Perhaps I'm more female than I think - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Perhaps I'm more female than I think
Monday, 12 June 2006 at 06:49 pm
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I have always maintained that I don't care very much about the gender of the person leading services. I prefer egalitarian synagogues given the choice, but I am perfectly comfortable with the fact that many sections of the Jewish community don't believe women should take public ritual roles. With this background, I surprised myself by how strong my own emotional reaction was when I walked into synagogue on Saturday and heard a woman leading the morning service.

The Great Synagogue is supposed to be partially egalitarian, which in practice means time-sharing among other things. Although they are meant to have egalitarian services regularly, actually they happen when someone gets round to arranging them, as far as I can tell, and it's hard (for a relative outsider, at least) to know about them in advance. Anyway, I hadn't managed to catch one until now, so this was the first time since I came to Sweden that I had heard a woman's voice over the PA or seen a woman on the bimah at all. It was interesting to observe the different demographics too; there were several women, wearing tallits, who are never seen at the non-egal services. The men's section was also rather depleted, but I don't recognize faces well enough yet to be sure whether they had boycotted the service or just decided to sit in the mixed section in honour of the egalitarianism.

The rabbi gave a sermon in which he encouraged, in rather strong terms as far as I could tell from guessing at the Swedish, the congregation to vote in favour of full egalitarianism when the issue is put to the vote. I was also spotted by the people who are obviously active in the egalitarianist movement within the community, and they invited me to join them for weekday services (which are egal already, and I hadn't known until this weekend that they even existed).

So, today I showed up and indeed I was the tenth man. I've never done that before. The thing is, most of the kinds of communities that do weekday services are also the kind that don't approve of women getting involved, and I've never felt particularly keen to get up early for a service where at best my presence is irrelevant and quite likely actively unwanted. Of course, since the community is "partially" egalitarian, it makes entire sense for the weekday services to choose the pro-women side, because that makes it more than twice as easy to get a quorum. And the whole point of women having the same rights as men religiously is that we also have the same obligations. They actually needed me there in order to have enough people be able to say some of the prayers and read from Torah. And they gave me an aliyah and I really felt that I was able to do something for the community, which hasn't been easy up to this point (for various reasons, not by any means all to do with gender).

I'm not saying I'll show up regularly twice a week. But I think I will make an effort to be there when it's not too inconvenient.

While I'm on the subject, I owe my feminist friends an apology for this post. The post in my head was meant to be pointing out the incongruity of seeing these half-naked women prancing about on campus in the name of feminism. But I allowed the post by email function to tempt me into posting too hastily, and I got distracted onto being grumpy about protest marches as a way of achieving political goals, and what with a poor attempt at self-deprecating humour, it ended up looking like a rant about how feminism sucks. Which was really not my point at all.

So, many thanks to redbird and adrian_turtle for giving me serious and thoughtful answers and not being impatient with my ignorance about feminism. I am ignorant, but not as ignorant as I came across in that post, and I do appreciate people making the effort to explain their beliefs rather than assuming I'm the enemy. Thank you both. And my apologies to you and to any other feminists who may have read and not wanted to comment, for implying (even unintentionally) rude remarks about your beliefs.

I was really reluctant to create a gender tag, because I don't care about gender. But I find myself using it a lot recently, so there you go.


Whereaboooots: Stora Synagogan, Stockholm, Sweden
Moooood: lovedwelcome
Tuuuuune: chazzanut
Discussion: 6 contributions | Contribute something
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kassrachel: judaism
From:kassrachel
Date:June 12th, 2006 05:23 pm (UTC)
9 minutes after journal entry
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What a fascinating experience that must have been. My congregation is quite small so sometimes we barely manage a minyan, and I wonder at those times whether the tenth person (often, though not always, female -- we have more women who come regularly than men who do) feels special for being able to fill that role...
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livredor: portrait
From:livredor
Date:June 14th, 2006 05:33 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 05:33 pm (livredor's time)
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It was really fascinating and somewhat moving. I wasn't literally the tenth person to arrive, but there were only ten people in total for most of the service, so if I hadn't been there there would have been no minyan.

Being able to do that as a woman made it extra-special; most communities that count women tend, as a generalization though obviously this doesn't have to be true, not to count minyan all that carefully. And it contrasts to the time I attended an Orthodox synagogue for Tisha b'Av, and there were nine men there and they glared at me for making them go to the inconvenience of finding somewhere for me to daven where I wouldn't be visible or audible (in a cupboard, as it turned out). And they didn't even do tzibbur stuff because there was never an eleventh.
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redbird: feminism
From:redbird
Date:June 12th, 2006 05:38 pm (UTC)
24 minutes after journal entry, 12:38 pm (redbird's time)
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I accept the apology, and am not actually offended. In fact, somewhere in the back of my head I'm turning over a long post on the ways in which feminism is about the idea that gender shouldn't matter except in a very very few circumstances, and that it's symptomatic of how much people focus on gender that a movement whose basic point is that people shouldn't be judged, or assigned limited roles, based on gender is still seen as focused on gender. I think that's in part because it's hard to oppose sexism (or racism or any other discriminatory structure that starts by artificially grouping people) without talking about gender. You can't say "I was denied admission to this school/a fair chance at a job/decent medical care because of my gender" without mentioning gender. It's also in part because so many people think gender is so important, and thus will bring it into almost any discussion. And probably in part because people who are opposed to feminism find it useful to say "see, gender does define who you are, even the feminists talk about it." And other things, which is part of why I haven't written this yet.

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redbird: default
From:redbird
Date:June 12th, 2006 05:43 pm (UTC)
28 minutes after journal entry, 12:43 pm (redbird's time)
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Also, there's nothing wrong with ignorance. We all start ignorant, and we learn different things. (Yes, there are people who defend ignorance, insist that it's better than knowledge, or refuse to admit inconvenient facts. You are not such a person, as far as I have seen.)
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livredor: portrait
From:livredor
Date:June 14th, 2006 05:37 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 05:37 pm (livredor's time)
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Thank you, both for the acceptance and for the lack of being offended. I am still not sure whether we will in fact turn up serious philosophical / political differences between us. I am fairly sure that you are not the sort of person to be offended by the fact that I disagree with you, but I certainly wouldn't want to do so in a way that implied disrespect. Partly because it's against my moral code and partly because I like you and would personally prefer not to offend you.

And this planned post of yours sounds absolutely fascinating, and really does go to the heart of my issues. So I look forward to reading it if you do decide it makes sense to expand on these thoughts.
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From:ploni_bat_ploni
Date:June 16th, 2006 10:31 am (UTC)
3 days after journal entry
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I never cared about gender until it smacked me in the face. At age 23 when I first frequented an Orthodox synagogue - in my life, mind you. (I'm 28 now). I was brought up completely egalitarian, in a secular, non-religious, humanist household with older brothers and the mantra was "anything the boys can do, you can do". Lo and behold: I stick to the mantra faithfully. (To the annoyance of near and dear ones, somethings, when it comes to weird and sometimes intrusive prayer obligations!). I never wanted gender to define me, as a person, as a Jew, as an academic or as an activist (yes, I was an activist once!). Yet, Society will be only too happy to reinforce the label and this is perhaps more true for Judaism. Now, I've come to appreciate the fact that I am a woman, although it does not change my egalitarianism one bit.

As for the Minyan: I like being the 10th. It feels special. It's about building holy community and it is an experience I would wish every Jewish woman could have. The minyan issue aggravates me, but then again, there's an extensive post about it on my blog.

So Livredor, how do you feel about the set-up of things in this shul?
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