Thursday, September 27, 2012

Women, Slaves and Farm Animals

As a teenager at the Orthodox Maimonides High School in Boston, I felt barraged and  insulted by the dominant language in Talmudic and other halachic texts, when referring to those who had less responsibility in performing "time based" rituals.  Women, slaves and farm animals were usually grouped together, and when it came down to an explanation, I was told that we women had more of a "natural spiritual connection" to G-d - because we got our period each month - and that men needed more structure in order to forge that bond.  That in the natural and practical order of things, women had less time because we were meant to fulfill our purpose in the home, transmitting the key values of Judaism to the next generation.

OK, so men say a prayer every morning that essentially translates as "Whew, thank the Lord that I am not a woman."  Women are considered unreliable witnesses in a Jewish court and don't count for an Orthodox minyan because we are more emotional. But hey, biology has given us the most important job in the Universe, that of ensuring the physical continuation of civilization, and apparently we get very little credit for the artistry of pregnancy and birth.

For years I pursued the Judeo-feminist agenda, until it became too tiring to swim against the stream.

This year, for the first time in my life, I understand the concept.  I took care of Raphaela the entire Yom Kippur, and it was physically exhausting.  While fasting, I served meals almost constantly to a three year old whose patience for sitting quietly lasts no more than ten minutes.  At ten in the morning, I could not keep my eyes open and begged Raphaela to take a nap with me, thus gaining one hour of rest for both of us, but no more than one hour.  When the fast was over, I found myself famished, and literally counting down the seconds on the clock until I could put food in my mouth, fuel in my body.

On Tuesday evening, Raphaela and I joined friends and casually strolled down the empty roads of Jerusalem, an exclusively surreal Israeli field trip that gives a totally new perspective on our neighborhood, and on co-existence.  Religious and secular, bike riders and tricycle riders and pedestrians, we all enjoyed the crisp air and the silence of the night of Yom Kippur. I even heard crickets and birds, without the noise of traffic.

Raphaela and I had a repeating conversation throughout the next day:

RR:  Where did all the cars go?
Mommy:  They are sleeping, it is Yom Kippur.
RR:  Can I put on some music?
Mommy:  Not today, it is Yom Kippur.
RR:  I want to watch Dora and Diego.
Mommy:  Dora and Diego are at home, the television doesn't work today. It is Yom Kippur.
RR:  Mommy, do you want some of my lunch?
Mommy:  I am fasting, that means that I am not eating all day, it is Yom Kippur.
RR:  I don't want this Yom Kippur!

Needless to say, I set aside one hour during the day for a Yom Kippur activity, my attempt to pray for the health and success of me and my daughter, while providing entertainment for an easily bored toddler.  I opened the pages and chose any passage that could be sung, and together Raphaela and I danced and celebrated the day with song.  At certain key phrases of blessing, I instructed Raphaela to say "Amen," (in Hebrew) which she did with gusto and enthusiasm.

At the end of this hour, Raphaela did the most extraordinary thing:  in pantomime, she placed an imaginary crown on my head, and fastened a robe of royalty on my chest, because that is what she saw for me.


Ariela said...

An excellent article on the subject by the current dean of our alma mater

Amy Charles said...

Yeah, I decided I don't want this Yom Kippur either, though for somewhat different reasons.

As I age, and watch men age, I find I am devoutly grateful to be a woman. If you ask me, they're just trying to make themselves feel better, and behaving badly in the process.