Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rabbi Yitz Greensberg's lecture at Yeshivat Hadar

This was the e-mailed announcement that led us there (where we were, as expected, the oldest people in the room, other than the speaker):

The lecture with Rabbi Yitz Greenberg has been rescheduled for this Sunday, July 12, at 7pm at Yeshivat Hadar (190 Amsterdam Ave., at 69th St.).

Rabbi Greenberg will be speaking on "The Torah of the Triumph of Life:
A Proposal for a Narrative of Jewish Religion and Halakah."

In addition, please join us for Minhah at 6:45pm and Ma'ariv at 8:30pm.

Cursed as I am with a rotten memory, I can't remember too much of what Rabbi Greenberg said, though he was an excellent speaker. I do remember being amused when he explained that your own movement is the one that you're most ashamed of because the denomination that you know the best is also the one of whose flaws you're most aware. I suppose that makes me a Conservative Jew in good standing. :)

I was quite astounded by two details that took me completely by surprise.

For openers, after last year's experience at the Havurah Institute, I came prepared not to stand out again--I exchanged the baseball camp that I'd worn at a nearby kosher restaurant for a kippah the minute I walked into the Yeshivat Hader/West End Synagogue building. But, as the Yeshiva's summer students filtered into the sanctuary from their dinner downstairs, I was flabbergasted to note that not one of the (roughly 25?) female students of this egalitarian yeshiva was wearing a kippah, and only two or three were wearing any head-covering whatsoever. Is this some kind of seismic generation shift, that a group of twenty-something women many of whom wear tallit and tefillin don't seem to have adopted what I consider the rest of the prayer "levush" (uniform), and see nothing odd and/or don't feel the least bit uncomfortable about studying and davvening (praying) bareheaded? In all honesty, I just don't get it.

I was equally flabbergasted to see Rabbi Greenberg, an Orthodox rabbi, lead Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Maariv (Evening Service) in a room without a mechitzah (physical barrier separating men and women), which is required according to Orthodox interpretations of halachah/Jewish religious law. Will wonders never cease.

Since my husband has a much better memory than I, I'll turn the rest of the post over to him.

Notes from the Punster:

Rabbi Greenberg began with the creation story as an introduction of the world in its perfection. He emphasized in particular the verse "Let us make Adam in our image, after our likeness," and went on to quote a Midrash which says that a person is born in the image, and goes through life developing the likeness, of G-d. Each person, Jew or Gentile, presents a clue as to the image of G-d. The universe, starting from the Big Bang, has been progressing from chaos to order, from less to more developed, from imperfect to perfect. Perfection does not happen overnight. The rush to create perfection overnight only results in different forms of totalitarianism. The Jewish way to do it is through Halacha. No one movement necessarily has all the right answers, not even Orthodoxy. With all movements involved, the end result will be a demonstration, over time, of this perfection, which will then influence the entire world.

Shira's notes:

The way Rabbi Greenberg described Shabbat/Sabbath made it sound rather paradoxical, yet his point made sense. On the one hand, Shabbat is a break from the constant striving to create order from chaos, progress from a less-developed state, and equality from inequality. Yet, on the other hand, it's also an inspiration to strive toward those things, because Shabbat is, to a certain extent, a model of them. Ideally, Shabbat is an orderly day in which all participate equally, in which no one goes hungry. This is the shot in the arm that we need to keep working toward making equality a daily and worldwide reality.

Monday, July 20, 2009 follow-up:
My informal survey re kippot-wearing by women.

Monday, July 8, 2019:
Once upon a time, when Hadar was really small, we could have conversations like this one with the Fellows of Yeshivat Hadar.

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Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

I don't know all the details, but my understand is that in a non-shul setting a mechitza is not technically needed. In Orthodox communities there will usually still be gender separation during prayer, but it no physical barrier is available then in an occasional, improvised setting one may not be strictly needed. I don't have any sources for this, so take it with several grains of salt.

Mon Jul 13, 11:04:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Thanks for the reminder. I think I've heard or read that somewhere, and I've occasionally seen it in action, when the women stand behind the men, or off to one side, to pray outside of a synagogue setting (e.g. in Central Park at the Mincha service after the Jewish rock concert following the annual Salute to Israel Parade).

Mon Jul 13, 08:12:00 PM 2009  

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