carried out on Orthodox women’s religious lives and self-understanding. This study uses participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and monitoring of community email lists and media to document women’s religious activities in London; to investigate the constraints that shape these activities; and to examine women’s exercise of agency and creativity within these constraints to shape a rich, changing, and sometimes contested set of spiritual opportunities. The study examines four spheres of action, defined by the intersection of two axes: communal-individual arenas and culturally sanctioned-innovative practices. Alongside culturally sanctioned activity such as synagogue attendance and observance of the sexual purity system, innovative and hitherto unknown practices such as berakhah (blessing) parties exist, besides more controversial attempts to participate in public worship, both in women-only services and mixed services (partnership minyanim). The patterns and transmission of women’s individual customs are also examined, elucidating their religious significance for women. In addition to recording new practices, the study documents two periods of accelerated change, in the early 1990s and from 2005 onwards. It suggests that Orthodox women may be divided into three permeable groups—haredi (ultra-Orthodox’), identitarian/traditionalist, and Modern Orthodox—and examines the worldviews and innovative techniques displayed by each group. Factors such as education, community pressure, and norms of the non-Jewish community combine with differing group outlooks to give a nuanced explanation of the rich variation within Orthodox women’s religious lives. The study provides a basis for cross-communal research into Jewish women’s spirituality and models the complex interplay and impact of social and personal factors on religious life.