Orthodox Feminist: Not an oxymoron

If you Google Orthodox Feminism, or some derivative there-of you will be initially greeted by JOFA, but after that things get dicey. For some reason, even amongst many modern women, the idea of feminism and orthodoxy appears to be an oxymoron. I know women who learn text intensively (including gemara) who refer to it with a joking tone as though it were impossible that an Orthodox woman could also identify as a feminist.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to any of our long time readers (and even those who have only recently joined us) that I strongly identify as a feminist. I have written about many topics surrounding this in the past, including my support of JOFA, but it is time to be more direct.

I am an Orthodox Feminist.

I do not find these two things to be at odds with one another. Feminism to me has always been about opportunities being available for a women to make choices about how to live various parts of her life. Not having to be “equal” to a man, but in her own unique womanly ways. Not in any specific way, but in a way which is personally relevant and meaningful. I felt that way at thirteen wearing a talit and reading torah, and I feel that way at thirty wearing a tichel and learning talmud.

To loosely quote a rabbi I know here: if women can be brain surgeons, why can’t they lead kiddush? [Of note, a woman leading kiddush is totally ok according to the Shulchan Aruch (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, 271:2).] I am sure that he is not the only Rabbi I know who has made an observation of this sort, but the analogy is particularly striking. In an era where women can follow their passions to be whatever they chose, be it a stay at home mom, work at home mom, or full time career woman in nearly any field – why can we not empower women in Judaism similarly? There is not one mold for us all to fit into, but lets figure out what the options are (and within halacha for those to whom that is important) and keep the conversation productive and proactive.

Photo posted to http://jofaorg.tumblr.com/ – Post by Melissa

Simply put, I have a unique contribution, and I want the opportunity to make it. I don’t want to be a man, but I want to learn, grow, educate, and inspire to my fullest capacity. I know that I can make an impact, I just need to be able to keep breaking down the mental barriers that even other women have around it.

We are our own best friends and worst enemies. If we do not empower ourselves and each other, we will never be able to find the happy balance where women are educated and empowered within the confines of halacha.

We cannot continue to find orthodoxy and feminism to be oxymoronic and dichotomous. We have to embrace them together if women are ever going to feel good about being themselves within a traditional/halachic experience of Judaism. So take some time to actually listen to the women around you, not just the words that they say but what they aren’t saying and what they are doing – you may be surprised how many Orthodox Feminists you really know.

{{Two important links: A  new Tumblr started by JOFA where you can submit your own responses about why you think we need Jewish/Orthodox Feminism, and a recent post on The Forward’s Sisterhood Blog where one woman shared her battle to find her footing as an Orthodox Feminist in America.}}

Rebbetzin vs Rabbanit

I first heard the term rabbanit about a year ago, and always had the impression it was the Hebrew equivalent of rebbetzin, which is Yiddish.

However, a recent conversation in the Midrasha showed me another viewpoint….

One of my classmates said to me that I was going to be a great rebbetzin. To which another responded immediately “No she won’t, she’ll be a rabbanit.” I thanked the first person and quizically looked at the second. She went on to explain that rebbetzin is simply the title one gets by being married to a rabbi and that anyone can be a rebbetzin. In her opinion, a rabbanit is  woman who is educated and respected in her own right, who happens to also be married to a rabbi.

Woah! Now thats an interesting distinction. It sort of had my mind reeling with the implications and questions, but I couldn’t come to any sort of conclusion.

So now dear readers, I ask you — Do you feel there is any difference between the terms “Rebbetzin” and “Rabbanit?” Does one of these trigger a guttural reaction like it did to my friend?

Think, Pray, Eat

Every year I make a “resolution” at the Jewish New Year.  Not a fluffy one like people often make on January 1 that is forgotten just a few weeks in – but something that will hopefully make me a better Jew.

Last year, I wrote about my resolution to be better about speaking my tefillah. When I made the choice last year to focus on speaking the words of my prayers, I recognized that there was another side to improving tefillah that I was not focusing on at the time – frequency. I feel that I made the right choice in increasing the intentionality and kavanah of my tefillah first, but am now ready to really make the next step.

Post by Melissa

I want to be one of those people who stops to properly express gratitude for every morsel of food I eat, for every miraculous and beautiful thing I see in nature, and for my bodies ability to heal itself when I treat it kindly. I want to do many things to improve my frequency of prayer, and I know that this is one that will go in increasing stages throughout the year. Being in a place where we gather and say mincha independently together every weekday and I am surrounded by women who are more consistent about saying brachot than I am is going to really help me in this.

I’m going to start by focusing on food, and we’ll see where it goes from there. I am grateful that I know what I should be saying most of the time, I just need to stop myself, think about what I am about to eat and where it comes from, say the blessing, and then eat my snack. (I am much better about doing it at meal times, than while snacking.) I think my new motto will be: Think, Pray, Eat – kind of like my own version of Eat, Pray, Love I suppose. I am pretty good about thinking before I speak and in many ways before I act, so I hope this is something which I can gain a mastery of fairly quickly and then move on to other places where I can increase my daily brachot so I can keep inching closer to the 100 blessings a day goal.

(I am also resolving to get back in the habit of blogging once a week! It has been hard with all the life changes, but those are especially what this blog was designed to share, so I need to carve out the time for myself and for all of you to do that. I figure if I say it publicly then you can all help hold me to it.)

What do you want to work on to make yourself better this year?

A Wall for All?

Upon moving to Israel a big question in my head was if/how I would interact with Women of the Wall. I have written about the group before, and after the experience of a close friend of mine this month, I had to speak out again.

Ten days ago was Rosh Chodesh Elul. A particularly auspicious time in the Jewish year where we are to focus on reflection, teshuva, and preparing for the holy of holies. Yet, when a friend of mine donned her talit to pray with Women of the Wall (as she does in her shul every single morning, whether in the US or Israel) – she was arrested by the Israeli police.

In the past, women have been detained for carrying the Torah and a myriad of other things, but this time was different. Lorraine was actually arrested — for having worn a talit “like a man.” Apparently wearing a striped-talit folded up onto the shoulders, instead of a small colorful one that is more draped around the shoulders, is “behavior that could lead to endangering the public peace.” This is now a criminal offense in this democratic state. My friend was one of four women arrested that day for this offense. This is unlike any experience in months past.

I have a very hard time wrapping my head around this entire situation and was very grateful when WOW posted a piece from Lorraine in her own words. Knowing her well, I can hear her speaking to the police and see her sitting in the police station, but even if you can’t, I am sure you can imagine some other loving and gentle yet passionate woman in your life in her shoes.

Take a moment to read the post and really think about it. I’ll wait.

Regardless of how one feels about the halacha here, I think it is hard to argue that it should be a criminal offense to wear a large striped talit, which the government has declared to be for men and not women. The kotel is not a (insert-denomination-here) Orthodox synagogue. It is a communal holy site for all Jews, and the fact that one can be arrested for praying in a way which is widely recognized and authenticated is abhorrent. Israel is a democracy, and it takes great pride in being unlike the regimes which surround it, but I have to say that when I read about Lorraine’s experience  (as well as those who get hit, kicked, spat on, and more in other parts of the country for various “reasons”) I’m not so sure we’re really keeping up the standards of inclusivity and democracy we claim to have.

Singing a New Song

I know I owe many posts about many topics and answering many questions, but right now, this just had to be said first. As we overcome the many obstacles of moving to a new country, the owed posts will slowly but surely make their appearances on both blogs.

 

Post by Melissa

Over the years, I have heard many people wax poetic about the great Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem. People told me all sorts of amazing things about it which intrigued me and had me looking forward to experiencing it. So much so, that with two Shabbatot behind us in Jerusalem, it is the only place we have gone to services.

There is nothing anyone could have said to truly prepare us for the experience of being in such an amazing space.

Shira Hadasha, which translates to “New Song,” lives up to its name, and more.

As I prayed on Friday night, I continually found myself in complete and utter awe that such a place could exist.  It felt to me like we had finally found a place which fit us. A place in which we were truly comfortable. Here we were, in a mechitza minyan where an educated and rational group of people had found the balance between women’s inclusion, feminism, and halacha. A woman was leading Kabbalat Shabbat, and then a man led Ma’ariv. On Shabbat morning a woman led Psukei and the Torah service and a man led Shacharit and Musaf. Aliyot and leyning were divided between men and women. The amud and mechitza are right in the middle of the room with a gabbai on each side. The mechitza is a sheer-ish curtain which is pulled back at the appropriate times for all to be able to see (i.e. during the d’var torah and announcements), but people are steadfast about keeping it closed during services.

Beyond the logistics, it is filled with beauty. There is a warmth which radiates from the entire room and songs are filled with avodat Ha’shem. Over these two Shabbatot we have been present for the celebration of a Bat Mitzvah, aufruf, and baby naming. Each time the community sang and wrapped up the families in so much love, that I (a complete outsider) was brought to tears. The joy in the room for each family was truly palpable.

I wish there were more places with such a simultaneously grounded and uplifting service. Both D and I hope and pray that minyanim like this will continue to grow worldwide and will have a communal place in the future of Jewish religious life.

While it is a bit of a walk for us to attend (and truly up hill both ways), we intend to regularly attend services at Shira Hadasha on Shabbat mornings and would love to introduce any of our friends to it as well. Even if it is not what you would normally seek out, I think it would be hard not to have an appreciation for the unique (and extremely hamish) community.

 

(This post is cross-posted to our family blog. For more updates about life in Israel, subscribe there too.)

Updates from the Meliverse

I can’t believe how quickly our big move is approaching! I have a long list of deep and thoughtful posts to write, including things such as Orthodoxy and Spirituality, Attractive vs. Attracting, and starting hair covering before marriage.  Alas, that list juts keeps growing along with my other to-do lists. Sigh. Soon, soon, bli neder.

In the interim, I had a few quick things to share:

- This year’s Mother’s Day tribute post, is found over at Jewesses with Attitude. It  was an honor to get to write about two of the most amazing women I have ever known at once. I’ve written about both of them here before separately, but to put them together was extra inspiring.

- I am in fact still in denial over how soon I need to say goodbye to Denver, so please don’t remind me. The ambiguity of mid-July keeps me in denial.

- Dustin and I are keeping a secondary blog to chronicle the daily life of stuff leading up to and eventually happening in Israel. Feel free to read along if you are intereted in that stuff: bayitguti.wordpress.com

- If you want to connect us to cool new friends in Jerusalem, feel free! I have some friends there alredy, but the more the merrier! (I think I’ll need some people to help me make the adjustment.)

- Have I mentioned that I’ve never been to Israel? Like, never ever. The first time my feet will touch the holy land’s pavement will be when I step off the plane on August 2nd to move there for two years. (Let the freak outs commence.)

Hmmm… I swear there was more, but I am not totally sure what it was.

Redefining Melissa

Over the past week, I have had a series of interactions and experiences which separately may not have done much, but strung together really made me stop and think.

Before diving into the meat of the matter, allow me to recap my subtly inspiring week. Monday the announcement was sent to my colleagues and our boards about my impending move to Israel, which allowed me to share it here and speak about it openly. | Tuesday I had my first learning session with my Partners in Torah chevruta (study buddy) and was thrilled to get to do some serious learning with a great woman. | Wednesday I started connecting about part-time job opportunities for while I am learning, was asked to study the halachot  (laws) of head covering with a friend who is interested in learning them, and had an amazing heart-to-heart with a friend while helping her set up for her son’s Bar Mitzvah. | Thursday I attended the first gala event for a local campus chabad and met my rebbetzin doppelgänger who gave a very inspiring speech about humility, where she asserted that in order to be humble we must embrace what we uniquely have to offer the world. At the same time, I was celebrating the recognition of a good friend, mentee, and future chevruta as the amazing young leader she is. | Over Shabbat, I found myself listening to my husband learning Pirkei Avot on the balcony with a friend (sorry D and A!) and when I finished my book, I turned to Inside Outside, rather than the next novel on my list.

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Post by Melissa

So much of my identity has always been built around what I do, as opposed to who I really am.  I have let career goals define most of my adult life, and before then it was other activities I was involved in.  While these are all a part of who I am, none of them alone is me. Melissa is a dynamic person with many hats (literally and figuratively), and being able to transition amongst them and even discard ones that no longer represent where I am or where I’m going is ok, as is boxing them up and taking them down to try on periodically to see if it is time to put them back in rotation. Just as I have favorite hats and scarves because they are comfortable and steady reflection of me, so to do I need to push the boundaries and try something new once in a while.

The decision to learn in Israel was very difficult for me.  The idea of wearing the hat of a student without a degree at the end was extremely uncomfortable. I vacillated more times than I can count between getting a second masters degree (I already have an MSW), learning, volunteering, working, and every combination thereof for the two years we intend to be in Israel.  My close friends and family would ask “So, what’s the plan this week?” when we spoke, and knowing that I was changing my mind constantly.  In the end, I decided to focus on learning torah lishma (essentially, learning for the sake of learning) because it is a once in lifetime experience to learn like that in Israel.  And while I hope to have some part-time work, it is to make living more comfortable, rather than from an inexplicable need to define myself by a job.

So what did the above mentioned events of the week have to do with all of this? I found myself wanting to learn and grow and engage with my newest hat: student without a degree goal.  I am embracing this next step of my life in perfect alignment and timing.  It is as though making it public allowed me to shift and embrace it in a way I had previously been unable (or unwilling) to do. In allowing myself to make a decision and get excited about, it has permeated my life – intermingling with the components which were already present.

I am more than any one part of who I am.  I am a career oriented woman. I am an observant Jewish woman. I am a lifetime student. I am a blogger, a mentor, a relative, a wife, a future rebbetzin, and so much more.  I am all of these things, and yet none of these things.  While none of them completes me, they each add something to who I am. I am creating a new reality for myself, not defined by any one  piece of who I am, but looking to unite those things together. (I know that I mentioned on Monday that my new career goal embraces this type of blending, but it took a bit longer for it to become a part of my bigger picture.)

So while I have a bit of a road to go before I can really redefine rebbetzin, I’m excited that for the time being I can redefine myself instead.

L’shana Haba b’Yerushalyim

Pesach as always been an emotional time of year for me, but this year it went to a whole new level. This year, I knew that when we said “L’shana haba b’Yerushalyim” it meant something tangible. Next year, I will (iy’h) be in Jerusalem.

Holy crap, did I just write that? Did I really grin like a crazy person at the sedar singing L’shana haba b’Yerushalyim? (Chaviva can confirm I did, I’m sure.) Is this real life?

Why yes, yes it is. And honestly, we all knew this had to happen at some point, right? I mean how can we change the world without having spent some time doing serious torah lishma in Israel. So, off we go!

I will be at Nishmat for at least one year doing general studies and hopefully alongside the Yoetzet Halacha program. Having spent the past few years working as a Jewish professional while interacting with so many of you via this blog and the social media world it connected me to, I have found a space which calls to me in a deeper way. Discussing these topics feels natural for me, and like a perfect coalescence of my social worker, health educator, and Jewish communal worker selves. Ultimately, I hope to be able to use social media to make taharat ha’mishpacha (the laws of family purity) less scary and more meaningful and accessible.

Meanwhile, D will be at Pardes for the first year and the time thereafter will be determined as it grows closer. He may stay at Pardes, learn in the Beit Midrash at Bar Ilan, spend some time at HaMivtar, or explore a yeshiva we don’t know about yet. Only time will tell how the specifics all shake down. He does have conditional acceptance to what seems to be a perfect fit for a rabbinical school, however we are always exploring the programs we may not have previously known about or considered so that we can both make our dreams come true.

I have to thank you all for your support and discussions. I only look forward to seeing where this next step of the journey takes us, and hope you’ll stick along for the ride.

(Also if you know of any grants, scholarships, etc that we should apply for beyond what MASA promotes please let us know!)

Sneakily Styling Scarves

I love scarves as headcovering on a daily basis, however I don’t like always looking the same. So while I have watched many a Style Underground video to get inspiration, I’ve also found a few creative ways to expand my scarf styling repertoire lately which I wanted to share.

My hair is roughly shoulder length, and grown out from a pixie cut so it still has lots of layers and thus doesn’t make a great bun or really give bulk on the back of the head for styling and generally not looking hairless under the scarf.  To combat this, I have started wearing a hair donut (shown to the right) under my scarf. I pull my hair up into a messy ponytail where I want to have the nice bun look at, and then simply place the donut around that pony. I don’t roll it all fancy like people who would use it properly do, since it doesn’t show anyway.  This gives the illusion of a fuller bun, and also allows some bulk on the back of my head. (These are widely available on amazon as well as drugstores, grocery stores, etc.)

Another side effect of my grown out pixie cut is an inability to form one solid ponytail, so I often wear a wig grip headband under my scarf which serves a double purpose.  It both helps my scarf stay in place without pins, and hols all my short pieces securely under the scarf too so they don’t become escape artists.

I also miss having a bit of volume in my hair, and one day while strolling along with a friend I saw some Bump Its on crazy clearance and I wondered if it would work.  Well, it does! You do have to style the hair over it otherwise the teeth of the comb show through the scarf, but its a great way to add some height to your look. It also allows me to do some of the fancier styles which you need a high ponytail to really bulk up. I mostly use the middle level of the three, it gives height without being so obvious. When I do this, I can also wrap headbands or second scarves better because you have more surface area on the head to balance it out. (These are all over amazon for under $2!)

Most simply though, I sometimes just tie a second scarf underneath to give some bulk and fullness.  If you want to have an extra touch of color, you can layer it so it sticks out or wrap the tails visibly, or if you want to be sneaky, you can wrap it totally underneath and only you will know.

What other sneaky tricks do you have to mix up your look for scarves?

Review: SuperSlip by Shell Sheli

I was recently contacted by one of my favorite online shops for modest layering pieces, Shell Sheli, to review their new product: the SuperSlip. As a tall woman, I can definitely appreciate the idea of a skirt extender, though I was a bit hesitant to accept the product as I am so tall, I feared it still wouldn’t work for me. After some very nice and informative emails, I agreed to test this new and innovative product for you all.

Here is the basic info:

The top is a smooth polyester slip to lay flat under your skirt without adding bulk.

The bottom 8″ is made from a thicker material to extend the line of your skirt.

It is 26″ long and held in place with a thin elastic band which allows you to comfortable wear it at any point to make it the perfect length.

It comes in A-line and Pencil shapes to meet the needs of your wardrobe.

 

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When my package arrived (quite speedily!), I was eager to get a good feel for these innovative slips. I tried one on under my comfy skirt just to get an idea, and it was love at first sight.

Post by Melissa

I wore the a-line slip under a skirt to work on Thursday, and the pencil slip under a summery dress on Shabbat.  The pencil slip was worn in place of a jersey knit layering skirt, and was a very different feeling.  It stayed in place better while walking, and was also much lighter – such a great alternative for summer! Both days I found myself to be extremely comfortable, not having to mess with my skirt or be self conscious. While I had to wear them down around my hips in order to be long enough, it didn’t bother me at all.  I also pulled it up to wear high for a test to see around the house, and that was also comfortable.  The diversity of these slips is amazing. The only negative I can say is that it did shorten my stride – though that isn’t inherently a bad thing, sometimes its nice to be forced to slow down a bit.

For a limited time, use coupon code “blossom” and save 15% on your order, and if you are fast, you’ll have them in time for Pesach!

Note: I received both slips for free to review, however I did not receive any additional compensation.