Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why the Meron pilgrimage is an argument in favor of calling women for aliyo

This w/e, tens of thousands of Haredim are going to make a pilgrimage to Meron where they will sway in front of bonfires, give their children haircuts, and sing hymns honoring Bar Yochai. Beloved thought it may be, this ritual is brand new. Scholars believe the trip to Meron is imitative of a Muslim practice that was incorporated into Judaism by way of the Mustaribim, a community of 16th century Jews who lived in the Holy Land and embraced some Arab customs.

Today, of course, bonfires and haircuts are mainstream Jewish customs. Why was it accepted? What made it spread so rapidly? Well, it seems obvious to me that this could have only occured because the Meron ritual filled some sort of gap in the spiritual life of those who chose to accept it.

In 2008 some Jewish women also feel a gap in their spiritual lives, but instead of imitating Arabs, they are imitating Jewish men. My question to those who would berate women for attempting to find spiritual fulfilment the only way they know how -by copying the only things they see - is this: How do you justify yourselves? If Meron (and countless other rituals and observances) could be taken from other cultures and added for the sake of pleasing men, what is the justification for continuing to frustrate women?

Anticipated answers:

(1) It's osur! Well not, not really. There are countless examples of things women can do, per halacha:

- Calling a woman to the Torah, for example, is only osur for the sake of the congregation's honor. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, and the case can be made that the congregation's honor is no longer offended when a woman is called to the Torah.

- The Mishna Brurah, who was no egalitarian fanatic, rules that women are required to make a zimun when three of them eat together, yet women generally are not told to do this. Why not?

- There's never any objection when women wish to say Tehillim together, so why are they often prevented from davening together?

- Woman are required to daven at least once per day, and some authorities say the requirement is to pray twice. Why isn't this taught/encouraged? Why is the focus on baking challah, and not on fulfilling a biblical demand? Isn't it possible that women wouldn't be copying men in ways that make the authorities nervous, if they were instead taught/allowed to do things that are permitted and/or required?

(2) You can't update the religion! Ok, so let's eliminate Chanuka, Purim, Meron, Upshirin, Av Harachamin, Pruzbul, the Diaspora's extra day of Yom Tov, Hasidut, Nusach Sfard, tefillah, and more. Why are some updates ok, and others unacceptable? Anyway, allowing/encouraging women to do any of the things listed above aren't updates, in that they were never disallowed.

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