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Archive for the ‘God’ Category

Shanah Tovah

Only two days ago did it hit me that tonight is Rosh Hashanah. Besides the fact that it’s coming relatively early (secular calendar) this year, I’ve just been wrapped up in starting school and applying to college and just regular life that I had kind of forgotten about it. And now I want to rectify that, because I love Rosh Hashanah and so many of its strange but beautiful traditions, from enjoying apples, honey, and sweet challah in the hopes of a “sweet” year, to saying a blessing on fruit because they are the first fruit of a new year. I ‘ve always felt especially moved by Tashlich, the tradition when people symbolically “throw” their sins into a moving body of water as a way of getting rid of them–I find it a kind of comforting reminder that with a new year comes another chance to do things better.

One of the things I think makes Rosh Hashanah special is the strange effect it has over typically non-religious people: on the High Holidays, people who never go to synagogue flock to it. There’s something about the High Holidays that seems to give people a sense of urgency, a feeling that this time they should and can get it right. I liked the way that this article in Tablet describes it: just like on the secular new year, we are supposed to try to make ourselves better, but unlike on the secular new year, Rosh Hashanah is predictably cyclic–and that predictability makes people feel that while maybe they can’t lose 10 pounds by next year, hopefully by the next time they have to repent they’ll be a slightly better person. The emphasis on the life being cyclical reminds people that repentance too is a part of life–that very single year, people read the same text, spend two days painfully picking apart our sins, apologizing for sins that we, or the collective we, have committed, praising God, and that hopefully it will slowly turn us into better people. I think it’s important that Judaism emphasizes repentance as something expected and significant, because doing so makes people feel that there is always still a chance for them to be better, even if they haven’t been perfect before; to me, who somehow (maybe naively) believes that people really can shape who they are, it resonates.

And now a brief word about the role of women in Rosh Hashanah. Both the Torah and Haftorah readings for Rosh Hashanah are about barren women and God giving them children. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Torah reading starts with Sarah, who had been barren until a very old age, giving birth to Isaac after God “remembers” her and her prayers. The Haftorah reading is about Hannah, a barren woman who, after intense emotional prayer (she is many times held as a model of what personal prayer should consist of), is able to have a child; she goes on to name him Samuel, which means “God heard.” Both of these stories are supposed to represent the way that God listens to prayer, and because infertility was/is regarded as such a sad and painful experience for women, God ridding a woman of her infertility powerfully conveys the extent to which God can listen and remember all of us.

Finally, here is something that I personally have found to be meaningful over the high holidays: 10Q. The site has you reflect on and answer one of ten questions each day for the Ten Days of Repentance, and then stores them for you until next year when you are once again allowed to read your answers. I discovered it last year, and sometime last week I got an email with last year’s answers. Not only was I surprised and interested by how much my thoughts have changed over the course of a year, but reading my reflections from last year helped me to get into the spirit of reflection for this year. It’s not too late to register (it’s totally free) and answer the questions, and I’d highly recommend doing so.

Shanah Tovah–I hope the next ten days prove to be meaningful for all.

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With awareness comes responsibility. Responsibility is hard work that not everyone likes. My family’s Seders this year allowed me to fully understand the meaning of “ignorance is bliss.” It is a whole lot easier to read without knowing what I am reading than to endure the painful understanding that there is a Jewish feminist duel between what is on the Haggadah page and what will come out of my mouth.

My Boca Raton hyper-stereotypical grandparents use the most generic of Haggadot: Maxwell House. They come free with a can of coffee grinds and they’re strictly to-the-point (i.e. they provide a pretty fast route to the food and random political banter). They’re also – shocker! – entirely male-centric and focusing exclusively on the patriarchs, calling God “He,” and the Four Children the “Four Sons.”

Let’s just say that for the past two nights, I got a little creative, much to the eye-rolling dismay of my younger sister who does not understand my personal investment in feminism and to the confusion of distant cousins who didn’t understand why what I said didn’t match up with the words I was supposed to be reading.

Judaism is based in texts that are rooted in a male lexicon. Is it my responsibility to change that? How do I explain to a Seder full of  confused faces why it matters so much to me that God is not called “He,” but rather “Hashem” (“The Name” does not have a gender) or why I believe that the Four Sons should actually be the Four Children, seeing as each child is a metaphor for emotions we all – regardless of gender – face daily: confusion, arrogance, intelligence, and shyness?

I do take it on as my responsibility. I have spent quite some time learning about the sexism society has thrust upon my generation to reverse and I need to remind myself that I learn for the sake of action and sometimes that means changing the language of a coffee can Haggadah so I can feel true to my feminism and true to my Judaism when I read it. That is how I internalize these texts my religion is based in; I can only internalize that which speaks to me. As a woman, I have the added responsibility of making texts like these – which linguistically speak solely to the men they address – represent my gender.

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This is my first cross-post at the Jewish Women’s Archive’s blog “Jewesses with Attitude.” Once a week, either Dina or I will feature a post there and then link to it here.

I consider myself fortunate to take Gender Studies as my English literature class during my final semester of high school. Our first reading was a thesis Night to his Day: The Social Construction of Gender by Judith Lorber. As can probably be inferred by the clever title, the piece is about the feminine being defined in terms of the masculine rather than in its own separate language and the subsequent skewing of the gender binary.

Seeing as I am constantly looking for new assaults to/praises for Jewish feminism to blog about, I was thrilled when Lorber referenced circumcision in the context of Judaism. She wrote, Many cultures go beyond clothing, gestures, and demeanor in gendering children. They inscribe gender directly into bodies.Jewish fathers circumcise their infant sons to show their covenant with God. Needless to say, I eagerly annotated these sentences with post on circumcision!!!

A brit milah (bris) is exactly what Lorber defines it as: covenant of circumcision. It is a supposed covenant with God, marking the baby boy as not only holy, but as a possible messiah. The baby boy is blessed through sacred ritual (that may or may not be medically important), but what about a baby girl?

Read more!

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Kippot and Women

The other day I was thinking: if traditionally a Kippah is worn to signify an acceptance of God and his power, then why don’t women have to wear them? A relatively religious friend of mine and I recently got into a conversation about this issue, and she told me that she had heard that because women give birth, they are naturally closer to God and so men, because they cannot give birth, wear Kippot to compensate and bring them closer to God, as well. She thought that the reason was beautiful, and I, although not completely won over by it, agree that there is some beauty in the idea of giving birth being a special womanly connection to God.

I did some research on the topic, and while I did not find that exact explanation, I found this:

“Women don’t have to for two reasons:

1) Women have a stricter code of modesty, and so they are already reminded of G-d in their dress.

2) Women are naturally more intuitive into spiritual concepts and G-d and thus don’t need as tangible and physical a reminder as the men need”

While I am not going to address the first reason right now, as I believe it is mainly a denominational belief issue, I will address the second. It makes me uncomfortable. Who can say that a woman is more intuitive about spiritual concepts or closer to God than a man, unless he or she has been both a man and a woman? How can you generalize an entire gender’s spirituality when a connection to God is such an individual thing?

However, studies have shown that women actually tend to be more religious and to have more belief in God than men. In one study, 77% of women said they have an absolutely certain belief in a God, while 65% of men said so. The difference in the numbers is not trivial, and so I want to be more open-minded about the possibility of women as a gender being more religious than men. But a part of me (the part of me that likes to ignore statistics?) still insists that this generalization is too convenient, too simple—I’m torn.

While I have never worn a kippah and do not particularly want to, I have a great respect for women who do. And a part of me wishes that I wanted to wear a kippah, because the part of me that thinks that men are just as spiritual as women knows that wearing one is a necessary step for equality. And the other part of me, the part that is weary of tearing down tradition, thinks that maybe there is something to be said for the fact that for hundreds of years women have not had to wear kippot and have stayed connected to God.  I find myself somewhat of a hypocrite because in reality, I have no interest in wearing a kippah, but in theory, a large part of me thinks that women should.

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Returning from yet another soul-changing Jivamukti yoga class, I am left to follow the instructions of my teacher who tells us to treat tragedy as a celebration of the actions that can be taken. This she says in a musical voice after playing on her iPod the pragmatically gruff, inspirational, an booming voice of a man who changed many, the late Martin Luther King Jr. who came into this world a message of love, spirituality, and action 81 years ago today.

And here I sit at my dining room table, purposefully listening to Tracy Chapman talkin’ bout a revolution as she drives a fast car to liberation, wondering how to celebrate with words on a blog about Jewish feminism. The fact is, all movements are so interconnected, so deeply rooted to the same problem, so fixed to working towards the same solutions: peace and equality. Sometimes, we are so fixed on seeking out differences that we forget the multitude of similarities and I honestly echo the sentiments of Martin Luther King Jr. verbatim. I strive to possess in my actions the words spoken minutes before his death.

And these are the words I think of when I think of Jewish feminism, when I think of movements, and when I think of the man who risked his life for them:

…the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men [and women], in some strange way, are responding.

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”

And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men [and women] have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men [and women], for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.

So today, let us exist in action, in a state where we see what we can learn from someone whose legacy continues to show us that action is possible – in every movement, in Jewish feminist thought, and in understanding the meaning of equality.

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Letting some pictures do the talking

It’s been a long week, and I know I’ve been missing, so I decided to do a quick post.

I don’t have much to say at the moment, so I thought that I’d share some pictures that do.

I can’t directly link the picture to this blog, but take a look at the fourth one. Something about it just moves me. And it makes me think about who we turn to when things get really rough. Not just when catastrophes happen, but when we face problems even in our everyday lives. God?

I think that this picture really shows the innate need that people have for something greater than themselves. And I think that this need applies to more than just religion; I think that people connect to a movement like feminism becuase they feel that it is something bigger than them that they can hold onto for the ride, and that they can trust to not necessarily fix, but at least attempt to fix, the problems that they feel are present in their lives.

And I guess that’s what we’re doing here. We’re looking to Judaism and to feminism to address the issues in our lives. And hopefully other people’s lives, too.

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