Long before she became the first female dean of Harvard Law School and the first woman to serve as solicitor general, Ms. Kagan, now a nominee to the Supreme Court, was questioning and testing the boundaries of another institution: her religion.
Feminism had just begun to percolate in Orthodox congregations, though it was starting to transform Conservative Judaism, where in 1972 a group of women founded Ezrat Nashim, which can be translated as women’s section or women’s help, and petitioned Conservative leaders for equality. Girls in Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues, and in a few Conservative ones, were already reading from the Torah during bat mitzvah ceremonies.
“In terms of timing, this was the period when young women coming of age, who had those kinds of expectations for equality and taking leadership positions in the secular world, began to question: Why can’t I do this in the Jewish world?” said Shuly Rubin Schwartz, an associate professor of Jewish history and the dean of List College at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. “What is unusual is that she asked it in an Orthodox institution where that was an unheard-of question at that point.”
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