I was brought up religious – modern orthodox to be sure – our home was always kosher, we observed Shabbat and the holidays, Judaism was central to who we were. I went to Hebrew day school from the age of 8 and have probably forgotten more obscure texts and divrei torah than I have remembered.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s I was very aware of the women’s lib movement in Judaism. Some women wanted to have to same privileges as men in shul as well as in day to day life, they wanted aliyot to the torah, to be able to daven for the tzibbur, to don a tallit and tefillin and yarmulke.
The way I see it, we are not men, why would we want to do everything they do? I am all for gender equality – especially in the workplace. But Judaism doesn’t say that women are better than men, or that men are better than women. We have different roles to play, responsibilities that use our unique and inherent gifts. Honestly, I am glad I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to go daven with a minyan, and learning about the complicated process of how to don tefillin – before coffee?? No thank you.
Giving birth, while probably the hardest thing I have ever done – defined me as a woman, and it’s an experience that will stay with me forever, in a positive way. Never in my life have I ever felt G-d’s presence as strongly as when I welcomed my children into the world. To me, asking to be like men, to have all the religious obligations that they have, that’s like saying it would be ok with me if one day men give birth. That just doesn’t sit right with me.
When I was married most if not all of the religious stuff at home – Kiddush, hamotzi, havdalah etc, was done by the man of the house. I am sure if I had really wanted to, I could have done it too, but my life was busy enough with 4 little kids doing their darndest to turn my hair white. But, since we split up, it has been me that makes the Kiddush on Friday night and does all the religious ritual in the house. Of course that will change once my oldest becomes barmitzvah in the not too distant future. He can’t wait – apparently I flare my nostrils when making Kiddush which cracks them up every time. My pronunciation is not the yeshivish oys that they are used to. I enjoy singing shalom aleichem with my children, and having them sing Eshet Chayil to me moves my soul beyond words, every single week. It doesn’t matter who leads and who follows, what matters is the participation.
My son’s barmitzvah is approaching, and it has been hard for me to accept that the actual barmitzvah itself, the torah reading and aliyah, has no place for me, his mother, the woman who birthed him (insert guilt inducing story of how long the labour was here) and raised him. But the truth is, even though I would love an aliyah, and to have the chance to read from the Torah – such a renegade, me – the barmitzvah is about my son, not who his mother is, not who his father is, but about him and the man he is due to become. I know that I have a huge hand in the man he is becoming. My part in that has been to nurture him and help him grow, to help him learn about who he is and where he wants to be. I have shown by example, and making a bracha on the torah or not doesn’t change it. I don’t need to be standing up there on the bima saying look at me, I raised my son well, look what a good job I did, and look how equal I am to all the men here. Because I have fulfilled my role as a Jewish mother it will be evident in all my son does and how he performs mitzvoth in his life.
Most of the barmitzvot I have attended, only men speak at the dinner. The father says a few words, the roshei yeshiva give their divrei torah, and the barmitzvah boy gives his “pshetel”. Those who know me well are not surprised to know that I plan on giving a speech too. It is not because I want to be equal to the men. It is because as a mom, and a single mom at that, I cannot let this opportunity go by without addressing my son, my family and my community, and letting them know what an awesome day this will be for me, as a Jew, as a Jewish Mom, as a woman. It is not just a celebration of my son becoming a man. For me it is a celebration of success. That despite all the adversity that was thrown our way we didn’t give up, we kept on trucking, we stayed focused on our goals, we continued to embrace religion and found comfort in that. As a Jew I need to stand up and welcome my son into his manhood. As a Jew I need him to know that the path he is following is the right one, is a path that will bring him joy and contentment, as it has brought me.
It’s not a male / female thing. We are each born with our own character that life fleshes out for us, and to try and become something else goes against nature. I have much more to say on this subject, so watch this space.