This blog represents only the opinion of its writers

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Israel on Campus Coalition role in the Zionist network

The Reut institute report about the Delegitimization Network (DN) concludes that it takes a network to fight a network. Therefore, in order to answer the challenge created by the DN, a Zionist network that incorporates supporters of the Jewish people’s right for self-determination should be established. A network is the sum of its hubs and catalysts, and the tasks of the Zionist network stakeholders are to strengthen its hubs and to develop its catalysts. A hub of the Zionist network will provide its stakeholders opportunities better connect, to share information, and to promote their common goals together.

Currently, the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) provides services similar to those of its members, for example Israel advocacy training, the creation of Israel advocacy resource guides, and campus leaders missions to Israel. This overlap derails the ICC from its potential to be the main campus hub because instead of serving its members, the ICC competes with its members over financial resources. The ICC is the natural candidate to become the campus hub for the Zionist network because of its connections with other Jewish agencies, but in order to become the campus hub the ICC will have to change its organizational structure from a coalition into a hub. A hub is not committed to the politics necessary to keep a coalition, instead it is committed to promote programs that support to the Jewish people’s right for self-determination.
As the campus hub of the Zionist network, the ICC's new core functions should be the following:

  • To foster innovation in the field of Israel advocacy on campus
  • To provide communication among the different nods of the Zionist network
  • To provide information about best practice

In order to foster innovation the ICC should become a grant giving organization, providing grants to Israel advocacy on campus. ICC should provide grants to programs that spark positive change in Zionist programming, and grants should be given to successful programs according to predetermined and transparent criteria. The grants should be classified as macro grants and micro grants. Macro grants will be given to organizations and micro grants will be given individuals that promote Israel on campus. The grants should create the financial incentive to be part of this network.

Emulating Darwin's “survival of the fittest,” the core of the new ICC tools for program evaluation should lead to an evolutionary process of Zionist programs on campus. The ICC staff will be able to recognize the active ingredients of successful programs, the ICC website will provide information about best practices, while social media tools can be used to publicize current events. The ICC reputation for fostering innovation and evaluation will allow it to become a quality standards institution for Zionist programs, attracting independent philanthropists and foundation professionals to channel grants through the organization. The successful implementation of the ICC new core functions will position the organization as a hub, connecting nodes passionate about changing the way Israel is presented on campus.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Policies and Implementation Challenges in Israel Towards Conscription of Ultra- Orthodox Men.

The Israeli cabinet recently voted on questions related to conscription of ultra-orthodox. This policy implementation paper provides a chronological analysis of the challenges of developing and implementing policies for ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel.

The State of Israel was created in 1948 in the midst of a war. In that context, the leaders of the Jewish State envisioned a mandatory conscription for the newly created Israel Defense Forces. Throughout the years, while Israel was in a continuous state of war, conscription in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has remained highly valued by the mainstream of the Israeli society. However, a few groups in Israel have been exempt from mandatory military service. This paper will discuss national and civic service policies towards men in the Jewish ultra-orthodox minority in Israel.

In 1948, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, came to an agreement to defer military service to yeshiva (religious seminar) students. Rabbis approached Ben Gurion and pleaded for historic justice based on the fact that an important number of religious scholars perished during the Holocaust . They made the case that Jewish scholarship needed to be rebuilt and mandatory service would interfere with this. Due to this historical precedent and the small size of the group affected, few challenged the decision. In fact that at the time only 400 men were exempted from military service. Those men were not allowed to work until the age of 35 and were to receive a government-subsidized stipend.

The government of Israel, in 1948, introduced the Defense Service law that mandated military service to all men and women reaching the age of eighteen . The legislation authorized the Minister of Defense to exempt and defer service falling in different categories based on different reasons. In that legislation ultra-orthodox men fell in the category of “other reasons. ” For many years, based on that law, draft of ultra-orthodox men was under the discretion of the Ministry of Defense on the basis of attending a religious seminar.

Over the years this policy was little challenged. One government tried to limit the exemption of men deferred and passed quotas but met opposition by the ultra-orthodox faction. In 1977, the Begin government invited the ultra-orthodox party to join its coalition but this party joined on the condition that the quota policy to be revoked . Since 1977, no government has tried to restore quotas on military deferments. In 1980, such deferments reached 10,000.

Israel is a unicameral parliamentary system with party list proportional representation. While Israel does not have a Constitution such system is inscribed in Basic Laws. Such status quo on the number of deferments is explained by the Israeli political system. Since 1977, religious parties have played an increasing role in coalitions and most governments have depended upon the support of religious parties. The failure to challenge this policy despite a growing number of deferments and an increase of protests by secular Jews is certainly explained by coalition making in Israel. From 1977 to 2001 each Israeli government has invited ultra-orthodox to join in coalitions and has not challenged this policy.

The Increasing Role of the Supreme Court: Israel’s Supreme Court has remained up until the nineties very little active in policy making. In Israel, judges are nominated and the judicial branch is independent from the government. However, starting in 1992, the Supreme Court took upon itself a new role. Under the leadership of Aharon Barak (Chief Justice) the Supreme Court did not hesitate to strike down legislations in contradiction with Israel’s Basic Laws. Israel’s Supreme Court adopted a judicially activist approach and slowly moved from interpreting laws to legislate .

Since 1948, few petitioners have challenged the draft policy towards ultra-orthodox through the Supreme Court but the judicial branch refused to intervene and left the matter to the legislative branch. However, in 1998, under the leadership of Aharon Barak the courts ruled that the Ministry of Defense had used excessive authority in the deferments and qualified such policy to be “unreasonable and inequitable. ” The Supreme Court ruled that the Knesset (Israeli parliament) had one year to decide on a more equitable policy or the Minister of Defense will be required to draft ultra-orthodox.

In 1999, Prime Minister Ehud Barak (not to be confused with Aharon Barak) appointed a committee to study the matter to suggest a policy. Seven months later, the committee issued recommendations. It suggested a compromise: ultra-orthodox men would be exempted from military service at the age of eighteen. After four years of religious seminar they would be offered a “year of decision” in which they would legally be allowed to work. Following that year they would have to decide between two options. The first option maintained the status quo and allowed ultra-orthodox men to study at a religious seminar and to be deferred from military service while not being allowed to work until the age of 35. The other option that upset ultra-orthodox factions was the possibility to leave religious seminar and to be allowed to legally work under the condition of serving for one year in the IDF or performing national service full time for a year or part-time for two years while being allowed to work part-time.

While the Ehud Barak government launched a legislative committee in 1999, it did not pass any law in that regard until 2002. Tal’s Law passed with a small margin (51 to 41) . The army however, was quicker to respond to social needs on the ground. A growing number of ultra-orthodox men dropped out of religious seminaries and wanted to join the work force. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, in 1999, the army created an ultra-orthodox unit. The number of ultra-orthodox in that unit was low.

Implementation: the ultra-orthodox parties had mix reactions to Tal’s Law. The Sharon government (2001-2005) relied on a fragile minority and needed the support of religious political parties as well as secular parties who were angered by Tal’s law. Thus, neither the ultra-orthodox parties nor the government wanted to push for implementation of alternative programs in Tal’s law: a civic service program and the expansion of the ultra-orthodox army program. No funding was allocated for a civic service program.

This context was a win-win situation for the government and the ultra-orthodox parties. Since the law passed, the Supreme Court could not challenge the government and political pressure was now off the government. The ultra-orthodox parties could satisfy themselves with a guarantee of deferment for at least five years.

Ultra-orthodox newspapers and rabbis did not publicize the alternative options and the existence of a “year of decision” and seminar students were not aware of such possibilities. Between 2003 and 2006 only 1500 seminar students took advantage of the “year of decision.” Following the “year of decision”, only 150 enlisted in the army and 300 hundred were exempted from the army . 280 requested to perform civic service . The government did not have the will and the capacity to influence the situation. It still did not allocate funds for a civic service and the army was slow in integrating the ultra-orthodox because the cost of the stipend was higher (because of age and family situation) and the absence of structure to integrate such a population.

The implementation of Tal’s Law was further complicated by an amendment that was put through the Ministry of Finance. Ultra-orthodox men in religious seminars had not been authorized to work and the incentive to legally work was an incentive to leave seminaries. To compensate for lower stipends for religious seminary, the government authorized ultra-orthodox to work at night to satisfy ultra-orthodox parties in the coalition . This measure encouraged ultra-orthodox to stay in religious seminaries and Tal’s law was used as a compromise to compensate for the lower stipend now offered.

Further steps towards the implementation of Tal’s Law: the first step towards implementation came after the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General publicly criticized the government for failing to implement Tal’s law policy . In response, the Minister of Defense appointed a committee to plan national-civic service in Israel in 2005 (Ivri Committee) . This commission recommended setting up an authority for national-civic service.

Further, the Supreme Court played once again a key a role, this time by enforcing the implementation of the policy. While it rejected petitions from secular organizations regarding the nature of the draft of ultra-orthodox, the Supreme Court criticized the government for failing to implement the law and failing to institute programs as an alternative to seminar studies . The Supreme Court encouraged cooperation with the ultra-orthodox sector and acknowledged that implementation took time. More importantly, it warned that it would revoke the law if no better results were achieved.

While the Israeli government extended Tal’s law for another 5 years it started to push for implementing a more active policy. In 2007, by executive order the government authorized the creation of a founding team for the creation of an Administration for National Civic Service under the Prime Minister’s Office. An Administration was created in 2008 under the leadership of Dr. Reuven Gal and funds were allocated for creating a civic service program for ultra-orthodox men. Within a year, 600 ultra-orthodox men joined the program and by 2009 approximately 1000 men were volunteering.

Similarly, the army created new programs that better suited ultra-orthodox men. More religious men joined the ranks and benefited from the program. The army today, is still reluctant to absorb all the candidates because of the financial burden (higher stipend, more difficult to train) former religious seminary candidates create. In that context, it has been reported that the number of exemptions from military service based on medical and physical reasons are higher than in other sectors of the Israel society. Furthermore, it has been reported that many ultra-orthodox men have faked suffering from mental disabilities to obtain exemption. Once exempted, they are not mandated to go back to religious studies and are allowed to work legally. The army turns a blind eye on such cases because of the cost of stipend and the importance of motivation for the program to be successful.

The Administration for National-Civic Service adopted a discreet approach in recruiting yeshiva students. Based on the Supreme Court’s encouragement of cooperation with the ultra-orthodox sector and past experiences in the field, the administration did not publicly campaign for civic service within the ultra-orthodox sector. The administration understood that cooperation was key with ultra-orthodox groups and relied on word of mouth to increase the number of volunteers. The success and the number of volunteers were important for the future of the administration since the policy was constantly challenged in the Supreme Court.

In 2009, the number of deferments of ultra-orthodox men reached 54,000 . This trend is likely to grow over the years because of the demographic characteristics of the ultra-orthodox Jews. This is a different situation compared to the 400 ultra-orthodox Jews deferred in 1948. Among all eligible conscripts in Israel, 14% were deferred because they attended religious seminaries . Today, the Israeli government and the Ministry of Finance are driven by the need to have ultra-orthodox part of the workforce. Allowing ultra-orthodox men to work legally and not to be dependent on subsidized stipends relieves the society from a heavy financial burden. The current system reflects the imperfect coexistence of multiple parties with different interests within a Parliamentary system. Coalition making and the role of ultra-orthodox parties are important to understand why such a policy emerges and why implementation can take time a long time to be successful. We note, that the judicial branch, which has become active in policymaking over the last 18 years, has challenged the status quo prevalent for so many years. The threat of judicial intervention has driven policy and implementation of alternative programs to ultra-orthodox men.

Keshet and the Jewish LGBT Sector

This January marks the tenth year of Keshet’s existence on the Jewish organizational scene. Idit Klein and her team have grown the organization over this decade from a one person $35,000 non-profit into a booming national organization with an annual budget of almost $1 million. While this financial growth is impressive, and recognized by many (including the last five issues of the Slingshot Fund), there are many aspects of this organization that have yet to develop. Growth is definitely on the horizon, but in which direction? Where will this organization be in ten years? I venture to explain Keshet’s organizational history and where Keshet’s path is situating it for its future in the landscape of Jewish organizational life.


Still being led by Idit Klein (Keshet’s first executive director), Keshet has the atmosphere and culture of a start-up organization. When the whole staff is present in the office, three dogs are also in attendance. This “bring your dog to work” policy seems to create an atmosphere of openness. Employees with dogs genuinely appreciate the flexibility and Keshet’s internal atmosphere is softened by the puppy-talk in the halls. The staff is also relatively young, all trying their best to save resources. This could be because the general attitude of this area in Jamaica Plain is one of reinventing by reusing and recycling resources. The space itself reflects Keshet’s relative youth, as it is a small office (five work spaces with doors) and five cubicles with one cubicle being rented out to another non-profit organization (GLSEN). The office is located in the Brewery building in Jamaica Plain which situates it as a hip new-age organization, but also means noisy neighbors, tight spaces and loud HVAC.

Even with the atmosphere of a new start up organization, Keshet is on the rise to becoming the national headquarters of Jewish gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender inclusive organizations across the country. Currently 10 staff members are employed by Keshet. They work under their three pronged mission of education, advocacy and programing. This mission means that Keshet creates educational templates and trainings for educators to use in schools. Keshet is also involved in advocacy which means they work towards inclusive policy on the state and national level. Keshet’s community programs include holiday parties, text studies and workshops.

As the small staff is managing these three different fronts, Idit Klein and the Director of Finance and Administration, Rich Feczko, are looking at the organization on a larger scale. This spring Keshet acquired Jewish Mosaic, a center for gender and sexual diversity in Denver, Colorado. Until that point, Keshet had affiliates around the country who relied on support (financial and other resources) from Keshet. Each affiliate contributed their mailing list to Keshet and sold Keshet educational materials to its local community. Each time Keshet would put on an event, such as the annual Cabaret, the affiliates would advertise it and recruit attendees. Rich Feczko describes the relationship between Keshet and its affiliates as a collaborative one, not competitive.

Now that Keshet has a more formal merger with another LGBT inclusive organization, and is moving beyond the affiliate-relationship model, it is beginning to move faster towards becoming an organization with a strong national presence. The board’s make up has changed to reflect the national quality of Keshet, and Idit is in close contact with Gregg Drinkwater, the Executive Director of Jewish Mosaic. She is frequently traveling around the country and is in the process of setting up a new Keshet office on the west coast. Although the Keshet office may look and feel like a start-up organization, its nature and scope have changed drastically over this past decade. As Keshet evolves, it is changing the LGBT inclusive sector with it.

The Sector

The sector of American Jewish organizational life consisting of LGBT inclusive organizations is brand new. Until recently there were college clubs, local organizations and political activists that made up this population of Jewishly active LGBT Jews. Organizations such as Nehirim (2004) and Jewish Mosaic (2003) are very new and together with Keshet they are building the LGBT sector in the modern Jewish organizational landscape. Traditional organizations like synagogues and federations are playing a significant role in funding LGBT inclusive organizations, as well as inviting them into their traditional spaces for programming.

These sprouting LGBT organizations are just now realizing that they are laying the foundation for a brand new organizational sector. In June 2010, the first “LGBT Jewish Movement Building Convening” was held in Berkley California. The convening consisted of four main parts. The first was to gather the leaders of important foundations and organizations to discuss where they want to take the movement in the future. These leaders spent two days collaborating and exchanging ideas on how to best build capacity, and work together on a common agenda. The second part of the conference was focused on the local Bay Area’s needs and capacities, in addition to sharing best practices with the rest of the professionals present. Thirdly the conference convened funders of LGBT organizations and gave them the space to collaborate and discuss strategy. Finally the fourth component of the conference included a public keynote address and shabbat programming.

This historic event was the first public acknowledgment of an American Jewish LGBT organizational movement. It has been a historic time for the sector and Keshet has played a lead role in the transformation of the sector’s growth and status. The convening was organized by Keshet, Jewish Mosaic, Nehirim and NUJLS. Keshet’s role in the national presence and structuring of the LGBT movement is fundamental, and it is not fading.

Looking Forward: Keshet Staffing

Idit Klein has rich experience in entrepreneurship, community organizing and advocacy. She has facilitated Keshet’s growth and national reach in addition to creating a strong presence for the organization in Boston’s local community. In the following phase of Keshet’s development, it is going to be facing different kinds of challenges. Already Keshet has put plans into motion to hire staff in San Francisco, creating an office on the west coast. By the end of 2011 Keshet expects to have a budget of approximately $1.2 million and a staff of 14 people in two offices. With an office on either side of the country, scattered affiliates, and a new merger Keshet has growth and change on its horizon.

In the coming years Keshet will need to become extremely standardized in its procedures. As it expands, in order to maintain quality and control it must have organized methods of handling issues that arise. In October 2010 Keshet transitioned to an online database. This allows affiliates and staff around the country to access and update contacts, event tracking information and organizational information. This means that a new system of quality control and standards must be created and communicated to all people with access to the database. Currently Keshet is in the process of figuring out this transition, and there is no extra staff dedicated to facilitating the transition and regulating the database. The Director of Finance and Administration has been the contact for the database consultant and he has been facilitating training and trying to keep the data in the best format possible.

This is one example of a transition that Keshet is experiencing that seems like a mark of growth, but has not been accompanied by a growth in staff. In the coming years I expect to see additional staff added to the team, regardless of the new direction that Keshet pursues. As Keshet becomes an even bigger player on the national scene for Jewish LGBT organizational life it will need to add a few more positions to its staff structure.

The first addition to the Keshet team will need to be a national administrator. This person would need to regulate the combined database and report to the executive director in order to ensure that she is receiving streamlined information. The staff will also need to see the addition of a marketing and communications director. As the organization spreads out, it is crucial that its brand stay unified and that its mission stays clear. The marketing and communications director would manage a Keshet listserv, website, and marketing materials. When the Director of Finance was asked about possible directions of growth the organization is considering he immediately answered in terms of finances and staff. He confirms that the organization will grow financially by approximately 30% in the next year and staff (administrative and marketing) will increase by 40% as well. One element that Rich Feczko did not assert the need to grow was fundraising and development. I expect that as the donor base grows and more affiliates share donors with Keshet, it will need to hire more than the existing one staff person to manage donors and fundraising.

The final area where Rich Feczko predicts growth in staffing for the organization is in Keshet’s education branch. Education is the area of the organization that has a profit-center aspect to it because it sells trainings and resource materials to educators across the country. In order to better create and distribute these materials, more staff will be added to this department. Currently only one staff member in the organization makes up the education department, and as its reach grows, so too will the staff.

Differentiated Model

As Keshet goes national and really kicks off the start of a new sector in Jewish organizational life it will need to make choices as to how to manage all of its projects. As of now Keshet has one staff member dedicated to each of its missions’ three prongs: education, advocacy and programming. Above I explored the need for future growth of staff structure in each of these departments. Now I further explore what Keshet “branches” may look like in the next 10 years if Keshet decides to differentiate the the three parts of the organization as it manifests itself as a national organization..

Differentiated Model: Education

One option that Keshet has for future structure as it expands is creating an educational brand. By giving its education department a sub-brand of the greater organization it can open up education centers around the country. These centers could have spaces for educator trainings as well as the sale of Keshet educational materials. Local organizations could shop for these resources at these centers and learn about trainings there. National clients could shop online for these materials on the Keshet educational website. These centers could hold screenings of Hineini and even offer courses to be held year-long (such as Torah Queeries etc.) These centers could also provide space for communal LGBT programming, because currently, there is no one space that is designated for Keshet programing. This option would leave the behind-the-scenes work of programing and advocacy in the office, but bring education to the visible front. It would also separate the educational component from the other two facets of the organization.

Differentiated Model: Programming & Advocacy

Expanding on this idea, Keshet has the opportunity to expand its programming and advocacy facets nationally. In order to create a brand for itself and serve the Jewish LGBT community across the country it needs to hire staff members in many major cities. This model could include a community programmer being responsible for Jewish LGBT programming in a certain region. Similarly a couple Keshet advocates could be designated to major cities. They could share ideas with other Keshet advocates and programmers through Keshet programming or advocacy listservs, and receive templates and best practices from the national Keshet office. This way the programming and advocacy is community-tailored but also connected to a larger movement. This is a structure that uses a hub with many affiliate sites and operates similarly to Hillel, JFC or Teach for America.

Federation Model

A second option that Keshet can choose to pursue is a federation style model. Keshet could set up local Keshet branches around the country. This way each community could have a designated organization that addresses the needs of the LGBT community. These Keshet branches would operate independently but would convene annually and be networked through a central national Keshet office. This model would lead to more differentiation and less cohesion. That approach would mean more branding work for Keshet to keep the unified front and the mission clear. Currently, Keshet's model of creating affiliates is similar to the federation model, but affiliates do not take on the Keshet name or mission. The federation model just be an expansion of the current affiliate model. A twist on this model would be for Keshet to be integrated into the different Jewish federations. This way they could benefit from the larger Jewish communities resources and network. Keshet would still be able to work towards its three pronged mission, but its autonomy and cohesiveness may be compromised in this structure.


Keshet has made enormous strides in its organizational reach geographically and financially over its first decade of existence. The sector that Keshet is helping to shape will provide even greater opportunity for the organization than previously available. On the brink of major growth decisions, I predict that Keshet and other LGBT inclusive organizations will choose not to merge with Jewish federations because the risk of losing empowerment, visibility and direction may be too great. Keshet will most likely continue to fund affiliates while building offices around the country. The educational branch in particular has the opportunity to become a significant player in the LGBT organizational scene, possibly supporting each LGBT organization in existance. In the next decade I see Keshet being able to make a presence for itself in major cities across the country. The organization will continue to be a major player in shaping its sector.

Because of its unique and practical three pronged approach, Keshet has a particular advantage in its sector. It offers hope and connection to LGBT Jews on many different fronts. As the organization grows, it must take care to keep that mission in mind and not lose sight of its goals. Funders and stakeholders nationally are realizing that the organization is on the brink of large scale expansion. Keshet is an organization that potential investors should be aware of, because the next decade's opportunities look extremely promising.






Interview: Rich Feczko, Director of Finance and Administration.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

King David’s Leadership: An Analysis Through the Stories of Michal, Bathsheba and Tamar

The biblical story of King David is rich with lessons and templates of leadership that can instruct and guide all who aspire to lead an organization, community, nation or even a family. King David’s complicated and often tragic relationships with women in the story offers the reader an intimate understanding of how the public (monarch, solider, nation-builder) and private (husband, lover, father) David wrestles with his own leadership. The three women who are critical in David’s development as a leader are Michal, Bathsheba and Tamar. Their sub-stories within the larger text of 1 and 2 Samuel, provide nuanced examples of David’s leadership style, process and decisions. These women’s stories do not always portray David as the lauded hero of the Israelites and God, but they are illustrative in understanding how a Jewish historical figure manifests the discourse of who and what makes a successful leader.

Michal, the youngest daughter of King Saul, a political tool for her father and husband, the cast-off wife of King David and the barren woman, is profound in the early development of David’s leadership ability to map out the big picture and align situations for success. The story of David and Michal begins, not with mutual love or passion, but the two are linked by King Saul’s nefarious plan to have David killed by the Philistines.[1] Saul initially offers his eldest daughter to David, but learns that his next born daughter, Michal is in love with David and so he capitalizes on her love for David to lure him into a dangerous situation. Of course, David is successful in completing his side of Saul’s bargain and takes Michal as his wife.

Michal is not given a voice during this particular piece of text, but it is worth imaging how she might interpret David’s leadership style. Here she is, a young woman, silently in love with the handsome and brave warrior, David. She is offered the fulfillment of any princess’ dream -- marriage to a future King of Israel. David is challenged by her father to bring back the foreskins of one hundred Philistines and in return he will receive her hand in marriage. What should be an impossible task, David accomplishes by bringing back double the amount Saul had requested. Michal witnesses the courage and determination of her husband to be. Her presence within the David story may be as a political tool between the two men, but because of her, David is able to demonstrate the ideal qualities that the nations of Israel and Judah will want in their king and leader – bravery and determination.

We next see Michal and David together when Saul has begun his pursuit and campaign to kill David. David returns to his home with Michal to seek refuge.[2] Perhaps knowing that she will provide him with protection from her unstable father, Michal does indeed save David’s life. It is here, when Michal is in total control of the situation, that the reader learns that David is capable of heading direction from another. Michal instructs David of his impending doom, “If you do not get yourself away tonight, tomorrow you’ll be dead.”[3] Being an enterprising character, Michal devises an escape plan for him to follow. David is completely silent throughout the scene and it is apparent that he has the ability to not only lead, but also be led by another. It seems almost fanciful for David to take orders from his wife, but when his life is at stake he knows how to lean on others to help him through an extremely tough time. Michal, however, is not destined to bask in the glory of saving her husband and enjoy a life with him in harmony and peace.

A curiously brief line at the end of chapter 25 in 1 Samuel changes the course of Michal’s relationship with her beloved David. The narrator says, “And Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti son of Laish, who was from Gallim.” It is clear that according to the text that Michal is still David’s wife and yet, she will be living in the home of another man. Directly preceding this line is a recounting of David’s acquisition of two more wives, Abigail and Ahinoam. It is unknown if Michal is aware of David’s marriage to the other women, but regardless, what does his actions (or lack thereof in regards to Michal) signify about his ability to safeguard and protect his constituents. David’s lack of action in this situation is out of character and should concern the reader (and Michal as well) that his focus on priorities can shift without any warning or explanation. The end of chapter 25 effectively displaces Michal from the central narrative surrounding David’s journey to the throne in Jerusalem.

Michal reenters the narrative after David has defeated Saul and established the seat of his kingdom in Jerusalem. Michal is again used as a political tool, this time by David as he requests that she be brought back to him by Abner to ensure his fealty to David. David’s instructions are, “you shall not see my face until you bring Michal daughter of Saul when you come to see my face.”[4] David refers to Michal, not as his wife, but as Saul’s daughter. His abandonment of Michal for all these years has rendered her more Saul’s daughter then his wife. Robert Alter’s commentary on this piece of text interprets that by naming Michal as Saul’s daughter, David is able to claim reign over the tribe of Benjamin – the tribe of King Saul.[5] While David is a deeply political being, it might be possible that there is also a parallel meaning to naming Michal as he did. By defining Michal as Saul’s daughter, David could be omitting his wrong in not reclaiming her from Palti son of Laish. Perhaps he feels that he does not have the right, at this time, to call her his wife since he did not act has her husband. It is a self-aware and compassionate leader that can admit his/her errors.

Michal’s final contribution to understanding the leadership of David, comes at a joyous moment in the narrative. Michal has been returned to the house of David in Jerusalem and is waiting for David to arrive. David makes his way into the city by leading a procession to honor and celebrate the return of the Ark of the Lord to the City of David.[6] David is out among his people in celebration and is described as, “leaping and whirling before the Lord,” through the eyes of Michal. Michal, so embittered by her years of abandonment and neglect by David, confronts him in public. In the only dialogue between David and Michal, Michal accuses David of improper behavior (exposing himself to his people) and chastises him for not being kingly in public view of his people. David responds that he is the chosen king of Israel and only he can judge when his behavior is improper. Michal has only known how a king behaves through observing her father, King Saul. David has had an entirely different path to kingship and this moment of tension between the two characters evidences that David plans to be quite a different king than Saul. David sees himself as one of the people and is comfortable leaping and whirling with them in celebration. Michal perceives David as a spectacle to be scorned, when it is possible that he is exhibiting a style of democratic leadership previously unknown to her.[7] This scene bears witness to the transformation of David from a warrior to a king.

David enters a new era of kingship when his soldiers implore him to stay at home as his life is too valuable to risk on the battlefield. David heeds their concerns and remains back in the City of David while his army goes off to battle.[8] He struggles with this new responsibility of leadership, as it is evident in his dealings with the woman, Bathsheba.

The narrator of the David and Bathsheba episode, the famous love story, uses quick precise language to document the actions of King David. Early one evening as David arises from bed (infer a afternoon nap) he happens to see a lovely women bathing atop a roof. He then, “sent messengers and fetched her and she came to him and he lay with her…and she returned to her house.”[9] This quick, almost militaristic account of David’s sexual encounter with Bathsheba reveals a David not yet seen in the narrative. His decisions, while not always predictable, usually seem to be well throughout and rooted with intention. Here David acts like a child seeing something he wants and taking it without thinking of his actions and the consequences. Bathsheba, in this initial encounter has no voice and the reader is left to ponder what she must be thinking about David, the man and the king.

The text quickly reveals that Bathsheba is pregnant and David is forced to confront his own misdeeds. David could have taken the steps to admit his wrongdoing and somehow make amends to both Bathsheba and Uriah, her husband and an elite warrior in David’s army. However, he chooses to capitalize on his power as king and send Uriah to his death during battle. Not only are his actions harmful to Bathsheba and Uriah, David’s actions put his personal interests above the national interests, potentially endangering the entire nation of Israel. It is clear that David once so focused and intent on establishing and building the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, is floundering in his role as a sitting monarch. It would seem that King David is in need of an “executive coach” or an advisor.

God, absent from the text during this episode, reappears at the conclusion to cast judgment and pronounce David’s actions as evil. Because all leaders stumble at some point and need help in setting a new course, God sends Nathan the prophet to the house of David. Bathsheba has become David’s wife and has borne him a son. Nathan brings the warning that while God will not kill David for his offense, he will discipline him by taking from him his newborn son.[10] Yet again, Bathsheba does not have an active voice in lamenting the loss of her son nor able to cast blame on David. However, it is interesting to note that the text does not have Bathsheba absolve David for his part in the death of her son either. Bathsheba could have eased his guilt, but instead allows him to bear the full brunt of responsibility. The death of his son eventually catapults David back onto the battlefield where he feels most comfortable and is able to best serve his people.

Bathsheba bears David another son, named Solomon. Her story is not yet complete. She will play a pivotal role in establishing Solomon as David’s heir and shaping the leadership of yet another biblical figure. In the meantime, however, David’s adult children are in need of his leadership and guidance.

The story of Tamar, daughter of King David, is explicit in its leadership lesson: people are always watching their leader and using their leader’s behavior as a model for their own. Tamar’s half brother, Amnon is infatuated with her and lusts to have her. Through a scheme using David as a messenger (much like David used Uriah) Amnon lures Tamar to his bedside and rapes her. Before Amnon sexually assaults her, Tamar pleads with him to, “speak, pray, to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.”[11] This plea indicates that Tamar views her father as a leader who is (or perhaps once was in days past) able to be flexible and judicial given the context and circumstances of the situation. Unfortunately, for Tamar, her faith in David is misplaced.

After being brutalized by her half-brother, Tamar is cast out of his chambers and is left to lament the injustice inflicted upon her in isolation. Neither her full brother, Absalom, nor her father, King David, stand up to right the wrong that was done to her. The text relates that King David, “had heard all these things, and he was greatly incensed,” but it does not describe him consoling Tamar nor meting out judgment on his son.[12] This episode in David’s life is horrific. It unveils that his progeny is debased as well as his own glaring blind spots when it comes to his sons. David’s lack of leadership, for which he should have taken control of the situation, acutely signifies that his time as an effective king has come to an end.

Tamar’s brutal and unfortunate story brings to the forefront of the text a picture of David that is less than kingly. It is unknown if David is aware of his part in Amnon’s plan to rape Tamar and it is certainly not stated that he feels anything about Amnon’s actions beyond being “greatly incensed.” The reader must ask: Where is the David that used cunning and strategy to kill the giant Goliath; where is the David that changed the course of Israelite history by building the City of David and rooting his people to the land as they had never been before; and where is the David that continued to respect the aging and senile King Saul even though he knew he was God’s chosen one?

The biblical text of 1 and 2 Samuel presents readers with the life and story of King David. Here the writers and canonizers of ancient Jewish texts are able to discuss and portray different leadership styles and qualities. King David’s life, as it is told through Michal, Bathsheba and Tamar, unfolds as a laboratory for testing out theories and ideas on how one might be a successful or unsuccessful as a leader. David is God’s chosen one to lead the Israelite people through the leadership position of king and it becomes apparent to any reader that God chooses people who are imperfect. David, it turns out, has difficulty in sustaining his position of leadership throughout the duration of his life. As a warrior, strategy, planning, collaboration and bravery characterize his leadership. Yet, when his success as a warrior positions him to be king, he is unable to leverage his previous experience to maintain that same level of accomplishment. His family is in disarray, he uses national interests for personal gain and innocent people are collateral damage for his erratic behavior. This beautifully written text communicates the message that a leader must always be self-aware and see the connections between their thoughts and actions and what is best for his or her people. When this is not the case, the leader is doomed and his/her people will suffer the consequences.

[1] 1 Samuel 18: 25 – 30.

[2] 1 Samuel 19: 8 – 17.

[3] 1 Samuel 19: 11.

[4] 2 Samuel 3: 13.

[5] Alter, Robert. The David Story. New York: WW Norton & Company, 1999. 210-11.

[6] 2 Samuel 6: 12 – 13.

[7] Reimer, Joseph. Class discussion. HRNS 304F. Brandeis University, Waltham, MA. 19 July 2010.

[8] 2 Samuel 11: 1 – 2.

[9] 2 Samuel 11: 4.

[10] 2 Samuel 12: 14.

[11] 2 Samuel 13: 13.

[12] 2 Samuel 13: 21.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Masculine and Jewish? A Critical Theory Critique of Male Flight from the Jewish Community

Jimmy Taber
Masters of Business Administration 2011
The Heller School for Social Policy and Management
MA in Jewish Professional Leadership 2011
Hornstein School for Jewish Professional Leadership
Brandeis University

“As I reflect on my coming of age in New Jersey, I realize that I had always been in some sense more of a ‘girl’ than a ‘boy.’…I didn’t think of myself so much as girlish but rather as Jewish…I start with what I think is a widespread sensibility that being Jewish in our culture renders a boy effeminate. Rather than producing in me a desire to ‘pass’ and to become a ‘man,’ this sensibility resulted in my desire to remain a Jew, where being a sissy was alright.”[1]

-Daniel Boyarin

Unheroic Conduct

The recent recognition of a gender imbalance in American Jewish communal life has sparked a panic within the community. According to Sylvia Fishman and Daniel Parmer, the American Jewish community has become “feminized,” driving men from organized communal participation.[2] Widespread efforts to reincorporate men into communal life have ensued. While well intentioned, current attempts to specifically involve men in the Jewish community are misguided as they serve to reify dominant gender power structures that undermine Jewishness as a positive masculine identity. Instead of seeking to validate white masculinity, a fundamental shift in Jewish male self understanding is required in order for Jewishness to be realized as a viable challenge to the dominant society’s patriarchy.

The Feminization of Jewishness

Prior to Jewish emancipation, Jewish masculinity was constructed within the context of the isolated Jewish community. As Melissa Raphael notes, “Jewish masculinity is not traditionally defined economically by a man’s being the main bread-winner or by macho physical prowess but by the prestige of his religious scholarship.”[3] While this understanding of masculinity stands in stark contrast to dominant masculine ideals, it did not conflict with Jewish males’ self conception because Jews were largely isolated from dominant European society. Jewish men could be both fully male and Jewish within the context of the Jewish community.

Following Jewish emancipation, the dominant European discourse’s application of feminine qualities to Jewish men began to become problematic as Jewish men were presented with the opportunity to assimilate and participate fully in greater European society. Judith Butler notes, “Becoming a man…requires a repudiation of femininity.”[4] For Jewish men this formula proved problematic as Jewish male identity had historically been constructed by the dominant gender discourse as feminine and thus incompatible and even antithetical to normative white masculinity. Otto Weininger’s study of male and female difference published just before his suicide in 1903 entitled Sex and Character exemplifies the conflation of Jewish and female identity in dominant European discourse.[5] As Sander Gilman explains, “Central to Weininger’s study of the relationship between the masculine and the feminine is the dichotomy between the Jew and the Aryan… (he) simply extended the category of the feminine to the Jew.”[6] Identifying Jews with women served to reify the Jew’s position as subordinate within both European racial and gender hierarchies. Intertwining Jewish racial and gender identities made it impossible for Jewish men to become full males in the European context and remain Jewish.

In traditional pre-emancipation Jewish communities, men were primarily responsible for communal continuity through the transmission of religious tradition through textual learning. As Jewish men sought to become members of the dominant European society they were “forced” to disassociate themselves from their Jewishness. Thus, the responsibility for Jewish continuity shifted to Jewish women. Paula Hyman writes, “Western Jewish communities adopted the dominant middle-class view that women were responsible for inculcating moral and religious consciousness in their children and within the home more generally. According to this view, women were the primary factor in the formation of their children’s Jewish identity.”[7] This shift of responsibility from men to women freed Jewish men to shed their Jewishness in favor of full male identities within the dominant society. Outside of Orthodox communities, traditional models of Jewish masculinity were widely abandoned in favor of assimilation.

Contemporary Understandings of Men’s Absence from Jewish Life and Efforts to Reengage Men

The lack of male participation in contemporary Jewish communal life is well documented, especially among the liberal denominations. In 2007, it was noted that within the Reform movement only 22-43% of youth group participants were boys and 33% of rabbinic students at Hebrew Union College were men.[8] Fishman and Parmer write, “Nationally, girls and women outnumber men in weekly non-Orthodox worship services, in adult education classes, in volunteer leadership positions, and in Jewish cultural events.”[9] Concern about the absence of men in organized Jewish life has become an issue of widespread communal concern.

Instead of pointing to the historical abandonment of Jewishness by Jewish men as outlined above, the lack of men in Jewish communal life is often understood to be the result of the increased role of women. Fishman and Parmer summarize this perspective as follows:

When it comes to gender equality or gender balance, contemporary American Jewish life is caught between a rock and a hard place: Traditional public Judaism was and is dominated by men, while contemporary liberal American Judaism, although supposedly egalitarian, is visibly and substantially feminized. Jewish activities from the broad grassroots to the elite echelons of liberal Jewish religious leadership have become devalued, a typical result of feminization.[10]

While Fishman and Parmer are correct that Jewish leadership and participation has “become devalued,” it is not a result of the increased participation of women, but the shift of responsibility for Jewish continuity to women and subsequent male abandonment of Jewishness in favor of dominant masculinity.

Current efforts to attract Jewish men to the organized Jewish community have focused on appealing to men’s sense of dominant masculinity. There has been a proliferation of programs exemplified by the Lincoln Park Jewish Center’s Cigar, Scotch, and Torah Group that specifically target men with the implicit assumption that Jewishness itself is not enough of an attraction.[11] By infusing elements constructed as exclusively masculine, such as cigars and scotch, the Jewish community is attempting to create a synthesis of Jewishness and masculinity that will root men in Jewish communal life. The idea is that men will initially come for the masculine “fun” and then come back for the meaning that Jewishness offers. This approach is problematic as it fails to recognize the fundamental incongruence between Jewishness and dominant masculinity.

Similarly, Moving Traditions’ Campaign for Jewish Boys represents a national effort to engage young boys in Jewish life. In the pilot stage, the program “seeks to reverse boys’ mass exit from and dissatisfaction with Jewish life.”[12] This program also utilizes dominant models of masculinity for engagement providing “content that…gives boys the opportunity to explore issues they care about, such as friendship, sex, power, money, and work.”[13] This approach is bound to reap limited success due to the flawed assumption that the flight from Jewishness can be stemmed by infusing dominant masculinity. As long as masculinity is constructed in opposition to the femininity of Jewishness, the two identities are mostly mutually exclusive.

Fishman and Parmer‘s research findings exemplify the Jewish community’s problematic approach to attracting men. They write, “Synagogues and Jewish communal organizations need to find ways to balance the moral principles of egalitarianism with the psycho-social needs of boys and men to spend meaningful Jewish time in gendered peer groups.”[14] Egalitarianism is not the root of the problem. Men are not uncomfortable with Jewishness because of the prominence of women in communal life. Jewishness as an identity is incompatible with dominant forms of masculinity. Consequently, “gendered peer groups” do not serve to address the root causes of the problem.

A Critique of Current Approaches and Recommendations

Current communal efforts to attract men to the organized Jewish community do not provide effective ways for Jewish men to build Jewish male identities because of the failure to create an explicitly Jewish alternative to dominant masculinity. If ethnic or racial Jewish identity is understood as inherently feminine, it is fundamentally incompatible with dominant masculinity. Thus, attempts to synthesize dominant masculinity and Jewish identity are bound to attain only marginal success. If, as Judith Butler argues, “Masculine and feminine are not dispositions…but accomplishments,”[15] the Jewish male’s abandonment of Jewishness can be viewed within the context of an active attainment of dominant masculinity. The question remains: What is meaningful about Jewish identity? Masculinity offers men a privileged position within a gendered society. Power and control are inherent within this identity. In order for men to abandon the privileges of masculinity, Jewishness must offer something compelling in return.

Examples of the Jewish community seeking to construct alternative Jewish male identities do not exist on a widespread programmatic level, but glimpses of the power of embracing Jewishness as a challenge to masculinity exist within the Jewish community’s current efforts to attract men. While the Campaign for Jewish Boys’ curriculum focuses on utilizing dominant masculinity to engage Jewish boys, the organization has recognized, consciously or not, that boys who value their Jewishness are drawn to this identity through and alternative gender discourse.[16] Moving Traditions found in its 2007 focus groups found that for “’Jewishly-affirming’ teenage boys…Judaism provides some boys with resilience, an ‘alternative’ masculinity, and an opportunity to express a sense of self.”[17] Jewish boys recognize that this “alternative masculinity” provides meaning. Instead of attempting to reinscribe dominant constructions of masculinity, the Campaign for Jewish Boys specifically, and the Jewish community generally, should embrace Jewishness as an ethno-gender identity.

Ultimately, it is up to Jewish community as a whole and Jewish men as individuals to reevaluate the significance and value of dominant masculinity. Absent this self reflection, the current efforts of the Jewish community to attract men will only serve to reify the troubling gender power structures that have provided the impetus for Jewish men’s abandonment of Jewishness. As long as dominant masculine identity is privileged over Jewishness, Jewish men will largely remain wary of “coming out” Jewish. Jewish communal efforts should focus on illustrating the value and meaning of Jewishness as an identity in order to create a more complete community.


Boyarin, Daniel. Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the

Jewish Man. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Butler, Judith. “Melancholy Gender/Refused Identification.” In Constructing Masculinity,

edited by Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, and Simon Watson. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Fishman, Sylvia Barack and Daniel Parmer. Matrilineal Ascent/Patrilineal Descent: The Gender

Imbalance in American Jewish Life. Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2008.

Gilman, Sander L. “Otto Weininger and Sigmund Freud: Race and Gender in the Shaping of

Psychoanalysis.” In Jews & Gender: Responses to Otto Weininger, edited by Nancy

Anne Harrowitz. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

Hyman, Paula E. Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and

Representation of Women. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995.

Lincoln Park Jewish Center.


Lincoln Park Jewish Center. “Ode to Lincoln Park Jewish Center Cigar and Torah Night.”



Moving Traditions. “Campaign for Jewish Boys.”



Raphael, Melissa. “Standing at a Demythologized Sinai? Reading Jewish Feminist Theology

Through the Critical Lens of Radical Orthodoxy.” In Interpreting the Postmodern:

Responses to “Radical Orthodoxy,” edited by Rosemary Radford Ruether and Marion

Grau. New York: T & T Clark International, 1999.

Shapiro, Rona. “The ‘Boy Crisis’ that Cried Wolf.” The Forward. January 5, 2007.

Weininger, Otto. Sex and Character. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907.

[1] Daniel Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 3.

[2] Sylvia Barack Fishman and Daniel Parmer, Matrilineal Ascent/Patrilineal Descent: The Gender Imbalance in American Jewish Life (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2008).

[3] Melissa Raphael, “Standing at a Demythologized Sinai? Reading Jewish Feminist Theology Through the Critical Lens of Radical Orthodoxy,” in Interpreting the Postmodern: Responses to “Radical Orthodoxy,” ed. Rosemary Radford Ruether and Marion Grau (New York: T & T Clark International, 1999), 203.

[4] Judith Butler, “Melancholy Gender/Refused Identification,” in Constructing Masculinity, ed. Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, and Simon Watson (New York: Routledge, 1995), 26.

[5] Otto Weininger, Sex and Character, (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907).

[6] Sander L. Gilman, “Otto Weininger and Sigmund Freud: Race and Gender in the Shaping of Psychoanalysis,” in Jews & Gender: Responses to Otto Weininger, ed. Nancy Anne Harrowitz (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995), 104.

[7] Paula E. Hyman, Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representation of Women (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 24.

[8] Rona Shapiro, “The ‘Boy Crisis’ that Cried Wolf,” The Forward, January 5, 2007.

[9] Fishman and Parmer, 1.

[10] Fishman and Parmer, 1-2.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Fishman and Parmer, 77.

[15] Butler, 24.

[17] Ibid.