Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 4, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

You graciously endow humankind with wisdom and teach insight to a frail mortal. Endow us graciously from Yourself with wisdom, insight, and discernment. Blessed are You, God, gracious Giver of wisdom.

אַתָּה חוֹנֵן לְאָדָם דַּֽעַת, וּמְלַמֵּד לֶאֱנוֹשׁ בִּינָה. חָנֵּֽנוּ מֵאִתְּךָ חָכְמָה בִּינָה וָדָֽעַת. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, חוֹנֵן הַדָּֽעַת

The fourth brakha (blessing) of Shemoneh Esrei, called Bina or Da’at, is the first brakha asking God to grant a request, or bakasha. Our first appeal is for intellect because without knowledge, there’s no such thing as Judaism. Judaism depends on learning passed down from parent to child; ignorance is inexcusable. In this brakha we are attributing our success to God and asking God for help to understand in the future.

Feminism is a horribly misunderstood movement. When I tell people I’m a feminist, the first thing out of their mouth usually is, “So you hate men, right?” or “No, you're a lesbian?” The media has vilified feminists ever since men came back from World War II and shaped the country to what they craved overseas, a cozy domestic life with women in the home and 2.5 children playing in the backyard. Feminists have been labeled as castrating man-hating lesbian bra-burners ever since. People simply don’t understand feminism and have no desire to learn, simply absorbing the horrible messages the media propagates about the women’s movement and those who follow it.

When I say this brakha, I pray for my own success in school and learning, that I will remember any knowledge I come across and will be able to integrate it into my life (and do well on tests!). I also pray that the women and men who do not understand the secular and Jewish women’s rights movement begin to identify with it. I would hazard a guess at saying that most people are truly feminists; i.e., they believe that sex should not determine someone's place in the world. People just don't like labeling themselves as feminists. I've noticed that many people in the Jewish community may actually be feminists, but are terrified to admit it for fear of being branded as such. (There are also a lot of people who aren't feminist and believe that women should be defined by their biological role - let's not defend every person who doesn't describe him or herself as a feminist.) Judaism is a fluid religion that is accepting and tolerant of all, and the Torah is the document that backs it all up. The Torah loves women and wants us to be equal. We cannot attain that nirvana until everyone realizes it, though.

Tonight Rosh HaShanah begins, marking the beginning of the Jewish new year. May 5771 yield positive results for the feminist movement, and may all those women and men who call themselves feminists have good fortune in their fight for equal rights!

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