A word from our highly cranky sponsor
My friend Sarah is having a Bat Mitzvah this coming Shabbat, and that put me in mind of the first Bat Mitzvah ever (of Judith Kaplan in 1922) and how much has been robbed from women who love Torah over the millenia, supposedly because of our superior holiness and the proper place(s) of women and men— including right this very moment when a woman can be arrested for carrying a Torah scroll at the Western Wall in Jerusalem— and I got kinda cranky. Pissed off, in plain fact.
The Torah portion this week, Ki Teitze (when you go out), begins with a description of what a warrior should do when he sees a foreign woman he desperately desires. He is not to do what men so often do when their adrenaline runs high: rape her. He is given different guidelines for his conduct.
“… and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her and would take her to wife, you shall bring her into your house, and she shall trim her hair, pare her nails, and discard her captive’s garb. She shall spend a month’s time in your house lamenting her father and mother; after that you may come to her and possess her, and she shall be your wife.”
The notion that a woman is not just booty, that she needs time to grieve her change in fortune is a good thing, enlightened given the parameters of warfare. I’m favorably impressed.
But just when I get to thinking that the Torah was way ahead of our – let alone its – time, there’s this:
A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord your God.
Yes, I know, in the greater scheme of things, this is not a big deal, keeping our clothing properly aligned. Except that it is — precisely because it encapsulates all the ways in which gender & its limitations are played out in Torah and in our communal life as Jews. If women and men could dress similarly, then perhaps women wouldn’t be relegated to the back of the bus, or denied full religious participation in some sectors of the Jewish world. Maybe same-sex (Jewish) partners being married by a rabbi wouldn’t be such a big deal. Maybe the first Bat Mitzvah wouldn’t be in 1922.
No, Judaism is not the only gendered religion. And no, we didn’t – as some argue – speed along the shift to patriarchy with the introduction of a lone God. But this is my tribe, damn it, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask that it be just as I want it to be.
This week I offer up an oldy, but goody, entitled Letter from Self to Younger Self on the Way Things Are Done & the Invisible Pull of Becoming. It is dedicated to Marcia Freedman, a friend and role model who made lots of trouble as an outspoken feminist in 1970s Israel, including a stint in the Knesset. I pull out this poem whenever I think that I need to behave myself.