At the end of Chapter 24, when Yitzchak meets Rivkah, marries her and bring her into “Sarah’s tent”, Rashi pace Bereishis Rabbah notes:
"While Sarah was living, a light had been burning in the tent from one Sabbath eve to the next, there was always a blessing in the dough (a miraculous increase) and a cloud was always hanging over the tent (as a divine protection), but since her death all these had stopped. However, when Rebecca came, they reappeared” (GR 60:16)
The literature is replete with the significance of Sarah’s tent, just even with regard the basics. Two weeks ago, Rashi on 12:8—where אָהֳלֹ֑ה is written in the feminine but read in the masculine—notes that Avraham made sure Sarah’s tent was pitched first; last week, when the angels-as-guests inquire after Sarah (18:9) and are told הִנֵּ֥ה בָאֹֽהֶל, Avraham—who doesn’t know yet of the Heavenly provenance of his guests, to the point that he assumes they are idolaters—gives this reply to set boundaries: unlike the standard protocols of hospitality at that time, he was making it clear that his wife was off limits.
Yet R’ Soloveichik [in “Family Redeemed”] posits that the angels were asking: “Where is she? Why do people not know the truth? Why does she mot march in front of you? Why has she been trailing behind you?” While Avrahams answer of “in the tent” is supposed to speak to the role she plays which is yet unnoticed to all but those sensitive enough to perceive it, the fact that the question issues from the angels indicates that, while Avraham’s answer about self effacement remains salient, one still has to contend with the fact that the world remains insensitive to both the role being played and the perceived passivity.
The continuity symbolized by the Rivkah in Sarah’s tent, in conjunction with the more visibly proactive role Rivkah takes, at least just from the text—most particularly, her meeting with Shem about her pregnancy, her directives to Yaakov about the brachos, and then engineering his escape while influencing Yitzchak to bless the journey on a need-to-know basis. These might indicate that the theoretical offstage, “modest” role that Sarah played wouldn’t always provide the paradigmatic modus operandi for Jewish female spirituality. In fact, it might provide a model for what is called “Orthodox feminism”.
However, that story was told to tell this one: the “tents” paradigm that argues for Orthodox feminism at the same time would forcefully argue against the trend in some streams of Orthodoxy towards the adoption of social justice tenets as defined by intersectional prerogatives. The main reason for this is very simple and straightforward: one movement is about participation within the tent; like Rivkah assuming the mantle from Sarah, it’s a family matter. The other redefines our overall mission with regard to those outside the tent.
While one can certainly argue that on occasion there have been unnecessary and even counterproductive external dealings between “us” and “them”—not to mention those which are truly religiously inappropriate, even if sanctioned by ostensible religious authorities—the premise that notions of “tikkun olam” not only take precedence over the Jewish national project, but actually now define how it deals with the outside world to the point that the Jewish mission is endangered, is—well, Jewishly unsupported. Enough ink has been spilled about how “tikkun olam” is a distortion of Judaism. Suffice it to say that, “tikkun olam”-driven Judaism expertly gaslights: enough people believe that it is the most authentic expression of Judaism, some of whom actually know better.
Unlike “social justice”/“tikkun olam” Judaism, religious feminism never tried to do that. In practice, religious feminists wanted more participation in our internal way of life; “social justice”/“tikkun olam” Judaism drags us outside our unique national narrative and insists that our “universal” obligations to others precede those to ourselves—putting the “k’shani l’atzmi” before the “im ein ani li”. HIAS, the agency dragged into the spotlight by the Pittsburgh attacks, is a perfect example: holding a “refugee Shabbat” while in the meantime dropping the “Hebrew” from their name as “exclusionary and outdated”…
Is this, then, really a “Jewish” initiative, or do you only pretend to one to score political points? Is this a “family” matter when convenient?
Inside the tent, or out?