Jewish Radical Feminism
Fifty years after the start of the women’s liberation movement, a book that at last illuminates the profound impact Jewishness and second-wave feminism had on each other.
Jewish women were undeniably instrumental in shaping the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Yet historians and participants themselves have overlooked their contributions as Jews. This has left many vital questions unasked and unanswered—until now. Delving into archival sources and conducting extensive interviews with these fierce pioneers, Joyce Antler has at last broken the silence about the confluence of feminism and Jewish identity.
Antler’s exhilarating new book features dozens of compelling biographical narratives that reveal the struggles and achievements of Jewish radical feminists in Chicago, New York and Boston, as well as those who participated in the later, self-consciously identified Jewish feminist movement that fought gender inequities in Jewish religious and secular life. Disproportionately represented in the movement, Jewish women’s liberationists helped to provide theories and models for radical action that were used throughout the United States and abroad. Their articles and books became classics of the movement and led to new initiatives in academia, politics, and grassroots organizing. Other Jewish-identified feminists brought the women’s movement to the Jewish mainstream and Jewish feminism to the Left. For many of these women, feminism in fact served as a “portal” into Judaism.
Recovering this deeply hidden history, Jewish Radical Feminism places Jewish women’s activism at the center of feminist and Jewish narratives. The stories of over forty women’s liberationists and identified Jewish feminists—from Shulamith Firestone and Susan Brownmiller to Rabbis Laura Geller and Rebecca Alpert—illustrate how women’s liberation and Jewish feminism unfolded over the course of the lives of an extraordinary cohort of women, profoundly influencing the social, political, and religious revolutions of our era.
"The most profound reason Jewish Radical Feminism should be widely read is that it puts many current disputes about gender and Jewish identity into long perspective.”
"It’s reassuring to learn how these iconic women navigated their own struggles with multiple identities in their own time, and to recognize the tremendous contributions they made, even from outside the mainstream."
"From consciousness-raising groups, to health collectives, to militant lesbians and women standing up to religious patriarchy, historian Antler spends time with the dozens of Jewish personalities of radical feminist movements—women who challenged the structure of society far beyond the reach of laws."
"Jewish women were a major force in second wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s. [Antler] illuminates this previously underappreciated history and draws clear parallels to forces shaping contemporary political and social movements . . . A critical volume for feminist Jews to understand the past and a useful primary source for historians of feminism and Judaism.
"The role of Jewish women in the feminist struggle was never fully explained. Jewish Radical Feminism fills this gap both in the history of modern Judaism and feminism. This valuable study is a tribute to the struggle of these pioneer Jewish feminists."
—Washington Book Review
"Joyce Antler provocatively explores the special qualities of being Jewish and Feminist in the 1960s and 70s. She cogently unwinds the personal stories of leading activists to trace how intertwined identities produced powerful political consequences. This enjoyable and illuminating book will encourage readers to probe their own complicated heritages."
—Alice Kessler-Harris, author of A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman
"This is an utterly absorbing and valuable book. Having the insight and courage to probe many questions unasked before, and not trying to press the answers into a simple story or a single model, Antler succeeds beautifully in illuminating the underrecognized ways in which feminist convictions have been related to Jewishness. Her oral interviews with scores of women having differing levels of Jewish attachment provide the book’s mainspring, and supply original perspectives on matters from the 1960s New Left to the 1980s World Conferences on Women."
—Nancy F. Cott, author of The Grounding of Modern Feminism
"A captivating and timely new book... that brings to light, for the first time, the ways in which feminist trailblazers were influenced by their divergent and often unspoken Jewish backgrounds"
—The Jewish Telegraphic Agency
"Compelling, original, and urgent reexamination of the past . . . Reading Jewish Radical Feminism feels like witnessing a collective in the making. Those deeply committed to understanding, learning from, and building on the vital social and civil rights movements of the past would do well to invest in this captivating history."