Sunday, January 31, 2010

Judaism and control

I do not feel as good about Sisterhood Shabbat this year as I did last year.

I had the strongest feeling that we were entering into a world of men, and that we were playing at doing the things that the men do. It was not a good feeling.

Maybe it had to do with the three men - regulars - who arrived first, and who were chatting in the sanctuary with smirks on their faces. I do not think I imagined it. They were smirking, as if to say: these silly women, taking over our service for a day, what will they screw up today?

Judaism belongs to all of us. The Temple belongs to all of us. The bimah, the ark, the Torah. We should feel comfortable taking part, leading, doing an honor. The service is not just the purview of the men, the regulars, the Rabbi. It belongs to all of us.

The rigidity, the need to control, "it has to be done a certain way"...this is really starting to rub me in the wrong way.

I know that control is a big issue of mine. Feeling like others are controlling me. It's always been a big issue of mine, as long as I can remember.

Here's another example. Last night, we were at a program at J's school for the fourth grade. The kids sang some songs in the gym, then everyone moved to the classrooms. They did some things in the classrooms, then we moved back to the gym. There was a lot of: stop, wait, line up, do this, do that, don't do that yet. The whole thing made me very uncomfortable. It was so rigid, it had no spontaneity.

Maybe Judaism is just -- at its core -- about things being done a certain way. It's not particularly spontaneous. It's about order and control. Maybe that's why I feel always feel a bit uncomfortable at temple, with certain Jewish practices. I'm always resisting that control.

Hmm. Why has it taken me so long to figure this out?


RivkA with a capital A said...

I'm curious about this Sisterhood Shabbat thing. What exactly is it? Is it a women's tefillah? Is it instead of the regular service? Why are men there?

adena said...

We belong to a conservative (Masorti) shul so men and women sit together, everyone is allowed to do aliyot, to lead services, to read Torah, etc. etc. I guess for that I should be grateful. I remember when it wasn't this way. Once a year, the Sisterhood (kind of a women's club at the shul) "takes over" the main Shabbat services, and women do all the roles. What I was commenting on is that even though we are encouraged and allowed to do this, it still feels like a man's world there a lot of doesn't feel like a women's service...and I often get the feeling that some of the "regular" men and the Rabbi (who is male) are annoyed with us...

RivkA with a capital A said...


I usually daven in a pretty traditional, modern Orthodox shul.

Before we moved, I participated in a women's tefillah group, once every 6 weeks. (I still participate a few times a year, but it now means going away for Shabbat, and that's not so easy)

It is only women and I love the warm and supportive atmosphere. Women and girls do everything and there is no one looking over our shoulder.

In college, women from all different backgrounds came to our group. Maybe you would enjoy something like it.

Here, there are also women from different backgrounds, though the differences are less obvious.

Anonymous said...

I've been hearing this refrain about control a lot lately. You're not alone and I'm sorry it feels yucky. But to those of us in the audience, it was a lovely Sisterhood Shabbat.

45 is the new 30 said...

Adena, I found this post to be very interesting and eye-opening. I was aware that total egalitarianism is not a standard way of thinking within Orthodox congregations, but I had assumed that Conservative congregations were somewhat more inclusive with regard to the type of participation/involvement you described.

I belong to a Reform synagogue that has leanings that most would probably describe as quasi-Conservative. For me and my family, it's a great fit and a great balance.

Overall, I've never really stopped to think in terms of any gender limitations at our synagogue. I guess that's probably because, from everything I have seen, heard, and experienced, women in my congregation are considered to be as competent and "entitled" as men, and as welcome to participate in any and all roles/experiences ... both on and off of the bima. But reading your post made me realize that expressing "gratitude" for egalitarianism between men and woman vis a vis things like being able to do alliyot, read from the Torah, etc. is something that I guess I should think to do more often. That type of parity is certainly NOT something that I should be taking for granted.

We currently have three Rabbis within our congregation - two are male, and one is female. While our (male) senior Rabbi leads most services, our (female) Rabbinic Scholar also leads services; one of the guest Cantors we have had is a woman. The President of our congregation this year happens to be a woman, our Executive Director is a woman who has held that position for many years, and roles on our synagogue Board are pretty evenly split between women and men from year to year, so decision-making is a pretty egalitarian process. I've never heard any type of discussion - positive OR negative - about the active role that women take in our synagogue, both on and off the bima. And, I guess it's to everyone's credit that I've never stopped to think of any of these individuals according to what gender they happen to be, but just as people who bring specific strengths and qualifications and personalities to the table.

I'm currently participating in a year-long Adult Bat Mitzvah program this year - I went through 10th grade in Hebrew School, but never went through the Bat Mitzvah process - and in June my class will lead the Shabbat service when we are called to the Torah. There are about a dozen of us in the program - we range from women in their early 30s to those in their 70s (I'm 49 YO); most of us pre-date the era in which becoming Bat Mitzvah was what "everyone" did. I truly can't imagine any emotion in the sanctuary on that June Shabbat except for joy and celebration (okay, and nervousness!). However, your post has reminded me to also count among my blessings the fact that I have this type of opportunity as a woman! And, I should also count among my blessings the fact that my own 13 YO son *assumes* that woman have as much to offer, and are *entitled* to participate as fully in our religion, as men. (He was shocked and very angry when we recently discussed the issues being faced by the "Women of the Wall" in Israel.)

So, thanks for the reminder to count another blessing in my life. I'm so sorry that you feel so judged and constrained within your own synagogue, by your fellow-congrgants. I really hope that - somehow - the eyes of those who have been judgmental and critical of your efforts will be opened, and that you will soon be able to feel like a fully equal and valued member of your congregation.

And, I hope that - even though you feel that the men in your congregation don't accept you as an equal and would rather keep women in a more subordinate role - you remember that your desire to be active and creative as a Jewish woman, and make this a "PEOPLE'S world" instead of just a "man's world", is a wonderful thing!!

Kibbitz said...

The control and welcoming issue need to be dealt with by the board. If you feel that way, others must also. You are putting it out there for discussion, others just leave.

We are in the process of redefining what welcoming means. And its a messy process but I think that's how it needs to be.

Men do not control our shul and as long as I have been a member, they never have. In ten years, we have had as many women presidents and lay leaders as men. Men and women participate regularly in all aspects of the service. This past summer, our Rabbi did not deliver a single dvar. He asked a different member to speak each week. It was thrilling!

As for the Saturday service, in many instances, the spirit has been drained away. I was able to participate in several truly uplifting services this past summer. They were so moving and I was so enraptured that I literally had goosebumps and the thought of it brings a smile to my mind. What these services proved to me is that you CAN get a group of 600 onto the same page, into the same mindset, if you provide the right vehicle.

Several years ago, a group of us, led by a charismatic young rabbi who has since moved on, started a Friday night service that is designed to produce that spirit. We moved the service to a smaller space, we provide a CD or mp3 version of the service for download so that members and seekers can get familiar with the tunes, we involve people in the service not preach at them.

But if you look at it, the beginning and end of Shabbat are the most moving services. Kabbalat Shabbat allows you to shed the stress of the week and joyously welcome the day of rest. While Havdalah attempts to gird us for a new week, with Wine, Fragrance and song.

I would recommend a book for your board (and for you). It's named the Spirituality of Welcoming by Dr Ron Wolfson.

Mamma M said...

It's so funny how we have these epiphanies as adults and think - wow - I can't believe I never clicked two and two together...

adena said...

thanks, everyone, for your thought-provoking comments! have a lot to think about!

45 is the new 30 said...

@Kibbitz: "The control and welcoming issue need to be dealt with by the board. If you feel that way, others must also. You are putting it out there for discussion, others just leave.

We are in the process of redefining what welcoming means. And its a messy process but I think that's how it needs to be."

I totally agree with this. I started to wonder, Adena, if there are other populations within your congregation who might not feel such a warm and fuzzy welcome, either. Inclusiveness with conditions isn't really all that inclusive! And those who don't feel welcome do, as Kibbitz maintained, often "speak with their actions" and may be walking away from your congregation to join others in which they feel more at home. NOT good from either a fiscal standpoint (especially at a time when many synagogues are already feeling the pinch of the rotten economy) or from a "Golden Rule" one, either.

At my own synagogue, we have families that include gay or lesbian partners, families in which one spouse is not Jewish, Jewish families of color. I would imagine that there are many congregations that would have less-than-open-arms toward any or all of these groups. And I can tell you that, even within my own congregation, some of these groups were more warmly welcomed at first than others. As Kibbitz said, "it's a messy process".

And that's not ideal, but it's okay. Things - especially things that are quite different than what has been the norm for decades and decades - are not always going to be easy, or seamless. Nor will these changes happen in a binary manner - it's not usually the case where something is shunned one day, but wholeheartedly embraced the next. But as long as acceptance seems to be shifting on the continuum ... well, that's a good thing. Then we each just have to decide whether the shift is happening quickly enough to make the waiting bearable.

So you don't feel as though you, as women, are accepted as equal members of your congregation. Do you feel more accepted in this regard than you did ten years ago? Five years, two years ago? If so, then there's some hope there, and you can decide if you can "wait it out" the rest of the way. But if things just don't seem to be changing at all in terms of your comfort level as a woman who wants acceptance as an equal participant, or if the changes are happening at the "speed of snail" ... well, I guess only you can determine if there are enough other positives that you glean from being a member there to outweigh this aspect that obviously bothers you a great deal!

Are there others to whom you've spoken who have expressed similar doubts and dissatisfaction, and a similar feeling of lacking control? Do you think that you could find a sympathetic ear on the board with whom to have this dialogue - either on your own or with other like-minded individuals? I just hate the thought of someone "settling" for being treated with anything less than the respect they deserve, or feeling like an unwelcome relative or inferior appendage ... particularly in a synagogue, where Jews are supposed to be able to come for unequivocal comfort, acceptance, participation, and community. ALL Jews, not just those who neatly fit into the confines of a narrow mold that has been built by a narrow-minded few.

Shabbat Shalom, and have a wonderful weekend! (And, if you are fellow East-Coaster, stay warm and safe, but enjoy the blizzard!)

Tamara said...

Beautiful comments. Please make sure you're constantly educating yourself about Judaism, so you will be judged by what you know, and not who you are. Volunteer to do a haftara, or tora reading. If your shul says it is egalitarian, it must be pushed to walk the walk. I recommend getting familiar with Reconstructionist writings. We use the Recon. hagada every year and it has changed our seder!

The mommy said...

There's such a misconception of women vs. men in Judaism altogether and you are probably experiencing a great deal of confusion because of it. I was not raised religious at all and have recently become an observant Jewish woman and I really feel like screaming sometimes when I realize how many women out there have no clue as to the value of a Jewish woman.

I wonder how many women know why we don't wear teffilin or are obligated in 3 formal prayers a day with a minyan (ten people)? How many women can actually answer this with confidence as apposed to just something they heard along the way and became their reality?

If you're interested in hearing the sources of these reasons and how it explains SO much about women and men and our roles and strengths I'm happy to share it with you all!

With love

50 is the new 30 said...

@TheMommy, you use terms such as "obligation" in your explanation; using that particular "lens", I'm pretty sure that most of those who have commented here have been educated at some point about why the obligations, the responsibilities, of men and women are different within Judaic practice. At least, I (life-long Reform-affiliated Jew that I am) have, so I'm assuming that others have as well.


I don't want to speak for Adena, but I don't think that she was referring to "obligations". She - and I, and many of the others who posted, it seems - were referring to WANTING to participate, as Jews, in a way that makes us feel whole and accepted and "central", and that is meaningful for us ... of being COMFORTABLE in the extent to which we desire to participate, and truly WELCOME to participate in that manner or to that degree:

@Adena: "Judaism belongs to all of us. The Temple belongs to all of us. The bimah, the ark, the Torah. We should feel comfortable taking part, leading, doing an honor. The service is not just the purview of the men, the regulars, the Rabbi. It belongs to all of us."

That mindset - that of "wanting" to participate and contribute in a certain way, of desiring to be an integral part of the congregation and the service, and of being able to sustain a level of "comfort" with, and acceptance by, our congregations through our own "brand" of participation - is (in my opinion, at least) virtually *counter* to the idea of "obligation".

Obligations are often performed with a sense of resentment or, at the least, rotely ... while I believe that Adena is talking about wanting to give, to participate, to belong and be accepted and respected. To contribute in a way that is rich and meaningful to her, and to express her connection to G-d and Torah as she wishes to express it. She doesn't (I'm pretty sure!) want to light a bonfire on the bima and dance naked in front of the ark as a way of expressing herself; she just wants to be able to create and fully participate with the respect and acceptance of ALL within her congregation ... men and women alike.

(continued below)

50 is the new 30 said...

(continued from above)

@TheMommy, you also talk about concepts such as the "roles" and "strengths" of men versus women. With all due respect - how can you know where my particular "strengths" lie? Or Adena's strengths? Or Kibbitz's or Tamara's, or any other woman or man you don't know? The tenets that you're using to define our specific roles and strengths force all individuals into narrowly-defined (and, to me, very arbitrary) slots determined virtually solely by gender. These rules presume that all women are embued with the same strengths, and that all men have a unique - yet, within that group, homogenous - set of strengths. In my mind, that's the same as indicating that all engineers and accountants should be male because "of course all men are better at math and science" than women, or that - even more egegious - all professional basketball players should be black, because "of course, all African Americans are better than all Caucasians in basketball".

Fortunately, few people would buy in to either of the examples I cited, and would consider them to be both inaccurate and exclusionary; in the same vein, sweeping generalizations about the strengths and appropriate roles for men versus women in Judaism, in my opinion, do a huge disservice to Jews of both genders.

If our "strengths" should determine the roles we play, then it stands to reason that, ideally, every one of us might have a different role - irrespective of gender - that suits him/her best. For example, Adena (and I apologize for continuing to use you as my example ... but it's your blog, LOL!) may be a wonderful orator, a superb sermon writer or composer or talmudic student or cantoral singer.

So, if these are areas in which she truly excels ...

AND if these are areas that are truly meaningful to her and bring her joy and a feeling of being closer to G-d ...

AND if she can "give back" to her congregation through her involvement in any of these areas ...

Then why should she not be permitted to do so? Or more to the point, why shouldn't her desire to do so be welcomed with *** open arms and hearts *** ?

(continued below)

50 is the new 30 said...

(continued from above - last one, I promise!! [blush])

@TheMommy, I hope that you won't think that I'm trying to attack you for your beliefs. I've been (figuratively!) sitting on my hands for many hours since I initially read your comment, trying to put my thoughts into words that would not be interpreted as hurtful or condescending. But your assertion that "I really feel like screaming sometimes when I realize how many women out there have no clue as to the value of a Jewish woman." And this: "I wonder how many women know why we don't wear teffilin or are obligated in 3 formal prayers a day with a minyan (ten people)? How many women can actually answer this with confidence as apposed to just something they heard along the way and became their reality?" honestly felt a bit condescending toward, and disrespectful of, anyone who does not choose to observe as you do. Others who are "observant" to differing degrees posted comments as well and contributed to a very interesting dialogue; your comment was the only one that really struck me in this manner.

I've no doubt that you can easily refute the entire contents of this comment post by citing various passages from Torah and Talmud; honestly, you don't need to go to the trouble to do that for me. (I'm not being snarky ... I really don't want you to go to the trouble!) And that's why I belong to a Reform congregation whose policies and practices are largely in synch with my own beliefs, while you are obviously aligned with a more Orthodox "brand" of worship. But please don't assume that I believe as I do because I'm ignorant or lazy. I'll respect your right to believe as you do even though I don't agree with some of your beliefs, and I'll assume that your decision to practice as you do is an informed one ... so please give me and others "like me" the same consideration.

Slightly early, but Shabbat Shalom from the snowy, wind-blown Northeast!

(And yes, I changed my screen nick - I've been using the old one for a long time and I'm MUCH closer to 50 now than 45, so I thought it was time to make the shift, LOL!)

The mommy said...

@50 is the new 30: Thank you firstly for taking the time to write out your thoughts to well and I do not take offense. I really do see what you said about my post sounding a bit disrespectful in ways as I did not explain myself at all.

I'm so happy to see how many women are sharing ideas about Judaism online and like you said, it saddens me when anyone feels that they can't connect properly to their own Judaism, in any way that might be.

I don't think this is a place for me to go into why I said what I said because I think it is a blog in and of itself..perhaps one day I will write that blog! It's a good idea actually. But i'll just say I'm a Jewish woman who went from Buddhism, to Christianity to Judaism and I have never in my life been so fulfilled and inspired. I don't see it as religion because that word has been so distorted, rather I see it as clarity as to my goals and purpose in life and connecting to people and to my creator. But again I'm not backing up what I'm saying. If anyone is interested to hear more on a personal level I do not want to take away from Adena's blog!

I don't judge anyone's practices you should know. I only judge actions I believe to be right or wrong but I work on loving all people. We are all God's children and I'm just thankful to be able to connect to all of you.

Thank you for putting me in line though, I do not want my comments to sound judgmental or rude in any way. I guess when a person feels they've stumbled upon a pot of gold they just want to share it with the world! And so in my innocent desire to share my passion I sometimes come across in the wrong way.

I'm smelling the challah baking in the oven and have to go check it...Shabbat Shalom to you too!