(I thought this comment was worth posting as a post)

Laya and Esther – 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 – 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 “Monsey girl”, 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, sure…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 women… 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 “good Jewish living” 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?

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  • Ah yes, the poor female. Forced yet again to take a back seat in religion because the male cannot control his gonads.

    I’m a traditional thinker but isn’t the role the female holds in religion much like the stake-burnings she used to have to endure in Mass.??? Essentially a girl would walk by a puritan male and he would feel the effects of an early form of viagra (something his own ugly wife could not do for him) so he would proclaim she were the devil or witch and they would burn her at the stake.

    On this one I feel bad for you women.

    Though this does not take away from the fact that there are many who complain about the woman’s role in relgion, but they themselves do not even partake in the simplest but highly important of mitzvahs – lighting shabbat candles or whatever a woman should do.

    Many women fight for the right to also be counted in a minyan, but they will not take the step further to be in a synagogue every morning where their desire to do this mitzvah really counts.

    Hypocrisy on both sides is a no-no.

  • The woman’s got her role, the man has his. Essentially any business, institution, gov’t, household, army, etc etc works on the same principals.

    Accept what you are best at, and do it to the best of your abilities, and everything else will fall into place.

    Father Joe has concluded another sermon for the day.

  • But a “role” isn’t always “what we’re best at.” And that’s where there’s some dissonance. FWIW, although I’ve never necessarily wanted all the obligations that are incumbent upon men from birth, there were always certain things that I felt excluded from. The fact that I didn’t actually get close enough to read from a Torah scroll until after college is, in my mind, unacceptable.

    I never have so acutely felt yir’at shamayim (awe of the divine) as I did when I led Kabbalat Shabbat at camp one summer or that first time I read from the Torah to honor my best friends at their aufruf. In fact, I felt it so acutely that I’ve seldom repeated those experiences, because it was so frightening to me–I was afraid I would make mistakes, even though I had practiced for hours. I was afraid I’d pick a bad key and people wouldn’t be able to follow along. I was afraid of all the things that the boys had learned to do by the time they were 13. And that just made me feel more insecure.

    And, although there’s nothing wrong with a little yir’at shamayim here and there, with 14 years of yeshiva education, to be that afraid of the Torah and liturgy? Not right. That’s not a question of having equal roles in the synagogue, or in the community at large, it’s about having a more equal access to the texts that are my birthright as a Jew.

  • Thanks TM for the spotlight. If I had known I was more than a comment I would have been more eloquent – or at least I hope I would have been!

    Role? Since when is there one singular role for anyone? Even in a government, army or household? I have never been in an army, but I have some experience in Gov’t, work and householding, and I have to tell you there is a myriad of different jobs that have to be done to make things work well. No simple separation of jobs based on gender will match the complications of the reality of lived experince. In other words, we all have to take out the trash, make the coffee, file taxes, go to work, manage finances, give charity and smile when we don’t really want to and if we are lucky kiss people we love goodnight – sometimes.

    So to in Judaism: there is a lot of work to be done to “fix the world”, and if everyone pitched in (in a way that they can feel good about) it would make the job a lot easier. As my Jewlicious mother in law, Denah, says, “many hands make for light work”.

    Esther, you are right. We all need to claim the texts more fully. Joey h, are you saying that sexy women get burned at the stake for being sexy…I thought it was for being Jewish (see inquisition history).

  • I have often wondered if alot of the problems in the frum community would be solved if we had more women involvement in the Synagogue, ranging from a Woman as President, to reading from the Torah and so on.

    You have massive violence in the Yeshiva world by adult ‘rebbe’s against young boys, see http://www.hirhurim.blogspot.com he has a post there titled Deity something. He also has a post there about Kiddush Clubs, where alchoholism is rampant in the Synagouge.

    The fellow who wrote that post was challenged why doesn’t he do something, he claims that his brother in law was beaten by a ‘rebbe’ and thrown down cement stairs. He has no response.

    Then there is the similar violence against women (Spousal abuse) that is similarly rampant in all segments of the Orthodox world.

    Perhaps it had to do w/ the lack of equality in the Synagouge, where the women are delegated to go ‘over there’ and not be seen or heard, until someone is needed to help set up the Kiddush.

  • i ve just found this post! wow!rachel this is mamish beautiful piece.
    hard to disagree.
    ricker aish – spousal abuse and violence in yeshivas (r”l) wud be a good argument against traditional judaism if non-religious world wudnt have this problems. it be only true for black ‘n’ whites but we clearly see that unfortunately one doesnt have to be orthodox to raise a hand against the spouse. Who has ever said that the way of mitzvos is solid guarantee for perfection? it s just traditional set of challenges and tools to deal with them. but at the end there is an yid (or yiddess?) very human factor. this is what it’s all about.