יום רביעי, ינואר 24, 2007

Here is the Dvar Torah I wrote for taste of Limmud.
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And Moses answered: With our youth and with our aged will we go, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go, for we must hold a festival for G-d" (Exodus 10:9).

The Jewish understanding of freedom of worship implies participation from the whole community – the young and the old, men and women. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (The Rashar Hirsch) points out "…For we are all to form 'chag l'hashem' as a circle about G-d. G-d calls us to Him, with all our possessions, about Him"

The Rashar Hirsch understands the word chag not as a noun i.e. a festival, but as a verb – in the meaning of gathering around, circling. Our way of worshiping G-d is gathering around Him, in a circle, as a community.

The Egyptian understanding was different; in their eyes only men should worship G-d. We learn this from Pharaoh's answer: "Go now you that are men, and serve G-d, for that is what you desire…" (Verse 11). In their ruling, only men are needed in worshiping G-d. Women should stay behind.

If we reflect upon women's role during the Exodus from Egypt we will come across Shifra and Poa – the Midwives, keeping the Jewish male newborns alive. We will find Miriam, sending Moses off on the Nile for a better future in the Palace. Meor Ha'afela, (a Yemenite commentator from 1329, under the name of Netanel Ben Yeshia) sees Miriam singing at the opening of the Red Sea as halachic (legal) evidence for the obligation of women to pray. The Talmud in Sota 11a tells us more about the immense role women had in that generation: Because of those righteous women we were redeemed from Egypt.

Another commandment we come across in this sidra is to tell the next generation about the hardships and the miracles we experienced in Egypt. What do we pass from generation to generation, regarding women's participation in the Exodus story, or any other aspect of participation in Jewish life?

Research led me to a book by Avraham Grossman: 'Pious and Rebellious: Jewish Women in Medieval Europe'. In this book, Prof. Grossman collected evidence about women's participation in Jewish life, and shows us that the image we might have of the participation of women in observing Jewish law is wrong. From Medieval days, we have testament about women that were mohel(ot) (performers of circumcision) and shochet(ot) (ritual slaughterers). We can find evidence for women wearing tziztit and joining zimun (collective call to grace after meals) with men. Rabbi Eliezer from Vermiza (1165-1230), a great Ashkenazi Chassidic Rabbi, says in the tribute to his wife Dolce after her death: "In all the countries she taught women, singing nigunim (melodies), would arrange the evening and morning prayers, would be the first and last at the synagogue."

Next time we think about Jewish women's participation in synagogues, or any other aspect of communal Jewish life, let's not name it automatically as a 'modern' or 'feminist' action. Actually, it's quite ancient, and was passed to us from generation to generation, with one main aim – to be part of the circle around G-d .

2 comments:

  1. You inspired me not just to cite your Dvar Torah, but to resume blogging after a month and a half of inertia. Thanks!

    (And of course I will have to link to you!)

    השבמחק