New Article: Ferziger, The Emergence of Haredi Women as Religious Leaders

Ferziger, Adam S. “Beyond Bais Ya’akov: Orthodox Outreach and the Emergence of Haredi Women as Religious Leaders.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 14.1 (2015): 140-59.





The twentieth century witnessed an array of fresh models of Jewish women’s educational and religious leadership. Quite understandably, the majority of the scholarly focus has been on burgeoning egalitarian trends featured in the new roles for women within liberal Jewish denominations and among the Modern Orthodox. Yet increased appreciation for gendered perspectives within Jewish studies has also led to recognition that seemingly conventional female roles, once viewed as purely supportive in nature, have evolved into platforms for voicing uniquely feminine styles of Jewish authority. This article offers an initial portrayal and analysis of a relatively new phenomenon: the American female non-hasidic Haredi outreach activist. It does so, first, by locating these figures within overall trends of American Haredi Jewry as well as in relation to the broader phenomenon of Orthodox feminism. The central contention is that inasmuch as American Haredi Orthodoxy vehemently opposes many of the changes advanced by the Modern Orthodox sector, a “silent” revolution is actually taking place within its own elite frameworks. The instigation for the emergence of new religious leadership roles for Haredi women is the increasing focus of this sector on outreach to the non-observant, and the recognition that woman can be especially effective in these capacities. Yet such activities demand types of public behavior, often in mixed gender settings, that are inconsistent with the messages of strict modesty put forward within Haredi female education. Moreover, some of the female Haredi figures have begun to advance the notion that their functions are not merely vehicles for increasing engagement with Judaism, but actually represent a new empowered model of Orthodox women’s leadership and activism.

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