Feminism and Orthodox Judaism with Daphne Lazar Price of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance - Conversation with the Rabbi

Episode 14

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Published on:

19th Aug 2021

Feminism and Orthodox Judaism with Daphne Lazar Price of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

Rabbi Michael Beyo and Dr. Adrian McIntyre talk with Daphne Lazar Price about her commitment to feminism, Orthodox Judaism, and justice.

Daphne Lazar Price is Executive Director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. JOFA advocates for expanding women's rights and opportunities within the framework of halakha, to build a vibrant and equitable Orthodox community. Daphne stepped into the role of Executive Director after years of experience in the Jewish non-profit world. She has partnered extensively with lay leaders and professionals. Daphne worked at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), where she was the Development Director. During her tenure she engaged in program planning, management, strategic planning, alumni engagement and development. She is also the former North American Director of the Muslim Leadership Initiative at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, where she was responsible for fostering connections between Muslim and Jewish communities. More recently she served as a Vice President at West End Strategy Team. Daphne received a BA with honors in Religious Studies from York University and an MA in Judaic Studies from Concordia University. She is currently an adjunct professor of Jewish Law at Georgetown University Law Center. She is active in the Orthodox community in her hometown of Silver Spring, MD, where she lives with her husband and two children.

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Transcript
Announcer:

From PHX.fm, this is Conversation with the Rabbi, featuring open, honest dialog and sometimes unconventional perspectives on the world we all share.

Adrian McIntyre:

Welcome back to another Conversation with the Rabbi, I'm Adrian McIntyre. Our guest today is Daphne Lazar Price, Executive Director of Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. She's a committed community leader, an advocate for all sorts of people, and we're excited to have her join us on the program today, hosted of course by Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of the East Valley Jewish Community Center. Good morning Daphne, good morning Rabbi Beyo.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Good morning Adrian and good morning Daphne, thank you so very much for joining us for another Conversation with the Rabbi, we're really excited to hear about your background and your current work and get into our conversation.

Daphne Lazar Price:

Well good morning and thank you for having me. It is very nice to be here, thank you for including me in this conversation and I'm so excited to talk.

Adrian McIntyre:

Now I'm intrigued, Daphne, by your background both as an activist and as someone committed to the community in which you are embedded. You have served a number of different roles leading up to this one, so before we hear a little bit about Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, I'd love for you to just share a little bit of your backstory, what got you from Concordia University in your undergraduate work through the many different positions that you've held, North American Director of the Muslim Leadership Initiative at Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, there's a lot of interesting things along the way. How do you describe this career path, when you talk about it to others?

Daphne Lazar Price:

So how do I describe my career path? I don't know that I've ever actually named it, in terms of quantifying it that way but it's actually been kind of circular, and let me explain. I grew up in Toronto, I grew up in a family of secular Israelis, and who overnight discovered Chabad and became Hasidic overnight. But my parents, because they were committed Israelis, also had some tension with some of the other ideological pieces, and so they were also committed to staunch Zionism and belief in the state of Israel, and they were also committed to ... I don't want to say that they had strong feminist sensibilities, but they were adamant in their minds that I was going to university, and I was going to have a career of my own. They had their own path for me, I was going to be a lawyer or doctor or architect or dentist, and when I told them ...

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

All of those together.

Daphne Lazar Price:

All of those together, but when I told them that I was planning to pursue a graduate degree in Judaism, they were like "When we said doctor, we didn't mean of religion" but they got over it. And so I grew up in Toronto, where I did my undergraduate studies, I did my Masters at Concordia, and at that point it's a whole other story, but there was a lot of antisemitism rising in Quebec, it was 1995, and the year of the referendum when Quebec tried to succeed from Canada, and a lot of antisemitism erupted as a result of that. The Premier at the time said that they lost the referendum because of the "rich ethnics," which is code for the Jewish community, and it was clear to me that my future was not going to be in Montreal. I moved to New York, where I started a second degree at Bernard Revel which is Yeshiva University's graduate program in Jewish history. I was there for two years and I fell in with a group of rabbinic students who were really progressive thinking but very Orthodox committed, and that was kind of my chevra. That was my community. And in my second year I want to say, there were a few things that happened. Number one was the first Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance conference, which I attended and I'll come back to that in a second, and the other thing that happened was there was a fellowship at the time called Torat Miriam, which was meant to be a fellowship for women in rising Jewish leadership positions. We met once a week over the course of 10 months, where we studied and we talked, and the goal was to advance or create some kind of clergy-like entry point for women. We were not yet at the point where we were talking about Maharat or rabbis or what that even would look like. There was no clear pathway forward in terms of internships. So there was this kind of confluence of events, and so when my friends, actually from Bernard Revel, rabbinic students, were like "Come with us to this conference, this Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance conference", and I was like "Well, sounds like it's up my alley." I walked in, really not knowing what was to happen, what to expect at all, it was before email, before internet, it was just friends saying come along, and when I walked in there were over a thousand people, women and men, more women than men, but who were deeply committed to the vision of an Orthodox feminism. Now that I know a little more on the inside, they didn't know what to expect either. Again, it was before email and internet, and people came day of to register. They had, on the Thursday before, it was on Presidents' Day weekend in 1997, on the Thursday before they had 300 people register and then on the Sunday they had over a thousand people show up, so I remember vividly janitors pulling chairs out of closets and tables and lets break down all the walls and that was that. So I threw myself into the work. At the same time, I also met my husband who we're now married, and so we started dating. I will add also that my husband comes from a multi-racial family. What took me on a tangent away from Orthodox feminism professionally, not personally, was some of the racism that I experienced in the Orthodox community. My husband is also a born and bred Washingtonian, and neither one of us were really committed to living in New York, and so we moved down here, down to Silver Spring where I live now, got married and then I knew I wanted to stay in the Jewish community, I was kind of done with academia, and I ended up at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, which then took on a 17 year career of its own. Long story short, I ended up back at JOFA, where I probably should have stayed throughout, and that was just over two years ago.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

A fascinating journey that you went, both professionally and personally. I have so many questions to ask, because my background is so millions years away from JOFA. And if somebody would have told me a few years ago, maybe 10 years ago, maybe less, that I would be married to a woman that is studying to become an Orthodox rabbi, I would have asked that person what did they smoke that morning, because I would like some of that as well. And sometimes I still feel that way. And so my question to you is I grew up in a community where anything that had the word feminism in it was an inherent ontological conflict with Orthodoxy. So please explain to me this mishmash of words, Jewish Orthodox feminist?

Daphne Lazar Price

07:15 Sure. I mean, first of all, you felt that way then. Do you feel that way now?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

I'll tell you later.

Daphne Lazar Price:

Okay. Look, when you are raised in a school system where you are given access to all of the information and the expectation is not just that you practice but that you lead by example, it just becomes an accepted norm. Also, as you see, external influences and I don't mean that in a negative way, but we live in the world where we have access to technology and media and whatnot, and when we see women rise to all kinds of leadership positions, those are things that we aspire to also, that doesn't take away from personal observance or faith or practice, and one I think very nicely supports and feeds into the other. Now whether that's you're talking about equitable learning opportunities for boys and girls in day school system, whether you're looking at who the teachers are, men and women who are teaching both boys and girls the same material, whether you're looking at who is preaching from the pulpit in the front of your shul, please god one day we should all be able to go back to shul in safe and healthy ways, is it always the rabbi? Could it be somebody else? And does the rabbi have to be a woman? Does it have to be a rabbi? And so all of those questions open up the opportunity of why not? It opens up the question of why not and I can and I have the knowledge and I have the skill and I have the drive, and it doesn't take away from Orthodoxy. I think that we've somehow turned feminism into another kind of F word, and I think that it's not that, I think that feminism is another way of saying equity or equality, depending on where you are, and I don't think that that takes away from Orthodoxy.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

What do you say to those non-Orthodox people that say that Orthodoxy is inherently misogynist?

Daphne Lazar Price:

[laughs] I mean, sometimes I laugh, and I don't mean to laugh in this way, but sometimes I laugh because it makes a lot of assumptions about Orthodoxy that just isn't true. I think that there are Orthodox Jews who are misogynist, and I think that there are Orthodox Jews, both men and women, who support a patriarchal system and I think that they're just not correct. I alluded to this before. I worked for the Reform movement for 17 years. You can't see me on the podcast, I don't cover my hair anymore, I actually did cover my hair for almost the entirety of my career there and the questions that I would get all the time would be like either comments like "Oh I didn't recognize you because you're wearing a hat", to which I would say "Ha ha, you're just faking it", because I always wear a hat. Or I would get questions like "Why are you wearing a hat? Why do you always wear a beret? Why do you wear a scarf?" And it opened up a lot of conversations, and I think that part of the misnomer of Orthodox Jews being misogynist just comes from lack of education and awareness. That's not to say that there aren't misogynist Jews out there, Orthodox Jews, there certainly are, but I don't believe that that is the default of how we move in the world.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

So now that you've explained from your perspective the two words and the two concepts of Orthodox and feminism, they match well together, could you please explain to me are there limits? When we introduce changes to any system, at what point that system is not the original system? And maybe we don't want it to be the original system, it's fine. But at what point, and this is a question that I ask my wife all the time, just because a group of rabbis call themselves Orthodox while 99.99% of the Orthodox world does not consider them Orthodox, what makes them Orthodox? Meaning if I call myself a lawyer, but 99% of lawyers do not recognize me as a lawyer, can I really claim to be a lawyer? So my question is, since the overwhelming majority of Orthodoxy does not recognize feminism and Orthodox feminism to be a legitimate form of Judaism, why uphold the term Orthodox?

Daphne Lazar Price:

There's a lot there to unpack and I want to kind of digest it in my head. A couple of things that come to mind. First of all, there's the famous Gemara of Moshe Rabbeinu coming into Rabbi Akiva's lecture hall and he sits in the eighth row, which the smartest, the most proficient students sat all the way in the front and the less proficient you were, you sat in the back, and he looks around and he was like "I don't even know what this is". And I think that your question is flawed, or the assumption is a little bit flawed in the sense that Orthodoxy or what we perceive to be Orthodoxy is not the same as it was 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 200 years ago. Also, the history of the term Orthodoxy is really a modern invention, it came in the 1800s in Europe and there's a lot that goes into that. In today's Orthodoxy, if I can call it that, people look to define their Orthodoxy by what they're not. And a lot of times, the status of women and the inclusion of women helps people define themselves as they are that Orthodox or they're not that Orthodox, or they are that kind of synagogue, or they're not that kind of synagogue. So there are synagogue's that will do whatever they can to be ... and I'm talking OU synagogues, where the rabbis are members of the Rabbinical Council of America, where they will do whatever they can to be as inclusive of women within the synagogue life, probably the red line is being counted in a minyan, in a quorum of 10. I'm trying to think if there's another red line, but these are synagogues where women read from the Torah in an all-women setting, where they dance with a Torah on Simchat Torah, where they read Megillat Esther for other women on Purim, where women serve on the board and in some rare cases also serve as synagogue president.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Wasn't that called a few years ago Conservative Judaism?

Daphne Lazar Price:

Look, I ...

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

No, I'm trying to understand what is the difference? Meaning, if Open Orthodoxy or whatever they want to be called today -- because I think that Rabbi Weiss said that they're not Open Orthodox any more, I don't know -- but if the very liberal segment of the Orthodox community is importing in their daily life and in their understanding of Judaism the same understanding and practices and theology that the Conservative movement had until a few years ago, then isn't that a continuation of the Conservative movement, and more power to that? And if the current liberal Orthodox community does not agree with the theology or the practice of the overwhelming majority, like 99% of the Orthodox world, then why stick to that name? That's my question. I am not questioning whether you have the right or the legitimacy to do what you want to do, whatever, that's every group can choose to do whatever they want. My question is, why stick to a concept, to a name, to gain legitimacy in eyes of those who don't want you?

Daphne Lazar Price:

I'm a little bit stuck on the question so I'm going to answer it from a different direction.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Thank you.

Daphne Lazar Price:

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Right, it was Sarah Schenirer.

Daphne Lazar Price:

Sarah Schenirer came from the right, the founder of the Bais Yaakov movement, and she went and she got rabbis permission and sign off and support to be able to do this. Was there push back? I have no doubt, and in the writing of history do we elevate her in all kinds of way, I have no doubt. And I have no doubt that she jumped through many hoops of fire to make this happen. The change came from the quote unquote, the right, and not the left, even though the influences may have come from external influences ...

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Yeah but you cannot compare Orthodoxy when Sarah Schenirer started Bais Yaakov to where Orthodoxy is today. I mean we have pictures of rebbetzin in the fifties where their skirts would not be accepted today in the Orthodox world and their head covering or showing collarbone would not be accepted today in the Orthodox world. We all know that the Orthodox world went much more to the right.

Daphne Lazar Price:

I really don't want to belabor how women dress and how it signals because I think that if you go to various communities across North America, and in Israel, what you wear, and the same is true for men also, the kippah that you wear does not necessarily reflect your affiliation, your identification. I really want to move away from the virtue signaling of how long a women's skirt is, how long her sleeves are, and how high her collar is, and how much or little is exposed. Look, if you want to talk about what's accepted in Orthodoxy, and what is clearly not an Orthodox approach, you can look at the erasure of women in publications in the more right wing publication world, right? That does not come from Torah, that is not grounded in any halakha, that is something that came from the right, that actually came from the right in Israel that has now been imported to North America. It is a damaging, damaging practice. Women and men in more right wing circles, the people for whom that readership ... they are the targeted audience, right? Obviously anybody picks up a magazine and if you are a Shabbat keeping family where you don't check your phone, you don't watch TV, obviously you read and you don't read a Kindle, you read a magazine or you read a paper book. And so these magazines are in many, many, many homes, not in my home, for exactly this reason. But they have developed these policies where they will not publish pictures of girls who are older than six, they will not publish pictures of women at all, and they claim that that's rooted in Torah. Now it's not rooted in Torah, it doesn't exist anywhere ...

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

According to them it is.

Daphne Lazar Price:

No. They say that it is. Look, there's a conversation with a publisher of one of these magazines, who he talks about, he was on a different podcast, he talks about the day before the 2016 election and he met with the editorial board and he said "What do we do if Hilary Clinton wins? Do we print her publication, do we not?" I mean her picture, "Do we print it? Do we not?" Back and forth, and the joke was he said "We need to pray for a miracle". So they tabled the conversation, it turns out that she didn't win, it became a moot point but it was a question that they grappled with, and one of the things they said was it's not about Torah, it's about marketing to our community.

Adrian McIntyre:

One of the things at stake here, and this conversation I think is so illuminating because it reveals some of the micro fault lines, the areas where debate tends to coalesce, I think it's useful to back it out a little bit in scope, so that we can have a conversation about some of the broader issues here. An example would be in the state of Texas, until very recently, the history textbooks that were assigned in schools did not teach that the primary cause of the civil war was the desire of the Southern states to continue to own slaves. And the historians who had lobbied for this curriculum to be in place asserted that that was based on their correct understanding of history, and the preponderance of professional historians do not agree with that and have now successfully changed the curriculum to reflect that in fact what the record shows, what the primary source documents at the time ... it's an incontrovertible fact, as uncomfortable as it may be for some people, that in fact the primary reason for succession was the desire to preserve white slave holding capability. So we wouldn't get into that conversation and discuss it on its merits by saying "Well they said it was true." Yes, of course they did. That was their point of view. We have to back out a little bit and ask ourselves what's going on here? And I think what's going on here is a much richer and also in some ways much more problematic and troubling aspect of our shared human experience, much of which is actually not shared. The humanity part is shared, the particular parts of our experience are not shared at all, all the way down to the individual level, where you have a set of twins who grow up and don't have the same life experience. So let’s not kid ourselves, we are the same and we're fundamentally different, all the way down. Here's the broader question. When a point of view that evolves into a complex set of commitments, like feminism, which at its root seems to me to be a commitment to equality and or equity, Daphne you mentioned the difference between those two, I'd love to hear you riff on that a little bit later, because I think they are interesting, equality and or equity, intersects with historical traditions that are profoundly connected to the fabric of life, Rabbi's question actually becomes quite valuable for everyone which is why do we, those of us who do, why do we hold commitments in the face of overwhelming resistance to those commitments? And that question could be applied not just in communities of faith, but in anywhere where people are advocating for change and tradition at the same time. We get a really difficult combination of things. I've watched some of these things play out in the community that I was raised in which I don't actively participate in, which is Protestant Seventh Day Adventism, a deeply patriarchal church organization which will defend its patriarchy with biblical references, in this case they're referring to Christian writings, the so-called New Testament and they will find evidence that women have no place on the platform and therefore there cannot be any women ministers ordained et cetera et cetera. And of course growing up in a very progressive Southern California affluent suburb where a lot of the liberal academics who had been rejected from other Seventh Day Adventist colleges and universities had landed, I got an education from people deeply committed to social justice, who taught the history of the human rights movement, taught civil rights, focused on examples for Adventist history, like Fernando and Anna Stahl, who were pistol-packing Marxist liberation theology missionaries in South America. No matter which tradition we're from, we get into this kind of thing. "Well how can they do that given this, and why do they still want to be called Adventists? They're clearly working against the mainstream." I guess the real question I have, rabbi for you, and then let's have Daphne respond to some of these things, is why does that matter? If people are profoundly motivated to work for these things, why does it matter what they call themselves?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Definitions matter. We live in a world, as human beings, that we communicate to each other who we are, what we believe, what we want to do, what we don't like, what we do like, what we support, et cetera, using our words. This is the difference between animals and humans, we have words. We can express our words, and we can express our thoughts and feelings and we can build world or destroy worlds with our words. So words are important, and the definition of the words are important. I am not sure if Daphne has actually understood my question. And so let me even clarify better my question, because maybe I did not express it properly when I asked it the first time. I don't identify anymore as an Orthodox Jew, and when people ask me "What are you?" "Yeah, I'm Orthodox, leave me alone". That's my two second answer on the elevator. But if somebody that really knows me, I can't. Because my theology, which is at the basis of Orthodoxy, the "doxy" of Orthodoxy, is not the same as 99.99 et cetera et cetera of the people, both establishment and lay people and everybody, that belongs, that is a card carrying member, either willingly, unwilling, knowingly or unknowingly of Orthodoxy. Therefore, I at a certain point in time realized that it's a different religion. And I joke around with my friends, those who I study with, and I say "Yeah, it's a different religion". So they are Orthodox and I went back to my original roots, and if somebody asked me what are you, my honest answer is I am a Sephardi Jew that tries to keep Torah and mitzvot -- which for those who don't know, it means tries to keep the laws of Judaism -- to the best of my ability, and I fail everyday miserably. So it's a long definition, fine. But that's why I went back to my origins, because a lot of what we are discussing is Ashkenormative, comes from OCD Ashkenazi -- and half of my family's Ashkenazi, so I understand the OCD in my family, and as a friend of mine says to me "Oh, Ashkenazi Jews including rabbis are OCD." That's also true. And so I went back to my Middle Eastern origins, I went back to my Sephardi origins that do not have these conflicts between Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, what are you? Zionist, anti-Zionist, half a Zionist, half Orthodox three times a year because I drive to the Chabad shul but in reality I eat pork at home and I couldn't care less about the prayer or whatever and anything in between. The Hasidic Jew that erases the picture of a little girl because ooh God, what is a picture of a little girl going to do to his sexual libido, or the Reform Jew that doesn't know that he's even Jewish, and everything in between. That's an Ashkenazi problem, a Western problem. It doesn't exist in the Sephardi world, or at least it did not exist in the Sephardi world. Today it exists in Israel. But it did not originally exist in Sephardi world. So I went back to my origins, and I say I'm a Sephardi Jew. I'm a Sephardi rabbi, and I try to do the best that I can and I fail. Therefore my question was to Daphne, what do you care to be legitimized or not by using the same term that they use?

Daphne Lazar Price:

Okay, thank you. I understand the question better now. Also, I want to say that I also grew up in a house with a little bit of conflict in the sense that my mother was Sephardic, her family was from Greece and Turkey.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Good food.

Daphne Lazar Price:

Delicious food, right?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Turkey! Yeah! We're cousins then.

Daphne Lazar Price:

There you go. My father's family came from Russia, less good food.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Not everybody's perfect. But now you understand better my question?

Daphne Lazar Price:

Yes, yes. So I don't need other people's validation of how I identify. I identify as Orthodox, right? I live in Silver Spring. It's a very modern Orthodox community. If I drive 45 minutes away to Baltimore, I love the community in Baltimore, it is not the community that I would live in. It really is like a sub-segment, it's like part of Borough Park moved out of Borough Park.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

I used to live in Borough Park, and I loved it.

Daphne Lazar Price:

Okay. When I walk into Seven Mile Market or Market Maven and I'm not wearing a sheitel and I dress not necessarily the same way that they do, do they consider me Orthodox? Maybe, maybe not. But I don't need their validation, so that's one answer. The other answer I think for me also is people, by nature, are tribal. I have my tribes, and I don't have just one tribe. I have multiple tribes and one of my tribes are Orthodox Jews. They're people who keep Shabbat the same way that I do, who keep kosher the same way that I do. We send our kids to the same schools, we belong to the same kinds of synagogues, and that's my tribe. Or that's one of my tribes. And having said that, there is also this internal conflict, to me was best said by Rabbi David Weiss Halivni, who I think was actually a Conservative rabbi, who said "I have trouble talking to the people that I pray with, and I have trouble praying with the people that I talk to." Right? And so therein lies my two tribes. But when I live amongst them, when I work amongst them, when I advance the work of Orthodox feminism, my tribes meld a little bit, and that's fine for me. That's great for me. That's exactly where I want to be. And we have many thousands of people who are like-minded who support our work and who come to our programs and call us for advice and help me advocate for this, that and the other. And I don't need somebody else's validation to tell me that I am not Orthodox or that I am Orthodox because I identify as an Orthodox feminist.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

As a curiosity for me, I fully understand the differences in your perspective in [Hebrew phrase], that you understand them differently than say a rabbi in Borough Park. That's fine, legit. But theologically, are there differences as well? Not only on the level of the practice, but theologically, meaning do you ... and that's a question, I don't assume what you're going to answer, do you adhere to the theology of what Orthodoxy is today? I'm not talking about the practice, but the theology, do you believe that-

Daphne Lazar Price:

Do I believe in Torah MiSinai?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

In its full ...

Daphne Lazar Price:

In its full complexity?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Its full complexity. Or do you believe in [Hebrew phrase], in the way that it is taught today in Orthodoxy, which is that if I drop this pen, God is deciding the way that pen falls? Do you believe that Mashiach will come? Do you believe in the physical resurrection of the dead? Because it's interesting, we live today in such a strange world in the Orthodox world, that if somebody were to come to shul, a traditional Orthodox shul, whatever that means, and he were to go to the rabbi and say "Rabbi, I keep halakha, and I'm gay." Or another person that says "Rabbi, I don't keep halakha at all, in fact I drove here, but I believe everything you believe". They will give to the second guy an aliyah to the Torah but not to the first guy, because the theology has become so overwhelmingly important of what you believe rather than the halakha, how do you lead your life?

Daphne Lazar Price:

I'm glad that you raise this comparison. First of all, I disagree. I think that the gay man who in shul and says "I have my mother's yahrzeit and I'm going to lead [Hebrew phrase] from the amud this morning," I think that if he is in a synagogue where he goes regularly, and people know who he is and it's not a secret and he's already established himself in the synagogue, I think nine times out of ten he will ...

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Not in my world.

Daphne Lazar Price:

Okay.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

No, no, it's fine. I'm saying maybe in the more modern world, not in the Haredi world.

Daphne Lazar Price:

Okay, so not in the Haredi world. But I also don't know how many men come out that comfortably in the Haredi world. So in the world that I live in, that I move in, most commonly and comfortably is the modern Orthodox world. But this goes back to what I was alluding to before, so in my spare time, if I have spare time, I co-teach a class at Georgetown University Law Center on Jewish law, I'm not a lawyer, I'm not a rabbi but I teach the class with two other fellows. One is a Conservative rabbi, and one is a more right-wing fellow. And the more right wing fellow, last year when he taught the class he explained the different denominations and the movements and he divided it up based on whether a gay man would be counted in a minyan or get an aliyah or any of those. And as the spectrum moved to the right in terms of religious identity, it became less common. And I looked at him and I stood up and I was like "This is not accurate. I think that if you are the most Haredi person and you're at Newark Airport and you're looking for a tenth man and the man is wearing a rainbow kippah, you will count him in the minyan because you need the tenth guy". You can have 25 women and nine men and the women will not be counted, which is fine, that is the halakhic parameter. What I'm saying is that there are more instances than not where somebody who is out and gay will be counted, maybe ridiculed behind his back, maybe even to his face, but when push comes to shove, the fact that he is a man means that he carries more halakhic weight in his community than I would.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

You still did not answer, and it's fine, whether you believe or not, whether your theology is Orthodox, but that's fine.

Daphne Lazar Price:

The answer, in a nutshell, is yes but even that's a multi-layered, that's like an onion you can peel back a hundred layers until you get to what that actually means, because there are multiple approaches. Look, when I served on the chevra kadisha years ago, when I helped prepare dead bodies before burial, it was both out of a deep respect for the person who was dead in front of me but also with an eye to when Mashiach comes, what is the state that ... obviously the body decomposes over time, but if Mashiach was to come tomorrow, what is the state of the body in case that is the case.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Just hedging your bets. Hedging your bets, okay.

Adrian McIntyre:

I'm struck again as the third wheel, the outsider to the conversation, by some parallels Daphne that I'd love to hear you speak to. I'm reminded, having spent a decade or more of an earlier professional career in the Arab world, the figure that stands out for me is Fatima Mernissi, who was a Moroccan feminist sociologist and writer of many books on Islamic feminism and the struggles that she had and others since then have had in trying to situate within the Islamic tradition a redemptive narrative of equality that can be found in the same texts that are often used to justify inequality. Many of the same parallels as Islamic fundamentalism being a modern phenomenon that shrouds itself in a medieval form, but is absolutely a late 18th, primarily 19th and now into the 21st century movement. Another example from another tradition, of someone working within but opposed to the tradition in order to quote unquote save it, I'm not sure that's the language either she or you would use here, if you're not trying to save anything from anything, I don't know, but the rabbi's questions have really raised this question for me which I find fascinating about humans in general, which is why does this matter so much to you? There's so many things that you could have been the doctor, the lawyer, the engineer right? You could have appeased your parents in that earlier moment in life, and yet even in the unformed way that we all are in our 20s, stumbling away from something and towards something else, even though we don't fully understand it, you chose a path that's taken you where you are, circular or otherwise. So I'd like to hear now about Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, the organizations work and your work. What are you up to, what are you out to accomplish, what does it look like and why? Why does this matter so much?

Daphne Lazar Price:

Sure. So thank you. First of all, what the number one thing that we're working on right now is we actually have a conference coming up. It will be virtual, unfortunately that's the reality of where we are, there'll be four separate tracks having to do with advancing women in education, in leadership, expanding ritual and then a catch all of where we are in contemporary issues, especially looking at Covid. It's an opportunity to have women in the workplace, questions of intersectionality that have bubbled up especially in 2020 and the like, and those are ... in particular the ritual, leadership and education, those are like some of our core buckets of the work that we do to help advocate and to give women and meant tools to help advocate to advance women in those spaces.

Adrian McIntyre:

Apologize for interrupting. I want you to pause for a second on the word intersectionality, because for those of us who are comfortable with that language it means something and for many others it may not, so can you speak to that, why that matters, what it's about?

Daphne Lazar Price:

That's a heavy, loaded question. But if you are in the justice space, and this is where I come from, if you are in the justice space, you come with your multiple identities, right? Michael talked about how all of the pieces of his identity that feeds who he is today, but one of the things that have come up unfortunately in intersectionality is Zionism, support of Israel and as a result Jews have been edged out of some of the justice spaces, and after the national upheaval after George Floyd was murdered last year and with the rise again of Black Lives Matter, a lot of Jewish people were like "We want to support and we don't know where we fit because we don't feel welcome." For us, this was actually a deeply personal conversation because we are a multi-racial family, we did not go to any of the protests in support of Black Lives Matter just because of Covid and exposure and just the timing, we had to deal with personal health issues first. But the question was how can you align with multiple identities that may be in conflict or they may be trying to edge you out? Can you show up with your full self? And this is something that actually started up several years ago at the Chicago dyke march, this kind of pre-dated Black Lives Matter, but as the justice movements grow and meld, all the identities come into play and then some are called into question and so the question is how do we create space for people to show up with their full self in justice space. Does that help?

Adrian McIntyre:

Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that I think we are all dealing with without having a theory about it, without having the language to describe it, is the multiple identities we carry as individuals and as communities. And you mentioned a deeply problematic intersection in the first part of this interview which is the corresponding rise of nationalism in Quebec, and antisemitism in Quebec, and intersection of a kind of ethno-nationalism with a hateful face as we often see in Eurocentric nationalism's. Antisemitism is so deeply embedded in many of these European movements that it becomes very, very difficult to extricate oneself, and finding a situation where you can express a complex point of view when the rhetoric is so brutally simplifying, violently simplifying.

Daphne Lazar Price:

Yeah, violently, yes. I think that's the point is that it's violent.

Adrian McIntyre:

Yes, it becomes deeply problematic. Rabbi Beyo, as CEO of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, you do not lead a religious community explicitly in the rabbinical tradition, and yet you are bridging these worlds. Your training and your conviction and an organization that is explicitly open, that is embracing of diversity and difference beyond the Jewish community, in all the many different forms. We should be asking you to talk about intersectionality, although it's maybe an unfamiliar word, but you are in complex interaction with multiple groups with different claims and competing interests and all the rest.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Intersectionality is a word that I will never use.

Adrian McIntyre:

Because?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Because it claims to make connections where connections, I believe, don't exist. But I do like what Daphne said, that we have multiple tribes that we belong to. And then I think that is very true, and it's very true for me as well. And sometimes I feel more comfortable having one hat of one tribe, and sometimes I feel more comfortable having the other hat of another tribe, and sometimes I don't want both of these tribes to know that I belong to both of them and I want to belong to a third one that nobody bothers me in that tribe. So I like that metaphor very, very much. And the JCC is very much like that, yes. We have people that come from all sort of multiplicity of tribes. But in my work here I try not to talk about politics, so that takes away a huge topic of conflict, especially in America and especially during these times. So I don't talk about politics, and every time I hear somebody talk about politics, say "This is the J", as if there is this understanding that we don't talk about politics. But we do talk a lot about religion, and we do talk a lot about Israel, and we do talk a lot about interfaith and we do talk a lot about a lot of other subjects, and I hope that we're able to provide a forum where everybody feels free to express themselves and also protected, that what they are going to express, people will hear it and listen to it. So that I think is very important, not necessarily agree but at least listen.

Daphne Lazar Price:

So I just want say also that I think that you can talk politics without being partisan, and I think that there's a differentiation there that you can make. I do want to add, I actually want to reflect back, I actually think that a lot of work that we do at JOFA is similar in the sense that we want to meet people where they are, right? So if you have a very right or a very left wing Orthodox identifying woman coming to say "I need help with X", I'm not judging based on how you dress, what your other practices are, if you need help advancing issue X, whether it's the erasure in publications as I mentioned, or access to good education for both of your children who are boys and girls and the like, those are things that we can help with, we can provide tools with. People who just want the material to know, to realize that maybe they've been taught wrong all along, but in that way we're also a community center, even though we're not a physical community center. It's a way about building community, and it's a way about our mission statement is that we advocate on behalf of women in order to create a vibrant Orthodox community and it's all done within the framework of halakha, we don't care. I shouldn't say we don't care, we care about halakha we don't care where you come from, only what it is that you want to help advance.

Adrian McIntyre:

Daphne Lazar Price is Executive Director of Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, an organization that has 25 years of history advocating for women's rights and opportunities and desiring to build a vibrant and equitable Orthodox community. Thank you so much for joining us for this conversation.

Daphne Lazar Price:

Thank you for having me.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Thank you very much.

Adrian McIntyre:

If you enjoyed today's show, please subscribe to Conversation with the Rabbi on your favorite podcast app. You can also find the latest episodes online at ConversationWithTheRabbi.com. For all of us here at PHX.fm, I'm Adrian McIntyre. Thanks for listening, and please join us for the next Conversation with the Rabbi.

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About the Podcast

Conversation with the Rabbi
Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, talks with an eclectic mix of faith-based and secular leaders from around the world.
In an era of political division and polarized debate, we are losing our ability to hear each other. The volume of our disagreements is at an all-time high, while our ability to communicate with kindness and empathy is at an all-time low. This podcast seeks to change that by engaging people from different backgrounds and beliefs in good old-fashioned conversation.

Listen in as Rabbi Michael Beyo and anthropologist Dr. Adrian McIntyre spend time listening, sharing, and discovering common ground in an effort to understand and appreciate the wondrous diversity of our human family. From interfaith dialogues to discussions with business and nonprofit leaders, this podcast shines a spotlight on the different ways we can learn to live, work, and worship together in a contentious and conflicted world.

We invite you to use these conversations as a lens to open up new understandings of self and the other, to develop empathy for diverse viewpoints, and to explore what is possible when we listen to others with respect.

Conversation with the Rabbi is a project of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, neighborhood organization that has served individuals and families inclusive of all races, religions, and cultures since 1972. Visit us online at https://www.evjcc.org

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B online radio station and podcast studio in Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more at https://phx.fm

About your hosts

Rabbi Michael Beyo

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Rabbi Michael Beyo is CEO of the East Valley Jewish Community Center in Chandler, Arizona. He was born in Milan, Italy and has lived in Italy, England, France, Israel, and the United States. An Orthodox Jewish scholar with a successful career providing religious guidance to all the Jewish denominations, he was ordained as a rabbi in Israel, where he earned three Rabbinical Ordinations of the highest honor. In 2015 Rabbi Beyo moved to Arizona from Atlanta, where he had served as the Chief Development Officer for Hillel of Georgia, overseeing 12 colleges and universities. Prior to that he served as the Executive Director and Rabbi of Boston University Hillel, as well as the Jewish Chaplain for Boston University. Rabbi Beyo brings over 25 years of professional, entrepreneurial and non-profit experience in education, cultural, humanitarian, social and religious sectors. He successfully ran several start-ups in Israel before dedicating his career to the nonprofit world.

Adrian McIntyre, PhD

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Dr. Adrian McIntyre is a social scientist, storytelling strategist, and internationally recognized authority on effective communication. His on-air experience began in 1978 at the age of five as a co-host of "The Happy Day Express," the longest-running children's radio program in California history. Adrian earned his PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a Fulbright scholar and National Science Foundation research fellow. He spent nearly a decade in the Middle East and Africa as a researcher, journalist, and media spokesperson for two of the largest humanitarian relief agencies in the world. Today he advises and trains entrepreneurs, executives, and corporate teams on high-performance communication, the power of storytelling, and how to leverage digital media to build a personal leadership brand.