A new movement in Jewish educational circles to include non-male voices in teaching and curriculum has roots right here in Pittsburgh.
The online magazine eJewish Philanthropy ignited a bit of a cultural debate last month when Hillel International educators, writing there, stressed the need to highlight women’s role in Judaic teachings through what they dubbed “The Kranjec Test.”
“What would it look like if we challenged ourselves to build source sheets that include at least one woman’s voice?” began the Sept. 30 article, authored by six Jewish professionals, including Danielle Kranjec, senior Jewish educator for the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh.
“Source sheets are part of the DNA of Jewish learning, and yet too few of them draw from the teaching of Jewish women. When we curate all-male source sheets, we send the message that men have a monopoly on Jewish wisdom. We know that this is not the case. The Kranjec Test is an invitation to reimagine whose wisdom we teach.”
Source sheets started as Torah study tools, and typically include “a stapled packet of papers — maybe two sheets, maybe five — with various biblical verses, Talmudic excerpts, examples of Jewish law and perhaps a snippet of a contemporary essay or a quote,” author Andrew Silow-Carroll explained in an article on the topic, published in New York Jewish Week in 2017.
The Kranjec Test takes its name from the Bechdel Test, which measures whether a work of fiction features at least two women talking to each other about something other than a man, said Kranjec. Last year, she took to social media to question if she was doing enough to include women in her religious teachings at Hillel JUC.
“I was really trying to correct something in an exact fashion because I was frustrated by the lack of non-male voices,” Kranjec told the Chronicle. “I’m not only talking about realizing women’s voices. Beyond that, I want people to look at the writings of Jewish women … and learn them alongside the traditional sources.”
Lauren Cohen Fisher, the associate director of Israel engagement for Hillel International’s Center for Jewish and Israel Education, was one of the authors of the eJewish Philanthropy article on the Kranjec Test. She has been “incredibly excited” by response to the piece, she told the Chronicle.
“Basically, the response I’ve heard from women is, ‘About time! Thank you!’” Fisher said.
It’s important “we have source sheets that show more women’s voices, more gender-inclusive voices,” she added. “One of the advantages is we’re not only teaching more wisdom of women but we’re widening the areas of texts we teach.”
“We feel excited and joyful by a long overdue call to scholars, teachers, and educators to allow their teaching to be shaped by the wisdom of those whose daily lived experiences are not reflected in our community’s patriarchal system,” Rabbi Becky Silverstein and Laynie Soloman wrote in an Oct. 7 response in eJewish Philanthropy to The Kranjec Test article.
Fisher came to Hillel International in Washington D.C. from the Hillel at Harvard University, In her youth in the Boston area, she saw examples of strong, influential women when she attended all-girls schools and summer camps.
“I wouldn’t say I noticed how male-driven our source sheets were until I started looking,” she said. “Then, I couldn’t un-see it.”
Dan Marcus, executive director and CEO of Hillel JUC in Pittsburgh, lauded Kranjec for the attention and responses The Kranjec Test is receiving.
“What I can say is how proud and privileged we are to have Danielle as part of our Hillel team, ensuring there’s a diversity, a multiplicity of voices in our Jewish learning,” Marcus said.
Kranjec, for her part, is modest.
“Obviously, it was enormously gratifying for me that my ideas and my pedagogy was influencing the Hillel movement,” Kranjec told the Chronicle. “To say I’m happy, humbled and proud is an understatement.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.