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.
“Ima, can you help me with my chapter of megillah?” My thirteen-year old son Davi, who recently became a Bar Mitzvah, has volunteered to
leyn a chapter of megillah at his school’s megillah reading on Purim morning. “My teacher gave us recordings,” he tells me, “but I want to learn it the REAL way—with the trop.” I smile. He reminds me of myself as a young teenager: eager, passionate about his Judaism, yearning for authenticity.
So, we sit together and begin to learn. We discuss the places where the trop turns to Eicha trop and why that is. We discuss where to pause for the congregation to recite a verse out loud. His prepubescent soprano voice rings out clear and sweet as a bell. We laugh together when a trop comes out sounding funny. We sit together at the dining room table, cozy and happy, learning together and enjoying each other’s company.
The only remarkable thing about this scene is that it is utterly unremarkable in our home. My son did not think twice before heading straight to me when he needed help with leyning. He didn’t even consider going to my husband. Trust me, he goes to my husband for help with lots of other things, including leading prayer services,
homework, and lots more. But, in our home, Ima is the leyning expert, the one who teaches the kids their parasha for their Bat and Bar Mitzvahs and who leyns the megillahs on Purim, Tisha B’Av, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Davi doesn’t know any different. In his experience, moms are the ones who leyn.
Our lived experience is immeasurably important to how we see the world. Perhaps nothing brought that home to me as vividly as the day, years ago, when Davi came home from preschool before Presidents’ Day and exclaimed, “IMA! GUESS WHAT?! Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer! I thought only girls could be lawyers!” The only lawyer Davi knew at age four was his mother. Why should he possibly think that the law could be a career for men too?
So, part of my goal as an Orthodox feminist is to transform our community’s lived experience, and, in so doing, reform our unconscious expectations and preconceived notions about gender in Judaism. Each time my children see a Rabba or a Maharat in front of their synagogue, their automatic association between rabbi and male is challenged. Each time my children sit in a gemara class taught by a woman, their brains are being patterned to see women as Talmud scholars. As we all know, once those connections are made and once old patterns of thinking are broken, change comes more quickly and more easily. It’s a lot easier to make the case for hiring a Maharat in a synagogue whose congregants have long had experience with female religious leadership!
All of this was swirling around in my head as I sat at my dining room table learning megillah with Davi. I felt my heart swell with contentment and hope for the future. I yearned to share my moment with my community of friends, so I decided to share it on Facebook. “Teaching my son to read megillah,” I wrote—and then, in an attempt to explain why this act felt so much bigger to me than it might have appeared on its face, I hashtagged my post: #OrthodoxFeministMoment. It was my Orthodox feminist moment—a moment of poignancy and meaning in which my dreams for the future of Orthodox Judaism seemed possible and attainable.
Imagine if we all posted, tweeted and proclaimed our #OrthodoxFeministMoments. Maybe our collective voices swirling through cyberspace would help shape a new reality for the future.
Did you have an #OrthodoxFeministMoment today?
Pronounced: muh-GILL-uh, Origin: Hebrew, meaning “scroll,” it is usually used to refer to the scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther, also known as the Book of Esther), a book of the Bible traditionally read twice during the holiday of Purim. Slang: a long and tedious story or explanation.
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.