The Legacy of Dafna Meir - an Orthodox Feminist Who Was Murdered Before Her Time

Knowledgeable and generous in describing the Orthodox approach, Dafna Meir presented her egalitarian and feminist position without being coercive or judgmental.

The husband and children of Dafna Meir mourn near her body during her funeral ceremony in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Otniel, January 18, 2016.
Reuters

Dafna Meir, who was murdered in Otniel, was a trailblazer in Orthodox Judaism in areas such as fertility, sexuality and female awareness. Her approach was scientific, inquisitive, comparative. She presented the range of diversity within Orthodox halakha, religious law, allowing for the option of not requesting a rabbi’s opinion, and she was feminist, nonjudgmental and open.

She was in favor of open dialogue with children about life and sexuality, and had an unconventional take on education. She served as a “purity examiner,” upholding the laws governing ritual purity and the prohibition against sex during menstruation, known as niddah, even though she saw the invasive practices this involved as a means to weaken women. She simply believed that as long as it was done, it was better that she be the one to do it. Her approach was unique and independent, and the advice she gave was devoid of a sense of hierarchy. In her writings she left illuminating words that rejected male dominance and sought paths that were independent, pleasurable and open.

The way Meir dispensed advice to the women who read her blogs is thrilling. She knowledgably and generously described the Orthodox approach, and presented her egalitarian and feminist position without being coercive or judgmental.

The victim of a January 2016 stabbing attack: Dafna Meir, 39, a mother of six from Otniel.
Courtesy

Thus, for example, she clarified that the “seven clean days” of continued separation that an Orthodox couple observes after the woman’s period ends is a stringent interpretation of the halakha. She hinted to the writer that if she wanted to follow the letter of the Bible and to simply count seven days from the first day of her period, no rabbi would sanction it but no one knows when she goes to the mikveh (ritual purification bath, after which sexual relations can resume), and a married couple’s religious observance is a private matter.

It was in this accepting and nonjudgmental fashion that Meir addressed every personal issue — even with regard to when rabbis are strict and when they are lenient in their rulings — always in favor of female independence and pleasure, and with a feminist perspective. For example, Meir held that part of the training given to female nurses was meant to exercise their “submission-to-men muscle.”

Societies, like individuals, are not aware of the changes they undergo. Unlike most aspects of Judaism and Zionism, which elevate life and choosing life, Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bows down before a cult of death. Just as the Holocaust trips to Poland and Germany in high school focus on the Nazi death camps and not on the lives of Einstein, Freud or Kafka, so it is with everything. Thus our cabinet ministers, beginning with Netanyahu, embraced the Meir family but ignored Ilana Cohen of Holon, who was murdered by her ex-husband the same day that Meir was stabbed to death. They try to appropriate death for themselves.

But Meir’s life and her writings resist appropriation. Both despite and because being a purity examiner, Meir emphasized her belief that in all cultures that try to appropriate the vagina and turn it into public property, the status of women is reduced. The desire for freedom, feminism, equality and pleasure — a desire that grapples with and challenges the boundaries of Orthodox Jewish law — and the wisdom that gushes from Meir and her revolutionary colleagues at the Orthodox Jewish feminist organization Kolech and from other streams, can and must flow within the borders of the State of Israel.

Under Netanyahu Israel has become fractious: “The left has forgotten what it is to be Jews,” “The Tel Aviv bubble,” “the settlements.” But people are people. And the yearning for freedom of choice and pleasure exists in Otniel, Ramallah, Nazareth, Tel Aviv and Jaffa. It the responsibility of the leadership to set borders that can contain civil equality and cultural diversity, borders based on the foundations that were at the root of Meir’s writings on freedom, choice and equality — the same elements that are being eliminated by the Netanyahu regime.