The Person Behind The Posts

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Spiritual Balm for a Jewish Woman's Soul - Part 3 (of 3?)

This is Part 3 of a blog-based conversation between me and dear friend and fellow blogger Ruti Eastman who challenged me to articulate what I think a Jewish woman's spiritual path looks like. You know, if it isn't going to include shul and all that.

I'd like to acknowledge at the outset that there are Torah-observant Jewish women who are happy with their roles. Not subjugated happy. Genuinely happy. That may even be the majority of Jewish women.

But I'll be honest. I'm tired of hearing all about a woman's spiritual path being defined primarily by her family and her home. I'm not tired of hearing about it because it's unimportant. I'm tired of hearing about it because it's incomplete.

Because here's the rub.

Not all Torah-observant Jewish women have husbands. Or children. Or even homes of their own. Or they did at some point but don't anymore. Or they don't yet, but hope to some day. How is a woman supposed to express herself as a soul if she lacks a husband, a child, a kitchen, a home?

My personal situation is blessed. I have a husband (a rabbi even) and, thank God, a healthy marriage. Though empty-nesters now, I have raised children. I have had my own home (and my own kitchen) for at least 30 years. I don't love my family and my home any less than other Torah-observant Jewish women do. But a marriage, a family and a home, as much as I love these precious things, was never enough for me. Not when I was building a career, not when I pursue intellectual goals and definitely not when I want to grow closer to Hashem.

Does that make me so out of the ordinary? I know so many women like me that I forget that not everyone's itch is so difficult to scratch.

During the course of this blog conversation, I've begun to articulate a paradigm, a new way of amplifying Judaism. This paradigm explicitly articulates multiple ways a Torah-observant woman can reach toward the Infinite, throughout all the stages of her lifetime.

First, some underlying assumptions: The most well-known, the most widely recognized Jewish rituals are generally in the male domain. What women do is often internal. Even our rituals in the physical world are often done privately. So it may seem like we're not doing much at all.

It occurs to me that defining the Jewish woman's role is tricky in the same way that defining what ought to happen at a Bat Mitzvah is tricky. For boys, the Bar Mitzvah, for the most part, is fairly well scripted. But a Bat Mitzvah can be recognized with a very wide array of events. Even for our own daughters, we did very different things because they are different people. We had leeway with daughters that I believe we would not have had with sons.

Hineni moochanah u'm'zumenet. Now I'm ready. I'm proposing this conceptual model as a way of illuminating the spiritual path of a Jewish woman, of answering the question, "What does a Jewish woman actually do?"

You might recognize it as a variation of bein adam lechavero and bein adam lamakom with one major difference. Beneath each category are some of the spiritual activities open to Jewish women. The lists are meant to be illustrative, not comprehensive.

(Acknowledging that this path is not open to all women at all times.)
  • Number One is definitely giving birth. Granted it's not exclusively Jewish. And my soul wishes that Judaism offered some kind of ritual for a woman to honor the moment of birth, the moment when one body becomes two (or more). Nevertheless, there is no denying the raw spiritual power of conceiving, nurturing and bringing forth life.
  • Raising children and teaching them about Hashem
  • Teaching Torah to your children
  • Making/taking challah
  • Lighting Shabbat and Yom Tov candles
  • Taharat HaMishpacha
  • Shalom Bayit - growing and working on self in order to contribute to a peaceful marriage
  • Carrying responsibility for shaping the individual family members into a unit 
  • Chesed - general neighborly kindnesses as well as contributing time and/or money to organizations that specialize in acts of chesed
  • Derech eretz - the requirement to treat other people with respect and honor
  • Hachnasat orchim - bringing guests into the home
  • Bikur cholim - visiting the ill
  • Praying for the welfare of others
  • Giving tzedaka (charity)
  • Avoiding lashon hara (gossip and hurtful speech)
  • Facilitating the spiritual growth of others, bringing them closer to Hashem
  • Building community
  • Learning Torah 
  • Hitbodedut - ongoing, private conversation with Hashem
  • Emunah - strengthening her belief that everything comes from Hashem
  • Anticipating geula - actively, not passively, waiting for Redemption
  • Hakarat HaTov - the absolute discipline of noticing and acknowledging Hashem's many kindnesses throughout the day 
  • Loving Hashem
  • Tefillah - in whatever form prayer works for the individual woman
  • Singing and dancing to Jewish music
  • Simcha - serving God with happiness
This model is a paradigm in development. I share it with the belief that we could strengthen a lot of Jewish women and bring them closer to God and to Torah if we spoke more openly about, if we placed more value, as a community, on the many ways that a Jewish woman can actively express the spiritual power of her soul.

How I wish someone had explained Judaism to me like this when I was a newbie.


rutimizrachi said...

Ah, Rebbetzin! There is so much wisdom here. I look forward to continuing our discussion. <3

miryam heiliczer said...

Profoundly beautiful. Thank you, Rivkah for sharing what is in your heart and confirming what is in most of ours.

with faith and trust said...

Yes! Thank you!
I know you said this is not meant to be a definitive list, but I would like to add something (explicitly) to the list. The aid/participation we give/have with each other in life events, like when we prepare meals for families with new babies, or during other times that it can be a help (an illness, a trip of a family member out of town, etc.), during shiva and afterwards.