Wednesday, March 01, 2017

This Torah Is Mine, Too

I’ve watched the debate about women clergy with an intense but detached interest. I care because I’m an Orthodox Jewish woman who hopes one day to have a strong, committed Orthodox daughter, and because I’ve met some of the women who are taking these roles and I’m impressed by their knowledge, passion, and sincerity.

But I’m also somewhat detached because there is no alternate universe in which I would have become a rabbi/rabanit/maharat/raba/shul program director/whatever other term may or may not indicate that a woman has suddenly crossed the line from acceptable to unacceptable community leader.

So, I was a little surprised by how upset I got this past Shabbat at an oneg with several community scholars-in-residence. At the oneg, there was a large U-shaped table for the respected visiting rabbis and other men … and way back in the corner, there was a small table for the women.

(To be fair, at my husband’s insistence, I sat with him at the men’s table as did one other woman; everyone was courteous and no one asked me to move. I got one or two—maybe imagined—longing looks from the women at that table in the back corner, but that was it.)

There I was in the presence of several important rabbis whose Torah I had come to hear, and I literally did not have a seat at the table.

What that said to me was that I did not have a part in this Torah, that the Torah that was being offered there by learned, well-respected rabbis was simply not mine. I could be a bystander but I was in no way a participant in this Torah.

And here I became attached to the debate. Because this Torah is mine, too.  

I was blessed with a solid Modern Orthodox Jewish education on par with the best that is offered to girls of the separate but equal (yes, I mean inherently unequal) variety. I spent a year in what is largely considered an academic seminary. Since then, I’ve attended various shiurim and classes. I considered doing GPATS for a hot second. I’ve been learning Daf Yomi for the past three and a half years.

So, yes, this Torah is mine, too.

I wish that I had been given a more serious Torah education and better Gemara skills every single evening when I do Daf Yomi. I wish that I could attend a Daf Yomi shiur, but I was told that my presence at the local shiur would make the men uncomfortable. I wish that the girls who attend the local co-ed day school learned Gemara with the boys instead of being separated to learn American history because “girls aren’t allowed to learn Gemara.” I wish that when I tell people that I do Daf Yomi they were impressed just by the commitment and not by the fact that I am a woman who has made the commitment.

Mostly, I wish that I didn’t have to assert that this Torah is mine, too.