I was hoping to do a couple of
interviews with people in order to provide a better understanding of faith as
pertaining to individual women.
Unfortunately, this might be the only one but it is certainly
informative and I hope everyone enjoys it!
This interview is with my friend, Kim,
who identifies as culturally Jewish but ideologically agnostic. The “Q” references my questions and
the “A” references her answers.
Q: In your experience, what roles do
women play in the Synagogue, specifically?
A: There weren’t many differences
[between the way girls and boys were treated]. We didn’t separate by gender
during services. Girls were allowed to read from the Torah along with boys.
Girls might have been able to have their bat mitzvah a year earlier than boy’s
bar mitzvahs (12 vs 13), but as far as I can remember girls always waited until
they were 13 as well. In fact, we had a woman rabbi and a woman canter at some
point. Some of the prayers might be gender specific, and traditionally women
did the Shabbat candle ceremonies (prayers and lighting) and men did the bread
ones (prayers and cutting the bread). If there was ever something gender
specific (such as a bris for the boys) there was usually some form of
equivalent for the girls (a naming ceremony).
Q: Would you say that there was a sense
of equality between the genders, then?
Was there ever an emphasis on one gender over the other in ceremonies or
in the Synagogue in general?
A: Yep, in my group at least. Any differences seemed to come from personal
preferences (there were offshoot clubs, some of which were based off of gender,
and would tend to do activities that people of that gender would typically
enjoy) but there was not much pressure to act one way or another.
If the ceremonies ever differed, there
was usually a separate but equal feel.
The only difference I can really point to is that males get circumcised
and females don’t (though they have a ceremony at around the same time).
Women were often in charge of things
like food, but this was often either because the women’s club offered or just
because mostly women tended to offer to help.
There was never any pressure on other women to conform though, or at
least, I didn’t experience any.
Other groups that I attended might have
stronger gender roles, but in my synagogue it was at most tradition (tradition
that you weren’t obligated to follow)
Q: Would you say these other groups
were more conservative? How would you
describe the difference between your group and the ones with stronger gender
A: The more conservative the group, the
stronger the gender roles (from my experiences at least.)
In the more orthodox groups men and
women are often kept pretty separate.
For instance, in a wedding my family attended the celebration was
separated with a curtain, with men on one side and women on the other. When the wife and husband would celebrate
they would be lifted up in chairs (often done at Jewish celebrations: video ).
It’s tradition for the couple to each grab onto the end of a cloth, when
the wedding party is split this is the closest they get to dancing together I
think. (more orthodox type of version
than the one in the video: image)
There’s also a whole bunch of stuff
that goes on with menstruation. It’s the
reason an orthodox Jewish male might not shake hands with a non-orthodox woman
(he can’t make physical contact with a woman if she’s on her period; an
orthodox rabbi I met couldn’t shake my hand for this reason.)
During prayer, the more orthodox groups
would separate the seating by gender. In
some cases it’s split down the middle, in other cases the guys sit closer to
the bema (stage) than the women. I’ve experience both types of seating, in
addition to my temple’s mixed seating.
In some orthodox temples, girls cannot
read from the torah during their batmitvah (a friend of mine wanted to have
hers at a more religious place, but chose not to when she learned she was
unable to read from it).
Mothers are also often used to
determine the child’s religion. There was a conservative kid/teen’s group that
only let people join if their mother was Jewish, regardless of the father’s
religion. (The father determines the status within the religion, but there
seems to be less emphasis placed on those, from my experiences at least). A
friend of mine wasn’t able to join a club for that reason.
Also, might be worth noting that my
temple identified as “conservative”, as opposed to
“reformed” or “orthodox”
this a small or large percentage that identifies as Orthodox?
idea! I think conservative is becoming
less common but this is just what I’ve heard.
I’m also not sure if the experiences I’ve seen are typical or atypical
for each group. My temple might be a bit
more on the liberal side of conservative because of the female religious
leaders but I don’t really know. And
some of what I was describing for the orthodox groups might actually be Hasidic
(which is ultra-orthodox, but still under the orthodox umbrella I think).
your experience, what is the general consensus on standard feminist issues like
abortion and birth control and what are the most common views on the LGBT
that I don’t know much about. In my Hebrew
high school, I think topics were at least discussed (as in, open discussion),
but for the life of me I can’t remember where most people stood. I know a few Jewish feminists from my temple
though, and a lesbian and a bi girl also.
So at the very least I don’t think the teachings (as presented by my
temple) directly disapprove. I don’t
remember them instructing us much on the topics one way or another.
the Hasidic groups couples would often marry on the younger side and have a
bunch of kids. I’ve heard this
attributed to the whole “be fruitful and multiply” business. So I don’t know if that group would make much
use of birth control but I haven’t definitively heard of them being against
it. I also remember hearing something
about menstruation being a sad event because it was a loss of potential life
(which might imply that something like an abortion would be even more
emotional), and that men couldn’t waste their semen on non-procreational
activities, but it’s hard to remember if I heard any of this from reputable
I just scanned this website, though, which addresses a lot of that, and gave answers
that I really did not expect. Not sure
if it can speak for the whole community, but it was the first google result.
do you think your religion, and the religious teachings you grew up with, affect
your daily life? How different would
your ideas and opinions be if you had grown up in a household that wasn’t
religious or if you’d grown up in a household that had a different religion?
my family attends a conservative temple, I don’t think we were particularly
religious. We have followed several
rules and customs: no bacon, different plates for milk and meat, attend temple
on the high holidays, the lighting of yahrzeit candles, and had me attend
Hebrew school up until college, etc.
However, topics of God and religious duties were never really discussed
to me by my parents beyond reading text for religious dinners such as Passover. In fact, despite my Jewish mother and bat
mitzvah, I only identify with the culture, not the religion.
my family always emphasized with me was a value for critical thinking and a
sense of community and culture. The
spirit behind the Talmud, a sort of Jewish life guide, is one of
discussion. It contains the views of
several rabbis, who sometimes disagreed.
This presentation of conflicting interpretations and recommendations,
all treated as valid, promoted in me a desire to ask questions. This open discussion type of approach was
used frequently in my Hebrew high school.
find enjoyment in humming the tunes to old prayers and Jewish songs, and
comfort in foods like matzo ball soup.
It feels powerful to be singing the same melodies, and eating the same
food as my family in generations past.
And it has helped me feel connected to those of a similar religious
household, even if they also do not identify with the religion.
up, I never felt particularly disadvantaged because I was female. I was never told “no” due to my gender; by my
family or by my Temple. My parents supported my ambitions, and were open with me on topics like birth control and the female
body as a whole. The few times I did
feel different within my temple because of my gender, it was often due to
feelings of pride and comfort in being female.
I have heard from friends about their experiences which have been less than
positive. One Jewish friend was told
(from someone that was Jewish, but not from our temple) that she was unclean
due to her period. Another was
confronted with some oppressive views when she delved into more orthodox
temples. I’ve run into my own unexpected
experiences, which at first blush at least, made me feel uncomfortable due to
my gender. Experiences like that do
leave a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth, but I personally don’t view myself
any differently because of it. Once I
got older I was always allowed to pick and choose which Jewish aspects I kept
and disregarded, anything which made me feel alienated because of my gender I
did not preoccupy myself with.
I view my Jewish heritage as a benefit.
It was a potential contribution to my value in critical thinking, and my
parents relaxed stance (in regards to my own beliefs) allowed me to get out
what I wanted from it, and nothing I didn’t.