Monday, November 06, 2006

Women and Orthodoxy

This weekend I attended services at Darkhei Noam, as part of my shul-shopping on the Upper West Side. The services were nice, it was great to hear women leyn* torah, and haftorah, and it didn't take too long. All very nice. Then, as is their custom, after adon olam** a member of the community (there is no official rabbi) stood up to give a text-study.

Rabbi Dr. Barry Wimpfheimer used as his base text a paragraph from Qiddushin that states that "one who is obligated to a task and performs it is greater than one who volunteers to do the task." He used this as an example of what Blu Greenberg called the "rabbinic will/halakhic way" which is that "in the course of history where they has been a rabbinic will, there is a halahkic way." Basically that rabbis found ways to enshrine in law those values that they held dear. Which, for the record, makes sense. However, a result of this was the systematic exclusion of women; it has created a second-class citizenship for women, with no way to address this wrong as women are excluded on every level of the halakhic process.

As he spoke, I was struck by his passion, scholarly demeanor, and most of all, the empathy he had for a struggle not his own. When talking about the frustrations of women in the Orthodox movement he got choked up, visibly choked up. Barry Wimpfheimer is my new hero.

After services this topic was on my mind. I thought about it as I went to early mincha at the Jewish center, because I was one of three women present. At the end of the (short) service, a boy came up to me to ask what I was doing there. The obvious answer was praying, so instead I gave the flippant retort that I was there "to meet my b'sheret***". After all, why else would I go to services?

Then last night I was at an engagement party for Chemclown, which was held at a friend's apartment. All very nice. Of course I ended up in a long, and protracted discussion with RH Host's roommate about the place of women in Orthodoxy. He argued that there is a halakhic system, that it works slowly, and that you can't expect change overnight. He also suggested some books for me to read, including "Halakhic man" to which he added the rider "it isn't halakhic woman." While I understand his argument, and on some level agree that change must come slowly and organically, I also think that when someone says that "things will eventually change" that they are less susceptible to change. They think that it'll be better eventually, so what is the rush, leaving them less open to making the changes that are currently possible.

*Leyning is the traditional chanting aloud from the torah that takes place three times a week, on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
**Adon Olam means Lord of the World and is the prayer that concludes the Saturday morning service.
***B'shert means soulmate.

1 comment:

Benjamin J. Cooper said...

In all equal rights issues, gradual change is very slow. Quick change gets rights now, but includes reactionaries overturning school buses.

It's a trade off.