Wednesday, March 31, 2021

What would Jewish celebrations look like without the assumptions of female servitude?

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This morning, I asked a Passover question on my page: What would our cultural celebrations look like without the assumptions of female servitude.
The thread included some honest answers about women's exhaustion and about the OCD-inducing minutia of some of our less meaningful rituals. It also included, predictably, some men insisting that there is no inequality in their lives because they are amazing partners.
I wasn't on my computer at all today because I was, predictably, preparing for passover for much of the day (along with my husband, who works as hard as I do, and that's not the point....) So I didn't get to engage in the conversation or explain what I meant. But I just now wrote a comment to elaborate, and I thought maybe it's worth sharing here:
My point was not to hear about all the men who help out, as nice as that may be (even though for the record, I do NOT necessarily trust husbands' self-reports on how great they are to their wives. I believe it when I hear it from the wives....) Anyway, my point was not for people here to deny the role of female servitude in our cultural heritage, because that's just gaslighting. (If you have never felt or experienced the impact of patriarchal structures in your life, consider yourself lucky.) Rather, I'm suggesting that we think about the effect of these expectations on the way our culture evolved. Because I would like us to rethink the whole thing. Because assumptions of female servitude construct the whole way we mark everything -- pesach, chagim, even shabbat. Everything
We have designed cultural events that rely heavily on someone -- usually a wife/mother -- devoting their entire life to getting it done so that someone ELSE can enjoy the experience with freedom. (And of course, the entire culture is built on heteronormative paradigms -- single women, non-parents, divorced women, gay couples, don't really exist in the way our culture was constructed for most of its history.) The culture was created to enable a man, no matter how many wives or children he had, to practice whatever religious rituals his religious school determined, completely unencumbered. Even the idea of three times a day minyan outside of home relies on the idea that SOMEONE will hold down the fort at home during that time -- making lunches, getting kids dressed, cooking, cleaning, homework, putting kids to bed. If the people creating the rules of the culture could not rely on such servitude, would they have made such demands like 3x/day minyan? That's my question.
So for seder, for example, if the rabbis who felt like sitting around all night drinking wine and discussing pilpul did not have servants/women around to do the work of executing their ideas about what seder should look like, would the rabbis have crafted the seder the way it is, with so much kitchen labor and such unrealistic expectations for kids and families about how the meal might go?
I'm asking, if the people making the decisions about what the culture should look like were ALSO the people charged with getting it done, is this what we would have done? A late, long meal with zillions of rules and weeks of work that induce OCD? Really? Is that the way we would like to transmit our oral heritage? Maybe there are better ways.
Because I think that if the people doing the heavy lifting and the people getting to enjoy it were one and the same, we wouldn't be doing all this. We might have a more common-sense, easier-to-produce, better-for-relationships event. Maybe go to the park and have some fruit salad. More flexibility and creativity and less indoctrination. Maybe less of that measuring a kzait thing or reading passages about 50,000 plagues that nobody even understands. Maybe daytime and not into-the night. Shorter. Less preparation. Less rules. More compassion. More humanity. Less meaningless rote ritual. That's my theory. It would look different.
1 Comment


Our son has a somewhat-related question: He wants to know what kind of religion designs its rules in such a way that the religion can't operate without the help of people of a different religion. He's referring to the so-called "Shabbos Goy," without whose help it would be much more difficult for observant Jews to keep the Sabbath or holidays.


Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

When I was first becoming observant as an adult, I was enthusiastically endorsing the joys of Shabbat to a secular female Jew I had known for many years. I concluded by quoting that the Talmud itself says that Shabbat (SBT) is an anagram for (Hebrew words) meaning "sleep on the Sabbath is a delight." She gave me a very jaundiced look and asked how many wives were cleaning up after the lavish meal and then doing childcare while the husbands were observing the mitzvah of napping on Shabbat.

Wed Mar 31, 09:38:00 PM 2021  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Your son's question was also a topic of fierce debate among early religious Zionists, many of whom wanted an independent and religious state that could function without the necessity of non-Jewish inhabitants. They mostly weren't proposing a state with 100% Jews and no non-Jews permitted, but felt that the ideals of 'the state for the Jews' meant that in principle the state should be able to function without them.

Wed Mar 31, 09:41:00 PM 2021  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry, yes to both of your comments. It's a serious problem that the observance of men is so often dependent on the work of women, and that observance by people of all genders is made much easier when "Shabbat Goyim" do some of the work. Jewish observance as established by the sages and rabbis seems to have been designed on the backs of others. Why else would the rabbis have exempted women from most time-bound commandments if not to take advantage of that exemption to assign much of the childcare and housework to women?

Thu Apr 01, 11:40:00 AM 2021  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From my experience, "The Shabbos Goy" is something that exists mostly in the mind of the non Shomer Shabbos as a way of making fun of those that do keep Shabbos. Most Shabbos observant Jews are not typically asking non Jews to do things for them on Shabbos unless it is an emergency. I may have done it 5 times tops in the last 20 years and that is around 1000 Shabboses!
Like maybe it might happen if your heat or ac isn't set the right way and the weather suddenly changes or you accidentally leave an oven on. It isn't a typical normal way to observe Shabbat on a regular basis.

Fri May 07, 11:15:00 AM 2021  

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