Sunday, December 28, 2014

Spiritual Balm for a Jewish Woman's Soul - Part 2a

Yom rishon, 6 Tevet 5775.

These lovely gloves borrowed from the blog Wonderland Soup.
Okay. Rivkah Lambert Adler and I have expressed, with varying degrees of angst, our shul and siddur experience as women. Some women have shared their positive experiences, either in reframing the davening to suit them, or in minyanim tailored to the needs of women.

Others have expressed the experience of being marginalized, or even mistreated. Still others expressed an empathy with Rivkah's and my feelings of being outside of the shul experience, except as receivers or mirrors of the male experience -- which works as long as you have male family members.

If you as a woman are fully satisfied with your part in the shul ritual and with your portions davening in the prayerbook (and I know at least one very spiritual woman who not only davens nearly everything the men daven, but is constantly looking for more prayers to add to her daily davening ritual!) -- this series of posts may not interest you. But if you have questions or answers about how you express yourself Jewishly, this conversation may be for you. Please feel free to participate!

In Part 2 of our exploration, Rivkah has thrown down her lovely kid gloves to challenge us to think outside the shul. (I could say "think outside the Box," but only Neve Daniel residents will get it.)

How do we Jewish women define ourselves spiritually, apart from the shul experience? How do we speak with God when we're not using a siddur (which even if you are not upset by it, a woman must to a certain degree cherry-pick for prayers that resonate)?

I'll start. I am so overjoyed to be a Jewish woman! There is no moment in the life of a Jew that doesn't count. No such thing as "dead time." Every moment is fraught with meaning, and with opportunity.

I have a running conversation with God, that starts with thanking Him, when I arise in the morning, for giving me life yet again, for being there for me, for listening to my monologue. I try my best to really think about the morning brachot, and what they mean for me each day. I am grateful for the way Michael Haruni has expressed them in his Nehalel Shabbat siddur, and cannot wait until he adds a weekday version, as he has planned. Unlike most other siddurim, Haruni has added specifically female translations to the morning blessings: "You are blessed... Sovereign of the Universe, Who did not make me a goya (a female non-Jew)... Who did not make me a shifcha (a female slave)..."

Haruni's photographic montages are delightful and prayer-inspiring!
The conversation with God is a day-long process. I think this is one of the advantages of being "made in accordance with His will (the blessing said by women in contrast to the male version)." Rather than wasting time being upset that men say a prayer thanking God for not having made them women, I feel a bit sorry for them for their burden, and do not wish it. (My husband has offered several plausible explanations about why men might be very happy not to be women, and my friend Sarah Lipman has offered a few others.) I like that my God-created nature inspires me to a free-association conversation with my Creator, all day long.

More important than this conversation, in my opinion, is that Judaism is an action-based religion. Study is part of this -- and I schedule time during my week and on Shabbat to study Jewish texts that are of interest to me and my friends. (Thank God we aren't expected to go daf by daf through the Gemara, as many men try to do!) I am an aural learner, so the increasing number of teachers who record shiurim is a wonderful blessing. Rabbis and rebbetzins and other learned people come into my kitchen (so to speak) to lecture me on a variety of topics that I find fascinating.

But beyond study is the need to do. What does it look like to strive to be a light unto the nations? How do you attempt to live the action of your Judaism?  And what if you, like me, are not a terribly spiritual person? I know that many women find spiritual joy in visiting with and praying with other women at Kever Rachel, at Ma'arat HaMachpela, or at the Kotel. Many participate in the davening for women each Rosh Chodesh at Shilo. I have participated in many of these opportunities, and have found them to be lovely experiences. But these visits are not a required part of my connection with God and His people.

I try to focus on the aspects of the Jewish experience that I think are the most relevant to me. One aspect: it is important to me to try to bring peace between my fellow Jews.

I live in a wonderful Jewish community which -- like any wonderful Jewish community in the world -- believes that individuals have a responsibility to feed and care for other Jews who are going through life cycle events. Without stressing out my own family, I try to participate in these opportunities to take care of my larger Jewish family.

We are enjoined to help the widow and the orphan. It breaks my heart that Israel still has such a high rate of poor, hungry, disenfranchised, broken Jews. One can donate not just money but time.

Speaking well of Israel and her Jewish citizens may help in bringing Jews to populate Eretz Yisrael, which may help to bring the Final Redemption. So I write about my experience here, and speak about it to friends. Not with rose-colored glasses, but with honest love. Having put in more than a half-century on the planet, I have a few learning experiences under my belt, and I try to share these in writing, when I think that my Father in Heaven would expect me to share.

Now -- one thing you may notice about the above list. There is nothing I am doing that is not part of the average Jewish woman's day to day experience, with a few variations. The point is that our lives are devoted to this fulfillment of our responsibilities to other Jews (and ultimately to God's entire world). I argue that this IS spiritual fulfillment. Remember the story of the fellow who dreamed of a great treasure buried in another man's yard halfway across the world? He travels to the location, at great expense and difficulty, to unearth it... only to find that this other fellow dreamed that the treasure was in our hero's home, under his floorboards. The first dreamer goes home... and digs up the treasure in his own home.

Our lives are so spiritually rich -- as long as we don't think the treasure is actually buried in some other guy's yard.

This is my experience of being a Jewish woman, and truly feeling actualized in the process. It will not work for everyone. But if we share enough of our positive Jewess experiences, perhaps we can create a tapestry that may benefit others. Your thoughts, please!


  1. Hitbodedut and hitbonenut are powerful tools for individuals and compatible groups. It takes a specific mindset to make them work favorably within group settings. I learned that in the course of my spiritual healing training with Ilan and Sandy Feldman. Connect with them, and with Chava Ashkenasi Bloom, too..

    1. Good recommendations, Yocheved. I will speak with Rivkah about contacting these women.

  2. "There is no moment in the life of a Jew that doesn't count. No such thing as "dead time." Every moment is fraught with meaning, and with opportunity."

    Right on!
    Love discovering this again and again. Such a simple/mighty challenge.

  3. That siddur looks fantastic. Thanks for sharing the pictures!

    1. It really is inspiring. I look forward to Michael Haruni's weekday version.

  4. This post has been included in Haveil Havalim: The Vayechi Vantage. Stop by, check it out, pass it along!

  5. Thank you for posting this in HH, Tzivia!