Sunday, May 18, 2008

Positive & negative,etc.:Jewish women's observance

One of my Orthodox co-workers and I were discussing Sefirah. I said that I was a bit ambivalent about the Sefirah restrictions on permissible activities (no haircuts, no live music, etc.--there are a variety of customs and interpretations) because these restrictions just don't make sense: Why are there 33 days of mourning for the plague among Rabbi Akiva's students, but only one day (Tisha B'Av) for the destruction of the Temple (churban Bet HaMikdash) and only one day (Yom HaShoa) for the 6,000,000 dead in the Holocaust (for those who advocate a day other than Tisha B'Av)? She made it clear that she observes all the restrictions, but doesn't count the Omer.

Another Orthodox co-worker, one of the Women’s Tehillim (Psalms) Group attendees, told me recently that she’d already said the psalms for the day, just in case she wasn’t able to attend the Tehillim group. I commented that I was having a tough time learning how to focus while praying Maariv (Arvit, Evening Service) on the subway (which I’ve taken to doing after folk dancing because I always get home so late). A different Orthodox co-worker had recently mentioned to me that many women don't say Maariv at all (it being a service the obligatory nature of which is debatable, since it doesn't replace any of the daily sacrifices made in the long-destroyed Temple in Jerusalem, but Orthodox and observant Conservative men have all accepted it as obligatory).

I find it interesting that my priorities seem to be different from those of some (many?) women within the Orthodox community. For openers, from what little I’ve heard, there seems to be more emphasis on avoiding the forbidden (that is, obeying the negative commandments) than on doing the permitted and/or required (that is, obeying the positive commandments). Or perhaps it’s just that davvening (praying) is central to my particular way of observing Judaism, whereas there’s a question how much prayer, if any, and what kind of prayer is required of women. Some in the Orthodox community say that women are required to pray three times a day, just as men are, but not necessarily at specified times; some say that women are required to pray once a day; some say that any petition to HaShem (which, I guess, would include a psalm) fulfills a women’s daily prayer obligation.

I am reminded of a discussion I had with yet another Orthodox co-worker a few years ago. I mentioned to her, with some pride, that I'd finally learned to say the short (not the longer Monday and Thursday) Tachanun. Instead of congratulating me on my learning, she sniffed, "Women don't say Tachanun."

So how’s this for odd: I davven more than many women in both the Conservative and Orthodox camps. And you wonder why I feel like a square peg in a round community. I suspect I'm not the only one who sees me as a square peg--I imagine I have something of a rep as an "odd duck." What can I say but "Quack?"

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I often feel like an outsider myself. I sometimes go to an Orthodox shul in France where I am seen as very frum since I keep kosher, read Hebrew and am reluctant to take the car to go to Friday evening services!

Mon May 19, 03:36:00 PM 2008  
Blogger rivkayael said...

Rambam and Rashi: Prayer is a positive, non-time-bound obligation. Women hence have equal obligation to men at least for Shacharit and Mincha. (according to Mishna Berurah, Shulchan Arukh, Arukh Hashulchan and Beit Yosef also) In YU's corridors and library, it is common to see men AND women davening mincha/maariv (although I have not seen any women davening at the back of YU minyanim).

Debatable how obligatory Maariv actually is--I think men started saying it because Shema is said at night (and shema is not obligatory to women).

Ehh tachanun...come on we all love to skip tachanun :) :) .

Mon May 19, 04:44:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

IlanaDavita, that sounds like what my husband's family thought: When we were first married, they thought I was Orthodox because I lit candle every Shabbat (Sabbath). Suffice it to say that, since my husband and I met in synagogue, he's obviously much more observant than his late parents.

RivkaYael, thanks for the info. I am honestly surprised, though, that women are not obligated to recite the Shema. I've always thought that the Shema was the core "prayer"/statement of belief of Judaism. Why are women exempt? I would think that that would be one of the exceptions to the rule about women being exempt from most time-bound obligations.

As for Tachanun, well, we’ve been down that road before. :)

Mon May 19, 05:27:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

To amplify a previous comment of mine to another of your posts, I'm really convinced everyone is doing their own thing; many simply don't talk about it. Case in point -- the 17th of Tammuz fell on a Sunday one year, and my wife and I were both observing the fast. We took our daughter to our local JCC-sponsored swim club, which draws, among others, an MO crowd. We were surprised how few of our MO friends were fasting. Not that it was discussed, just obvious from their open consumption of ice cream, snacks and related goodies.

Mon May 19, 11:01:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

So my problem, as usual, is that I have a big mouth. Oy.

Tue May 20, 01:19:00 AM 2008  
Blogger rivkayael said...

Here are the sources:

"Women and slaves and minors are exempt from the recitation of the Shema, and from the tefilin, and are obligated in tefillah and mezuzah and in the grace after meals." (M. Berachot 3:3)

"And women and servants, even though they are exempt from the recitation of the Shema, are obligated in tefillah, because it is a positive non-time-bound commandment." (Shulchan Arukh 106:1).

"Therefore women and slaves are obligated in tefillah, because it is a positive non-time-bound commandment..." (Rambam, Laws of Prayer 1:2)

Umm and please don't yell at me for writing "women and slaves"...I did not write this *ducks* I only work here...

Happy spring day!

Tue May 20, 02:01:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ah, yes, I probably read that passage in Rabbi Judith Hauptman's "Rereading the Rabbis, A Woman's Voice." Rabbi Hauptman's research seems to indicate that the exemption of women from performing time-bound mitzvot (commandments that must be performed at specific times) was due to women's lower status, rather than to concerns that the performance of time-bound mitzvot might interfere with child-rearing, which is a widely-accepted understanding of the exemption. Essentially, women were at the same status level as slaves, Hauptman posits. I know that you're just reporting the rulings of the rabbis, so I'll hold off on the rotten tomatoes. :)

Tue May 20, 06:03:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

Does Rabbi Hauptman offer any historical basis for her position, or is it merely supposition. Its not like she doesn't have an agenda.

I continue to find it somewhat disingenuous when folks seek to criticize our ancestors for not being as "progressive" as some of us (I'm not sure I'm included) are today. Its not unlike questioning why the pioneers used covered wagons, when they could have taken an SUV.

Tue May 20, 07:00:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steve, it's been a good while since I read the book, but my recollection is that Rabbi Hauptman's presentation is as "just the facts" as possible, and is not as partisan as some might expect. I recommend that you give it a read.

Tue May 20, 11:13:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

Im working my way through Sachar's History of Israel from the Rise of Modern Zionism; its close to 1500 pages and kind of dense, although I'll send it back to the libe once I get up to the 67 war. Its a good but slow read.

I'll need a break in my reading at that point, so I'll pick up the Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union.

Then maybe I'll try Hauptman. I see her around JTS some sundays.

Wed May 21, 08:22:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sounds like a good plan.

Wed May 21, 10:02:00 PM 2008  

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