Empowerment and Internal Struggle: An Exploration of the Women's Tefillah Group Movement in Los Angeles
By Elenna King
On the heels of religious feminism of the 1970’s, women’s tefillah groups have been creating safe and empowering spaces for Orthodox women to take on more participatory roles within Jewish ritual practice for the last few decades. Employing a format similar to that of a traditional Orthodox service, women have the opportunity to layn Torah and lead the davening, which are not commonly available for Orthodox women. This movement has grown within several Modern Orthodox communities, the majority of which are on the east coast and only one group in California, located in Los Angeles.
Using ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews, this thesis explores a new area of research within this topic, focusing on the presence of women’s tefillah groups on the west coast. While many Orthodox leaders in the Los Angeles community were openly opposed to the group’s forming about fourteen years ago, the group has become more commonly accepted today. However, this has led the group to a crossroads for defining itself, understanding its role and the future of the group within the community. Through my research there is clear evidence that the group’s active participants are committed to the continued success of the group, especially for the education and religious opportunities of future generations of Orthodox girls, though many find it personally uninspiring. Additionally, the women who were interviewed all possessed a level of self-awareness in their choice to embrace an Orthodox lifestyle and the feminist ideological complexities that often accompany it. Recommendations are made for participants of this women’s tefillah group to strengthen their identity through this transitional period and to participants of other social movements who can learn from the example this group has shown as a social movement within the course of Jewish history.
Coverage: Los Angeles, California
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King, Elenna. Empowerment and Internal Struggle: An Exploration of the Women's Tefillah Group Movement in Los Angeles. HUC-JIR School of Jewish Nonprofit Management (formerly School of Jewish Communal Service) Masters Theses. Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). April 2012: http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=14161
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