The Arev Fund has announced its grantees for the 2020 cycle. This year, the women of the Arev Fund decided to focus on challenges and new opportunities for Modern Orthodox women and girls and to partner with organizations and projects working to support and empower women and girls in the observant Jewish community.
The Arev Fund launched on January 15, 2016 as a giving circle of observant Jewish women with the mission of promoting impactful female Jewish philanthropy to spur change in the areas of spiritual leadership, communal life, social justice, and education in the United States and Israel, with a particular focus on the advancement of women. With this fourth round of grants, Arev continues to move its unique mission forward.
Having funded projects in past cycles that educate women towards spiritual leadership, Arev noted that there are structural challenges both in the political and the social-religious sphere that disempower women and create barriers to their full participation and leadership. They decided to support several projects that uniquely address different aspects of this challenge by elevating women’s halachic voices in the United States and Israel, working to create greater community and participation within women’s advanced Torah learning, and combating forces that push women out of the public realm and citizenship utilizing legal, policy, political and social tools.
In our focus on breaking down barriers to women’s full participation, we funded Chochmat Nashim, an organization that combats extremist positions around the exclusion of women from communal citizenship that have become increasingly influential in Orthodoxy. They work to shift this trend by establishing women’s presence in Orthodox society through various means, including ensuring that images of women and girls are present in religious publications, promoting women’s health as a communal concern, raising women’s voices in Torah scholarship, and incorporating women’s voices in policymaking.
We are also funding The Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women at Bar Ilan University, which exists at the intersection of legal representation, research and reform and works to improve the status of women and end gender discrimination in Israeli society, with a focus on Jewish family law. The Rackman Center utilizes a multi-prong approach to create change through legislative and policy reform, impact litigation, and access to justice through legal aid and pro-bono representation of cases in the rabbinical court system. They also work to promote the appointment of observant women to positions of power in the rabbinic court and religious state systems.
We expanded on our work in this area by funding a project of Itim that seeks to reform two Israeli state policies that impede women’s pursuit of Torah study: a policy of preventing women from taking state exams to certify halachic proficiency, and a policy of refusing to grant women studying in midrashot the same preschool tuition discounts for their children as men studying in yeshivot. Granting women the ability to sit for rabbinic exams will create greater official recognition for women who have attained the highest levels of halachic knowledge. Indeed, many of the institutions we have funded in the past have provided these educations. The lack of financial support for childcare for women studying Torah, which is provided to male students, disincentivizes women from continuing their Torah studies. This project seeks to remove these barriers to enable and incentivize women to continue to pursue ongoing, high-level Torah study.
In our work in building and supporting women’s halachic leadership and community, we funded the Matan Shayla Project, which provides an online English-language platform for women to ask halakhic questions to qualified female halakhic decisors. Through whatsapp, text, email and an online platform, people all over the world have an address for their questions. The resulting teshuvot are published online, enhancing access to high-level teshuvot written by women.
We continue our emphasis on women’s halachic leadership through our support of Deracheha, an online platform in both English and Hebrew which provides female halakhic and philosophical analysis of current issues. The website offers users a layered examination of particular topics, from basic overviews to detailed Jewish legal dissections to philosophical perspectives. It provides access for the entire community to deeply knowledgeable and thoughtful female voices, and seeks to build a bridge to move women’s spiritual leadership from a siloed female space into more public space. This also expands the availability of Modern Orthodox halakhic voices online and fosters community among learners and between the English- and Hebrew-speaking world.
Finally, we funded Hadran, which works to make Talmud study central to the lives of modern Jewish women and girls. Hadran’s signature event will be an unprecedented women’s Siyum HaShas in Jerusalem on January 5, 2020, marking the completion of the Daf Yomi cycle and celebrating the achievements of women studying Talmud around the world. The siyum will draw thousands of participants, be live-streamed to an international audience and will serve as a springboard for an innovative online Talmud resource center for and by women. It unites institutions that promote Talmud study, a number of which have received grants from the Arev Fund in the past, and will inspire the next generation.
Through our selection of this group of grantees this year, we hope to both elevate and celebrate those voices that are strengthening Modern Orthodox female spiritual and torah leadership, and combat those forces that seek to disempower and disenfranchise the voices and experiences of women and girls. We are invigorated by the depth and breadth of innovative entrepreneurial activity taking place in our community, and remain committed to supporting and highlighting that work.
For further information about the Arev Fund and its grantees, please visit Arev’s website at www.arevfund.org.