Historically, women have had little voice in the traditional Jewish narrative. Excluded from the majority of stories, ritual practice, and community as a whole, women have had to work within specific constraints to find and build for themselves a place in Jewish life. Much progress has been made in the last few decades, as modern feminist movements have sought to challenge and reinvent the place of women within Judaism, both through a critical engagement with traditional interpretation and by introducing and expanding the concept of egalitarianism in religious practice, theology, and daily life.
However, women are still seeking their place in an ever changing - yet still somewhat exclusionary - world. Jewish women of all levels of observance are faced with a unique reality: not only must they often grapple with the challenges of being a woman in the secular world, but they are implicitly tasked with carving their own place in their religious communities.
The purpose of the Beyond Esther project, therefore, is twofold.
First, it seeks to respond to the historic lack of female narrative in the canonical Jewish texts, by creating a platform for the voices of Jewish women. Jewish women from all backgrounds and walks of life deserve the opportunity to share their stories, their perspectives, and their values with the broader Jewish community, without necessarily needing to achieve a particular brand of success, education, or power.
Second, it aims to explore and potentially bridge any gap between the academic discourse on Jewish feminism and the reality as it pertains to Jewish women in their daily secular and religious lives. Although the origins of the scholarly Jewish feminism are partially rooted outside of academia, the modern day discourse has become tied to the experiences of highly educated individuals who have the power to set the tone of conversation. Their experiences and ensuing conclusions are not to be dismissed, but neither should they take up so much space that experiences of Jewish women of other backgrounds remain unheard.
Therefore, the project will not only give women the freedom to discuss their lives, their histories, and their opinions, but it will ask them to engage with and respond to various critical academic theories and perspectives.
Beyond Esther is the story of Jewish women, and the story of women in Judaism.