Tuesday, August 25, 2009

2 Jews, 3 opinions: Prayer attire for women

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I've been trying to walk a fine line between traditional ritual "garments"--the Torah describes a tallit as a garment, but does not describe tefillin as such, and doesn't mention a kippah at all--and beged isha, women's garments. I've lost track of the number of posts I've written on this topic.

I just finshed reading New Jewish Feminism: Probing the Past, Forging the Future, an anthology of essays edited by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, and I must say that I'm, frankly, relieved to see that I'm not the only Jew on earth who's interested in--okay, some might say obsessed with--the clothing question.

From "The Politics and Aesthetics of Jewish Women's Spirituality," by Lori Hope Lefkovitz, PhD, and Rabbi Rona Shapiro (page 70):

"For some women, the demand for women to don tallitot and tefillin indicates that women must in effect become men, by wearing male garb, in order to empower themselves as Jews. Others believe that tallitot and tefillin are the garb of the Jew, and simply because women have not, by and large, had access to this meaningful ritual attire in the past does not mean that they should not wear it now, any more than they would decline to wear judge's robes or surgical scrubs because women came late to the professions of medicine and law." (I should mention that the authors express concern about divisions between more and less traditionally-observant women over this issue.)

Well, in case you don't know which side of this debate I support, see here.

Dr. Anne Lapidus Lerner, in her essay "Pacing Change: The Impact of Feminism on Conservative Synagogues" made some interesting and, to me, rather distressing points. (See pages 181-182 particularly.) Not only did she remind me--as if I needed reminding--that there's no one universally-accepted standard for women's ritual attire in Conservative synagogues, she also startled me considerably by stating that JTS requires its female rabbinical students to wear tallit and tefillin, but the Ziegler School does not. Say WHAT?! How on earth can a rabbinical seminary (or a cantorial school) of a movement that, at least officially, adheres to (its own interpretation of) halachah/Jewish religious law accept as a rabbinical (or cantorial) student any individual who doesn't observe all of the mitzot, including the time-bound ones? I don't get it.

Bottom line, in my opinion: The "big-tent" approach of the Conservative Movement has some serious drawbacks, and I think that our failure to encourage girls and adult women to take upon themselves mitzvot/commandment pertaining to prayer attire is one of them. No girl or woman in a Conservative synagogue, school, camp, or youth group should feel intimated or embarrassed about wearing a tallit and/or tefillin.

See also Jen Taylor Friedman's "Should All Barbies Wear Tefillin?".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It makes sense to me for the Zeigler school not to require women to wear tefilin and talit. If the women adheres to a traditional interpretation of halacha that statest that a women is not allowed to, then how can they force her against her religious convictions to do so?

Wed Aug 26, 12:18:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

If a woman adheres to an interpretation of halachah that's that "traditional," why would she want to become a Conservative rabbi? Maybe she belongs in the new Yeshivat Maharat that I've heard is scheduled to open this fall. It's intended for women who wish to function in much the same fashion as rabbis, but whose hashkafah (religious perspective) is more traditional than that of what I've always assumed to be a typical Conservative rabbinical student. A woman who doesn't believe that she's obligated to observe time-bound commandments but wishes to be a leader in the areas of halachah, spiritual matters, and Torah would be well suited for Yeshivat Maharat, but not very well suited for a Conservative rabbinical seminary, in my opinion.

Wed Aug 26, 12:53:00 PM 2009  
Blogger rivkayael said...

I think it makes much more sense (and there is much more halachic backing) to encourage little girls and women to daven 2-3 times a day before we discuss other time bound mitzvot like tallit/tefillin.

I don't think women are not "allowed" to wear tallit/tefillin--it is discouraged in the traditional sense, just like a woman saying kiddush for a man is also frowened upon (though women are obligated in both shamor and zachor--and no, JTS did not make this up). Whether a woman may say a bracha on this is up to debate, but I am not aware that it's "assur" to do so.

Shira: why should a woman who wants to adhere to a traditional perspective be barred from a conservative seminary? Some JTS rabbinical students don't daven, yet nobody subjects them to an ideological purity test. I heard that RIETS doesn't really scrutinize its students a priori and there are many people who attend it just to learn in its beit midrash. What they believe and do outside RIETS may be a different story, but who's asking?

Wed Aug 26, 04:23:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

RivkaYael, you have a point about it being more important to encourage girls & women to daven 2-3 times per day. Let's start with the basics, with which much of the observant Jewish community (both Conserv. & Ortho.) agrees.

"Some JTS rabbinical students don't daven, . . . " In all honesty, I'm surprised. I thought that acceptance of the binding nature of the commandments, including the commandment to pray three days daily, was a requirement for admission to the JTS rabbinical school.

Wed Aug 26, 05:11:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

" ... No girl or woman in a Conservative synagogue, school, camp, or youth group should feel intimated or embarrassed about wearing a tallit and/or tefillin. ..."

Nor should they feel compelled to do so, since there's diverse opinions on the subject. As a Ramah Berkshires parent, I can tell you that the young women are not of one mind on this topic. Keep in mind that in this part of the world, there is a meaningful number of Conservative congregants whose children are attending MO day schools, where they are learning a different ideology. These young women are learning to navigate a complicated world, and should have a comfort level about making their own decisions.

Tue Sep 01, 11:55:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sigh. Yeah, I know all about "diverse opinions on the subject," given that I've been the only woman wearing even a tallit, much less tefillin, for most of the 25 years that I've been a member of my local Conservative synagogue. The problem with both Jen Taylor Friedman's opinion and yours is that, as they say in the old joke, she's right and you're right too. In theory, an egalitarian movement that believes in halachah really should require all females above Bat Mitzvah age to wear a tallit and tefillin. In practice, this hasn't been the practice, so it just doesn't feel right to force it on people. My guess is that the jury will be out for another generation or two.

Tue Sep 01, 11:40:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

It's not an egalitarian movement; it's a pluralistic movement.

Please understand, the following is not a criticism, but simply an observation -- your discomfort with certain practices, while being strict on so many others, often smacks of wanting to impose on conservative judaism your own form of orthodoxy.

Wed Sep 02, 09:34:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steve, touche on both points. I guess I'd *like* the Conservative Movement to be exclusively egalitarian, but it ain't. And I do tend to want to impose my own perspective on the Conservative Judaism as a whole. An orthodox Conservative? Guilty as charged.

Wed Sep 02, 10:36:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

From this day forth, it shall be known as "Shiradoxy"!

Fri Sep 04, 09:48:00 AM 2009  

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