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.
I hate Jewish holidays.
I got married soon after becoming Orthodox, and I was excited to celebrate the Jewish holidays fully for the first time. My first sukkah, my first seder, my first kosher oven where I could bake dessert without double wrapping. It was all so new and exciting.
After a couple of years, I found myself engulfed in the planning/cleaning/cooking frenzy and lost sight of the spiritual significance of the holidays. In the fall, the month-long marathon of preparation and overeating caused me to lose track of what holiday we were even celebrating.
Maybe other women got trapped in the preparations, I thought, but I would rise above that. I decided that I needed to prepare myself spiritually. Learn more about the holidays. Come up with some grand scheme linking them all together. Prepare divrei Torah. Decorate for the holidays (you can do a lot with strategic floral arrangements).
I gave some awesome divrei Torah, and came up with my grand theory of everything. My sukkah decorations were inspiring and lovely — bridal tulle, watercolor drawings symbolizing each of the ushpizin (sukkah guests), “Sukkot” lights (on sale in January!). I hosted elaborate seders where the kids had a ball (Oriental Trading Company has everything you need for having fun with the plagues).
I made more of an effort to make it to synagogue at least some of the days. And during the Mussaf service I would pray a line taken from the Torah (Deuteronomy 16:16), “Three times a year all your males (kol zechurcha) are to appear before Hashem your God, in the place God shall choose; on the Festival of Matzot, on the Festival of Shavuot, and on the Festival of Sukkot; and they shall not appear before Hashem empty-handed.”
All your males.
This is not some rabbi betraying the deep misogyny of his day. This is God’s own words, in the immutable Torah, no room for ambiguity or claims of “misunderstanding.”
Every time I pray that verse or read it in the Torah, I feel a sharp slap across my face.
Why am I trying so hard to make the holidays “spiritual” and “meaningful”!?! I am not wanted.
My only role is to invite the guests, plan the meals and shopping lists; cook, clean, do dishes, and then do it all over again so my husband can celebrate his holiday. Oh, and put a smile on my face because no one wants to see a grouchy lady when they are trying to enjoy their holiday.
Instead of being times of joy and connection to God and Judaism, the Jewish holidays have become times of pain and profound alienation.
Whereas before, I was exploring whether it was halakhically (according to Jewish law) permissible for me to do certain mitzvot that women traditionally did not do, now I’m asking, “Well, why should I?”
It is not just this one word (males), it is so many other things in the Torah, Talmud, and rabbinic commentary too. But the words of God in the Torah are the source of what followed. Intellectually, I cheer for female scholars and women becoming active participants instead of ignorant and passive observers of Jewish life. Emotionally, I just can’t shake the bitterness that has partially morphed into listlessness and resignation. And I am left to ponder the question, “Why should I try so hard to make the traditions meaningful when they don’t seem to care about me?”
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.