01 November 2006

More on tallit, tefillin, etc...

[from a note to an interesting Yahoo Group just a few days ago:]

With an anecdote, and a promise to say more soon (I first wore a tallit & kippah at my youngest brother's bar mitzvah, Parshat Vayera in 1991, and am going to give a dvar torah for that parshah in 2 weeks that deals with women & time-bound mitzvot[TBM]/ritual garb).

I just came back from the USCJ Seaboard Region Biennial Convention--which was happenening at the same time as Youth Director/USY and Kadima (youth group) staff training, so all of us enjoyed spirited davening & Shabbat meals together. I was the youngest among the non-Youth Director types (I'm 32, the next-youngest was a 42-yr-old woman who's president of her congregation; one or 2 of the Youth Directors looked to be older than me), who generally ranged from mid-50s/60s up to near 90.

I noticed on Friday night that the convention women were ALMOST ALL wearing kippot (sometimes girly ones, wire with beads, etc--but definitely kippot, not doilies, and only a hat or 2 to be seen--one on the 90-year-old--sometimes for fashion & with some other kippah etc underneath), and none of the younger women (20s & 30s) except me were doing so. On Saturday morning a glorious array of beautiful tallitot were to be seen, not just on the women (though we have the best ones!) but also on the men--and not only were ALMOST ALL of the convention women (and our honored speaker/scholar-in-residence, Rabbi Naomi Levy) wearing tallitot, but I'd say the #s of non-tallit-wearers were almost equal among the men and the women: there were a few guys not wearing tallit (not their custom before marriage? left theirs at home & there weren't extras brought? don't always wear one & didn't feel strongly about it? I don't know!) and a few women not wearing tallit.

Among the youth director/advisor contingent, only 2 women were wearing tallit + kippah: one who looked to be in her mid-40s, and one younger woman (who had not been wearing a kippah Friday night); there were also a few guys in that contingent not wearing tallit, but the ratio was nowhere near the same. I was pretty fascinated by this difference between the age groups/contingents, and had some guesses about some reasons that might account for it...but I was interested in talking with the older women about why they wore tallit/kippah (and when/why they started) and to the younger women about why they didn't.

So, after having some nice conversations with the older women on the former point, I took the opportunity at a meal on Sunday to ask the regional youth director (who headed up that part of the program & had moderated a panel I was on that morning, and had led some of the davening on Shabbat) about what I'd noticed --

and she burst out: "You're the THIRD person who's asked me about it!!!! I don't wear a tallit & kippah & tefillin & I'm proud of it!!!!"

(later said it's not that she's proud of it or making a statement, it's just not the way she grew up & so she's not comfortable doing it, but she also thinks that for younger women who have always known it's an option it's not as big a deal as for these older women who are reclaiming something in Judaism that had always been denied them as forbidden to women)

But I just wanted to highlight the switcheroo there: she felt pressure because she was being asked by others "why aren't you doing these things?" (i.e., this is the norm for our crowd: involved egalitarian Conservative Jews who are women) rather than, as many of us have been asked in other contexts, "why are you doing these things?" (i.e., this is not the norm for involved/observant Jews who are women).

One person was asking her with a critical agenda, but I think others of us were just curious (though I would hope to persuade her to try wearing tallit--I'll certainly send her my dvar torah when it's done). But she got the message that the rest of us don't take it for granted that not being TBM-obligated is the norm (or that you can recognize yourself as TBM-obligated but particularly neglect the ones that have been or seemed traditionally male).

Similarly, when daveners (men or women, and it IS women as often as men!) choose to daven the amidah option without the matriarchs (since our siddur, the revised Sim Shalom ["Slim Shalom"], gives both options), I ask them why they don't. Their assumption often is that the default is without matriarchs--often, it has been for them, and so they're "not comfortable" or "haven't practiced" adding them (they don't usually have an ideological/halakhic reason, though they certainly could)--whereas in our community, it really is becoming (if it hasn't already become) the norm to include them, so that the dominant question becomes "why are you omitting the imahot?" (or, more neutrally "not using the names of the imahot":"not adding them" tips the rhetorical balance the other way) rather than "why am I including/adding them?"


Katie said...

I've also noticed the trend to see more women over 40 or so wearing tallitot and kippot than younger women. I suspect it has something to do with the (always hard to pinpoint) differences between second- and third-wave feminism more broadly--I feel like a lot of women our age are happy to fill traditionally-male roles (having careers, being sh'tz'), but don't want to be 'strident' or 'political' about it.

Grumble grumble.

-Katie Kline

J said...

Becca love,

J said...

Whoops. Take two:

Becca love,

I think you linked to this in an email to me and my lazy self is just now getting around to commenting. Hi! Miss you!

About kippot - though I don't wear one, as you know- I'd also say it must have something to do with when people don't feel personally excluded they then feel less of a need to react against prejudice/ assert their rights. And there certainly isn't an expectation in mainline conservative Judaism that little girls will wear kippot with their frilly dresses- especially not in the South, eh?. I think there should be, but I grew up in a congregation where the women didn't wear tallitot, and it's still a little too weird for me. (One day, I promise. I keep meaning to buy some tzitzit.)

By the way, check out these Karaites:
Crazy stuff!

See you next week- lots of love.

MiriyaB (Becca) said...

I hear & second your grumble grumble, Katie (and it's good to hear from you)! But anything that makes people think is good. Someone in our minyan who just got married--and was therefore wearing a hat--came up to me after services and said how much she appreciated the d'var torah, even though she doesn't wear a tallit and doesn't consider herself a feminist, etc. She wrote me today, "as I said that day...your
d'var torah was great. I love when people make me think"--and that's the kind of comment I'm very happy to hear. It's no good if I'm only preaching to the choir and get automatic agreement, or if people are so dead-set against whatever I say that they reject it out of hand without thinking about my questions.

Mysterious J: I am intrigued by your only-partial comment! Who might you be? (Brother JB in St. Louis? Friend JF in New Haven? Someone else entirely?)

MiriyaB (Becca) said...

Ah, mystery solved! My dear Janice! :)