Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My old/new perspective on prayer and parenting

You might wish to start with my recent post, The pace and scheduling of public prayer.

Having our son home for the weekend was an interesting experience in terms of davvening (praying). It had not occurred to me that, with him having temporarily moved into the living room (his father having long since commandeered the second bedroom for use as an office), I would feel so anti-social, spending time in the same room as my son but praying instead of talking to him, that I would end up praying only through the Rabbi Yishmael quote and saying the rest of the service in synagogue.

This weekend made me realize that much of my current prayer practice is based on the fact that my time outside of the office is now largely my own. I didn't begin praying through the Amidah at home on Shabbat/Sabbath and Yom Tov/holidays (to enable me to pray at my own pace), nor did I begin praying three days a day, until our son had grown and flown. This was only partially a matter of being a late-bloomer--it was also because I got interrupted frequently, in mid-prayer, with a request for a story. At the time, I used to tell myself that HaShem would just have to count my time off from praying to do some good parenting as the functional equivalent of the first. I didn't realize how close that was to a traditional perspective.

Now, I'm beginning to understand what challenges my own current practice would have raised, had I started when the Family Physicist was a pre-schooler.

Here's the standing-on-one-foot version:

Miami Al said...
“. . . it is impossible to be Shomer Shabbat, have very small children, and participate in communal prayer. If your expectation of family size is 3-5 children, which is necessary for growth, it is impossible to include women without them losing a large chunk of their 20s and 30s... The net effect is that egalitarianism renders childbirth and nursing small children an impediment to expressive Judaism, while Orthodoxy culturally makes that the primary expression. As a result, Orthodox culture encourages having children, egalitarian culture discourages it.
. . .
MON MAY 04, 02:17:00 PM 2009
Since I'm still struggling with this issue, I also recommend Who's on first?--on raising a Jew.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that it ought to be entirely possible to include women when we are there, without an expectation that we should consider tefillah b'tzibur more important than raising children.

Wed Apr 21, 07:42:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

The reality depends on how one defines "include." Women are certainly included in prayer, but, in a traditional synagogue, we are not included in a minyan, or in any leadership and/or sacred-text-study aspects of public worship/tefillah b'tzibur, such as leading a service or having an aliyah. On one hand, a woman's role as caregiver is elevated to a sacred calling, but, on the other hand, a woman gets no "credit" toward "public" participation for caregiving.

I see two serious problems with the traditional separation of roles along gender lines. One is the blanket exemption of all women from the obligation to perform time-bound mitzvot (commandments that must be performed at specified times). There's absolutely no logical reason to let women without children or with grown children, or women not caring for other family members, off the hook for time-bound mitzvot.

The other problem is the mirror image of women's blanket exemption. Consider the poor guy whose wife got killed in a car crash and left him to raise their two-year-old twins and their two-month-old infant alone--he gets no exemption from the requirement to pray three times a day at the specified times. Halachah is totally inflexible in regard to fixed roles, making no provisions whatsoever for differing circumstances--the roles are cast in stone. If this is HaShem's will, He's one mean dude.

Wed Apr 21, 01:10:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I meant include in the sense it's usually used in egalitarian settings--include in public roles, aliyot, learning, shatzing, etc.

I don't think there's any reason that women need to be excluded from public roles when we're available for them on the grounds that we likely aren't going to be available for them all the time during years when we have young children. Even assuming I was unable to come 90% of the time, why should that mean that it's wrong for me to have an aliyah when I do?

I also don't see what Shabbat observance has to do with any of this--participation in public prayer is only incompatible with raising small children if there is no eruv and the synagogue has no children's programming during services. Neither needs to be the case, and this is precisely why JOFA rightly sees eruv as a feminist issue.

And I agree with you that the way gender-roled Jewish culture sees fathers is a serious problem.

That said, I think it's true that the culture of egalitarian synagogues is on average far less favorable to parents and children than that of non-egalitarian synagogues. I just don't think it's egalitarianism causing that so much as under-valuing of anything traditionally associated with women.

Wed Apr 21, 03:49:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Miami Al said...

The problem is cultural, not Halachic.

Nobody gets "credit" for counting in the minyan. That is a feminist creation for the push for egalitarianism. There are people obligated to pray with a minyan, with varying degrees of obligation (one saying Kaddish is highest, one who is simply available is lower).

There is an obligation to pray with a minyan, so one should participate in a minyan to make it possible, but barring 9 Jewish males wanting to pray, there isn't an obligation for any particular Jew to show up.

I was on my way to the bathroom in a Tel Aviv hotel, and the minyan had 8 people in it, and I got corralled to join the minyan. I've watched the Rabbi dialing for daveners when less than 10 showed up for weekday minyan. I've never seen "credit."

Suggesting that women are obligated except when they have children and therefore released from the obligation has a pleasant ring to it, as it elevate child rearing. However, if the cultural "getting credit" is involved, then you obligate women to stay.

When we were at the Kiddush house for my wife's grandmother, my baby started crying during davening, she took him to the other room and nursed him. Had she been "counted" and we were at 10, then she couldn't have left.

The position of tefillah b'tzibur is an honor, with a set of requirements for qualification. You can't remove that from the position and still have it be a meaningful position... If you make women qualified to do it, than you disqualify them when they have small children, then you've lowered their "spiritual credit" for having small children, that's not good.

We want more Jews, not less, and there is an overriding social goal that trumps any looking for leniency.

The more you talk about "credit" and "counting women in minyan," the more you undermine the ability to include women in public prayer for traditional family oriented Judaism.

The demographic numbers speak for themselves, egalitarian Jews have fewer children than non-egalitarian Jews, and the less egalitarian, the more Jews being created per woman.

Regarding the father that lost his wife, he's pay to have someone say Kaddish, or pay a babysitter so he can say Kaddish for a month, and than not go to minyan except for Yahrzeit because he needs to care for his small children, unless he has a nanny watching over them.

Praying at the specified times can be done in the privacy of one's own home, where one's children can observe the importance of keeping mitzvot, even when it's challenging.

Wed Apr 21, 04:02:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tefillah b'tzibur is a lower-level sort of obligation than tefilliah b'zman, but it's clearly preferable, and some sources say that it's obligatory if you live within reasonable distance of a minyan.

The importance of tefillah b'tzibur is not something feminists made up to make it seem necessary to include women, unless you want to say that the Chayyai Adam had a feminist agenda.

Thu Apr 22, 12:03:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, it's entirely possible to feed a baby without leaving the room. I've seen it done many times in both egalitarian and non-egalitarian spaces.

And it's not shul egalitarianism that causes women to have fewer children. Professional life interferes with raising children a lot more than davening with a minyan ever could--if you're going to say that egalitarianism is bad because it's preventing the birth of Jews, you'd have to first say that about women working professionally and earning high-level degrees. Are you willing to say that as well?

Thu Apr 22, 12:10:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

I'm sure most people here are familiar with the idea that halachically you can only exempt people from an obligation by performing it for them if you are normally on the same or higher level of obligation.

When viewed through this lens, the reason to allow egalitarianism in C is that men, by their actions, have as a class exempted themselves from tefillah b'tzibur as an obligation. It is an optional practice for them now, just as it is for women. Thus they are on the same level and everything becomes permissible.

Note that this isn't a position held by any C posek I am aware of(*). I'm making more of a sociological observation than a halachic one.

(*) A non-posek rabbi, Rabbi Barry Leff
wrote a teshuvah about Eating Dairy Meals at Unsupervised Restaurants. He suggested that when the majority of the involved tzibbur (like Schecter's Catholic Israel) does something, it makes that something permissable. His teshuvah was labled 'inactive' by the CJLS, so no action was ever taken on it AFAIK.More discussion on this tangent here.

Thu Apr 22, 12:56:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

*Any* job, even a home-based one, will make raising children more challenging, since one's time is not entirely under one's own control. But, given the cost of Jewish day school and/or college tuition, not to mention, in more right-wing Orthodox communities, the cost of supporting a family while the husband attends kollel, non-working mothers are becoming somewhat more rare than in previous generations, even (especially?) among the Orthodox.

"the reason to allow egalitarianism in C is that men, by their actions, have as a class exempted themselves from tefillah b'tzibur as an obligation. It is an optional practice for them now, just as it is for women. Thus they are on the same level and everything becomes permissible."

A cynical perpective, but fundamentally true, Larry. It sounds familiar, too. Ah, yes, I see that you said something similar when you and Al were trying to explain Conservative Jewish practice.

"Note that this isn't a position held by any C posek I am aware of(*).


How handy, that I went looking for that post. I was trying to remember where you said this, which is certainly related to the topic at hand: “ . . . as is common in O, your set of paired responsibilities and privileges are assigned to you rather than being something you can choose.”

Thu Apr 22, 05:08:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I knew I forgot something--I forgot to ask Furtive Patach what "patach" means.

Thu Apr 22, 05:10:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Miami Al said...

Obviously, I brain farted because I was reading and writing... the honor I was talking about is Ba'al Tefillah, not Refillah B'tzibur, sorry for confusion, but most of you seemed to understand what I meant.

Furtivepatach, yes education and career results in smaller family size. HOWEVER, MO Women are just as Career oriented and educated as Reform/Conservative Women, and there is little to no discrepancy in the education/career orientation between Reform/Conservative Jews.

And children/woman numbers are much higher in MO Circles than Conservative or Reform. Indeed, as the Conservative movement was only partially egalitarian until 10 or so years ago, it's possible that the C vs. R discrepancy, by the numbers, will go away, who knows.

The employment rates of women in the MO, C, and R are probably not dramatically difference, the MO expenses related to schooling may push that higher.

The difference is that in the MO World, child rearing is held in high regard, children are a blessing, and it is encouraged. In the R/C World, they are generally fully integrated in American society where that is not true.

Egalitarianism has NOT been about men lighting Shabbat candles and baking Challah, it's been about women taking on male responsibilities and generally abandoning women's ones (how many Rosh Chodesh groups do you see in the Conservative world? How many female Rabbis?), which includes child rearing.

American culture is anti-child, Orthodox culture is pro-child, that's an important counterbalance.

Thu Apr 22, 09:33:00 PM 2010  

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