Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More liberal than I am

A guest post by LADYKAYE

I had an experience a number of years ago wherein a woman I like very much, who happens to be a leading member of the Orthodox feminist movement, started showing signs of liking me less after we had a conversation about women's tefillah groups. I complained to a friend, and the friend said "Well, she probably thought you were more liberal than you are." I responded, almost without thinking, "Well, I AM more liberal than I am." The friend laughed, because she knew what I meant: that I have many powerful feminist tendencies and opinions, but for any number of reasons, they don't generally translate into practice.

This has become much, much more apparent, as well as more difficult to manage, as my daughters have gotten older and begun to ask pesky questions. I find their questions pesky because I refuse to lie to them or give them anything other than the whole truth, the real truth, and nothing but the truth; but too often, the whole truth conflicts with the reality they know, and I have no reasonable means to make the two coincide.

Take this recent conversation with my 8 year-old, for example. I don't remember why, but we were discussing aliyot, and I was explaining what they are and what the person says when he's called up. A light of recognition went on in her eyes as she suddenly remembered the rabbi's young son -- younger than she is now -- receiving an aliyah last Simchat Torah. "Oh, like Benjy did on Simchas Torah! I heard him making that bracha!" So I answered her, "Yes, on Simchas Torah, little boys do it too."

I don't know why I didn't see it coming. My daughter asked immediately, "Can little girls do it on Simchas Torah?"

I hesitated for a long moment in which various discourses on the precise meaning of "kavod ha-tzibur", and my personal opinions regarding the precise meaning of kavod ha-tzibur, exploded through my head, as did the silly explanation I received once for why children get aliyot on Simchat Torah (I personally find it silly). Also in my head, louder than any of these things, was the following: "I am not going to say one thing to my daughter that will in any way, shape, or form send her the message, subliminally or otherwise, that she is in any way at all inferior to a male. Nothing. Not one bit. Regardless of what might happen next."

So I finally babbled out an answer that was probably more lame than any apologetic explanation of kavod ha-tzibur, and my answer was as follows: "Actually, little girls probably could, but for some reason most shuls don't do that."

And for some reason - God's grace, most likely - she was quiet and asked nothing further.

But she will. Of course she will. And I don't know how many more lame answers she'll accept.

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