This profile was last updated in 2005
The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) is an international alliance devoted to expanding “the spiritual, ritual, intellectual and political opportunities for women within the framework of halakha,” or Jewish law and ritual. This mission is built upon the belief that women’s participation and equality in family and religious life benefits the entire Jewish community.
In the beginning, the organization consisted of a small group of women who gathered around a kitchen table. Today the organization is professionally staffed with a rich website that is accessed by members the world over. The organization was officially formed in 1997 after the first of what have become bi-annual conferences. These international events, attended by women and men, remain a critical venue in which participants explore halakhic and social issues relevant to the lives of Orthodox women. Regional conferences have also been held in New York and Washington DC.
Raising Feminist Consciousness
Throughout its history, JOFA has worked to raise feminist consciousness within Orthodoxy, with careful regard for theology and ritual. Along the way, the organization has addressed issues ranging from sexuality and abuse to networking and leadership development. Presently, JOFA is working to implement and evaluate a gender sensitive curriculum for Orthodox day schools. Also, through Shabbat T’lamdeini, JOFA is providing guidance and support to participating synagogues as they celebrate the contributions of women through Torah learning and leadership. JOFA’s Film Festival is creating yet another venue for dialogue on issues related to Jewish women and Orthodoxy. Finally, through its Agunah Task Force, JOFA is continuing its advocacy on behalf of agunot, or women whose husbands are unwilling or unable to grant them a divorce, and raising awareness about the issue throughout the Jewish community.
JOFA publishes a wide range of print materials for its members, including The Orthodox Jewish Woman and Ritual: Options and Opportunities series and its quarterly JOFA Journal. Additionally, the organization’s website offers numerous resources on: the life cycle; ritual and practice; participation and leadership; education; community challenges; Orthodoxy and feminism; and Agunah. JOFA is also working to develop a number of discussion forums through email listservs; topics include college, university and graduate students; daily life; lifecycle rituals; single women; teens; and women and synagogue.
In a broader vein, JOFA has been integral in founding two coalitions: Gettlink and One Voice. Gettlink is an internet coalition of 15 organizations in more than 47 countries that “seek to ease and resolve the plight of agunot.” The network allows activists to exchange information and resources as they search for halakhic solutions to this problem that is considered a crisis in the Orthodox world. One Voice is a coalition of eleven American Jewish women’s organizations in support of Israel.
Orthodoxy and Gender Equality
Reflecting on the work of JOFA, Founder Blu Greenberg remarked that it is important “to generate a mind set in the community that we are not anti-establishment in our attitudes nor antinomian in our behavior, though some may wish to interpret our work that way. On the contrary, we uphold halakha [Jewish law] as a way of life, and we feel ourselves to be vital to the continuity of Orthodox Judaism. Orthodoxy must integrate the ideas of gender equality, not only in order to maintain itself but also to be viable into future generations… And so we see ourselves as renewing traditional Judaism, raising it to its own best level.”