WINTER 2003/5764


This year, for the first time, the board has decided to return to a previous year’s tzedakah project.  We supported Women of the Wall a number of years ago, and we feel strongly that it’s time to do so again.

For those of you who may not be familiar with WoW, the organization started in 1988 as part of the first ever International Jewish Feminist Conference.  Women attending the conference gathered to pray at the Kotel (the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, considered to be Judaism’s most sacred site).  They were met with immediate hostility, including both physical and verbal assaults.  Despite this, women continued to meet and pray at the Kotel each Rosh Chodesh.  In March 1989 the women took their case to the Israeli Supreme Court.  WoW has been in and out of court ever since.  Despite favorable rulings, the government has refused to implement the Court’s decisions, instead forming commission after commission to “study” the issue.  These commissions have acted as apologists for the ultra-Orthodox, adopting their reasoning and throwing up roadblocks to the enforcement of the Court’s rulings.  WoW continues to fight for its rights, both in the Knesset and in the courts. 

Why is this such a big issue?  After all, there is a women’s section at the Wall.  There have also been many suggestions for other places near the Kotel where the women could pray with tallitot and Torahs.  Why is WoW insisting on praying at this particular spot, with female prayer leaders?

The reasons have to do with the importance of ritual, and thus WoW is an especially appropriate choice for our tzedakah efforts this year.  Much of the ritual creating we do centers on women’s private lifecycle events.  We have felt that childbirth, menopause, becoming a grandmother, and so forth are moments that deserve to be honored, even though our tradition has not done so.  It is important that we engage in such rituals because they help us find ways to connect on a personal level to our Judaism. 

But private rituals are not the only kind that deserves our attention.  Judaism is much more than a collection of individuals.  We are a community, a people-klal Yisrael.  Much of our affirmation of that community is designed to be done publicly, in the presence of our Jewish family.  If women cannot participate fully in this affirmation, we cannot feel ourselves a full part of the community.  And what is it that makes us a people?  It is Torah-our gift from God, our family’s story, our past, present and future.  Torah is God’s part of the brit in which we all joined at Sinai.  Following Torah is our part.  Torah is a living thing, constantly evolving, always responsive to the needs of its people.  We hear Torah calling us to listen, to learn and then to act.  WoW seeks to act in the most fundamentally Jewish way, to pray with the Torah at our ancient and holy site. 

It is crucial that Israel make the public commitment to give women full and equal status as Jews in the public sphere.  Everywhere in the world, women have taken their rightful places in their Jewish communities.  But in Israel, a group of intransigent reactionaries continues to deny us the place God gave to us when we all stood together at Sinai.  The Orthodox in other countries may decide to practice Judaism the way that seems appropriate to them.  But Israel belongs to all of us. It should reflect the consensus of the majority of the worldwide Jewish community.  We must be able to pray publicly as our texts command.  We support Women of the Wall in their ongoing efforts to bring about this reality in Eretz Israel.

If you would like more information on WoW, please visit their website at http://womenofthewall.org/.




On Friday, January 23, we will have a family Shabbat potluck dinner to celebrate Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat. The evening will include a brief Kabbalat Shabbat service.  This all-ages event begins at 6 PM at the LZC.  Please bring a dairy or parve dish to serve 6-8. 


Mark the weekend of February 7-8 on your calendar!  This year’s Women’s Shabbat Service will be held on Saturday, February 7 at 9:30 AM.  The parsha is Beshallach, which deals with the crossing of the Sea of Reeds.  This is a very appropriate parsha because it provides a fitting segue into the exhibition that opens at the JCC the following evening.  The Mikva Project is a traveling exhibition of photographs and interviews, which documents the resurgence of the Jewish rite of immersion in a ritual bath. The opening event features photographer Janice Rubin and writer Leah Lax and a performance by Kol Isha, a local Jewish women’s theater group.  The opening will be held at the JCC at 7 PM.  Both the service and the opening are free and the public is welcome.  We will have a longer article about the Mikva Project in our next newsletter.


Except where noted, all of these events are open to Jewish women bat mitzvah age and above.  Feel free to bring friends!  For more information, please email us or call (412) 422-8044.




SUNY Press has recently published Joining the Sisterhood:  Young Jewish Women Write Their Lives, edited by Tobin Belzer and Julie Pelc. This is a collection of essays and poems that offer insight into what it means to be a young Jewish woman today.  A great benefit of Jewish feminism is the inclusion of teenage girls and young women in almost every aspect of religious and cultural Jewish life. Through poetry and personal essays, Joining the Sisterhood sheds light on the lives of these girls and young women. By writing about their thoughts and experiences, the girls and women in this anthology join the sisterhood of women who bring female voices into our community.

SUNY Press also has a book called Dreaming the Actual: Contemporary Fiction and Poetry by Israeli Women Writers.  Edited by. Miriyam Glazer, the book includes pieces originally written in Hebrew, Russian and Arabic as well as English.  This sounds like a valuable addition to our knowledge about the reality of Israeli women today, especially since the literary work of Israeli women is not well publicized here in the US.

Our friends at the Jewish Women’s Archive have devised a creative way to help us keep our personal historical records.  JWA's Archival Daughter's Box is a 10x13x18-inch acid-free archival-quality box.  It contains a beautiful guidebook that presents ideas for organizing and maintaining a personal archive and tips for creating a family oral history. Also included are acid-free folders and photo sleeves to help preserve artifacts and a blank journal and archival pen to record family stories or personal memories. The Archival Daughter's Box is available for $50 through JWA’s website, www.jwa.org

Jewish Women Watching has done it again! See their site, http://www.jewishwomenwatching.com/actions.html, for their first annual Greasy Latke Awards, highlighting organizations that have “saturat[ed] our community with their greasy behavior”.    As always with JWW, be warned that this is controversial material.

If you have recommendations for this column, please send them along.  We’ll be glad to share them with the JWC membership.




Larissa Myaskovsky and Russell Goldstein announced their engagement on October 30th, 2003. They plan a March 2004 wedding in Los Angeles, where Larissa’s family lives.  Mazel tov to both!…Judith Finkelstein updates us about her various professional activities.  She is funded by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts/National Endowment for the Arts for 10 day Residencies in schools in her five county area around Cambria County, PA (in and around Johnstown).  The residencies allow her to work with kids of all grades to learn about art in depth from the perspective of one artist.  Judith develops a single project in her chosen medium (collage/assembly) for the kids to work with and complete, so as to round out the art experience in a totally experiential way. The residencies can be conducted at any site: schools, senior citizen centers, nursing homes, shelters, etc… This is from Carol Schubert:  As an outgrowth of the Jewish/Muslim dialogue group I'm involved with, I ended up taking a consulting position as project manager for Tobacco Free Communities Initiative.  TFRI is the outreach program to the Asian American community as part of the tobacco settlement funds that came to Allegheny County.  My co-workers on the project are all Bangladeshi (three Muslim and one Hindu), so it's really exciting.  Keep up the good work, Carol!…Malke and Ivan Frank are expecting their first grandchild in early spring of next year.  We look forward to hearing the announcement!…Our condolences go to Barbara Baumann and Howard Aizenstein on the loss of Howard’s grandmother.  This has been a difficult year for Barbara and Howard in this regard, and we hope for less sadness in the upcoming year. 


If you have news about yourself or a family member that you would like to share with the JWC, email it to me anytime, and it will appear in the upcoming newsletter.



In our last issue, we included an article about the upcoming study of women in the rabbinate being conducted by the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement.  The Jewish Chronicle produced a piece surveying the thoughts of local women rabbis, an edited version of which is reproduced here.  This piece appeared on September 18 of 2003.  An editorial comment: take this as you will.  I’d like to hear the discussion these women would have among themselves, wouldn’t you?


Women rabbis feel they are treated as equals

By Stephanie Siegel


Although the largest congregations in Pittsburgh are led by men, female rabbis in the area believe that they are treated as equals to their male colleagues. When it comes to issues such as respect, salary and job competition, Pittsburgh's female rabbis, for the most part, said they did not face discrimination or disparities in favor of men.

Still, some said equality did not come easily.  "I had to earn [respect]," said Rabbi Susan Miller Rheins, religious school principal of Temple David, a Reform congregation in Monroeville. "For many men, they go into a situation and they have respect. It's theirs to lose. I had to prove that I was legitimate."

Women rabbis don't always get the same level of respect, said Rabbi Amy Greenbaum, the only Conservative female rabbi in the Pittsburgh area. "Some people look at men and women rabbis the same, others do not," she said. "But once people get to know women rabbis and see them in a rabbinic role, especially if they take them through a life cycle event, after that point, they give them respect."

"Women in the rabbinate have been an extremely positive influence in the Jewish community," said Greenbaum, who works as the part-time rabbi at Beth Israel Center in Pleasant Hills. She also called herself a "guest rabbi" at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, where she sometimes shares rabbinic duties with her husband, Rabbi Alexander Greenbaum.

"The presence of women rabbis changed the men's rabbinate as well," said Rabbi Sharyn Henry, rabbi/educator at Rodef Shalom. Women brought different concerns and values about family life and success. They wanted a rich family life and questioned whether the biggest congregation meant the best job. "It made a difference in the men's lives."

Balancing work and family, an issue first raised by women, is now a concern for men too. Rabbi Jessica Locketz, formerly an associate rabbi at Rodef Shalom and now an associate rabbi at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in northern Virginia, said she increasingly sees her male colleagues ask for paternity leave in their contracts. "It's the difficulty of juggling the very demanding career with the demands of having time for your family and time for yourself," she said.

For many of Pittsburgh's female rabbis, those demands play a major part in their decisions about what kind of positions they take. "In Pittsburgh, there are a number of women rabbis. They tend to not be in the highest positions," Locketz said. "They have chosen their positions. They are where they are because they wanted to be."

A number of Pittsburgh's female rabbis have left pulpit positions to take jobs that allow them to spend more time at home.

One issue that the R.A. plans to examine in its study is the assumption that men are more likely than women to be hired for posts at the largest and most prestigious congregations, but some female rabbis said the reason may be that women simply don't want those jobs.

"Rabbis don't necessarily want the biggest congregation that there is," Henry said. She first moved to Pittsburgh for a pulpit position at Temple Ohav Shalom, where she led the congregation for six years. But after she got married and had her first child, she wanted to spend more time with her family. "I left because I wanted to have Shabbat dinner with my family," she said. "For two years I baked challah every week for Shabbat."

After leaving Ohav Shalom, Henry taught at Community Day School (CDS) and School of Advanced Jewish Studies (SAJS) for two years before becoming the religious school principal at Rodef Shalom, a position that did not require any pulpit duties. Gradually she has taken on additional responsibilities at Rodef Shalom, and now carries the title rabbi/educator, a position that does include some pulpit responsibilities.

Rheins took a similar career path. She served as an assistant rabbi at a congregation in Rhode Island, the first female congregational rabbi in that state, for two years before having children. After her first child was born and she moved to New York with her husband, Rabbi Richard Rheins, she said a part-time job was all she could find. Once she moved to Pittsburgh, she taught at the Jewish Education Institute and at the Florence Melton Adult Mini School before taking her current position as principal of Temple David's religious school in 1999.

Similarly, Rabbi Stephanie Wolfe is a teacher at CDS, but previously led a Reform congregation. She said fewer women want and apply for positions at large congregations, but the ones who do are equally considered.

Not everyone agrees. Shoshana Kaminsky, rabbi of Beth Samuel Jewish Center in Ambridge, a Reconstructionist congregation, said she thinks men are more likely to get positions at large, prestigious congregations than women.  "In the Reform movement it was big news when a woman was selected at a congregation of 700," she said. "Women work at large congregations, but not generally as the senior rabbi."  Kaminsky doesn't think that congregations purposely discriminate against female rabbis, but "they may subconsciously feel that a man is more fatherly and has the control that they need for a large congregation," she said.

Greenbaum said some discrimination may keep women from getting some jobs. "I do have colleagues that I know from R.A. meetings that are looking for jobs and are qualified women, and they're having trouble," she said.

With the largest congregations often come the largest salaries and while some rabbis believe a salary gap exists between male and female rabbis, most agreed that a more notable salary gap exists between rabbis of small and large congregations. "It tends to be dictated by the size of the synagogue and what they can afford to pay," Locketz said. But that is true for both men and women, most rabbis agreed. "That's the thing about the rabbinate," Rheins said. "It's an equal opportunity career. It's what you make of it."


The article below appeared in the Forward of November 28.  This is an edited version.

Citing 1st Amendment, N.Y. Court Dismisses 'Chained Wife' Appeal

       by  Nathaniel Popper

Reasserting the constitutional right of ecclesiastical tribunals to operate free of governmental oversight, a New York court has dismissed a lawsuit against several rabbis alleging defamation and bribery in the course of an Orthodox divorce proceeding.

The case, which has received intense media coverage in recent years, was brought by Helen Chayie Sieger, a member of the Bobov chasidic sect in Brooklyn. She sued the rabbis handling her divorce proceeding after they issued a rare rabbinic injunction, known as a heter meah rabonim, which released her husband from their marriage without her consent and allowed him to take another wife.

Sieger alleged that her husband, Chaim Sieger, bribed the rabbis in exchange for their issuance of the heter, and that the resulting document defamed her by wrongfully accusing her of breaking numerous rabbinic laws, effectively branding her as irreligious.

The New York ruling has been hailed by several key Orthodox organizations, including the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, which argued that the secular courts have no role to play in monitoring rabbinic tribunals.

Chayie Sieger, backed by Orthodox women's rights activists, counters that in this case and others, the First Amendment is being used to protect corruption in rabbinic divorce courts to which the community has turned a "blind eye." In an interview with the Forward, Sieger declared her intention to appeal the case "to the highest court in the country."

The ruling by the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division — the second-highest court in the state — reversed a decision last January by a New York Supreme Court judge, who had ordered the case to trial. In two concurring opinions, the appellate judges were unanimous in dismissing the case on constitutional grounds. Both opinions agreed that secular review of any religious tribunal would be an "infringement upon a religious community's 'independence from secular control or manipulation.'"

But the majority opinion, signed by four of the five judges, also addressed some of the material facts of the case, concluding that Mrs. Sieger's allegations of bribery were "unsubstantiated and speculative."

The judges' words should prompt serious discussion within the Jewish community, said David Zwiebel, executive vice president for government and public affairs of Agudath Israel, an Orthodox advocacy organization. In light of the vast media attention given to Sieger's bribery allegations, Zwiebel said, "I think these rabbis are owed a tremendous apology." The rabbis' lawyer concurred. "She has spread these false allegations for six years," said Washington attorney Nathan Lewin, a prominent constitutional lawyer, "and now it's finally proved that it is untrue."

Sieger's supporters argued while the majority opinion had dismissed the bribery allegations, the justices had failed to address some of the key evidence in the case. In particular, they noted, the rabbis had been unable to produce the 100 clergymen's signatures required for a heter. The defendants say they threw out the signatures after receiving them and subsequently forgot the names.

In the end, however, the main grounds for dismissal, even in the majority opinion, were constitutional.  Addressing Sieger's allegations of defamation, the four-judge majority ruled that a rabbinic tribunal is guaranteed the right to say whatever it wants in the "discharge of private duty" by the so-called establishment clause of the First Amendment, as long as the rabbis do not act with a specific, malicious intent. The concurring decision, written by Chief Justice Milton Williams, refused to consider any of the merits of Sieger's claims, calling the case "nonjudiciable" on constitutional grounds.

This leaves Sieger with the option of voluntarily leaving the Orthodox fold, but she insisted that she does not want to leave New York's tight-knit Bobov community. "I am an Orthodox person," Sieger said. "I have lived that lifestyle and I have no intention of changing. My religion has not disappointed me. It's just some people of my religion."

Zwiebel cheered the court's decision. "On a broad level we are pleased to see that a secular court sees it appropriate to leave religious matters to religious courts," he said. Rabbi J. David Bleich, a professor of law at Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University in New York, used stronger words in approving the decision. "She had no business being in the Supreme Court even if she was right," Bleich said. "The claims of bribery would have been better taken to a rabbinic court."

Sieger says she would never have taken this case to the secular courts if she had any other option within the rabbinic legal system. Rivka Haut, an Orthodox women's rights activist, said the basic problem that provoked the case is the lack of an appeals process in the rabbinic court system in America. "Jewish law was historically the most compassionate and just," Haut said. "But unfortunately, in America, it's now lagging behind civil courts. When Jews feel they have to appeal to a civil court for redress in a matter of Jewish law, it is tremendously sad. But they have to do it because there is no other way."

Orthodox women's rights activists argue that Sieger's situation is a product of deep structural problems in America's Orthodox rabbinic courts, including the practice of allowing a husband to choose any tribunal that will produce a favorable opinion. An equally problematic issue, activists said, is the standard practice under which the husband pays the rabbis for their services in the issuance of a heter.

Zwiebel agreed that the system is not perfect. "There would be an advantage in having [divorce courts] that are not reliant on the litigants themselves for raising money," he said.

Observers on both sides agreed that the latest decision appears to rule out a role for civil courts as a force for change in the rabbinic legal system. The only workable way to spark reform, most experts say, is for the broader Jewish community to create some sort of appeals mechanism within the rabbinic courts. At the very least, observers said, rabbinic courts should be registered with a recognized communal body and subject to communal oversight. "If you had groups that were communally chosen, you wouldn't have these ad hoc courts that go off and do whatever they want," Bleich said. Orthodox legal experts say there have been numerous discussions about creating some appellate mechanism, but that many rabbis have resisted change. "It's a challenge, and the rabbis need to grapple with it," Zwiebel said.

Change cannot come soon enough, according to Haut, who said that use of the heter has risen sharply, frequently in violation of centuries-old rabbinic procedure.

The chance of reforms being implemented anytime soon is unlikely, according to Rabbi Michael Broyde of Emory Law School, a member of a leading rabbinic court. Referring to the disparate wings of Orthodoxy, Broyde said: "It requires a level of community that we don't have. It requires a commitment from many different communities to accept the common polity of all Jews."


Over the years, the JWC has done many potlucks, and several dishes have gained particular popularity.  Here are two of our favorites, generously shared with us by Mimi Reznik.  Thanks Mimi-but this doesn’t mean that you should stop bringing these to our potlucks!

Spaghetti Casserole


1 lb. regular spaghetti- cooked                          1 med. onion- diced

2 cans tomato soup (regular) combined with 1 can milk- heated

6-8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated                            1 green pepper- diced



Combine all in greased 8 x 12 pan (I like Pyrex because it browns better)

Bake 350 for 1 hr.  Serves 6-8.


Dairy Noodle Kugel


½ lb. fine noodles, cooked                                3 eggs, beaten

1 8 oz. package farmers cheese                        2 tsp vanilla     

12 oz. cream cheese                                         2 cups milk

¾ cup sugar                                                      ½ cup raisins, plumped in boiling water

¾ stick margarine


Cream together in mixer farmer’s cheese, cream cheese and sugar.  Add eggs, vanilla, milk and raisins.  Melt margarine in a 9x13 pan.  Pour in mixture.  Top with ½ stick melted margarine and 1 cup (or to taste) crushed Frosted Flakes.  Bake at 350 for one hour.  Serves 8.



P.O. BOX 81924 Pittsburgh, PA 15217



(412) 422-8044





CALENDAR OF EVENTS FOR  5764/2003-2004



PROGRAM                                         DATE AND TIME                              LOCATION

Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat                           Friday, January 23                                LZC

Family Shabbat Dinner I                       6 PM


Women’s Shabbat Service                    Saturday, February 7                           TBA

Parshat Beshalach                                 9:30 AM


Rosh Chodesh Adar                             Sunday, February 22                            JCC

Mikvah Project Gallery Tour                 10:30 AM


Ta’anit Esther                                       Thursday, March 4                               LZC

                                                            7:30 PM


Rosh Chodesh Nisan                            Monday, March 22                              LZC

                                                            7:30 PM


Women’s Pesach Seder                        Sunday, April 11                                  LZC

                                                            6:30 PM


Rosh Chodesh Iyar                               Wednesday, April 21                            LZC

                                                            7:30 PM


Rosh Chodesh Sivan                             Thursday, May 20                                LZC

Annual Meeting                                    7:30 PM


Rosh Chodesh Tammuz                        Friday, June 18                         LZC

Family Shabbat Dinner II                      6 PM


Rosh Chodesh Elul                               Monday, August 16                              TBA

Women’s Picnic                                   6:30 PM


 *The Labor Zionist Center is located at 6328 Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill.




JWC Board Members


Gayle Abrams                          Ritual/Program/Archive (412) 421-6912

Barbara Baumann                     Membership                             (412) 421-9713

Pat Cluss                                  President                                   (412) 421-2219

Melissa Jones                           Library/Good and Welfare        (412) 799-0132

Lynne Feinberg                         Ritual/Program/Archives           (412) 242-6601

Malke Frank                            Ritual/Program/Archives           (412) 422-8044                     

Elizabeth Gordon                      Publicity                                   (412) 661-5020

Laura Horowitz                        Communications                       (412) 421-2044

Larissa Mysakovsky                 Membership                             (412) 344-8899

Miri Rabinowitz                        Treasurer                                  (412) 241-8131

Julie Newman (ex officio)          Rosh Shira                                 (412) 366-6154




The Jewish Women’s Center is a community of women of all backgrounds that provides educational opportunities and spiritual experiences rooted in Jewish values and feminist ideals.  The JWC is a supportive environment for broadening our knowledge and involvement in Jewish life.  The programs and resources of the JWC create opportunities for Jewish women’s learning, leadership, spiritual growth and ritual practice.












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