Thursday, April 02, 2009

Women and ritual: A survey for Conservative Jews

I recently saw a 2008 movie about the Women of the Wall, who've struggled for over a decade to pray as a group, with a female leader and a reading from a sefer Torah (roughly, scroll of the Bible), at the Kotel HaMaaravi/Western Wall. The film, "Praying in Her Own Voice"--you can read about it and click on a link to an excerpt here) did get me thinking about (A) women and group prayer, and the Orthodox community's response(s) to more recent innovations concerning women praying in groups, and (B) the response of traditional Conservative Jews to the current egalitarian Conservative practice of allowing women to have the same roles as men in religious rituals.

For me, one of the most upsetting aspects of the film was that Orthodox women--not just men--screamed at their own sisters for daring to davven as a group out loud.

I've encountered this attitude before, and I don't understand it, especially when the opponents of equal rights for women in Conservative synagogues are other Conservative women.

As an egalitarian Conservative Jew, I've always been puzzled by the adamant opposition of my more traditional Conservative brethren, and, even more so, my more traditional Conservative sistren to, for example, allowing women to have aliyot. Nobody says that you have to have an aliyah, so why are you so opposed to letting me have one?

I'm not trying to be snide or sarcastic. I'm simply trying to understand. For those of my readers who are in the traditional Conservative camp, why are you of the opinion that a "to each her own" approach is not an option when it comes to women's participation in ritual?


Blogger Sandy said...

Well, I think the response from traditional Conservative Jews (to the extent that such exist anymore) is probably less offensive than the response of haredi Orthodox Jews, but it all stems from the same issue. Under halacha, as understood by the Talmud and the Codes, a woman cannot be counted in a minyan (and thus cannot be the shliach tsibur for males) and cannot be called to the Torah. Some Orthodox authorities disagree on the latter, but such authorities are few. The reason that women are not called to the Torah, according to the Talmud, is "respect of the community." Some feel that such "respect" can be waived. Most disagree, but that's neither here nor there.

No Conservative Jew would have a problem with a separate women's prayer group, though most (but not all) Conservative Jews would likely feel that such a group isn't necessary because most Conservative Jews do not understand the halacha to prohibit women in any way from participating in religious services.

I would agree with those of the traditional Conservative Jews. I grew up in the Conservative movement, but am now a member of the Union for Traditional Judaism (though, technically, I still belong to a Conservative synagogue, as well as an unaffiliated one). My views are not meant to be offensive. I just believe that the halachic sources mandate the view that I follow.

Fri Apr 03, 02:42:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shorty said...

I admit, I am a bit torn on the matter. There are some rituals that would be a "nice to do", like an Aliyah. In a beautiful women's setting. i need to...I think of the reasoning behind why women's roles are what they are - some of it the traditional - the fact that women ARE mothers, and usually stayed home with the kids. and then there is the fact, that in theory I guess, we are spiritually more elevated. Do we really need physical ritual to bring us closer to Hashem?

Then I think of my own spirituality, past and present, and would i want to "share" that with other women. Honestly, I don't. "My" time with Hashem is private, and even in Shul, I feel a bit wierd when Davening, because I have "my way", and I feel a little self conscious when I am in a group.

Are women more spiritual? From my experience with both Jewish and Non Jewish Women - yes. without a doubt.

I would vote for more learning time over an Aliyah. There is so much I want to learn and understand, and there are no courses around here that meet those needs.

Sun Apr 05, 06:04:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sandy, I appreciate the concerns of those who believe that there are halachic issues involved, though I disagree. My problem is mainly in understanding those who object for reasons such as "it isn't done" or "that's not the way we did it in the old country," but lack the understanding of halachah to back up their objection. (In their defense, many women--older ones, particularly, but even some women of my own age--never had an opportunity to get a decent Jewish education because (1) they were female, or (2) they were busy running and/or hiding from Hitler at the time.) If my own experience is any indication, it can be more difficult to have a rational discussion of the issue with someone whose objections are based on emotional, rather than rational, reasons.

Sun Apr 05, 07:32:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Shorty, we may be members of the same club--I don't win any height contests. :)

Ironically, I, too, find that I often prefer to davven (pray) alone, but not for the same reason as you. I have a touch of the old Attention Deficit Disorder, and get distracted when I'm quite literally not on the same page as most people around me (which happens often, since I'm a very slow Hebrew reader).

As for the idea that women are too busy being mothers to be expected to pray at fixed times, you may find this post by Elie, a YU musmach (translation: a Yeshiva-University-ordained rabbi), of interest. He has a fascinating theory about why men, but not women, are obligated to perform all time-bound commandments.

"Do we really need physical ritual to bring us closer to Hashem?" That may depend on the individual. *I* certainly do.

"I would vote for more learning time over an Aliyah." In this modern age of serious Jewish learning opportunities for women, that preference makes traditional Judaism a better "fit" for you. I've often thought that I would be much more comfortable with a more traditional approach to Judaism if I were at least as interested in study as in ritual. But I happen to prefer Minchah over Mishnah.

Sun Apr 05, 08:10:00 PM 2009  

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