JWW Sticks It To JTS Good

Jewish Women Watching (JWW), the anonymous collective of feminist rabble rousers, has claimed responsibility for infiltrating last night’s Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) event celebrating twenty years of women as Conservative Jewish rabbis. Unsuspecting attendees at a public panel discussion entitled “A Movement Transformed: Women’s Ordination and Conservative Judaism” enthusiastically greeted a press advisory announcing JTS’s plan to accomplish gender and sexual equity in the Conservative Movement by the year 2010. The press advisory was a fake created by Jewish Women Watching.
“JTS has been talking for so long about their intention to fully incorporate women in the rabbinate, we thought they might just need some creative thinkers to figure out a plan to make it happen,” said JWW’s Adah Menken. The three-step plan detailed in the press advisory committed the Conservative Movement to ending exclusion of gays and lesbians from the rabbinate, closing the $10,000+ pay gap between male and female rabbis, and dismissing non-egalitarian synagogues from its roster. “If JTS had wanted to claim the plan and commit to the actions outlined in it, JWW would have been happy to step back and let them take the credit,” said Clara Lemlich, a JWW member.
In reality, the panel’s moderator dissociated JTS from any proposal to comprehensively embrace egalitarianism and equity. “The Conservative Movement has a lot of chutzpah to celebrate 20 years of women’s ordination when they continue blatantly sexist and homophobic practices in the rabbinate,” said JWW’s Sophie Tucker. “It’s time for JTS to match action to their rhetoric.”
To view the fake press advisory and JWW’s candid assessment of the Conservative Movement’s rhetoric, click here.
(This text is excerpted in its entirety from a JWW press release.)

10 thoughts on “JWW Sticks It To JTS Good

  1. Its pathetic that these women feel the need to hide behind names like “Sophie Tucker.” How can anyone take them seriously when then mask their identity and take on stunts like this? Sure, maybe they hafe a poin, maybe, but doesn’t the Conservative movement have enough issues on its plate right now, namely saving the movement from turning into dust, or wrose, part of teh reform movement?
    There’s something to be said for egalitarianism and pluralism, but they pluralism means accepting those with egal and without it. Kicking out non-egalitarian member congregtations? Adopting a women-first attiditude? Someone’s already tried it, and that’s the URJ. I seem to recall an article last year that men were becoming conspicuouisly absent from the involvement in movement. Man, talk about the ways to divide us rather than unite us…
    I’m sure JTS will give due consideration to the issues, but JWW’s tactics are sad. If you can’t out yourselves, stand for your position and sign your name to it, you shouldn’t expect to be taken seriously, and until then, they only harm, not help, their agenda. Its always easier to be a victim, though.

  2. Shmavis,
    It’s possible they have jobs in the Jewish community they don’t want to jeopardize. Since the “organized” community is so insular and closed to criticism, this is a legitimate fear.

  3. The following is an email exchange between JWW and Keshet, JTS’s Rabbinical School Pro-gay ordination group http://keshetjts.org/) :
    Dear Sophie,
    I appreciate your statement of support for Keshet’s work.
    My impression from your email is that you read the message that I sent to
    the Keshet listserv; so you know the oppositions that I stated there.  I
    would like to add a little bit more now, since I was under a lot of time
    pressure on Tuesday to get a message out before people came to the event
    with wrong expectations.
    In terms of Tuesday’s event, I thought that your criticism was really
    misplaced.  To be sure, I am the first to say that the Conservative movement
    has a very long way to go in terms of achieving full equality for women, on
    many levels.  However, your casting of the 20th anniversary celebration as a
    denial of the work still to be done is simply wrong.  Much of the panel
    discussion focused on the problems and limitations that still exist for
    Conservative women rabbis.  There was no sweeping things under the rug; on
    the contrary, the event was used as an opportunity to speak frankly about
    both the positives and negatives of the current situation.  There is also
    much to celebrate, and the panel provided an opportunity for important and
    influencial rabbis in our movement — female and male — to share with a
    very large audience how very significantly the presence of women rabbis has
    changed the Conservative rabbinate and laity.  The fact that there is still
    much progress to be made — a fact which nobody denies — does not negate
    the transformative impact women have had thus far, and it was that impact
    that was being celebrated last night.  It would be offensive and diminishing
    of women were JTS *not* to celebrate this!  Their celebration is affirming
    of women, not negating; and that is why criticizing it, just because there
    is still work to be done, simply makes no sense.  Furthermore, it fosters an
    “us and them” mentality where there is not a “them.”  Surely you cannot
    think that JTS supports the glass ceiling that still exists for its female
    graduates.  And surely you cannot think that the Conservative rabbinate is
    the only field with a glass ceiling!!  Remember that it was the movement
    that commissioned the study revealing the pay gap, and the movement is doing
    much to respond to it.  Your parody of Tuesday’s event was a jab at the very
    people who are most invested in women’s equality, and therefore was totally
    counterproductive.  The danger of trying to “stir up public outrage” from
    the outside is that you do so out of ignorance.  For example, are you aware
    that the majority of Tuesday’s panelists do support full egalitarianism in
    the movement, and probably gay ordination as well? 
    In terms of gay ordination:  for better or for worse, the movement has
    committed itself to working through this issue according to a certain
    process, which involves a decision from the CJLS (Committee on Jewish Law
    and Standards) before the schools will entertain changing their admissions
    policies.  This is — in everyone’s mind — the most pressing
    halakhic/policy issue in the movement right now.  All branches and
    institutions of the movement, including and especially the CJLS, are taking
    it very seriously.  Your hoax release — which implies the opposite — is
    especially ill-timed, in that the CJLS is meeting on this next week.  They
    will be examining several teshuvot (responsa) on this topic in a special
    extended meeting, being held off-site so that members can be especially
    focused and undisturbed in their discussions and deliberations.  Surely you
    did not think that JWW is the first to raise public outrage on this
    topic….or that the members of the CJLS are unaware of the passion about
    the issue?  The type of jab that you levied at them only serves to make
    those who are on the fence more defensive and more convinced that making
    this change will split the movement in two, rather than showing them respect
    for their commitment to work through the issue and therefore more confident
    that a change could be smoothly integrated into the fabric of the movement.
    Another evidence of the ignorance behind your accusations is your conflation
    of Schorsch’s and Artson’s positions in your “Facing the Future with Two
    Faces” graphic.  Are you aware that the University of Judaism, where Brad
    Artson is the dean of the rabbinical school, has all but said that their
    doors will open to gay and lesbian applicants as soon as a teshuvah is
    passed by the CJLS?  Are you also aware that teshuvot supporting gay
    ordination have been written by members of the CJLS itself?  And are you
    aware that it takes only 6 of the committee’s 25 voting members to approve a
    teshuvah?  This change — God willing — may in fact be imminent.  Finally
    — are you aware that the Rabbinical Assembly does *not* revoke the
    membership of rabbis who come out?  We do have openly gay rabbis in our
    movement, and there is no movement policy prohibiting this — which there
    easily could be. 
    In summary:  there is much — MUCH — that does not function well in the
    Conservative movement and that is worthy of criticism.  But (a) people
    (Conservative and otherwise) are rarely receptive to hostile attack from the
    outside, and (b) attacking from a position of ignorance is especially
    counterproductive.  As you said in your email, we are on the same side in
    terms of our vision.  But I urge you to think carefully before your next
    action about whether your strategy has the potential to work efficaciously
    towards achieving your goals, or whether it is merely a platform for
    declaring your own moral superiority based on near-total ignorance of the
    positions, players, and process on the “other side.”
    Thanks for reading.
    [name of Keshet co-president]
    > —–Original Message—–
    > From: Jewish Women Watching [mailto:jww@jewishwomen watching.com]
    > Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2005 3:25 PM
    > To: [email protected]
    > Subject:
    > Dear [name of keshet co-president]
    > As I assume you know by now, we at Jewish Women Watching were
    > responsible for the JTS email hoax.
    > We are sorry that you had such a strong negative reaction to
    > our current
    > action. Please know, however, that we have the deepest
    > respect for Keshet
    > and the important work that you do. We like to think that our mutual
    > goals can be achieved both by working within the system and
    > by stirring up
    > public outrage against injustice.
    > Our hoax has garnered a great deal of publicity among the
    > press, and some
    > reporters have asked us to recommend students at JTS with
    > whom they could
    > speak further about these issues. We would like to direct
    > these reporters to
    > you. We would be thrilled if our actions were able to provide
    > Keshet with an
    > opportunity to speak on the crucial matters that mean so much
    > to all of us
    > (Of course, you could also use this opportunity to denounce
    > our tactics :-)!)
    > Please let us know if this is okay with you.
    > In solidarity,
    > Sophie Tucker for Jewish Women Watching

  4. I’d say the email exchange provides ample evidence as to why JWW is so vital. the head of keshet sounds much more outraged by the JWW tactic than by the truths contained in their fake press release. there are always people who urge patience, and those who demand justice. thirty years later, it is those who demand justice who are lionized, those who demand patience are forgotten.
    so, JTS is slowing making progress. why should that impress anyone? it’s nice to hear that the forum included discussion of the challenges JTS continues to face, but why does that exempt the institution from the kind of criticism implicit in the fake PR?

  5. Co-chair of Keshet here. Responses to Incite: 1. I wouldn’t say that I was “outraged” by JWW’s tactic — only non-plussed by its childishness, and annoyed that I had to spend that morning dealing with it, rather than planning programming sensitizing future rabbis to the needs of gay congregants and other useful things. 2. The “truths” in their release were accompanied by many implied falsehoods, as I outlined. 3. The person most remembered for enabling women’s ordination in the Conservative movement is Rabbi Joel Roth, who wrote the very formalistic responsum arguing for its halakhic (Jewish legal) validity — not the activists. In fact he was a member of last week’s panel, along with Rabbi Gordon Tucker, who chaired the movement’s own committee overseeing the process. These are insiders who dealt methodically — and yes, patiently — with the process. Not anonymous outsiders with no connection to it. 4. JTS is not exempt from criticism and I criticize it pretty regularly. My point was that some criticism is productive and some is counterproductive.

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