These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

What is so Disrespectful about my Public Voice?

Posted on February 28, 2014 by Taylor Winfield

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taywinThis week I read from the Torah for the first time. I stood up in front of my closest female friends, and sang the words of our people. I had been preparing for weeks, and I expected the moment to come with a high, a relief, a joy. But instead a seed inside of me started to take root. Why can I only read in front of women? Why would traditional authorities say my reading counted as “Torah study” but not Kriyat HaTorah? I know why halachically. I know that a woman reading in front of a community would violate kavod hatzibur (the dignity of the community). But I can’t understand why something I love so much and helps me feel connected to HaKadosh baruch would be prohibited in my practice.

I have tried to ignore the inconsistencies that come with being a feminist in the orthodox world. I don’t count in a minyan – but would I really want to count anyways? Counting means being counted on, and I don’t want to commit to going to shul three times a day for the rest of my life. Okay, so I don’t wear a tallit or tefillin – but do these articles of clothing matter? Isn’t it what is inside that matters in my relationship with HaKadosh baruch? Okay, so I can’t lead services for men. Fine, it makes sense since I do not have the same level of obligation. Yet, the fact that I cannot lead Kabbalat Shabbat, Pzueki Dezimbra, and other activities that men and women are not obligated in or equally obligated in is too much. Why does my Jewish expression have to be hidden? What is so disrespectful about my public voice?

The place for a modest Jewish woman is in private. But I don’t want to hide my Judaism behind a veil anymore. I want to use any tools available to strengthen my relationship with HaKadosh baruch. And from my prayer and meditation on this topic, I feel this is what HaKadosh baruch wants for me as well.

Yet, I am scared to make any changes. I feel that if I change my practice I will become an outcast in the Jewish world: too frum to be accepted in the Conservative world, and too lenient to be accepted in the Orthodox world (maybe even the Open Orthodox world). I don’t want to sacrifice shomer Shabbat and kashrut. I still want to pray with a mechitza. I just want to be part of a community where women have a place in the conversations, Beit Knesset, and Beit Midrash. Maybe this is too much to ask. One day I may have to choose between personal spiritual fulfillment and an observant community. Until that day, I will continue to explore my Jewish identity with the support and community that Jerusalem and Pardes offer. B’ezrat hashem, by the time I am ready to settle down and start my own family, communities will exist for me outside of just Jerusalem and New York.