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Thursday, July 31, 2014

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Let’s be the best Jewish women we can be

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Joannie Tansky

I would like to express my sympathy to Norma Joseph on the passing of her mother. May she be spared any further sorrow.

 

I read with melancholy Norma Joseph’s March 20 column on women and Kaddish. Before launching into my response, there are a few caveats that must be stated. Until there will be peace in the world and illness will be eradicated, as humans living by a divine Torah, there will be issues we don’t like or understand. The issue of agunot is one, as is, for some, the fact Kaddish was not mandated by the sages for women.

Kaddish is bound up with praying three times daily, which puts it into the realm of “time-bound” mitzvot, which are traditionally male oriented. Given this, if a woman wants to say Kaddish there is no one stopping her. Would she be counted in a minyan in an Orthodox synagogue? No. Yet where I go to shul, there are women who do say Kaddish, quietly, along with a minyan of men. Who can say what is soothing to someone who is grieving?

As an Orthodox Jewish woman, I live my life trying to see what is right with Judaism. The title of my book, Girl Meets God: The Gift of Being a Jewish Woman, is the essence of my being. It is a privilege to be born a Jewish woman.

Given these parameters, Joseph’s words didn’t resonate with me. I don’t dress “to the nines to combat invisibility.” I’m not invisible at all. I dress in a modest, fashionable manner. Dressing modestly doesn’t deny who I am as a woman, nor does it force me into hiding. Modesty extends beyond clothing into how we interact with the rest of the world. Conducting oneself with dignity is what best describes what being a modest Jewish woman is.

I have a voice, an opinion, am educated, out there and do all of these things with the constant knowledge that there is a God in the world and in His kindness, He saw fit to put me here as a Jewish woman. Therefore, I have a responsibility to make His world a better place than before I came into it.

Regarding the recitation of Kaddish, God created me as a woman and, therefore, I have a feminine role to play in His plan. The fact that I don’t believe that I have to do the mitzvot that were allotted to men, either in the Torah or by the sages, is a non-issue in my life. What is an issue is to try to do the mitzvot that God and the sages did give me, as a Jewish woman, to the best of my ability.

If I choose to become a professional and work outside my home or stay home and take care of my children, I still maintain one responsibility that men were not given: to be the foundation of my home, and to teach my children, in a myriad of ways, what it means to be a Jew.

We must teach them to make this world a better place, to make a home where God’s presence is felt positively, and to pass the torch to the next generation of Jews in the world.

When my own father passed away a few years ago, it was my brother who had the responsibility to say Kaddish three times a day for 11 months. The fact that I did not have to say Kaddish did not lessen my role at the time. So what did I do to honour my father’s memory during the year of mourning? I did more mitzvot. I learned more. I taught other Jewish woman about their Judaism. I gave more tzedakah.

I lived my life with a renewed sense of responsibility and vigour, learning, in depth about the beauty of Judaism: morning blessings, Shabbat candles, family purity, the special mitzvah of making challah, our matriarchs, and patriarchs, and about the parshiot. There is no end to what we, as women, can learn.

Focusing on what men were given to do in terms of their Yiddishkeit is not what sustained the Jewish People for more than 5,000 years. From the women in Egypt who kept having children despite being in slavery to those who survived the Holocaust and went on to make new lives despite the horrors they endured, we have been the backbone of our people. If we had focused on the negative, on what we cannot do, we would not have survived.

Our world is not perfect yet. There is still much suffering and pain. As Jewish women, we should endeavour to be the most intelligent, learned and compassionate women we can be. It was always the Jewish woman who kept us Jewish. It was always the Jewish woman who planted the roots for the next generation.

Men, generally, are meant to deal with the present. The future – and those who will live within it – is in the hands of the women.

Joannie Tansky is the author of Girl Meets God: The Gift of Being a Jewish Woman and writes a bi-weekly news blog called the Blanche Report.

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