Between Silence and Chaos: The Emergence and Growth of Feminist Struggles in the Orthodox Jewish Communities of Israel (1970s–2009)

By Valérie Pouzol

Born in the wake of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Israeli feminist movement focused on the deconstruction of national egalitarian myths as well as on charity to women in need in a militarized society. In this struggle, the movement which is secular for the most part and sharply divided among various ethnic groups has directed little of its energy towards orthodox women. The activism of Jewish orthodox women, however, is a strong, time-honored tradition. This paper presents a sociological analysis of the militancy of these orthodox women by retracing the itinerary of their struggles in Israeli society. These struggles are not limited to the traditional political orientation of the Israeli religious world, which is often in favor of a “Greater Israel”. Indeed, from the movement's beginning in the 1990s, as religious nationalists have hardened their position and colonists have drifted towards violence, orthodox women have organized an alternative effort to review the radicalization of religious forces in the country and to foreground how difficult it is for them to take a position and militate against war. In 1998, they went one step further by creating a group against the war called Women for the Sanctity of Life. This paper aims to demonstrate the complexity of female orthodox political engagement in Israel by exploring the difficulties they have experienced in affirming and aiding secular women, as well as the dangers they have faced by virtue of their position in an orthodox world which is resistant to change and which places the purity of women at the center of its ideological apparatus.


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