Sunday, February 23, 2014

In Which I Finally Say Stuff on Tefillin

Note: This post is based off of a personal journal entry and is slightly poetic.  While I could have edited, I wanted to maintain the authenticity and flow of thought and emotion.
Or can we????
I'm walking on a tightrope of legitimacy.  For the past week I've been on the edge of revelation and I now have something to say.  I have thought about wearing tefillin, weighed zeitgeist with peer- pressure with legitimacy.  I cringed when the school rabbi told the boys in my davening to put on tefillin and they sat there as if the mitzvah was no big deal.  I've sat around like a mitzvah was no big deal before, I've rolled my eyes at enforced religiosity, but this, this seemed to destroy me.  I knew not of whether it was a political activist pull or a religious one stirring inside me.  I knew only that I wanted to be bound.  Feel leather straps and boxes contain me and carry me.  So I cried and I cringed and I winced and I argued. After all of this pain, I've decided to postpone my decision until I've learned the Halacha thoroughly inside by myself and then discussed with a teacher I trust.

Once this pressure went away however, I still felt something unhinging inside me, creeping up, an old friend.  I was at a school Shabbaton sitting with a small group of friends and rabbis.  I asked them their thoughts on Shelo Asani Isha ("Thank you G-d for not making me a woman).  There was some apologism, but mostly answers I expected.  The talk turned to the female exemption from positive timebound mitzvot.  I began to cry, I debated with the rabbis, each respectful and even in awe that a teenager cared so much about religion. After that session I realized what I've really been struggling with all throughout Tefillingate, and in general, regarding liberal Judaism and complete egalitarianism.
I am balancing identity with citizenship with legitimacy.  Here's the starting point: I LIKE being frum.  I love the shells, the sheitels, the learning, the secret language of Yiddishkeit.  I speak in Yinglish with my friends and make jokes about the Mishna.  I love identifying as and being frum- showing daily, traditional commitment to G-d.  But then there's citizenship.  I want to be a vocal and visible part of my community.  I am a human rights activist and inequalities, especially those regarding gender, upset me.  Even though I don't believe I should be counted in a Minyan, when the gabbais and davening leaders look through me- "Anyone here so we can start one?", it hurts.  Especially when I've made the effort to attend services, these comments make me feel alien, inessential and invisible.  It's not about being counted in the Minyan, it's about being counted, period.

Ritually treated as someone with nothing to add, my only realms of control are sex and children, rich realms, to be sure, but not highly communal, visible or commended ones.  I crave to lead, to lay, to leyn, and to learn.  I am an important part of the Jewish people, not just someone's mother, but rather the next generation of Chazal, poskim, respected leaders.  As someone so passionately committed to Halachic Judaism, I feel betrayed by the frum community's awkward sweeping aside of my leadership and care.

However, this passion is its own prison.  Whenever I've been to fully egalitarian, liberal Jewish spaces, I feel that everything is a bit too casual, too new, too fluid.  It doesn't feel legitimate to me (NOT that it isn't, just that it doesn't feel that way to me, personally). I want to be respected by Orthodox rabbis, I want Partnership minyanim to be considered fully Halachic, because that is where I feel safe.  I don't want Neo- Halacha, I want old Halacha supporting the things that bring me spiritual fulfillment.  I want my voice valued, and contrary to my usual prerogative, I want to be normative.  Not in the eyes of society, but in the eyes of G-d.

So who knows if I will end up wearing tefillin (call me in 5- 10 years).  But before I decide, I have something to say. To me, this Tefillingate is not about tefillin, or even chiuv(that's for another post...).  It's about weighing citizenship with legitimacy.  I'm not 100% sure of the Halachic support or leniency for women laying tefillin, but, I do think that dissenters harm the Jewish people by alienating the women who care most.  The women who think critically, worship devotedly and experiment with new ways of achieving intimacy with G-d.  For if these strong, beautiful women have their spirits broken, all is lost.

1 comment:

  1. Your phrase " I don't want Neo- Halacha" really spoke to me. I wouldn't consider myself very observant; [but] some parts of the Jewish feminism movement that have ignored or shoved aside halachic aspects really hurt those who do follow halacha. It seems then to be either in or out, you either accept halacha and communal practices as is/'get over it', or move to the left and get over it. It's really hard to stick to your convictions and find out how to, as you said in your article on The Torch or here, to fit feminism into Judaism and not the other way around. This very much resonated with me in my struggles to do so. Thank you for your words!