Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What do men gain when they prevent women from praying in public?

I've called upshurin a 15th century Hannuka Bush, on the grounds that it is an example of religious syncretism at its finest. The first Jews who did upshurin lived among Aqiqa-performing Muslims. Aqiqa is a Muslim first hair-cutting ritual. And while we will never find a signed note from the Jews of Safed in which they admit that they borrowed the ritual from Islam, the math seems easy: No Jews in the world performed upsherin before Jews lived among people who were already performing a similar rite. Syncretism 101.

Here's why this matters: If it was OK for the men of 15th century Safed to scratch a spiritual itch by copying Muslims, why can't 21st century women scratch a spiritual itch by copying Jewish men?  When did history end? When and how did we decide that all spiritual innovation must cease? 

In point of fact, innovation hasn't ceased. @marksofla reports that someone in his community recited a blessing over the Lag Baomer fire. This is surely something new under the Jewish sun (and where was the rabbi?) Last year, some people delivered gift baskets to each other on Purim Katan. So the problem doesn't seem to be with religious creativity per se, or even religious creativity directed by women. New fangled things like the amen party are female-driven.

So, I think feminists have a point when they say that over-the-top objections to the Women of the Wall are rooted in misogyny. The problem isn't religious creativity. The problem is that in the eyes of the angry men, the Women of the Wall are trespassing. Public prayer is not for women. Its the guy's turf. And though I have not worked out exactly what prerogative the men are protecting (see the title of the post), this theory - that public prayer is men's work and/or beneath a women's feminine dignity - explains both the male reaction to the Women of Wall and also why Haredi communities, in general, discourage women from public praying.  [Discussed here and here]


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