Thursday, October 14, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 8, 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.

Heal us, God, then we will be healed; save us, then we will be saved, for You are our praise. Bring complete recovery for all our ailments [may it be Your will, God, my god, and the God of my ancestors, that You quickly send a complete recovery from heaven, spiritual healing and physical healing to the patient (name) son/daughter of (mother’s name) among the other patients of Israel] for You are God, Ruler, the Faithful and Compassionate Healer. Blessed are You, God, Who heals the sick of God’s nation, Israel.

רְפָאֵֽנוּ, יְיָ, וְנֵרָפֵא, הוֹשִׁיעֵֽנוּ וְנִוָּשֵֽׁעָה, כִּי תְהִלָּתֵֽנוּ אָֽתָּה, וְהַעֲלֵה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה לְכָל מַכּוֹתֵֽינוּ. כִּי אֵל מֶֽלֶךְ רוֹפֵא נֶאֱמָן וְרַחֲמָן אָתָּה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, רוֹפֵא חוֹלֵי עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל

The brakha (blessing) of Refuah is about physical (and spiritual) healing. We are praying to God that we remain healthy, and that those we know who are sick have a full recovery.

Only healthy people can properly fight for their rights. Inez Milholland, a suffragist, campaigned with Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party in the 1910s as part of the fight for the vote. Despite the fact that she suffered from pernicious anemia, she went on a lecture tour in the West, and collapsed in the middle of a speech. She died on November 25, 1916. Her last words were, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” (In the end, they waited four years - the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in August 1920.)

In this brakha, we should pray for women’s health. The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2010, 207,090 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and 20% of those cases will be fatal. In 2002, 7.3 million women used infertility services. Approximately a third of the 35,962 American women diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in 2007 died. The leading causes of death for American women are heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Despite all the health risks women face, 15% of women under the age of 65 don’t have health insurance.

Women across the globe face even worse health conditions than American women do. In Africa, 61% of HIV-positive adults are women. Between 15% and 71% of women across the globe have been physically or sexually assaulted; 1 in 5 of those assaults happened before the age of 15. Every day, 1,600 women die in childbirth, 99% of them in developing countries. As Danielle at Experimentations of a Teenage Feminist pointed out, women out of America have to deal with daily survival rather than rights.

As we say this brakha, we should pray for our own health, and for the health of women around the world. A woman has to be healthy in order to fight for her rights! Whether the right in question is suffrage, like Inez Milholland was campaigning for, or literacy, as women in Africa are crusading for, only a healthy woman can scream loudly enough to be heard. We should keep our already-sick sisters in mind for a refuah sheleimah (full recovery), and pray that those women who are still healthy remain that way.

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