Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Avi likes sitting in the back of the bus and just can't understand why it bothers black people

The Benefits of a Woman's Place
Not Being Allowed To Have a Public Role Is Not All Bad
By Avi Shafran
Published January 27, 2014, issue of January 31, 2014.

See my fisk, after the jump

It’s probably because I’m male — and Haredi, or “ultra-Orthodox,” to boot — that, much as I try, I find it hard to relate to Jewish women who feel religiously unfulfilled unless they can lead services, read from the Torah or otherwise take up public roles in synagogue life.

I don't think your problem is due to gender or sect. I think you just lack a sympathetic imagination.

But there’s another reason, too: I don’t personally care for those roles. When asked to lead services, I do my very best to demur, and would be very happy if I never had to accept. It’s not that I don’t know how (I’ve led High Holy Days services),

Thanks for that important and relevant biographical detail #humbelbrag

and not that I’m embarrassed by my voice (I sing spiritedly, and usually on key, at the Sabbath table); 

So impressed. 

it’s that I just don’t like being on display. 

He doesn't like being on display in a shul; however he adores being on display in other venues. Which is why he relentlessly self-promotes his writings, appears at public meetings where opportunities to bash the non-Orthodox are available, and so on. 

And that’s how I feel at the synagogue’s “center stage.” I like to be left alone when I’m trying to connect with the Divine. Truth be told, I’d much prefer to be sitting behind… a mechitzah. Or at home. Just leave me alone, let me pray.

Here Avi confesses a sincerely felt desire to pray in a non-conventional,"unorthodox" fashion. Though Jewish law and tradition require him to pray with a quorum of ten men, Avi doesn't feel it. He finds more satisfaction when he goes against the rules and prays alone. Which make his failure to understand women who also have a sincerely felt desire to pray in a non-conventional,"unorthodox" fashion all the more surprising.

But that’s just me. I recognize that other Jewish men exult in standing behind the lectern, and beam from the bimah. That’s fine (especially since it takes some pressure off me). And I recognize, too, that — at least in some Jewish circles — there are women, as well, who feel a need to be front and center in order to have a satisfying synagogue experience. I don’t understand them (or the men, for that matter), but I recognize their preference all the same.

And some people like chocolate ice cream, which surprises me as I am more of a strawberry kind of guy myself, but whatevers. I don't understand them but, hey,  I recognize their preference, so please pass the Human Rights Lifetime Achievement Award.

By contrast, even congregational prayer itself doesn’t rank high for many other women. 

Which in my opinion, is a damn shame. Oh, don't misunderstand: I'm not dragging anyone to shul against her will, but I think congregational prayer is one of the best things about Judaism. Also, that tradition we talk about all the time promises that praying with a minyan is a source of extra blessing for both men and women. So I'm a bit puzzled at women who run after every shyster's crazy kabalah promises, while also avoiding the minyan on the grounds that public prayer is unladylike. Plus, I don't quite understand how the tradition-venerators can excuse a woman who skips minyan because home prayer makes her feel better, while simultaneously pummeling women who wish to wear talitot or tefillin on the grounds that it makes them feel better. But I'm just editorializing here. A woman who wants to skip shul doesn't need my permission, of course.

My wonderful wife and our wonderful daughters, for instance, have never looked to the synagogue for validation or fulfillment. They attend services on Rosh Hashanah to hear the shofar, before Purim to hear Amalek, on Purim to hear the Megillah. But they generally choose to pray in private at home. 

This represents a break with Jewish tradition. In ye days of olde women attended shul far more often. I base this both on the reporting in Life Is With People, a wonderful sociological study of shtetl life, and the existence of the Zogerke. She was a learned women who had the job of making sure the non-readers could follow the service. If women never showed up, why was she needed? Interesting isn't it, that this staunch and mighty traditionalist, who pontificates daily about the glory of doing things the old way, doesn't realize that women skipping shul on Shabbos is a relatively new thing under the Jewish sun

I came to envy them when, with an injured back during an ice storm a couple of winters ago, I davened at home. What a powerful experience that was! I didn’t have to keep pace with the leader of the services (who’s always too fast for my liking), and could concentrate as I seldom can in the presence of others.

Here Avi seems to be suggesting the official tradition/God ordained way of doing things doesn't always work for everyone. Alert the heresy police!

Still and all, I know that there are many Jewish women who are very different from me and my wife and our daughters, women who feel a need to attend services regularly and even to lead them. Although I consider Halacha and traditional Jewish custom sacrosanct,

Not exactly. He considers his own favored interpretation of Halacha and the particular customs his particular neighborhood follows to be sacrosanct.  And again, he's laboring under this damaging delusion that there is something "untraditional" about women attending services regularly. 

Judaism also demands of me to not judge others until I “stand in their place,”

If he actually took seriously this demand I estimate 90 percent of his articles would never have been written

 and that applies no less here than anywhere. So, even though I may disapprove of the concept of egalitarian Jewish prayer services, I wouldn’t criticize any Jew who feels she needs them. What I can do, though, is present myself, the women of my family and those of countless other families as examples of a different but entirely fulfilling (if dissonant with contemporary Western mores) approach to Judaism, if only as food for thought.

Among our daughters are teachers, a graphic designer, a sonographer, a special education tutor, an author — and mothers. They are all greatly accomplished, but they still don’t consider synagogue attendance terribly important, and none of them aspires to leading services. They, and we, simply don’t identify prominence with meaningfulness, or equate public roles with important ones.

Mazal Tov. And no one is asking you to change a thing. This is one of the most maddening things about conservatives. They stand convinced that the liberals are coming to make them gay, or to force their women to attend shul, or to require them to drop their sincerely held beliefs in Jesus, but this is an exercise in projection. Unlike the typical conservative, the typical liberal doesn't care what you think and do so long as no one gets hurt. He just wants you to leave him the hell alone so he can go and live his own life as he wishes. 

A good model for our perception of Jewish life is a band making music. The bass line or drumming isn’t prominent, but it’s essential to making the music work. Does a bassist or a drummer covet the lead guitarist, begrudge her her role? If the members of the mutual enterprise are producing the best music they can as a team, they will celebrate their own roles, not fancy those of their bandmates.

This is a miserably bad analogy for two reasons. First, as Fred said on FB
In The Who bass and drums were prominent. Glen Branca takes 40 guitar players playing radically remade and restrung instruments and creates incredible walls of sound music that are worth listening to that sounds nothing like his conventional music where a bass player is in the background. Yes, there's convention. Not everything that isn't conventional is bad; a lot of it is quite good. And a lot of what's conventional isn't.
The other real problem with the music analogy is Avi forgets that the bassist chose that instrument and that he could, if he wished, switch to guitar. He isn't locked into a role, not of his own choosing, from birth, and told play the bass, conventionally, or get the hell out of our band.

Yes, yes, I know, I’m a Neanderthal for insinuating that women have Jewish roles that are different from those of men. 

No, you're a Neanderthal for insisting that women must live their lives according to your prescriptions and for being fully unable to realize that a woman might, in good faith, sincerely wish to change her role. 

But that is what Jewish tradition teaches. 

No it isn't. Its what a particular interpretation of Jewish tradition teaches. 

One can choose to ignore that tradition (or “update” it, which is the same thing).

What about one who chooses to ignore that his own side has also updated/ignored the tradition?

But before anyone does that, it behooves the person to at least consider it first, and the possibility that a meaningful Jewish life is in fact not about our particular roles but about how well we fulfill them. 

It behooves people who wish to sound normal to stop using the word behoove.

Our Jewish success is forged by our actions, not our voices.

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