As someone who walks the fine line between the Conservative movement and Modern Orthodoxy while defying labels, egalitarianism is a hot bed topic. *
I can understand the rationalle behind egalitarianism, even though I don’t currently buy into it on a broad spectrum personally. However, I am a part of a traditional Conservative community and at this time, that influences my choice to remain semi-egalitarian. I will allow myself to be counted in a minyan and accept an aliyah. As a part of an egalitarian community, I do not want to put them in an awkward or uncomfortable place by limiting their ability to have a minyan (ie at Shabbat mincha where there are often only 10 people) or be rude to the gabbai. I will no longer be shaliach tzibur or leyn torah/haftorah though as that is an honor and action which is typically planned in advance. However, if the opportunity arose to lead a woman’s minyan or read megillah in a women’s reading – I would be happy to do so. I do not think that doing any of these things takes away from a man being able to do them, it is just baby steps on working my way to a different way of life. Meanwhile, I totally support my sisters who make the choice to be fully egalitarian, and those who do not.
I also fully support a woman’s right to take on additional mitzvot, such as wearing talit and tefilin. What I don’t support is doing it to make a statement or as an accessory. It is a mitzvah which by engaging in, you obligate yourself to – so unless you feel ready to take on additional obligations, I do not encourage it. There are plenty of mitvot for women which are not embraced as widely (*cough* mikvah *cough*) and are somehow “less than” as mitzvot because they are specifically for women. That is where I see the downfall in egalitarianism.
We drape Bat Mitzvah girls in a talit (with or without any sort of head covering) and teach them that to be a strong Jewish woman is to do these things just like their fathers and brothers. I recall very precisely my own experience of becoming a Bat Mitzvah, and feeling like I was on the cusp of Jewish womanhood by leading more of the service and reading more from the Torah. After my brother left for the US Army, I took his tefillin and the Talit he had decoarted in USY as my own, and wore them in the synogauge minyan every Sunday before I taught Religious School. I didn’t know why I was doing these things, just that it felt right to do it because the men did. Last time I was at my parents home I reread my Bat Mitzvah speech (the content of which I should really post for you all someday as it my parsha was Pinchas and I spoke of women’s rights, D jokes that it will be the intro to my book) and could not help but be amused at how much my understanding of Jewish feminism has changed in the past 17 years. I am still standing strong on the sentiments of my youth, just with very different actions and a more mature understanding of my place in the religious history, alongsde my modern sensibilites.
I now know that being a woman in Judaism is its own very special thing! We have our own obligations (even to daily prayer!) which are distinctively different because women are different. We are not men and we do not have to be men to be successful or religiously observant. If we embrace the power of being Jewish women – we have only the world to gain.
What is your take on egalitarianism, feminism, and being a Jewish woman?
*What I am writing will surely offend some people – that is not my intention. It is also not meant to be a stance that represents anything or anyone other than myself at this point in time. I reserve the right to change my mind at any point in time. I could also write endlessly on this, but need to keep blog posts shorter than the whole book in my head. There will be more to come I’m sure.