The Torch explores gender and religion in the Jewish community. Named for Deborah the Prophetess, "the woman of torches," the blog highlights the passion and fiery leadership of Jewish feminists, while evoking the powerful image of feminists "passing the torch" to a new generation. Disclaimer: All posts are contributed by third party authors. JOFA does not assume responsibility for the facts and opinions presented in them.
As a high school student, finding the right Purim costume can be rather stressful. There are so many factors to consider: Should I dress up thematically with my family or a group of friends? Does my costume conform to my yeshiva day school’s dress code? Can I repeat a costume from one year to the next?
One night before Purim, I spent a couple of hours scouring the internet for a new dress-up idea. Then, in perusing one of the sites geared towards Jewish consumers, I found this: “Boy’s Torah Costume, size 12-14.” I Googled the more general “Torah Costume” and was dismayed to find out that the item was called “Boy’s Torah Costume” on every website I visited. Despite the fact that it was not intended for me, I knew that I had found the costume that truly spoke to me. I love studying Torah. I love reading from the Torah in Women’s Tefillah services. I love incorporating the Torah into my ritual life.
As a petite woman, I knew that the costume would fit and I ordered it immediately. But I had to make one addition so that the costume would truly be appropriate. Many Orthodox rabbis suggest that a woman cannot touch a Torah scroll because she might be “temeah,” that is, in a ritually impure state, and she might transfer that status to the sacred Torah. Despite the many sources that clearly allow a woman to hold a Sefer Torah, this precludes women from participating in many synagogue activities, including dancing with a Torah on Simchat Torah. In order to take ownership of this costume, I added a quotation from the Talmud in tractate Brachot to the back. In English, the quotation means, “The words of Torah cannot take on impurity.”
On Purim day and on Shushan Purim at my school’s celebration, I wore my costume with pride. Admittedly, I wanted to get people talking. I am sure that some individuals saw my costume as extremely subversive or, perhaps, laughed it off as just another Nahafoch hu–a traditional Purim gag that upsets the natural order of things. But though I enjoyed participating in the lighthearted fun of the holiday, I was very serious about my costume’s message and its intent. I believe that I more truly engage with the stories, commandments and teachings of the Torah because I view the Torah as approachable, because I can open the scroll for myself, kiss the parchment and read the elegant words in their regal columns. I hope that more rabbis will join the ranks of those who already support women’s access to the Torah scroll.
I’m sure you’ll agree that my “Boy’s Torah Costume, size 12-14” looks pretty good as the more generic “Torah Costume, one size fits all.” Generally, I don’t wear a costume more than once, but I think I’ll make an exception next year. I want to keep spreading the message that women and men, girls and boys may approach and embrace the Torah.
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Pronounced: PUR-im, the Feast of Lots, Origin: Hebrew, a joyous holiday that recounts the saving of the Jews from a threatened massacre during the Persian period.
Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.
Pronounced: yuh-SHEE-vuh or yeh-shee-VAH, Origin: Hebrew, a traditional religious school, where students mainly study Jewish texts.