Wednesday, January 4, 2012

women & Torah

so lately there has been a lot of media attention in israel on the question of Jewish women and how we view them in the Torah world.

I want to share with you an article that originally appeared in the jerusalem post and is now on aish.com, written by a religious women who eloquently describes a little bit about how we (religious Jewish women) feel about the current situation and about being Jewish women in general. I really recommend taking a look at it:

http://www.aish.com/ci/w/Women_on_the_Bus.html

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also, i had kind of forgotten certain stereotypes that people have about women in the Torah world (because they are so far from the truth), but I was recently exposed to a couple and wanted to share my thoughts...

firstly, there is a law in Judaism called "Shomer Negiah" which literally translates as 'guarding touch', which forbids adult men and women from touching members of the opposite sex who are outside of their immediate family (meaning spouse, parents, grandparents, siblings).

so i was recently watching this documentary about this woman who goes all around different middle eastern countries and kind of gets a feel for their cultures among other things, and when she gets to israel, she meets with an orthodox rabbi to get a 'feel' for Torah Judaism... ok so first of all it was totally annoying because you could tell that everything was set up in a way to make it look weird (which made me wonder how mis-represented the muslims were in their interviews)... but anyway, the first thing she does is try to shake the rabbi's hand, and when he says he can't shake her hand, she protests "but i'm clean!"

dude, seriously. that's really what people think?? that when an orthodox Jewish man doesn't want to touch a woman who is not related to him, it is because he views her as 'unclean', dirty, or beneath him??!!


THIS COULDN'T BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH!!!!!!!!! 


in reality, the real reason why Jewish men do not touch other women (and vice versa) is precisely because of their deep, utmost respect for them! you see, shomer negiah means guarding, or protecting, touch. what does that mean? it means that touch is a powerful, wonderful, valuable thing that has to be protected in order to be utilized in the most meaningful way. now which woman do you think a man should respect the most? is it a stranger he's never met who wants to shake his hand? clearly not- it is his wife. so now we know two things: 
1. touch has to be protected in order to be used most profoundly
2. a man should respect his wife above all other women

(please note I am describing shomer negiah from a male perspective because that seems to be where the trouble digesting this concept lies... most people are not outraged by a woman refusing to touch a man)...

so when we restrict the amount that we touch other people, it can take on a whole new level where it matters most, within the marriage... picture for a minute a 14-year-old girl with a huge crush on a boy in her school... let's say he brushes past her in the cafeteria line-up- would she not swoon or maybe (depending on how big the crush is) refuse to wash the shirt where he touched her shoulder so she could linger in that moment much longer? that's the type of excitement we want to feel EVERY time we touch our spouse! you might ask, what's the big deal about a handshake? it's not an intimate gesture and it's so commonplace, why can't you just do it without it meaning something? Is there something wrong with Jewish men that they can't just have a handshake without it becoming a sexual act?

but that's exactly it, we don't even want to become de-sensitized to the power of a simple handshake! when we refrain from even shaking hands with people who we don't need to have a physical relationship with, we allow ourselves to feel excited by that same simple act when it is allowed- with our spouse. and obviously all the more so with other levels of physical contact. but even with the simple acts, whether it's a handshake, brushing past each other, or a kiss goodbye on the cheek in the morning, if we allow ourselves to be sensitive to these types of touching, then each instance will serve to enhance our marriage relationship, bringing us ever closer to the one who truly matters most.

and you should know that the same goes for the way we dress. Jewish women (and men too, for sure) have a modest code of dress which includes covering our chests, shoulders, and arms, and wearing skirts to our knees or longer, and covering our hair (for married women)... this is a whole topic in itself which i love to talk about and perhaps will write more on later, but for now, i just want to say that this allows us to fulfill that same principle:

restricting where it doesn't matter in order to benefit where it does

just like in a non-Jewish society where most women do not go around topless, a man would certainly be excited to see such a sight... well so too in a Torah society, can a man (or woman) get excited by the sight of a body part that is not normally exposed! so really, it's kind of just a case of mathematics... because in that case, the more body parts that are normally covered, the more possibility for pleasure at the sight of them! and now when we bring this back to the case of the marriage relationship, this is particularly empowering to the woman, because now, when her husband sees just her upper arm, or for that matter any part of her, he feels privileged because only he gets this opportunity, and furthermore, he is much more likely to be excited and find his wife beautiful because he is simply not comparing her to other women, since he doesn't see them in this exposure! brilliant! so instead of competing with air-brushed magazine models or worse, a Jewish woman knows that she is beautiful exactly as she is and her husband has the ability and sensitivity to perceive that based on the restrictions of their society...

and so what if you ask, well if a woman is beautiful, why can't she put that on display and benefit from it by showing it off? well again, let's ask what we are trying to accomplish... are we putting beauty on display for its own sake or are we using beauty for the sake of intensifying love? If it's the latter, when a woman 'saves' her beauty for her husband (e.g. only he gets to see her luscious hair, which btw is certainly one of a woman's most sensuous features), she sends an incredibly powerful message that she is devoted to him alone and they are one.

so there you have it, just a few quick insights on why we Jewish women LOVE the way we live and wish other people were also blessed to share in the amazing joy of a sanctified and protected marriage relationship.... please feel free to send me any questions you might have on this topic...

a chocolate tidbit for a laugh

so tonight after i tucked my kids into bed, i went out to my desk and had a bite of chocolate, mmm... then of course, i had to go back in to re-tuck several times... so on the time after the chocolate bite, i bent down to kiss my son on the cheek at which point he immediately perked up, like a guard dog whose ears shoot up on alert, and he demanded to know 'what you eat?!" (4-yr-old grammar)... (because of the potent chocolate smell on my breath) at which point i tried to avoid the question and say goodnight as i walk out of the room... only to hear him continuing to ask this question in escalating tones of urgency as i struggle to suppress my laughter outside his room while explaining to my husband i have been caught eating chocolate at the exclusion of my son!

anyway it was just pretty cute, maybe you had to be there :)

nothin' gets past those little guys...

my elusive staff

ok so first of all, i have discovered something AWESOME about blogging... I am now finding it a lot easier to be objective about my life experiences because I am articulating them in this forum and then I can review them and actually process my thoughts and reflections, leading me to actually learn something from what I'm going through- incredible! for example, in my last blog i wrote about how the stress i experienced during a particularly long day seems to have mainly come from 'technical problems' in my life and that clearly there must be solutions for them... soooo, perhaps only because of this blog, i am actually going ahead and trying to find said solutions! yay!

which brings us to the question of my staff... ha... yes remember my self-imposed title of CEO? well, it's about time i got some serious employees in this joint, right?! hmm perhaps, although at this point they are all only imaginary people who live in my head! although one of them is actually a long-standing and faithful (imaginary) employee... she is my housekeeper Marina, who, when I can't believe all the housework that stands looming in front of me, I call out to and ask her to take care of it! My husband also gets a kick out of calling upstairs to Marina to come take care of the dishes or bathe the baby! Now, what, you may ask, is the point of an imaginary housekeeper, since she never actually shows up for duty? Well, just the very idea of someone coming in to save the day can do wonders to soothe the soul! By having a laugh and getting out of the gloom/stress that might be impending (or already there), and feeling like the weight is not all only on our shoulders, we might just get feeling light enough to go ahead and do it ourselves...

But the same is actually true of our relationship with G-d. You see, the Jewish understanding of G-d is that He is an all-powerful, all-knowing, infinite being that created, sustains, and is constantly involved with all aspects of Creation. That means that if I can't find my keys, I slept late, or I stubbed my toe, these are all Divinely Inspired incidents. (We don't reserve only serious events in life like illness, birth, or finding our soulmate to ascribe to the Will of our Creator- every single thing that happens in the world is also a reflection of His Will). So what does that mean? It means that there is an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving (oh yeah, forgot to mention that one!) Creator of the world who is involved with every aspect of my love, and who I can turn to whenever I need something, ANYTHING!

The Rosh (Head) of our Yeshiva (Jewish Learning Institution), Aish HaTorah, Rabbi Noah Weinberg of Blessed Memory, used to give a great example for the way we turn to G-d in prayer (excerpted from a longer article called "How to Get Your Prayers Answered" which I really recommend taking a look at!):

"You live in a small town in Midwestern America. There is an extremely large and unsightly pothole in front of your house. For the last four months the local municipality has ignored your insistent requests to have it fixed. Finally, in an act of frustration, you call the White House and ask for the president. (Hey, it's worth a try.)
To your utter amazement, the president himself gets on the phone. You quickly explain your problem. The president listens for a minute and then hangs up. You don't really expect anything to be done about it.
The next morning you look out your window and, lo and behold, the army corps of engineers is busy at work fixing your road. The President of the United States took your request seriously and sent in the troops to help!
That is what it means to get your prayer answered.
Now who is the one person who can always get through to the president?
The president's son, of course.
That is our relationship with God ? Father and child. Just as a parent fulfills a child's request, so too God answers prayers. The Infinite Genius Who created every molecule on this earth, can alter the course of existence in order to answer your prayer.
To really talk to God, you need to know He is willing and able to do it all. Otherwise, you're only talking to your finite concept of God ? and not to our true Father in Heaven."
(full article at http://www.aish.com/sp/pr/48965861.html)

ok, so back to my Marina example... so let's say you're faced with a daunting task and you're feeling slightly depressed because you're not quite sure how you're going to tackle it (and therefore you're feeling kind of alone and incapable)... so according to this, you're really not alone, AND you're totally capable!! that is, so long as what you want to do is in line with the Will of your Creator (i.e. what is good) (e.g. if you're trying to rob a bank this prob won't help you too much), you can just call out to G-d and ask Him to pitch in or at least show you how to get going! And you know what, it works!! (Hey this is way better than no-show-Marina)... anyways, it is worth a try!

Now on another note, i want to tell you a little bit more about the non-imaginary, real staff people I am trying to find! I have decided that I am ready to up the amount of outside assistance I receive in order to better the general well-being of myself and my family (one of my Rebbetzins (rebbetzin=female teacher and/or Rabbi's wife) once told me that when her family was young and she was on her own with a few little kids, one of her own teachers saw her and thought she looked kinda frazzled and asked her "Are you getting enough help?" and made her think very seriously about it, at which point my rebbetzin kind of collapsed and realized that she was running on empty and she did indeed need (and was entitled to) getting some more help! And by the time she taught this to me, she had (kanaina hara- Jewish expression meaning, like 'don't jinx this' or 'no one should be jealous of this thing which is a blessing') several more children, and she said that this realization changed her life, and allowed her to be happy and more-present with her children, and all around, more highly functioning!

So now I believe that I too have arrived at that point in time where I just need more help, and I have to accept that that is ok. Many Jewish women suffer from what's referred to as 'martyr's syndrome', where we think we have to put ourselves way at the bottom of the list, completely neglecting ourselves while going to super-human efforts to give, give, give, give to all those around us... however this is not a Torah perspective and we must recognize that this is unhealthy, and not an ideal (even though it is so common). Rather, we are queens and must treat ourselves as such!

so for me, practically speaking, that means i am now looking for regular cleaners as well as a mother's helper/babysitter every afternoon/evening of the week (niiiiiice)... ha meanwhile, i hired a potential candidate for each of those two positions this week, only to have them both quit before they ever even started! bah... so the search continues, but at least we're looking... (anyone with leads for such peeps in jerusalem, feel free to send 'em my way!)... or if anyone wants to come be my au pair and sleep on my couch (note: no extra bedroom) then come on over!

on that note, i would like to give us all a blessing that we should let ourselves get the help we need, and remember that we are like royalty and deserve all the good in the world (and in fact our loving Creator is the one and only destination to get it from!)

much love,
julie