(I thought this comment was worth posting as a post)
Laya and Esther â€“ Y’all were definitely missed in Long beach this weekend. Shabbat was just not the same without the dynamic femme-licious duo and ck had to field all the questions from the blog-front groupies here Friday night.
For those who know me, I am rarely short on words, and yet I find myself without answers to all the questions (even answers that satisfy me) that were brought up at the session Laya and Esther wrote about. It was a privilege to be facilitating a discussion by, for, and about Jewish women that brought out some of the beauty and some of the challenges in Judaism for women. I know I learned at least one key lesson.
I respectfully disagree that women are only useful in Judaism as baby makers and caregivers â€“ without denigrating that role, occupation, chosen path or phase of life some of us may be in. Women throughout our history have made claims on education, access to paid professional work, and legal access, leaning on the broomstick of homemaker and mother. And yet those gains have gotten us out of the kitchen and nursery to a great extent and complicated Jewish mothering, and notions of Jewish womanhood.
Jewish women have built hospitals, orphanages, schools, libraries, soup kitchens, labor movements, literary renaissance and artistic crises and the Sate of Israel. They may have been mothers and wives, and they may have been (more or less secretly lesbian – that would be Alice & Gertrude, not Golda!) spinsters. OK, so maybe they weren’t all lighting candles Friday night worrying about fire safety (see Esther’s blog), but I believe they were all enmeshed in a deeply Jewish context and mileu.
Laya, I want you to meet a great teacher in Jerusalem, her name is Devorah Rubin and she teaches at Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya ( in my humble opinion a top notch BT women’s yeshiva that teaches Torah, text skills and lets you remember you have a neshema in the process). To me, and many of her students, she is a Torah giant. She is a â€œMonsey girlâ€, descendent of R. Samson Rafael Hirsch. One of her bio highlights is that she married after 30 in a community where her peers were pretty much making bat mitzvahs for their daughters by then. What did she do before becoming a kallah and an Ima? She taught and was a principal of a girl’s school, engaging and challenging the minds of a generation of girls. Did she want to be an Ima, sureâ€¦did she see it as her only calling or value? Doubt it. Go to her home for Shabbat lunch and watch how she speaks words of Torah to her guests and her children. She is not conflicted.
About the under-funded women’s yeshiva education. You are right. Plus there is no really great place outside of Israel to learn. Who should we speak to get something started?
One interesting thought about the value of educated womenâ€¦ In the Ashkenazy tradition there is a revered and sometimes mocked book called the Tzena U’Rena. It is companion to the weekly Torah reading with translations of text and key commentaries, midrashim and parables into Yiddish a vernacular. It was written for a Yiddish reading Jewish women. It is more than a translation, it provides guidelines for â€œgood Jewish livingâ€ for the ladies section of the shul. In the Sephardic tradition we have the venerable Ladino text, the Me’am Lo’az., roughly the same idea, only it draws on more major commentators, is more through, scholarly, has fewer Bubbe meises, and hence is a better book. You can find either of these in a good Jewish bookstore, and they were written with the central purpose of educating women in the value and values of Judaism. These books reflect a medieval recognition of the need for women to learn, teach and own Judaism for ourselves. The question we need to as ourselves is what is our Me’am Lo’ez? Where are we failing a people to educate our girls to be proud Jewish sisters?