Re-Examining my own Glass Mehitzah

07 November 2010 22:05 by SarainAkko
I typically take steps to keep my personal blogging fairly light hearted and without much intrigue but was tempted today by something larger than a contest. But rather a really on point question raised by said contest. A Tallit up for grabs was posted recently by a blog I've enjoyed reading for some time here.

So I began to think about my own interest in Tallitot. For starters I grew up in an egalitarian community where women did not wear a Tallit, but as I grew the environment began to change rapidly. Although just five years prior my sister was not given a Tallit, by my Bat Mitzvah it was not a question of whether or not a girl would wear a Tallit but which Tallit she would wear.

The options were not plentiful, you could choose between a very plain blue striped pattern or a more elaborate blue striped pattern. All wool, all with machine embroidered Atara and all miniature versions of a full grown man's Tallit, sized to accommodate the petite stature of a girl about to become a tiny woman.

As I had demanded a dark navy blue invitation with the skyline of Jerusalem in a 3 hour negotiation stand-still with my mother, it was my natural choice that I would choose the blue Tallit with the elaborate Jerusalem skyline to match. I was told repeatedly for years to come that this was a pretty "Butch" Tallit for a young lady.

I didn't care.

I loved wearing my Tallit. I loved draping it around my body. I loved being a fully-fledged adult and member of the community and I took this responsibility with all the maturity I could muster. Wearing a Tallit gave me a sense of religious purpose, stepping into my own space to commune with my Maker.

But I do not wear my Tallit anymore. I have become a more observant Jew, as observant as I imagined myself to be as a tween. I am a Jewish wife and mother and woman in Israel and all of these labels give me new limitations and horizons in my development. My chosen community is millions of miles away from the community in which I was born and I can't see myself walking around on Shabbat in a Tallit with all the men of my small city. I can't say that I would care to. As a modern religious woman I've found that can take that sense of my own space with me at all times, I don't need this props and staging.

I could go back and forth on the debate; is it forbidden, no. Does that make it appropriate, perhaps? Can a woman even wear a Tallit? Well, can't she?

I feel very fortunate to have lived to see a point in religious renewal where well educated and well grounded women are able to ask important questions. Questions that are not in defiance of tradition saying boldly that men and women are no different (believe me, we're different) but rather questions that force us to think like our sages. When our world has changed so drastically, are we not at a different point in our religious needs. The Torah is unchanging and society cannot be a measure of how to observe the laws of our Torah but there are questions that simply aren't answered by assuming a woman is not obligated and therefore may... or may not... or should not.

I don't feel that I would ever be comfortable in the community I was raised in. Their observances are now so foreign to me that I am often at a loss of words when I return for brief visits.

Instead of answering important modern Halakhic questions based in law and religious discourse, I often find that the purveyors of religious knowledge are limited in scope and are unable to adequately answer the basics of Religious Law. Instead there is an odd mixture of fear and myth about rituals they have deemed unnecessary such as Kashrut, Taharat Mishpacha and a host of other fundamental issues. This doesn't mean I resent other Jews who choose to live a different path than I choose for myself and my family but rather I am saddened that the outright prevalence of deeming my practices archaic.

I don't flinch at a woman in a Tallit and Kippa who is called Rabbi, but I feel a kindred purpose with those wearing a Tichel or beanie and are as well versed in living Judaism and Halakha as any man who never questioned whether or not he would wear a Tallit.

I hope that somehow my coming from this particular community widens their tolerance and love of other Jews as well as my own Ahavat Yisrael.

I guess I've arrived at a point where I can say a Jew is a Jew is a Jew.

Thanks to A Mother in Israel for the soul search.

I'd love to hear your comments if you've got them.

3 Response to "Re-Examining my own Glass Mehitzah"

  1. Yosefa Says:

    Beautiful post. I feel very similarly. I had a burgundy tallis with the 12 tribes, but I think my parents finally gave it away when I made aliyah. But I never gave so much significance to my tallis. Now that I know more about the reasons behind a prayer shawl or fringed garment, it makes sense that a women would not need one. However, some days when I really want to get through a bit of davening, I wish I could throw a fringed tent over myself to say, "keep out world; I'm talking to G-d!"

  2. SarainAkko Says:

    Thanks for stopping by Yosefa. I actually found my old Tallit on a recent visit to my mother's home. I still feel like it's mine, an old remnant of me. At the same time, I didn't bring it home.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I made my tallit when I converted (actually, I pottered about for months and finally ended up with a piece of cloth as full of idiosyncrasies as I am. It was a way of externalizing my journey to Judaism, and I love it for being there to embrace me. I must say, I find it harder to feel useful to davening, but that's more a result of me and my issues that it is of the question of whether or not wearing a tallit is appropriate for women.

    Material things are always secondary to the landscape of our inner life, and the actions that grow from our convictions. Moreover, the artefacts of our childhoods aren't always relevant in our adulthoods. But I guess, in the end, being the creators of our reimaginings can sometimes be incredibly powerful.

    <3 julia aka gwendolyn

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