JOFA 2013 Conference Preview

The paradox of JOFA is not “Orthodox Feminist” but “Jewish Alliance”

A few weeks ago I received an email from the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) promoting their upcoming conference. As a selling point for the conference, the email proclaimed:

It’s not just for feminists anymore…

It’s for… Singles, Halachacists, Hopefuls, Parents, Visionaries, Intellectuals, Students, Artists, Questioners, LGBT, Challengers…

The 2013 8th International JOFA Conference is for you.

Ignoring for a moment my initial snark about going to a feminist conference to pick up women, the marketing language employed is actually quite intriguing. After all, since the “F” in JOFA stands for “Feminist” it does seem odd that JOFA would so blatantly be expanding its target demographic to the point of even diminishing the importance of “Feminist.”

I do have a conjecture, which if true, would make this year’s conference particularly fascinating. Specifically, most of the stated goals of JOFA have either been accomplished or have been taken over by other organizations. Women’s participation in the synagogue not only continues to grow, but it is becoming more normalized in the Modern Orthodox world as opposed to an anomalous fringe. Furthermore, with the newly ordained Maharats, Jewish women are now assuming formal religious leadership positions within Orthodox synagogues and communities. With these advancements over the past 10 years, it would be interesting to see how JOFA answers the question “what next?” After all, simply advocating for “more of the same” is hardly a way to energize one’s base, let alone attract the next generation of woman, many of whom cannot appreciate how much needed to be done by others to provide what they take for granted.

My sense is by expanding beyond the limits of “Feminism” JOFA can attract not only this new generation of feminists (men and women) but also those who for various reasons are uncomfortable or disenchanted with “feminism” and its implications or those who think that the feminist movement has done all it can within the confines of “Orthodoxy.”

At any rate, I personally am looking forward to attending the conference – if nothing else than to see for myself where Orthodox Feminism may be heading in light of its successes.