A Breath of Life: Feminism in the American Jewish Community

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Today's Jewish women, successfully availing themselves of the increased educational and occupational opportunities that feminism has encouraged, feel a new sense of self and entitlement. Yet as feminist advances have opened possibilities, they also have called into question traditional roles. The challenge to Jewish women today is to preserve the Jewish community and guarantee its survival while creating meaningful new social and spiritual models that respond to feminist enlightenment. Drawing on interviews with ...
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Overview

Today's Jewish women, successfully availing themselves of the increased educational and occupational opportunities that feminism has encouraged, feel a new sense of self and entitlement. Yet as feminist advances have opened possibilities, they also have called into question traditional roles. The challenge to Jewish women today is to preserve the Jewish community and guarantee its survival while creating meaningful new social and spiritual models that respond to feminist enlightenment. Drawing on interviews with Jewish women from eighteen to eighty across the United States, as well as on new demographic data, scholarship, literature, and media, A Breath of Life explores the full panorama of contemporary options for Jewish women striving to combine community family and individual needs. Through the voices of these women, Sylvia Barack Fishman demonstrates the ways feminism has transformed both their secular and spiritual lives. Ceremonies such as bat mitzvah, which accepts women into the Jewish fold, are now widely practiced, and girls receive as much Jewish education as boys. The vast majority of adult women pursue both vocational and avocational interests, marry and have children, and choose their own religious options. A Breath of Life charts the course these women navigate, and explores the challenges and pleasures they find along the way. Tracing the emergence and development of a distinctly Jewish form of feminism, which has grown alongside the larger feminist movement but which specifically addresses the concerns of Jewish women, Fishman shows how it has done more to revitalize American Judaism than any other factor in the past two decades. Just as Eastern European Jews at the turn of the century and Holocaust survivors after World War II brought a religious intensity to American Jewish communities, today feminism is providing a fresh wave of enthusiastic reinterpretation and participation in American Jewish life. From study groups, to participation in se
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A timely and important work that will bring a shock of recognition to American Jewish women – and men – much as Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique did to America 30 years ago. Highly recommended." —Library Journal

"In this comprehensive, very readable piece of scholarship, Sylvia Barack Fishman charts how today's feminists (like turn-of-the-century Eastern European Jews or, later, Holocaust survivors) are responsible for American Judaism's freshest air . . . A germinal work." — —Lilith

"A comprehensive and lively analysis of the changes created by women struggling and acquiring a place in Jewish communal life . . . A Breath of Life has excellent descriptions of the changes that have taken place and continue to take place as women struggle for equality in Jewish life." —(Boston) Jewish Advocate

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Assesses the impact of feminism on contemporary Jewish life through various sources, including women who discuss the challenges of combining faith, community, family, and individual needs.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

SYLVIA BARACK FISHMAN is Assistant Professor of Contemporary American Jewish Life and Senior Research Associate at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, and editor of the anthology Follow My Footprints: Changing Images of Women in American Jewish Fiction (1992).

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
1 Discovering Jewish Feminism 1
2 Contemplating Marriage 17
3 Choosing Jewish Parenthood 45
4 Working, Volunteering, and Jewish Living 65
5 Broadening Sexual and Gender Roles 95
6 Sanctifying Women's Lives 121
7 Praying with Women's Voices 143
8 Educating the New Jewish Women 181
9 Breaking Through Jewish Ceilings 201
10 Balancing Jewish and Feminist Goals 231
Tables 251
Notes 267
Index 301
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