These and Those

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

A Letter to Men (Women are Invited to Read Too!)

Posted on October 1, 2014 by Geo Poor

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Geo PoorDear Men,

Staring through the eyes of 50% of the Y-chromosome-holders in the Egalitarian Minyan, I wonder a question that I have never before thought but have heard from the other gender: “Where are all the guys?” Why is it that while the Mechizta Minyan has some 12 men and 2 women, the Egalitarian Minyan has roughly the inverse? Is Womenparticipating a mechitza? Does the newly found obligation of women un-obligate or de-obligate men? Does opening participation to the other half of adult Jewish humans mean that we men somehow have less responsibility?

There is a trend that has been observed in human society that when an activity is opened to female participation, it crosses a threshold, a “point of no return,” that leads to a mass male exodus. Teaching used to be mainly a men’s profession, but in the past century, it became more acceptable to be done by women. The number of women gradually increased until it crossed that line. Suddenly being a teacher places a question on a man’s masculinity. For thousands of years, Yoga was done (and taught) mostly by men. When it was brought to the US, someone decided to market it to housewives, and suddenly it was a women’s way to exercise. (How many times when I’ve said that I do yoga have people looked at me incredulously and said: “…Really…?”?)

The same trend seems to have happened in Judaism. Those in the leadership of heterodox movements have been asking for the past decade or so: “Where are the men/boys?” In services, in youth groups, in classes, in volunteering, in membership and registration for programs, though – both obviously and tellingly – not in Brotherhoods. Can we men not find meaning, appreciation, and [insert what you are looking for here] if (gasp!) women are present? I incredulously look at the answer that seems tacitly to be answered, and I say: “…Really…?”

I look at this minyan, and I wonder where the other men are – not because I need other men in order to be comfortable, not because I fear I am losing masculinity for being one of the only, but because the absence is troubling in several arenas – communal, religious, and in questions of deep-down human nature. Do we not believe in equality? Do we not believe in standing up for others’ rights? The fact that the seven women dedicated enough to [fill in the blank as you wish] have to struggle in order to be able to participate in kaddish twice a week is sad.

Yes, I know it’s early. Yes, I know prayer isn’t everyone’s thing. Yes, I know there are fewer men at Pardes, and thus the ratio of men to women at this minyan may actually be proportionate to the ratio in the larger Pardes community.

But I believe some things are bigger than an hour of sleep. I believe some things are bigger than personal preference. And most importantly, I believe that we as “modern,” “liberal,” “equality-supporting,” [insert your personal adjective here] men are newly obligated – not to pray, but to help and support others in their praying. (Similarly, I believe that we Jews, as a historically oppressed people, are obligated to stand up for other peoples, for the downtrodden of the world.)

Men, what is it deep inside us that makes it so difficult to welcome women into participation in “our” world without fleeing from it forthwith and outright? Is this some culturally-ingrained misogyny that we can (and should) fight? Why does the fact that women do something too mean that it is anti-masculine? Why doesn’t the fact that both men and women do something just make it a human thing to do?

And where is our support?


A (Male) Feminist

P.S. – I would like to add that while I was writing this letter (instead of praying), two Hasids (in the literal, not sociological, meaning of the word) have come from the Mechitzah Minyan in order to help complete our minyan. Kol Hakavod to them!)