Thursday, November 18, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 12, 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.

And for slanderers let there be no hope; and may all wickedness perish in an instant; and may all Your enemies be cut down speedily. May You speedily uproot, smash, cast down, and humble wanton sinners, speedily in our days. Blessed are You, God, Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners.

וְלַמַּלְשִׁינִים אַל תְּהִי תִקְוָה, וְכָל הַמִּינִים כְּרֶֽגַע יֹאבֵֽדוּ, וְכָל אוֹיְבֵי עַמְּךָ מְהֵרָה יִכָּרֵֽתוּ, וְהַזֵּדִים מְהֵרָה תְעַקֵּר וּתְשַׁבֵּר וּתְמַגֵּר וּתְכַלֵּם וְתַשְׁפִּילֵם וְתַכְנִיעֵם בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵֽינוּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ,ֹ שוֹבֵר אֹיְבִים וּמַכְנִֽיעַ זֵדִים

This brakha (blessing), called Birkat HaMinim, prays that the enemies of the Jews will be cut down and stop making problems for the Jewish community. Shemoneh Esrei literally means eighteen in Hebrew, as when it was first written, there were eighteen brakhot (blessings) in it. However, Birkat HaMinim was later added to Shemoneh Esrei to pray for the enemies of the Jews’ destruction.

There are a lot of people who challenge the secular and Jewish feminist movements. Organizations like the National Organization for Women (NOW) have whole walls of shame ( dedicated to bringing sexist media to light, and run campaigns against sexists in politics and government. I personally thought it was inspired to send Alan Simpson, the current co-chair of the president’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, baby bottle nipples when he said that Social Security is “like a milk cow with 310 million tits!”

Jewish feminists also have enemies. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) definitively ruled against Orthodox women’s ordination in late April 2010. Anat Hoffman, leader of Women of the Wall, was arrested for holding a Torah scroll at the Western Wall due to her sex. Every day, Jewish women are barred from reaching their full potential within Judaism. My Torah teacher has a scary brilliant mind. She can literally quote whole portions of the Torah from the top of her head, and she understands them on so many different levels. Why should she be a teacher while her husband is a rabbi?

When we say this brakha, we should pray that the people who threaten the feminist movement are unsuccessful in their plans. As the Jewish feminist watchdog group Jewish Women Watching says, sexism is a sin, and we need to make that clear to those who oppose us. The gains that feminists make are precious; every decision made in our favor, legal or religious, is a gem. We have worked too hard to let those who oppose us win.


  1. November 16, 2010

    Senator Jim DeMint
    340 Russell Senate Office Building
    United States Senate
    Washington, DC 20510

    Senator DeMint:

    This regards your repeated remarks that gay people should not be allowed to teach school. I object to them because that kind of discrimination against a minority violates the Pledge of Allegiance’s promise of liberty and justice for all.

    I hereby challenge you to face me on national television and explain why I shouldn’t be allowed to teach. I studied at Master’s level at Harvard University and speak German, French, Spanish and Italian. I have published two novels. The phrase “By Scott Rose” has appeared in over 1,000 venues including Strings, (a publication for *students* of string instruments), The World Scholar (a publication for *students*), Bon Appétit, The Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism, ShowBoats International, Decanter, Opera News, the New York Blade, Girlfriends, Caviar Affair, the Advocate, Relish’s The American Table and Mia/Enas, a magazine for Greek Americans. I have taught with conspicuously positive results. I have for example guest lectured on the arts in journalism at Brooklyn College. The students loved me. I gave them pointers on how to break into journalism and subsequently learned that some of them have done so.

    When you demonize minority members of American society, saying they should not be allowed to teach school, you contribute to the terroristic atmosphere of hatred that results in gay students and teachers living in angst and in some cases even committing suicide. It is therefore most ironic that you of all people have served on a U.S. Senate Subcommittee for human rights. Recently in Tennessee, a lesbian couple found their house burned to the ground and the word “Queer” spray-painted on a remaining adjacent structure. Your demonizing of gay Americans contributes to the ongoing occurrence of such hate crimes. Do you intend to behave responsibly to stop the hate?

    In addition to facing you on national television, I intend to organize a group of GLBT teachers from around the country to meet with you in Washington. I will not rest in my campaign to reverse your bigotry until you 1) retract your statement; 2) apologize for it and 3) commit to fostering atmospheres of diversity and acceptance in U.S. schools nationwide.


    Scott Rose

  2. Thanks for mentioning Anat. We must all stand for gender equality, for too long have our religions wrongly keep us apart.