Which identity has the most influence?

How do you define your identity? 

Does your feminism influence your Judaism, or does your Judaism influence your feminism?

These questions were posed by one of my mentors here in Jerusalem at a Shabbat lunch with a group of young women who are all trying to define our identities, and it really resonated with me and has stuck with me for months. (Especially with all the conversations which have been generated surrounding my not-so-recent post: Orthodox Feminist: Not an oxymoron.) I think the same thing could be said of many aspects of identity, activism, and engagement also, but I’m going to stay focused on the initial question because that is the one I have been ruminating on.

Personally, I don’t think I can separate them. I think they influence each other fairly equally. I cannot say that I am more a feminist than a Jew, nor that I am more a Jew than a feminist. Neither comes first and neither stands alone.

If I could separate them, I wouldn’t be the woman I am. I wouldn’t be learning at Nishmat this year, nor would I be exploring my avenues for future learning. I wouldn’t be writing this blog about the adventures and challenges of being married to a man who has decided to pursue the rabbinate. I would be trying to “redefine rebbetzin.”  I wouldn’t have the complex feelings about parenting and education I do. I wouldn’t seek out the kind of prayer spaces and people to learn with that I do. I wouldn’t be the woman I am proud to be.

As I sit here pondering this question (and have for months), I continuously find that if I attempt to make one more crucial than another my sense of self shifts. I can play around with the focus in other parts of my identity. In fact, I regularly move around amongst wife / sister / daughter / friend and social worker / writer / editor / marketer / educator freely. I think those are all important parts of my identity, but not as critical as being simultaneously a religious Jewish woman and a feminist. For some reason, I cannot disengage those two parts from being the joint core of who I am.

Despite the time spent thinking about this, I am no closer to having any resolution, so I would love to hear your insights….

Does one part of your identity inherently have to take on a higher and more prominent place, or is it possible that two pieces can hold equal weight in how you interact with the world around you?

Can Judaism and feminism equally influence our place in the world?

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3 thoughts on “Which identity has the most influence?

  1. That it is taken for granted that you would be feminist is one of the reasons why I’m proud to be Jewish (Reform).

    When I was on Birthright, we met with a group of similarly aged Israelis and discussed whether we consider ourselves American or Israeli first or Jewish first. I was one of the few that was American first. But I think it’s entirely possible to have two things hold equal weight. For me, it probably depends on how strongly I identify with something (I had one non-Jewish parent, which is also a large part of my identity).

  2. Love that recent post…I guess the major question here is neither religion nor gender but your very own character and the person who you want to be in the end. I am born and raised as a female catholic and it’s the same struggle all the way. Questioning yourself to the very core. What is wrong and what is right. Who you are. Being headstrong as a female is unfortunately still a major issue all the way in our society…Religion and Gender are just one of the givens that makes it even more complicated.

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