Browsing Tag

men and women

Uncategorized June 13, 2012

The Right [Curse] to Work

Tell me you haven’t received at least one email like this (all typographical errors have been retained for your enjoyment):

A woman, renewing her driver’s licence ,
was asked by the woman at Registry to state her occupation.

She hesitated, uncertain how to classify herself.   

‘What I mean is, ‘ explained the woman at Registry,
‘do you have a job or are you just a …..?’

‘Of course I have a job,’ snapped the woman.
‘I’m a Mum.’

‘We don’t list ‘Mum’ as an occupation,

‘housewife’ covers it,’ 

Said the recorder emphatically. 
I forgot all about her story until one day I found myself

in the same situation. 
The Clerk was obviously a career woman, poised,
efficient, and possessed of a high sounding title like,
‘Official Interrogator’ or ‘City Registrar.’ 

‘What is your occupation?’ she probed.

What made me say it?  I do not know.
The words simply popped out
‘I’m a Research Associate in the field of
Child Development and Human Relations.’ 

The clerk paused, ball-point pen frozen in midair and
looked up as though she had not heard right. 
I repeated the title slowly emphasizing the most significant words..
Then I stared with wonder as my pronouncement was written,

in bold, black ink on the official questionnaire.
‘Might I ask,’ said the clerk with new interest,
‘just what you do in your field?’ 

Coolly, without any trace of fluster in my voice,
I heard myself reply,
‘I have a continuing program of research,
(what mother doesn’t)
In the laboratory and in the field,
(normally I would have said indoors and out).

I’m working for my Masters, (the whole family)
and already have four credits (all daughters).
Of course, the job is one of the most demanding in the humanities,
(any mother care to disagree?)
and I often work 14 hours a day, (24 is more like it).

But the job is more challenging than most run-of-the-mill careers

and the rewards are more of a satisfaction rather than just money.’ 

There was an increasing note of respect in the clerk’s voice as she
completed the form, stood up, and personally ushered me to the door

As I drove into our driveway, buoyed up by my glamorous new career,

I was greeted by my lab assistants — ages 13, 7, and 3.
Upstairs I could hear our new experimental model,
(a 6 month old baby) in the child development program,
testing out a new vocal pattern..   

I felt I had scored a beat on bureaucracy!
And I had gone on the official records as someone more

distinguished and indispensable to mankind than ‘just another Mum.’  

What a glorious career!  

 Of course ending with “please send this to all mums that you know!!!!!!”


Variations on this theme are ubiquitous (I’m thinking of the one where someone figures out how much money motherhood would be worth on the job market).  But have a big bone to pick with it all.  Motherhood is not and never will be comparable to a job where people pay you.  It’s.  Just.  Not.  In fact, the two have nothing in common.

See, according to Judaism, working is neither a right, an honor, or a privilege.  It’s a… ready?

Curse.  Given to… ready?


And pregnancy, labor, and the difficulty in child-rearing is a… (you already knew this) curse!

Given to (you already knew this)…


For what?  For the sin of eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

Now for the disclaimers:

1. For some, working is an outlet, a way to feel useful, to give to society.  I refer to needing to work in order to eat.  (The source states: “by the sweat of your brow will you [be able to] eat bread.”  Far cry from part-timing it to deal with empty-nest syndrome.)

2. In some families, women help out with the bread-winning, and men help out with the child-raising.  This is good.  We help each other deal with our mutual curses.  That’s called “being kind” and is a pleasant character trait.  Keep it up.  Even, sometimes, women are primary bread-winners, and men are primary child-raisers.  This is OK too.  Nothing forbidden about that.

3. Equal pay for equal work is unrelated to this teaching.

4. We should still be grateful to the members of each gender for their hard work in their respective curses.  Just because they’re cursed doesn’t mean we have it lord it over them.  But to envy someone else’s curse seems rather unseemly.

Do you think?

For those of you that are into sources, check out Genesis/Bereishit/s 3:17 and 19. 

Uncategorized May 16, 2012

Is Feminism Hillary, Olivia, Jamie, or the-Hasidic-Women-in-the-Photo?

Is feminism Hillary, Olivia, Jamie, or the-Hasidic-woman-in-the-photo?

Let’s see.

In recent news, we have Hillary Clinton, a well-known feminist, appearing unadorned and bespectacled in a photo while abroad in Bangladesh.  In this interesting piece on the subject, Amy Odell says:

When asked by CNN about the makeup-less photo of her in Bangladesh
making the rounds this week, Hillary confirmed that her appearance is
“just not something I think is important anymore.” Fox News aside, the
world rejoiced over that sentiment. She “does not need to fret about
having the right sort of career-enhancing wardrobe, haircut or makeup,” wrote Robin Givhan for the Daily Beast.
“She could arrive for a diplomatic meeting wearing flip-flops and blue
jeans and no one would doubt her authority.” Styleite’s Jada Wong responded simply with, “Yeah, she rules.”

Personally, I (Ruchi here) think this is awesome.  A woman should absolutely be respected for her mind, values, and personal accomplishments.  Whether my political views are aligned with Hillary’s is highly irrelevant; my inner self salutes her inner self.  If this is feminism, man, I’m a feminist.

…In December of 2010, Hillary memorably tackled the media’s fixation on her clothing choices during a talk in Kyrgyzstan, when an interviewer asked about her favorite clothing designers. She replied, “Would you ever ask a man that question?”

Her comments on CNN yesterday are sure to inspire fans who wish they,
like her, didn’t feel pressured to look a certain way, as all women are.
This line in particular stood out: “I feel so relieved to be at the
stage I’m at in my life right now.”

[Note: if she actually showed up for a diplomatic meeting wearing flip-flops and blue jeans, hmmm, I’m not such a fan.  Part of the cool is that she could – but won’t.]

Next in line we have Olivia Palermo, a well-known “socialite.”  (My guard is up.)   It seems that:  

The socialite has become one of the most influential red-carpet
celebrities for style-conscious Orthodox women, who must follow three core rules of modesty in how they dress.

Well, now.  I consider myself a style-conscious Orthodox woman, and I’ve never heard of her.   But you can’t argue that sleeves on wedding gowns and longer skirt lengths have been made cooler by the likes of Kate Middleton.

Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, is also praised for her ‘ladylike’
clothes, and Ms. Heyman added that celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, who
often wears layers of vintage, ‘covers up in [a way] that works for the

Are Olivia and Kate feminists, then, for wearing longer, classier clothing that don’t broadcast or objectify them?  For not buying into that whole industry?  What is their motivation for covering up and creating a new trend?

If feminism means that we cover more to be taken seriously more (both by men and women), man, I’m so in.

Thirdly, we arrive at Jamie Grumet, a 26-year-old model and blogger – I refuse to link anything here – who recently appeared on the highly controversial cover of Time magazine nursing her 3-year-old son.  In a tank top and skinny jeans, her pose and facial expression defy you to question her ways, with the accusatory headline “Are You Mom Enough?” splashed across the page.

I’ve seen Jamie hailed by feminist women, for standing up for her attachment ways.  I’ve seen her vilified by equally strong-minded women, for selling out, turning moms against each other in a man-run corporation, and branding herself by her body instead of her mind.

Is Jamie a feminist?  Was she used?  Taken advantage of?

If feminism here means the right to expose yourself publicly, I’m out.  Equal footing with men, remember?  

Finally, we have these two Hasidic women.  They don’t seem to care about modern fashion, nor do they seem impressed or even aware that their pictures are being taken.  Are they repressed?  Cool, like Hillary, and relieved, to not care?  Do they “rule” like she does?

Are they feminists, like Olivia and Kate, for dressing in a way that does not leave them objectified?

Do they have anything at all in common with Jamie, for standing out with their non-conformist ways and proudly bucking the trend?

If feminism here clashes with these women’s choice of dress and lifestyle, whoops, I’m out again.  But if it means that just as my pediatrician wears long side burns and a bow tie, and that’s just fine, well, these women are cool.   That’s a choice.  If it means they are immune to the dictates of a bunch of socialites, nay, don’t even know what they have said to build immunity to, I’m in!

Who, indeed, is a feminist?

Then there’s me.  I like to look cute.  Sometimes I feel proud of that  – I fancy that maybe I am an example that looking “good” and being Orthodox are not mutually exclusive.  Other times I feel like a mindless robot.  Who says purple is cute this year?  Why do I care?  Maybe the most liberated women are those that know that following trends is plain old stupid and are man enough (pardon the expression) to live that clarity.

On the third hand, it makes me feel good when I feel that I look good.  But who is dictating those feelings?  Any girl worth her style-salt knows that your “cute clothes” from five years no longer make you feel cute.

So who’s the feminist now?

Related posts:

Yoga, Feminism, Judaism: how do you make your decisions?
The Decision Every Woman Must Make
Mythbusters #2:  Orthodox Women are Second Class Citizens 

Uncategorized November 18, 2011

The Danger of Being Orthodox

Note: the follow-up post on this subject is “What I’m Thinking When The Orthodox Make Headlines,” based on a query from one of my readers in the comments here.

When you’re identifiably Orthodox, you wear your religion on your sleeve.  Literally.  Either you’ve got a yarmulke or a long skirt but everything you do is a walking advertisement for or against your faith, and especially, your brand of your faith.

When you’re not part of a particular community, race, or culture, all “those people” appear alike to you.  You don’t know how to differentiate.  And Orthodoxy is no different.  So when “bad news about the Jews” hits the world, and in today’s tech society, it’s instant and viral, all Ortho-folk look bad.  Of course people are attracted to bad news like bees to honey.  Ever see a newspaper full of good news sell?

Controversial articles attract comments; car wrecks attract rubber-neckers; family drama attracts more family drama.  That’s how we are.

This week I attended two “very Orthodox” weddings.  As I looked around the room at the dancing, men and women each on their own side of the mechitza, black hats and all, I thought to myself:  I know almost everyone in this room.  They are good people, mostly.  Pretty much just trying to do their thing, raise good families, uphold basic values, make a decent living, and be faithful Jews.  Many are truly excellent people.  Exceptionally kind, humble, giving, forgiving, and busy dedicating their lives to helping others both organizationally and personally.  The emotions of joy, love and spirituality ran high in the room.

But then my brain switched to “outsider mode” (it does that often, with apparently no control on my part).  I wondered, if an outsider would walk in here, would they think us bizarre?  Odd?  Phobic?  Hateful?  Rude?

It’s painful.  And I’m not sure what to do about it.

What do you think?

Uncategorized November 9, 2011


Hello, do you have mechitza-phobia?  It’s a relatively new ailment, taking into account thousands of years of Jewish history.  Its name is derived from the Hebrew “mechitza,” referring to the divider between men and women during a prayer service, and “phobia,” from the Greek word meaning “fear.” We can diagnose this phobia with the following checklist:

1. Cynicism or antipathy toward the divider
2. Inability to concentrate on the prayers due to wondering what your spouse/child/friend is doing on the other side
3. Frustration/resentment if failure to hear or see what’s happening in the service takes place
4. Insignificance of the type of divider (front/back; side/side; balcony)

The mechitza derives from the set up of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (ca. 957 BC) where a “women’s courtyard and  balcony” were constructed so that women could join and see the spiritual events taking place there.  Hence the source for men and women not to mingle during holy events.  The original Temple did not even have a “divider” per se, as the construct was that a special balcony was accorded for the women – which still remains a popular architectural construction in Orthodox synagogues today.  Personally, I find this the most satisfying solution since I can see and hear everything with an aerial view.

Most people seem to appreciate most the side-to-side set up, but only if they can appropriately hear and see what is happening.  When I was a child, one of the synagogues we joined had a bullet-proof floor-to-ceiling mechitza.  After one Purim, when I could barely hear the megillah being read, I asked my mother if we could switch synagogues.  And she agreed!

While I am hardly a feminist (in the classical intent anyway), I feel comfortable in synagogues where I can see and hear.  While that might seem obvious, it’s important to discuss why.  I am in synagogue for one reason: to  talk to God.  Whatever will enhance that experience, so long as it is within the confines of Jewish law, I would like to incorporate.  I am not there to spend time with my husband, nor to spend time with my children, nor to catch up with my friends.  I am there to talk to God.

I’m sure lots of you have moderate to strong opinions on the subject.  Let the discussion begin!

Uncategorized September 8, 2011

So, How Did You Guys Meet?

April, 1993.  Jerusalem.

I am 18 and studying in seminary in Israel.  I have never had a boyfriend.  It is Friday during the holiday of Passover (Pesach) and I am at my aunt’s house.  I call my parents to wish them a good Shabbos, and my mother asks me if I am sitting down.  I sit, then say yes.

Mom: Someone approached me to ask if you would be interesting in dating while in Israel.
Me: Whaaaat?
Mom: It seems the Koval boy is in yeshiva in Israel right now and was suggested for you.
Me: But-but I’m still in seminary.
Mom: Why don’t you think about it?

Most Orthodox girls “start dating” for marriage when they return from their year/s in Israel.  Unless she’s not ready, a girl’s parents will start fielding suggestions from friends or relatives who “know someone” – ie, their neighbor, cousin, nephew.  My case was unusual because the guy was my neighbor and our parents were friends, so his mother basically suggested the idea to my mother, whereas typically a middle-man or woman is involved to minimize the awkwardness if one party is disinterested.  These are not “arranged marriages” – the dates are arranged, and not dissimilar from a classic blind date, and the marriage itself must be entirely consensual after getting to know one another.  Parents typically do a rather thorough background check, talking to neighbors, relatives, teachers, roommates.

My thoughts:
I’m not ready for this.  This is so exciting!  I’m not ready for this.  How cool is this!  Am I ready for this?  The Kovals are really special people.  Are you ever truly ready for this?

April, 1993.  Jerusalem.

The holiday is over.  I call my mother.

Me: So, what’s going on with the Koval situation?
Mom: Well, they are definitely interested.
Me: But I can’t go out while in seminary.  That’s too weird.  And everyone in the dorm will know!  I think we should wait till after finals.

Seminary is a time to focus on spiritual growth and textual knowledge.  I wanted to close one chapter before opening another.  It helped that seminary offered philosophical lectures and practical advice on dating and marriage, and I wanted to get that all in before I got started with the dating bit.  Also, typically the dating process is very private.  The guy and the girl don’t share with friends whom they are dating. This is for  two reasons:  one, to protect the couple from awkward explanations and gossip in the event it doesn’t work out, and two, as the Talmud states: Blessing only rests on that which is hidden from the eye.  Put differently, if you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it, or you risk losing it.

My thoughts:
How will I borrow that killer outfit from my Belgian friend in the dorm without letting on that it’s for a date?

June, 1993.  Jerusalem.

The “Koval guy” pulls up in a taxi to my aunt and uncle’s apartment in Jerusalem to pick me up.   He knocks, comes in, and sits at the table that is set with refreshments no one will touch.  We chat, and leave.  All according to script.  He speaks Israeli Hebrew to the cabbie and is very, very, nice.

After the date I return to my aunt and uncle’s apartment.  I am happy.  We went to a lounge and chatted for a few hours, then took a walk in a park.  It was a good date.  He’s very nice.  I’m willing to go out again.  My aunt and uncle are the “shadchanim” – matchmakers or middlemen, but that’s a lousy definition – meaning they mediate after each date.  It is de rigueur for both boy and girl to get back to the shadchan within 24 hours.  He does and also had a nice time.  The second date is handled through the mediators and is set for a few days hence.

The purpose of Torah dating is for marriage – no delusions there.  There is absolutely no touching before marriage, so the dates are spent chatting and in casual activities like touring, playing games, or eating out.  The subsequent dates are either arranged via the shadchan, or by the couple themselves over the phone once they become more comfortable.

My thoughts:
He’s so nice!  Could I marry this guy?  Wait.  I don’t need to know if I want to marry him.  I just need to know if I want to go out again.  I do.  That Israeli accent was pretty impressive.

End of June, 1993.  New York.

We’ve gone out 4 times in Israel.  Our dates have included a safari trip, an air hockey stint, a pizza date, and the boardwalk in Tel Aviv.  He’s really, really, really nice.  I respect his values and his opinions.  I am truly impressed with how he treats the waitress, the toll booth guy, and the parking attendant.  He is thoughtful of my schedule and respectful of Torah leaders.  I like that he’s also normal.  Very spiritual, but likes to have fun too.  Great family.  He obviously thinks this is going places, because he left his yeshiva mid-semester in Israel to continue dating.  Our next date is to meet his parents, which is hilarious, because I totally know them from the block.  But OK, to spend some time chatting.  As a potential daughter-in-law.  We meet in Central Park, then head over to a restaurant for dinner.  Future FIL jokes about my boyfriend ordering garlic spaghetti.  I blush.  FIL is sweet.  My parents are very supportive and talk me through the whole process.  At this point we do blood tests to rule out Tay-Sachs incompatibility.

If all continues to progress, the sixth or seventh date will be proposal time.   If either party feels they need more time, or are unsure if this is it, the shadchan will be notified and will relay this info to the other party with as much tact as possible.  Ideal shadchanim are kind, thoughtful, tactful, reachable, and responsible.

My thoughts:
If he would propose today, I would say yes.  I feel that I know everything that I need to know.  I feel confident that I making this decision with my head and not just my heart.  Thank you, Hashem (God)!  I am so grateful!  Thank you for sending me such an amazing guy, with no effort on my part!  You are so good to me.  May this be good, may this be right, may I only know happiness.  And if it’s not right for me, won’t you kindly alert me soon?

July, 1993.  NY/Cleveland.

Three dates later, he proposes at Medici’s in Manhattan.  I am glowing, I am ecstatic, I can’t believe it.  We have to keep it a secret because his grandparents are on a cruise and we don’t want to announce it without them here.  We’ll tell hand-picked family members only.  My grandparents have tears in their eyes.  They love him.  I am popping with joy.  A week later, we arrive in Cleveland, announce our engagement, and schedule a vort (engagement party), which the entire city attends.  Delighted comments range from “I had no idea!” to “I should’ve thought of this one!” to “I thought of this idea, but you were in Israel/I didn’t think you were dating yet/you guys beat me to it” to “Mazel tov!  May you build a wonderful Jewish home!”  It’s wonderful and my cheeks ache from smiling.  We set the wedding date for three months hence – October 18.

No touching = short engagements.  Can’t say the David’s Bridal peeps were too keen on this.  (“October 1994?”  “No, October 1993.”  “OCTOBER 1993??  That’s very soon, ma’am.”)  However, all the Ortho-folk involved in this shindig are totally used to this (the caterer, the Italian hall owners, musicians, photographers, and flower people).

My thoughts:
I’m so excited!  I’m so lucky!  This is serious.  I have to start learning about marriage.  I’m so excited!

August-September 1993.  Cleveland.

We arrange for a local Jewish rebbetzin to teach me about a Jewish marriage.  This includes all the mikveh laws.  I read lots of books and take classes on communication, the holiness of marriage, and the spirituality in building a family.  I feel very entrusted with millennia of sacred texts and learning.  The “Koval guy” has returned to Israel to continue yeshiva study, much to my chagrin and pride.  We talk once a week on the phone as he stands on his friend’s balcony in Israel with a cordless.  It’s noisy and hard to hear him.  It has to suffice.  I am so happy knowing that he, too, is taking many classes on marriage and how to be a good husband.  I pray a lot, in gratitude and supplication for our future.  I turn 19 in August and my birthday is celebrated with my fiance and his family, as well as mine.

My thoughts:
This is crazy!  Is this me??  Getting married??  Am I playing house?  Hashem, please let this be good.  Please let me deserve this.  Please let me know how to be a good wife and him to be a good husband.  Let us be healthy and happy and build a wonderful family together, kind, spiritual, loving.  This is crazy!

October 18, 1993.  La Malfa, Mentor, Ohio.

Marty La Malfa joins hundreds of guests in our special day!

And… how did you meet?

Uncategorized August 29, 2011

Why Can’t Orthodox Women be Rabbis?

Received this from a friend of an acquaintance of my husband’s.
I don’t know the questioner, but I do know she is a woman who has been doing some extensive learning about classical Judaism.
The questioner is referencing the recent controversy around ordaining Orthodox women rabbis and what title might be used therein.
The email is printed with all errors.  Since I don’t know the questioner, I didn’t want to alter her words at all.
“First of all – what is the big fuss about a woman having a title?? Maybe
it’s because I grew up secular and am a grad student, but in my mind if a
woman does the same learning, she should at least be able to have some sort
of title attesting to that. It would be like me going to grad school and not
graduating with a degree. It looks like there are a few “orthodox” female
rabbi type people (Shlomo Carlebach ordained a couple I believe), and I
don’t see what the big deal is. They aren’t leading men in prayer, or doing
the minyan thing, they studied a long time, and they got some kind of
smicha…..why the controversy? Does it say in the Torah woman can’t be
religious leaders?
“I spoke about this with Leah once and she said “well there are female
religious leaders, they are just called Rebbetzins” and also “why do women
need a title? just being learned is good enough to do lots in the
community”….yes BUT first of all, a Rebbetzin is married to a Rabbi and
gets that title through the her relationship not of her own learning merits.
Not to say there aren’t great rebbetzins out there, but it is not a title
given due to completion of a rigorous program of study, nor is it something
the wife of a business man has ( no matter how learned she is). For the
second issue, I guess I just don’t understand why they wouldn’t be given a
title of some sort – they did the learning, they put in the work, why deny
them acknowledgment of that? Sure men learn without becoming Rabbi’s, but if
she wants to work with people and be a religious leader full time why not
let her have a title that makes her work easier?
“Personally, I would be stoked to learn from a woman, especially the whole
bedika cloth thing and whatnot – she would be the natural person for that I
would think. I have an acquaintance down here that is a girl rabbi ( not
orthodox obviously ;), she is soooooooo freaking awesome – she has had this
amazing life – daughter of a rabbi from a long line of rabbi’s, highly
educated, used to be an electrical engineer, sky diver, all around cool
lady, and super educated on jewish stuff….well educated to the extent she
found teachers to teach her. I just wish there were women teachers like that
in orthodox judaism. Anyways, if you can help me understand all this I would
be very grateful.
“I know I am writing with lots of crazy questions – but I love Judaism and am
soooo grateful to you guys for teaching us!!!! Just trying to understand
things that aren’t making sense 🙂

Dear Friend,
I don’t know you, and you don’t know me.  But it sounds like you are right up my alley: curious, passionate, respectful, and honest.  I would like to respond to your questions, partially from a place of philosophy, but also from a place of personal experience.  I’m not asking you to like or agree with my ideas.  In fact, if you grew up secular in America in the past 40 years, it would be shocking for you to even be able to stretch yourself to hear me out.  All I ask is intellectual honesty to see that this position has validity.
You ask, “What is wrong with a woman having a title?”  The answer is, nothing, as long as it fits.  So should a woman be called, “Rabbi”?  Let us discover what a Rabbi is.  I am a mom; are you?  The title “Mom” is quite specific.  It refers to a woman who has either biologically given birth to or fostered or adopted a child and is usually raising him or her.  If a man biologically birthed a child (problematic verb right there) or fostered or adopted, is he a mom?  No, he is not a mom.  He can never be a mom.  He can be a dad, an uncle, a friend, but he can never be a mom.  A Rabbi, by definition, is a man.  How do we know this?
The Torah, yes, that very Torah that women want to hold, march with, read from publicly, study, and teach, has some very deep lessons about men and women.  These lessons are both timeless and timely which means that sometimes they may not sync with the trends of the day, but by the same token they will never, ever become obsolete.  In thousands of years of Jewish history, the Torah is still practiced and observed faithfully.
The Torah states that men and women have different spheres of spiritual influence.  A man’s sphere of influence is in the external, public world, and a woman’s sphere of influence is in the internal, private world.  This concept is alluded to in the kabbalistic, mystical sources; in the Talmud, in the midrash and the like.  This is the oral law, not the written law (the Talmud and its attendant commentaries).  But everything in the Talmud, et al, has a hook and a source in the written law.
The notion that men and women are hardwired differently is no secret to us married folk.  But in the world of spirituality, people somehow fail to understand that there are laws of physics.  Judaism is not just a warm and fuzzy blanket, full of feel-good moments.  It’s not just haroset and matza balls.  Just as science, physics, and the USA have laws, Jewish spirituality has laws.  If you follow the laws you can reach a most exalted spiritual place.
The notion of external/internal spheres of influence affects both how men or women are influenced, and how they influence.  We see this difference in our very biological anatomy.  A man’s anatomy, his life force, is external and visible.  A woman’s anatomy is internal and private.  She accepts within her body the life giving force, nurtures it within, and creates life thereby.  This is not an accident.  All spiritual realities have their parallel in the physical world.
My friend, the Torah, yes, once again I reiterate, that very same Torah that everyone wants to hold, march with, read from, study, and teach, tells us that a man will find his main spirituality through public and external service, and that a woman will find her main spirituality through private and internal service.  What this means in practical terms in 2011 is that the public place of Judaism, the synagogue, is the place that men will shine, and the private place of Judaism, the home, is the place that women will shine.
Is one better than the other?  What’s better, funner, cooler, more prestigious: to shine at the synagogue or to shine at home?
Do you see that the very question is flawed, my friend?  Our goal is not fun, coolness, or prestige.  It’s spirituality. What better place to discover our set of instructions for spirituality than the very Torah we seek to disseminate?  Do you see the problem here?  The problem is not that women are lesser for shining in the private domain, the problem rather is that no one values the private domain simply because PRIVATE THINGS ARE NOT VALUED.
In our society, what glitters matters; secrets are freely shared; the moms, teachers, and other unsung heroes are simply under-appreciated and underpaid; and no one wants to be behind-the-scenes.  This is a serious indictment, not of Judaism or Orthodoxy, but merely of where our society’s values have run amok.
Say you have a loving relationship with a friend.  The two of you are at a dinner party and you start recounting the funny story of your flat tire, and your friend rudely interrupts you.  This is completely out of character; you’re stymied.  But you trust her, and she trusts you, so you are certain there is a good reason and that all will be revealed.
See, God and the Torah are my good friends.  In their company, I have always felt respected, valued, and appreciated as a Jewish woman.  Valued for my intellect and valued for my ideas.  Valued for having seven kids and valued for being a teacher of Torah.  If God is denying me the title “Rabbi,” well, I trust Him.  He’s never steered me wrong.  I know it can’t be disrespect or denigration, because that would be entirely out of character and wouldn’t jive with anything else that I know about Judaism.
My friend, I study as much Torah as I can.  I teach Torah and counsel couples in crisis.  I love God and try to bring others to love Him as well.  For all intents and purposes my job quite closely parallels that of a Rabbi.  But if you’re not the mom, you’re not the mom.  You can call yourself a mom and you can cook and clean and change diapers and volunteer at the preschool and do all the things that moms do, but if you’re the dad, you’re not the mom.
So what is my title?  Some call me Rebbetzin.  I think that’s a funny title, because there are so many women more learned than I.  I don’t want a title.  I don’t need a title.  Guess what?  Any Rabbi becoming one for the title and prestige ought find a new job.  Glory-seeking and the rabbinate ought to be allergic to one another.
And too, I want to always remember that the God that I am supposedly serving in this whole endeavor has arranged things such that the internal, private sphere is my primary spiritual path.  I pray that I never forget.
With love,
Uncategorized August 10, 2011

Shakin’ in My Boots

Awkward:  I meet someone for the first time at a social event, and he sticks out his hand to shake mine.  I apologize and decline to shake, stating that, “It’s a religious thing; I don’t shake hands with men.”

Very awkward.

Let me explain.
Jewish law and tradition have a lot to say about relationships between men and women.
How to keep them monogamous.
How to keep them spiritual.
How to keep them fresh.

To put it bluntly, a physical relationship is only intended within the framework of marriage.

To this end, there is a whole huge lifestyle that goes along with living according the Torah’s directives in this area.  The basic logic is this: if boys and girls socialize, they will date.  If they will date, they will develop feelings for each other.  These feelings may or may not be real, mature, devoted, or sane.  A physical relationship will likely develop that will have nothing to do with one’s life partner.

Therefore, boys and girls in the Orthodox world, at differing degrees of intensity depending upon where along the ortho-spectrum one falls, are pretty much educated and socialized separately.

How about grown-up folks?

Well, since adult human beings are, erm, not immune to faithlessness, there are a number of guidelines in place to prevent unseemly or unwanted relationships from forming. 
Like not being alone with a member of the opposite sex unless you’re married.  Or immediately related.
Like not touching, unless same.
The general idea is that this is a safeguard, or as it’s referred to in Torah jargon, a “fence.”  To protect us.  From our very human selves.

“Question, Rabbi?
Handshaking is hardly a big deal.  I mean, it’s just like a business-like greeting.”

You’re right, which is why many halachic (that which pertains to Jewish Law) authorities permit it.  But some do not.  My personal rabbi does not.  The logic is – what if hugs become the new handshake?  (And, um, I think they have.  Possibly even kisses.)  Then what?  So some say, a handshake is a handshake, and some say, don’t even get started.  Touch is touch.  If you’re not shaking hands, you’re setting a very clear boundary right there.  Which, in an era of increased harassment suits, may not be such a bad idea for anyone.


But I’m still shakin’ in my boots at the thought of shakin’.  Why?  Because it has so much potential for awkwardness.  If folks already think that as an Orthodox Jew, I am standoffish/snobby/weird, this may very well confirm it for good.  Also, you know when you try to high-five someone and they don’t connect?  AWKWARD.  No one likes having their hand hang out in mid-air like a piece of cold, unwanted, spaghetti.  Also, and possibly most importantly, I don’t want to make anyone feel bad.

So I pray they won’t extend the hand.  Maybe a smile and a “hi, pleased to meet you” will be enough.  Maybe I can balance a plate of hors-d’oeuvres and a glass and that will be my “no handshake available” signal?  Sometimes my husband and I try to stand near each other so we can do each other’s handshakes.  A bit odd, to be sure (no points in combating the “Orthodox Jews are weird” category) but at least not reject-ful.

Ideally, people who know us can warn their friends or family in advance that we have this fetish so no one will mistakenly extend their hand.  Not because it offends me (as many people erroneously believe) but because the last thing I want to do is offend another by rejecting his handshake, when all he is trying to do is be polite and social.

So let’s make a deal.
Let’s not be offended by one another.
I think the shaking is subsiding.
Have you been on either side of the hand-shaking moment?