Book: Life on the fringes - Livre d'Or








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Book: Life on the fringes
Sunday, 09 April 2006 at 03:51 pm
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Author: Haviva Ner-David

Details: (c) 2000 Haviva Ner-David; Pub JFL Books 2000; ISBN 0-9664306-7-0

Verdict: Life on the fringes is of very specialist interest and didn't teach me much I don't already know.

Reasons for reading it: The thing is, some of my religious practices lead people to assume I'm a feminist. This can sometimes be a good thing (but undeserved, since I'm not terribly politically committed), and sometimes draws flak.

Anyway, a friend from shul thought I might enjoy this book. This friend, let's call her Lily, is one of those people who are basically Orthodox by inclination but find that Orthodox Judaism (as practiced currently, not necessarily in principle) is just too misogynist to be bearable. My wearing the traditional fringed garment causes people like Lily to assume that my religious position is similar, which isn't really true, but I'm not entirely uninterested in these issues.

How it came into my hands: Lily lent it to me, having warned me that while the subject matter was interesting, the quality of writing isn't great.

I kind of skimmed Life on the Fringes in odd moments, didn't really sit down and read it through. Ner-David has accomplished some pretty amazing things in terms of forcing the Orthodox world to confront feminist issues (the book is subtitled A feminist journey toward traditional rabbinic ordination), but Lily was quite right that she is by no means a writer. I feel like the world already has Blu Greenberg, an equally impressive Orthodox feminist activist who also happens to be a very good writer, and this book doesn't really add anything new.

The personal aspects are somewhat interesting. For example, most of the people who keep the menstrual purity laws are also not the sorts of people who talk openly about their sex lives. It's also interesting to see laid out some of the way the Orthodox establishment has moved "rightwards" in the last generation or so. And Ner-David is clearly very personable and it's interesting to read such an honest semi-biography. But her explanations of the more theoretical halachic are too dry to be readable without being rigorous enough to be informative.

And yeah, it's overly sentimental, and it's jumps about between topics with no real structure, and could do with a professional edit, frankly. But it's published by a specialist small press for a reason: basically, only people who are almost entirely in sympathy with Ner-David's position anyway are likely to read it. And yes, I am interested in reading about religious paths which are not my own, but to be honest, Ner-David exemplifies exactly the sort of Orthodox Jew that pluralist Reform Jews like me find easiest to cope with, and I suspect that as a pluralist Orthodox Jew she'd find my brand of Reform Judaism pretty easy to swallow. So it wasn't really challenging.

hatam_soferet, if you ever feel like writing an autobiography about women taking an active ritual role within Orthodox Judaism, the kinds of people who would come away disappointed by Life on the fringes would probably be extremely grateful!


Whereaboooots: Shelford, Cambridge, UK
Moooood: blahblah
Tuuuuune: Renaud: La chanson du loubard
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:April 11th, 2006 04:05 pm (UTC)
26 minutes after journal entry
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It is sadly disappointing, isn't it? I came away thinking that she raised a whole lot of fascinating and difficult issues, but didn't really get into them so much. When I got to know her personally I came to think that the reason she left so many loose threads was because they weren't yet tied up in her life, so that was fair enough from a personal perspective, but didn't help the book much. I think she must've written it too soon under pressure from people who thought it'd be a really good read.

I think I'm going to wait until I've achieved something real to write about. Wait until I've got my Torah written and my articles published, then I'll write my memoirs :)
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From:curious_reader
Date:April 11th, 2006 10:41 pm (UTC)
7 hours after journal entry

interested

(Link)
I am also interested to read your memoirs. I actually have question about a woman issue. So this seem to fit in now. I know that woman are not obliged to do mitzvot which are time bound for example wearing talit. But what about Tefilin? Should they wear them or not? I actually thought they are just released from time bound mitzvot because they usually have a family to look after, i.e. their children and husband. In my favourite Masorti Minyan men and women bring their children and have equal reponsibilities. (Most of them arranged it like that which is great.) This special Minyan is egalitarian. Many women wear Tallit.

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From:curious_reader
Date:April 11th, 2006 10:46 pm (UTC)
7 hours after journal entry

Re: interested

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I forgot to ad a question. When a woman does not look after anyone but herself does the release of time bound mitzvot still apply? I am a single myself and my other flatmates as well. One of us the Machmir about Shabbat and especially Pesach but she never goes to Shul. My other flatmate who does not pretend to be extremely frum says she should go to Shul and pray when she is so religious. She is single like us and has no other obligations.
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:April 12th, 2006 12:27 am (UTC)
8 hours after journal entry

Re: interested

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There's a difference in halakha between why we might have started doing something and the general ramifications. That is, even though originally women might have been exempted from time-bound commandments because they had a lot of other commitments, from a halakhic perspective it doesn't matter whether a woman has a family or not, she's exempt simply by virtue of being a woman. It's not because we assume that all women are married with children; for different halakhic and sociological reasons, the exemption is applied broadly to all women.

When a woman decides to take on the time-bound commandments that's a personal, active choice that she has to make; she can have a family and observe the time-bound commandments, and she can be single and not observe any of the time-bound commandments, it's her prerogative to choose.

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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:April 12th, 2006 01:13 am (UTC)
9 hours after journal entry

Re: interested

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And I forgot - don't be too quick to judge people because they don't go to shul. Sometimes it's hard to find a community you're comfortable praying with, even though you may be very religious in other ways.
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From:curious_reader
Date:April 23rd, 2006 12:58 pm (UTC)
11 days after journal entry

Re: interested

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I live with the person for a year. There are lots of things wrong with her. I wrote about those problems in my block.

Another question: Why are in all orthodox and still some Masorti Minyan the women excluded, not counted, into the Minyan even if they wear tallit and put on Tefilin etc.? Rabbi Chaimer Wener and others spoke about Temple times and if women were included or not. They were not seperated but where they counted? Maybe the whole strict seperation only happened later when men also made discriminatory rules for women, like the voice of woman shall not be heart, nor shall she perform dancing in front of men, covering her hair etc.
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:April 23rd, 2006 03:57 pm (UTC)
12 days after journal entry

Re: interested

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In a nutshell, the question of who is counted in a minyan is not directly related to tallit & tefillin, therefore tallit & tefillin don't have a lot to do with who is or is not counted.

The longer answer is that there are certain things which are to be done in a communal context, and when it came to defining what exactly a communal context was, the social structure of the time meant that men were counted and women not. This has been the pattern in numerous religious and secular societies the world over. The rabbinic tradition justified counting men and not women by means of some formalistic wordplay, and that remains with us.

It's not clear how strictly this was adhered to. I doubt it was ever an issue in the Temple itself, since there would always have been far more than ten cohanim in attendance, and the presence of ordinary people, women or men, would have been more or less irrelevant. We might say that the rabbis wouldn't have discussed it had it not been an issue; that is, perhaps some communities were counting women equally to men and the rabbis felt the need to legislate against this, for whatever reason. On the other hand, the demarcation between women and men in the societies of the Levant in that era was pretty consistent, and it's quite possible that women weren't counted in a quorum just because - compare the governance structures of Ancient Greece, for example. You have to remember that the rabbis were responding to the societies they lived in; discriminatory rules didn't just come out of nowhere.

In modern times, the connection between tallit, tefillin and minyan runs thus: while a minyan is considered to be ten men, Rashi suggests that men have a duty to pray in a quorum whereas women are exempt (presumably because home duties would make it rather hard for them to get to shul, etc). A contemporary halakhist can then say that perhaps, if women had an equal obligation to pray in a quorum, they would be counted equally. This of itself is not a well-established halakhic principle, because of the formalist wordplay mentioned above; such wordplay is taken to have strong authority. However, one could argue this way. Then, one could argue that in order to be considered as having equal obligation to pray in a minyan, women must take on all obligations from which they have traditionally been exempt. This is Joel Roth's approach. Other approaches (Golinkin, for example) think that women may take on obligations piecemeal, so that an obligation in tallit & tefillin is not necessary for inclusion in a minyan. There are multiple other approaches, also unrelated to tallit & tefillin.

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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:April 12th, 2006 12:00 am (UTC)
8 hours after journal entry

Re: interested

(Link)
Tefillin are held to be a time-bound commandment, because they aren't worn on Shabbat or Yom Tov. The halakhic egalitarian perspective says that if women want equal rights, they should accept equal responsibilities, including the wearing of tefillin. So if you wear a tallit, it makes sense also to wear tefillin (except on shabbat obviously).
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