Even the Allies are Misogynist (@theTable: “Manthologies”)
By Michal Raucher.
Recently I opened my email to find an alert from an academic listserv about a book titled, Kashrut and Jewish Food Ethics, edited by Shmuly Yanklowitz. As an active member of the Society of Jewish Ethics and an associate editor of the Journal of Jewish Ethics, I eagerly scrolled down to read more about this exciting book and order a copy for myself. Unfortunately, as I read through the table of contents, I discovered that out of 25 essays, only 1 was written by a woman. A classic manthology.
Kashrut and Jewish Food Ethics is an anthology that delves into various ethical issues in the production and consumption of food, written by the “brightest Modern Orthodox thinkers of the current generation,” as heralded by the book’s own description on the publisher’s website. The book is a product of Torat Chayim, the Orthodox Jewish association of male and female (!) rabbis and educators, and it is published by Academic Studies Press. Although the majority of Orthodox Judaism does not sanction the rabbinic authority of women, Torat Chayim recognizes Orthodox women who have received rabbinic ordination as members on par with their male colleagues. Although there are far fewer female members of this organization due to the lower number of female Orthodox rabbis, this organization represents liberal Orthodox rabbis who are socially progressive on many issues, including women’s issues. In other words, I would have expected Torat Chayim to have included more women in its very first book publication to represent their “brightest thinkers.”
What’s more disheartening about this manthology, as opposed to some others, is that many of the authors present themselves as allies in women’s pursuit for greater education, representation, and authority. Among the authors of those 24 chapters written by men, a significant number of them have been involved in the rabbinic ordination of women in Orthodox Judaism. Some have hired women as rabbinic colleagues, while others are educating and ordaining women. In my research on the ordination of women in Orthodoxy, many Orthodox female clergy even name these men as allies. And yet, one of my research participants, a woman who received ordination from these same male rabbis, told me, “even the allies are misogynist.” Although the men listed in the table of contents have helped to bring about new roles for Orthodox women over the last two decades, it appears that, nevertheless, none of those supporters imagine women to be part of their conversation.
In fact, there are female Modern Orthodox rabbis and educators who write on ethics, and those who are thinking about Kashrut in new ways. Therefore, on the one hand, we have women with scholarly and rabbinic credentials who have thought deeply about Kashrut and food ethics who are not represented here, while we have men with no particular specialty in this area who are in this table of contents. Including women in this anthology would not have been an example of tokenism, which many people fear. It would have meant the re-envisioning of this topic in a way that actually represented the scholarship of a diverse audience. Broadening the conversation to include partners and ideas that you are not familiar with is our responsibility as scholars.
In all fairness to the editor, Shmuly Yanklowitz, an outspoken Orthodox Jewish leader who advocates for social justice, it is possible that he asked these women (and more) for contributions and they declined. Women are still grappling with large structural problems in their careers, especially in the Orthodox rabbinate. Women also experience general work-life imbalance and lose a significant amount of time as they work the third shift. Thus, women are less likely to accept invitations to write on something that doesn’t directly intersect with their work or something that must be completed on a short timeline, whereas men often have more time to take on extra writing projects.
However, each individual contributor has a responsibility to ensure that the conversation they are participating in is composed of a diverse group of scholars. This is what it means to be an ally to other categories of scholars (people of color, queer-identifying individuals, or even religious leaders of lower socio-economic status). All of the authors in an edited volume must be aware of who is included in the conversation and who has been excluded. Aside from the ethical concerns about the manthology, when I see that table of contents, I think the book is going to be so skewed and limited that I have little interest in reading it. I imagine I am not the only potential reader who feels the same.
I must admit that I have contributed to multiple edited volumes, and until recently, I have not asked to see a proposed list of authors before contributing. All of those anthologies have had at least one female editor, so I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that there would be gender parity. As a junior scholar in the field, I have been so eager to publish that it did not occur to me to reject an invitation or to make demands of the editor, but my vulnerabilities do not excuse my ignorance. We must make requests for diversity clear in our communication with the editors, and we should even try to add a clause into our contracts that we reserve the right to remove our essays if gender parity is not achieved. I, along with other female scholars of Jewish studies, will be working with lawyers to design this clause. We hope that our professional societies will help to normalize the use of this language in contracts for publications and speaking engagements. Last, if we are editing one of these anthologies, we must not only seek out gender parity among our authors, but we should do the work that will guarantee this is the case.
We still have a long way to go before we can say we’ve cultivated a conversation that represents the true diversity of the field and the human experience. Nevertheless, we must keep this as our goal.
Michal Raucher a co-editor of EFSR and an assistant professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University. Her research lies at the intersection of Israel studies, Jewish ethics, and the anthropology of women in Judaism. Her book, Birthing Jewish Ethics: Reproductive Ethics among Haredi Women in Jerusalem, is under contract with Indiana University Press.