Thursday, December 2, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 13, 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.

On the righteous, on the devout, on the elders of Your people, the Family of Israel, on the remnant of their scholars, on the righteous converts and on ourselves, may Your compassion be aroused, God, our god, and give goodly reward to all who sincerely believe in Your Name. Put our lot with them forever, and we will not feel ashamed, for we trust in You. Blessed are You, God, Mainstay and Assurance of the righteous.

עַל הַצַּדִּיקִים וְעַל הַחֲסִידִים. וְעַל זִקְנֵי עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשרָאֵל. וְעַל פְּלֵיטַת סופְרֵיהֶם. וְעַל גֵּרֵי הַצֶּדֶק. וְעָלֵינוּ. יֶהֱמוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ ה' אֱלהֵינוּ. וְתֵן שכָר טוב לְכָל הַבּוטְחִים בְּשִׁמְךָ בֶּאֱמֶת. וְשים חֶלְקֵנוּ עִמָּהֶם לְעולָם וְלא נֵבושׁ כִּי בְךָ בָטָחְנוּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', מִשְׁעָן וּמִבְטָח לַצַּדִּיקִים

When we say this brakha (blessing), identified as Tzaddikim, we pray that God continues sustaining the righteous people of the Jewish nation. If the Jews have no strong people who know and love Torah to look up to, then the Jews cannot survive.

Thankfully, the Jewish feminist movement has dozens of strong women to look up to. One such woman is Blu Greenberg. Ms. Greenberg cofounded the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), whose work in the Jewish feminist movement is invaluable. She also wrote the Jewish feminist Bible On Women and Judaism: A View from Tradition and is active in the agunah cause.

Rabba Sara Hurwitz is considered the first Orthodox woman rabbi. Controversially ordained by Rabbi Avi Weiss, she has managed to rise above the debate and currently serves as the assistant rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. She also is also Curricular Researcher and Writer for JOFA’s Gender and Orthodoxy Curriculum Project, which seeks to enable students to challenge gender stereotypes within Judaism.

Rachel Kohl Finegold is the education and ritual director (which essentially functions as an assistant rabbi) at Anshe Sholom Bnai Israel in Chicago (and gave Star of Davida an awesome interview!). She is also affiliated with JOFA, as she is a member of the JOFA Advisory Board. She also serves on the Spiritual Advisory Council of Midreshet Devora (a Modern Orthodox yeshiva for post-high school girls in Israel).

Rosh Kehilah Dina Najman’s congregation, Kehillat Orach Eliezer, is in Manhattan. Rosh Kehilah is the gender-neutral term for leader of the congregation, which is virtually the same as a rabbi. She is the Education Committee chair for the Agunah Commission, and is on the Executive Board of the Halakhic Organ Donor Society (HODS).

Elana Stein Hain is the community scholar for Lincoln Square Synagogue, also in Manhattan, and had been the resident scholar at The Jewish Center of the Upper West Side. Lynn Kaye, the director of life and learning at Shearith Israel (the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue) of the Upper West Side, inherited most of the assistant rabbi’s jobs.

These exemplary women are just six of thousands in the Jewish nation who women have to look up to. As we say the brakha dedicated to protecting Jewish leaders, we must pray that they are sustained, and that more women join their ranks.

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