Monday, August 30, 2010

Black Holes of Davida: Allison Iraheta, Part 2

I am blessed to have been able to get tickets to four sold-out Adam Lambert concerts. (If you think that's excessive and boarding on obsessive, we met one woman who had seen him eight times and another who had seen him eleven.) At the first two, Allison Iraheta and Orianthi were Adam’s opening acts. I have previously blogged about Allison’s song “Beat Me Up,” which is about a girl who accepts physical and sexual abuse from her partner, but despite it all she’ll “never let [him] go.” Because her album did so poorly (it only sold 103,000 copies), she only performed for twenty minutes, while Orianthi performed for forty (her album peaked at #1 on the Top Heatseekers chart). Because Allison only performed a few songs, “Beat Me Up” was not one of them.

At the third and fourth concerts that I went to, Orianthi did not perform, so Allison did a forty-minute set. One of the first songs she performed was “Beat Me Up.”

I suppose I’m making such a big deal over this because of a woman at my synagogue. She is such a sweet, beautiful woman with an adorable and bright daughter. Since she doesn’t wear a wedding ring and she’s never come to synagogue with a husband, I’ve heard rumors that she’s a lesbian or a convert. (Like being either one is so bad? Whatever.) My mom was talking to her one day and found out that she had been married to an abusive piece of **** and finally had the courage to divorce him, getting the longest restraining order ever given in the state. I’m telling you, you would never think she ever went through abuse - she is such a lovely woman, and her daughter is also the sweetest thing in the world. I think she’s why the song “Beat Me Up” makes me so sick. To think that there are women out there like her who have to deal with an abusive partner, and who have children who have been exposed to that kind of behavior, makes me feel horrible. And to know that Allison is stupidly singing in support of that makes me SICK.

What also annoys me is what Allison said about "Beat Me Up." "It’s a pretty rad song. This chick likes being mistreated by her guy. A lot of girls out there, they like that! And it’s kind of sad, but y’know, that’s just the way she is. Not that I’m like that, because I’d beat the h**l out of whoever the h**l mistreats me! I put myself in another girl’s shoes, so it’s a pretty cool song."

"That's just the way she is"? That's just the way it is? For those of you who have been following my blog, you know I don't use profanity, but that comment makes me want to use every bad word in the book. What a stupid, stupid, STUPID thing to say. "Yeah, well, it's kinda sad that some girls enjoy abuse, since they have such low self-esteem, but hey, what can we do about it, let's sing about it and glorify abuse to all my little teeny-bopper fans!" The only right thing she could have said when asked about "Beat Me Up" is that it was a mistake to record. But no. Effing no. As I write this, my face is reddening in anger and my hands are shaking. This makes me so darn mad.

All I can say is that I’m glad Allison’s album did as poorly as it did. At the concert, people were talking so much during her set that even during the slow songs, there was no way she could hear me yelling out “WHY DO YOU SUPPORT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?”

I am redubbing Allison into the Black Holes of Davida for not only recording “Beat Me Up,” but for not realizing what a nasty, horrible, stupid song it is and performing it in concert, too. I am also putting Kevin Rudolf and Jacob Kasher, the song’s writers, into Black Holes of Davida.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 2, 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 are eternally mighty, my Lord, the Resuscitator of the dead are You; You are abundantly able to save. [God makes the wind blow and the rain descend.] God sustains the living with kindness, resuscitates the dead with abundant mercy, supports the fallen, heals the sick, releases the confined, and maintains the faith to those asleep in the dust. Who is like You, Master of mighty deeds, and who is comparable to You, Ruler Who causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout! You are faithful to resuscitate the dead. Blessed are You, God, Who resuscitates the dead.

אַתָּה גִּבּוֹר לְעוֹלָם אֲדֹנָי, מְחַיֵּה מֵתִים אַֽתָּה, רַב לְהוֹשִֽׁיעַ. [מַשִּׁיב הָרֽוּחַ וּמוֹרִיד הַגֶּֽשֶׁם] מְכַלְכֵּל חַיִּים בְּחֶֽסֶד, מְחַיֵּה מֵתִים בְּרַחֲמִים רַבִּים, סוֹמֵךְ נוֹפְלִים, וְרוֹפֵא חוֹלִים, וּמַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים, וּמְקַיֵּם אֱמוּנָתוֹ לִישֵׁנֵי עָפָר, מִי כָמֽוֹךָ בַּֽעַל גְּבוּרוֹת וּמִי דּֽוֹמֶה לָּךְ, מֶֽלֶךְ מֵמִית וּמְחַיֶּה וּמַצְמִֽיחַ יְשׁוּעָה. וְנֶאֱמָן אַתָּה לְהַחֲיוֹת מֵתִים. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, מְחַיֵּה הַמֵּתִים

The second brakha (blessing) of Shemoneh Esrei, called Givurot, discusses the Jewish concept of tehiyat hamatim (resurrection of the dead). It is a core belief of Judaism that when Mashiach (Messiah) comes, everyone will be brought back to life. This brakha praises God for doing so, and prays that we will merit resurrection after Mashiach.

The women’s movement has been a long quest for equal rights. After women were granted suffrage with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, the women’s rights movement was still alive, but diminished and vilified by the media. During the 1920s and 30s, women began trickling into the workforce. As a result, the media began creating the image of a career woman in the 1930s and 40s. During World War II, women took the jobs of men who were overseas and were more liberated than they ever had been before. However, once the war ended and the men returned home, women were forced to quit to make jobs available for them, and they lost their fledgling power. Men began reshaping the country in the image they had craved during the war, a cozy domestic life. Thus, the idea that women should be housewives and mothers, and men the breadwinners, was created. Highly-educated women got bored with this lifestyle quickly. This inspired Betty Friedan to publish the groundbreaking book The Feminine Mystique in 1963, which is widely considered the starting point of Second-Wave Feminism.

“I did not mean to start a revolution,” Betty Friedan said in her autobiography, Life So Far. Even if she did not mean to, she did. She records people’s comments to her about The Feminine Mystique in Life So Far: “It changed my whole life.” “I decided to go back to school.” “I decided I would be more than a secretary.” “I told my husband, you’re not the only one around here that counts. I’m a person, too.” Women rebelled when they realized that they were not the only ones suffering as housewives. They were reawakened. Their “souls” were resurrected, and they were able to go back to school, to do something with their lives instead of scrubbing the kitchen floor day after day.

It is said that the first three brakhot (blessings) correspond to the three Avot (Patriarchs), so this first brakha corresponds to the first Patriarch, Isaac. To the Jewish feminist that will have the Imahot (Matriarchs) in mind, this brakha is for Rebecca, Isaac’s wife. Rebecca was raised by Bethuel, who was wicked. She then became one of Imahot, one of the greatest women in Jewish tradition. While she was supposed to have been an amazing person even while under Bethuel’s roof, it must have still been a stark difference to go from the home of such a wicked person to the home of one of the Avot. Rebecca had her own reawakening, her own spiritual tehiyat hamatim.

Next time you say Shemoneh Esrei, pray for women who have not yet come to be resurrected as a feminist, for the women who are threatened or scared of the concepts liberation can bring.

Today, August 26, is the 90th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment's passage, which gave women across the country the right to vote. May women continue to fight for their rights as strongly as the original suffragists did.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Black Hole Bill O'Reilly and Shining Star Jennifer Aniston

I really like Bill O’Reilly. I do. I know it sounds weird coming from a radical Jewish teenage feminist, but I really do. (I describe myself as eclectic instead of labeling myself as liberal or conservative, since I have a lot of opinions on totally different sides of the spectrum.) O’Reilly’s a pretty smart guy, and I really respect him.

That is, until now. Jennifer Aniston is starring in a new movie, The Switch, about an unmarried woman who gets artificial insemination in order to have a child. “Women are realizing more and more that you don’t have to settle. They don’t have to fiddle with a man to have that child,” she said about the movie. I completely support this position. If a woman finds a husband to have children with, that’s great; if they don’t, it shouldn’t hold them back from having children.

Bill O’Reilly apparently disagrees, though. “There are millions of single mothers who do a great job raising their kids…it’s possible, but it’s not optimum, and that’s where Miss Aniston makes her mistake. That she’s throwing a message out to 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds that hey, you don’t need a guy, you don’t need a dad…that’s destructive to our society.”

If O’Reilly had opposed Aniston’s comment based on the fact that she’s glorifying pregnancy and single motherhood for teens, I would grudgingly agree with him, but no. O’Reilly said that she’s wrong because she’s trying to send a message that threatens the nuclear family. (And to add insult to injury he calls her Miss, not Ms. Oy.) Is it so bad if the nuclear family is threatened and eventually destroyed? I don't see that it's such a horrible thing. Shulamith Firestone published her feminist classic The Dialectic of Sex in 1970, and in it she discussed the concept of a new family form where a fetus is sustained in a pod outside of the female and is raised by a family of 8-10 adults. While that's a little radical for today's society, at some point in the future, that could be a way of life. It's gotta start small, and selective single motherhood is only the beginning.

After O'Reilly blasted Aniston, she responded, “Of course, the ideal scenario for parenting is obviously two parents of a mature age. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs on earth. And, of course, many women dream of finding Prince Charming (with fatherly instincts), but for those who’ve not yet found their Bill O’Reilly, I’m just glad science has provided a few other options.” I support this statement too. I don’t see why a one-parent household can’t be considered “optimum,” as O’Reilly put it. I’m an avid watcher of Dr. Phil, and he constantly says that kids would rather come from a broken home than live in one. Why should a woman settle with a man that isn’t up to her standards to have a child, or go without the joy of motherhood because she can’t find a husband?

I dub Bill O’Reilly a Black Hole of Davida for his misogynistic comments, and I induct Jennifer Aniston into Shining Stars of Davida for her positive comments about single motherhood.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 1, 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.

Blessed are You, Lord our God and God of our Fathers, the god of Abraham, the god of Isaac, and the god of Jacob, the great, mighty, and awesome God, exalted God, who bestows bountiful kindness, who creates all things, who remembers the piety of the Patriarchs, and who, in love, brings a redeemer to their children’s children, for the sake of God’s Name.

O Ruler, Helper, Savior, and Shield. Blessed are You, Lord, the Shield of Abraham.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ, אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם, אֱלֹהֵי יִצְחָק, וֵאלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב, הָאֵל הַגָּדוֹל הַגִּבּוֹר וְהַנּוֹרָא, אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, גּוֹמֵל חֲסָדִים טוֹבִים, וְקֹנֵה הַכֹּל, וְזוֹכֵר חַסְדֵי אָבוֹת, וּמֵבִיא גוֹאֵל לִבְנֵי בְנֵיהֶם, לְמַֽעַן שְׁמוֹ בְּאַהֲבָה

In the first brakha (blessing) of Shemoneh Esrei, identified as Avot, we are presenting our credentials to God by mentioning our relation to the Avot (Patriarchs), beseeching God to grant our prayers in our ancestors’ merit. After we’ve shown our “qualifications” to approach God, we praise God.

One can tell from a cursory glance that the Avot brakha of Shemoneh Esrei is painfully male-centric, as it only mentions the Avot and totally ignores the Imahot (Matriarchs). I had always chafed at mentioning only Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and not mentioning Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah in prayer; I never knew what to do about it, though. I was walking on air after I attended Adena Berkowitz and Rivka Haut’s session, Fixed Prayer, Spirituality and Inclusiveness: Can Creative Liturgy Fit in the World of Halakhic Boundaries?, at the 2010 Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance conference. In it, Ms. Berkowitz and Ms. Haut discussed women’s place in prayer and mentioned the Avot’s mention and Imahot’s exclusion. “Have a mental note…you can have in mind as you invoke the Avot [that] you [are] mentally invoking the Imahot,” Ms. Berkowitz said. I follow her suggestion every time I pray and feel closer to God and my foremothers because of it.

It is said that the first three brakhot (blessings) correspond to the three Avot, so this first brakha corresponds to the first Patriarch, Abraham. To the Jewish feminist that will have the Imahot in mind, then this brakha is for Sarah, Abraham’s wife and the first Matriarch. She had two names before she became Sarah: Iscah and Sarai. Iscah is from the same root as sukkah, the temporary hut that Jews live in during the holiday of Sukkot. The purpose of the sukkah is to remind you of God’s presence and control over the world. Just as people remember God when they sit in a sukkah, they remembered God when they saw Sarah. A sukkah is also supposed to be beautiful on the inside, where you will sit. This shows that Sarah had such a sense of inner beauty, people knew that only God could have created such a person. Sarai, on the other hand, means my princess; when Abraham would say, “this is my wife, Sarai, my princess,” it implied that Sarah’s greatness was only because of her connection to Abraham. When God changed her name to Sarah, which means princess to all, it proved that Sarah was amazing in her own right; she did not owe her elevated status to her husband.

Next time you say Shemoneh Esrei, show God why your prayers should be granted: say that you’re related to Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, the first strong Jewish women who relied on no man.

Monday, August 16, 2010

My First Brushes With Sexism

It's an unfair reality, but I think that every woman has dealt with some form of sexism at some point in their lives. (We need to fight for our daughters to have different lives than we have had!) While I'm still in high school, I haven't had that much experience in the world, but I can remember a few sexist encounters from my childhood.

The first time was in kindergarten. My class was coming back to the classroom from the gym, so three boys and I decided to surprise everyone by getting there first and greeting them when they came in. (Later when I worked at a day camp, a camper did this to us, so I figured I was paid back for torturing my teachers like this.) After several minutes, the teachers came into the classroom, frantically looking for the four of us. They yelled at us. A lot. Then one of the boys’ parents who was around admonished us.

“That was a very bad thing the three of you did,” he said, obviously referring to my three male cohorts. “Or should I say the four of you!”

The intimidated five-year-old me didn’t say anything, but I remember thinking, I did the same thing as them. Why shouldn’t I be included in the punishment just because I’m a girl?

The second time was probably the summer I was going into second grade. I was on the bus going to day camp, and one boy, three years older than me and on the basketball team, was the only one I knew. He was wearing a sleeveless basketball jersey.

“If our principal saw you wearing that he’d kill you,” I informed him. After all, I wasn’t allowed to wear anything sleeveless, since that would violate the laws of tzniut (modesty). If I was seen wearing sleeveless, I would get into big trouble. Wouldn’t he get into trouble, too?

“No I wouldn’t,” he replied. “I’m on the basketball team. The principal gave me this jersey.”

That made me extraordinarily confused. If girls can’t wear sleeveless, then doesn’t the same rule apply to boys? I don’t remember if I ever asked anybody about the discrepancy, or if I just absorbed the double standard about the difference of dress for boys and girls.

The last sexist experience I can remember was in fifth or sixth grade. While my elementary school was coed, the boys and girls were separated from fifth grade on, except for Hebrew language class. Our regular teacher was out, so we had a male substitute, a Lower East Side very right-wing rabbi that only taught the boys’ classes. He supervised while we did the work that the teacher left. Since I work extremely fast (the internship I did over the summer actually ran out of work for me), I finished pretty quickly.

“There’s no way you’re done,” he said to me when I told him. “Sit back down and finish.”

“But I’m done,” I said, exasperated.

“No, you’re not,” he said, and I went back to my seat and checked over my very much finished work. A few minutes later, a boy (one of the boys who had participated in my kindergarten escapade) said that he finished his work. The teacher believed him.

I’m glad I can only think of three real encounters (excluding all of the vomit-inducing things I’ve heard in my right-wing high school) of sexism from my childhood, but I’m still upset that such things happened at all. I was always a strong girl; my mom raised me with the mindset that girls can do anything. I remember proclaiming girls’ superiority to boys’ often to my male classmates. Because of my pride in my femininity, I wasn’t terribly affected by my brushes with sexism.

What about the girls who weren’t raised as proud of their gender as I was, though? What about the girls who internalize the sexism they encounter? What about those girls? What happens to them?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Introduction of Women in Prayer Series

The mitzvot (commandments) that God gave to us have one main purpose: to make us closer to God. Since Judaism has a lot of minute, involved laws, it’s easy to forget that the higher reason behind it all is to bring our hearts closer to the Creator. However, it is impossible to forget about closeness to God while keeping at least one of the mitzvot: prayer. Jews are obligated to pray three times every day: Shaharit in the morning, Minha in the afternoon, and Ma’ariv in the evening. The main prayer in all three is the same: Shemoneh Esrei.

The Shemoneh Esrei, aka the Amidah, is considered the most important prayer in Judaism. It is said three times a day and contains three main elements of prayer: shevah (praise), bakasha (request), and hoda’ah (gratitude). Its words were created by men, but the concept was created by a woman: Hannah. She was one of the wives of Elkanah. While she was barren, the other wife, Penina, had many children. Distraught at her childlessness, she went to the Temple and desperately prayed for a child. The only form of prayer at that time was spoken aloud with the rest of the congregation; instead, Hannah prayed only loud enough for herself to hear. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) thought she was drunk and questioned her. When he realized she was sober, he assured her that she would be given a child. Her son was Samuel, the longtime leader of the Jewish people and the prophet who anointed Saul and David.

Prayer was codified by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah (Great Assembly); there were no women involved. (The word anshei actually means men, literally Men of the Great Assembly.) As a result, traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot that traditionally only apply to men. Prayers like Shemoneh Esrei, the Shema, and the infamous Sh’lo Asani Isha (the prayer that men say thanking God for not making them women) have been condemned by feminists of all religions. However, prayer can easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Shining Stars of Davida: Elena Kagan

When I was writing a paper to enter in National History Day (and won first place in the regional competition), I chose to write about Belva Lockwood, the first successful woman lawyer, the first woman to officially run for president, and the first woman to speak in front of the Supreme Court. Since the competition encourages its participants to tie their projects to current events, my teacher told me to focus on women who have been impacted by Lockwood’s action. I immediately came up with Hillary Clinton, but was debating about the other woman. My teacher suggested Elena Kagan.

“Elena Kagan? Who’s she?” I asked. He explained that she was in the works to become Solicitor General, so I did my research and mentioned her in my paper. After I wrote that, her name kept popping up everywhere. When David Souter retired, who was one of the possible nominees? Kagan. I was disappointed when Sonia Sotomayor was nominated instead, but when John Stevens retired and Kagan was being considered again, my heart flew. Now that Kagan is the new Supreme Court justice, I’m thrilled.

Kagan has always been a strong Jewish woman: when it was time for her bat mitzvah and her rabbi (Shlomo Riskin, a major Orthodox rabbi) didn’t want her to read from the Torah on Saturday morning (as bar mitzvah boys would) because of her gender, Kagan protested until he allowed her to read from the Book of Ruth on Friday night. She was the first girl to do so at that synagogue, Lincoln Square, a major Orthodox synagogue.

She attended Hunter College High School, and was dressed as a judge with a gavel in her graduation picture. She graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University undergraduate, and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. Kagan started out her career as law clerk for Abner Mikva, and then Thurgood Marshall. After practicing privately for a while, she worked for the Clinton administration. In 2001, she became a professor at Harvard Law School, and became dean in 2003. She then made the infamous decision to stop military recruiters at the Office of Career Services because she felt that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy discriminated against homosexuals. She became Solicitor General in 2009, and the rest is history.

People have speculated about her sexuality, due to the fact that she is active about LGBTQ rights and has chosen not to get married or have children. (What stereotyping! I really hate society sometimes.) She has never stated whether or not she is homosexual. My attitude is, honestly, who cares? What does Kagan’s sexuality have anything to do with me? If she’s gay, that’s great. If she’s not, that’s great too. All I care is that she’ll be a good Supreme Court justice. I wasn’t aware that her sexuality would affect her ability to think clearly.

I also love that Kagan isn’t afraid to say that she’s a Jew in an anti-Semitic world full of quotas against Jews. (Yes - there are still quotas on Jews, and other ethnic groups. Read What Colleges Don’t Tell You (And Other Parents Don't Want You To Know) by Elizabeth Wissner-Gross if you don’t believe me.) I almost died of laughter when she made her Christmas day crack at the Senate confirmation hearings.

So, kol hakavod (great job!) to Elena Kagan, the fourth woman to be on the Supreme Court, and the eighth Jew.

The name Elena comes from the name Helen. Heleni was a non-Jewish queen during the days of the second Beit HaMikdash (Temple) who converted. She donated a golden menorah to the Beit HaMikdash that reflected the first rays of sun in the mornings, reminding people to say the prayer of Shema, which women are not actually commanded to do. She also donated a tablet with the laws of Sotah, the ritual of proving whether a woman accused of adultery is innocent or guilty, written on it. Both gifts showed the kohanim (priests) of the Beit HaMikdash that women can control things, too. The name Kagan is a form of the more common Cohen, which means a priest of the Beit HaMikdash. If Elena Kagan inherited the strength of Heleni and the kohanim, she was definitely a good pick for the Supreme Court.

I dub Elena Kagan an inductee into Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make feminists proud.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Feminist Shave

We bought the Smooth Away. I figured I would get around to Smooth Awaying my legs eventually, but I never bothered - what with my school dress code of knee socks or tights only, my legs never get to see the light of day anymore, so what’s the point in stripping them down?

Then summer came. In came the humidity and out went the knee socks. Even though all my skirts are extremely long, and I love my dorky high-tops, leg still shows. As does hair on said leg. And I felt uncomfortable…and so an internal battle ensured.

Just Smooth Away your legs already!
No! It’s sexist to buy into the fact that women should shave their legs and men don’t have to!
Who said that men shouldn’t?
Well, they don’t!
You shave your underarms, don’t you?
If I didn’t, I’d stink to high heaven. It should be a law that women and men have to shave their underarms.
You shave that - why not your legs?
Because it’s sexist!! Have we not already established this?
We have. But everyone does it. Who cares?
I care!! It’s a sign of women’s oppression!
Because it’s like trying to bring women back into their childhood, and infantilize them, since they’re treated like children in society - “Women and children first!” Women were considered property like children, and to shave my legs is to buy into that.
Do you think you’re taking yourself a wee bit too seriously?
Are you gonna shut up and Smooth Away your legs?

Yeah, I succumbed. I finally just sat down on the bathtub, took out the Smooth Away pad, and began rubbing. (I still have no clue where the hair goes after you Smooth Away it off. I couldn’t find any on the floor or pad.) After one leg, I got bored and just took soap and used a regular razor. It was far from a perfect job on either leg, but I finally got rid of that unsightly hair and could wear some of those shorter skirts pushed to the back of my closet.

I felt guilty for buying into the stereotype of feminine beauty as smooth-skinned, not natural. I told my mom about all the misgivings I had, and Jewish Mama Bear made everything feel better.

“Plastic surgery,” she began. “Women who have it feel better about their bodies. It’s not about them buying into what men dictate as beauty; it’s about them feeling comfortable in their skins. If having a button nose makes you feel better about yourself, then go ahead, get a nose job! Why not? And so, on a similar level, shaving your legs made you feel better about it. It’s not buying into sexist norms of what women should look like, it’s what makes you feel better.” I opened my mouth, and she said, “I know you’re gonna say that it’s rooted in sexist norms, but does it matter? It still makes you feel better.”

My mom is right. The feminist movement is all about choices. Women should have the option to choose between being a doctor or a teacher; they should not be pushed into either choice. Women should also have the option of shaving their legs or not. Both should be accepted practices; there should be no “women’s norm” and “men’s norm.” Women (and men) should be able to do whatever they feel comfortable with.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Shining Stars of Davida: Job and Fraydel bat Faigel

“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; that man was wholesome and upright, he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1), the Book of Job begins. While it seems like a lot of information is told about this notoriously unlucky man, the narrative never actually indicates whether or not Job was Jewish. The Gemara in Bava Batra 15a-b questions extensively as to whether Job was Jew or Gentile, never reaching an answer but suggesting strongly that he was Jewish. I disagree with this conclusion. When he heard that his children died, he “tore [the hair of] his head” (Job 1:20); if he was Jewish, then this would violate the prohibition of cutting oneself or ripping one’s hair out in mourning. However, he is never rebuked for doing so, either by God or the Gemara.

Whether Job was Jewish or not is immaterial to the plot, though. Since there are no extra words in Tanakh (Jewish Bible), there must be a reason why the narrative decided it wasn’t worthwhile to specify if Job was Jew or Gentile. A person is a person; it doesn’t matter if he or she is Jewish or not. We were all made by God. The fact that we are never told if Job was Jewish or not underscores that we are all equal, and that Jews must treat non-Jews fairly and with respect (an attitude that should be reciprocated, too).

In addition to not mentioning Job’s religion, the narrative also seems to leave out a seemingly important detail: when did the story of Job happen? The Gemara never concludes with a definite decision, suggesting as much as ten options. The time period that is usually cited as the correct one is during Moses’ time, as Moses is often credited as the book’s author.

The reason Job had to go through so many afflictions is also never said outright in the narrative. After introducing Job and his children, the Book begins discussing a heavenly meeting on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, where God asked Satan where he had been. When Satan replied that he had been going around the Earth to evaluate humankind, God asked him if he had seen Job, “for there is no one like him on Earth; a wholesome and upright man, who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Satan scorned Job’s piety, and God gave him permission to afflict Job to prove how much he believed in God. This seems extremely out of character for The Holy One. God has thirteen attributes, including compassion and mercy. To kill all of a Job’s oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants, and children, and then to curse him with painful boils, doesn’t seem very compassionate or merciful! How could God allow Satan to torture an innocent human being?

Accepting the explanation that the story of Job took place during Moses’ time, the Gemara explains that Job isn’t as innocent as he may seem. When Pharaoh was trying to think of a plot to kill out the Jews, he consulted with three people: Balaam, Jethro, and Job. Balaam supported Pharaoh’s plan of drowning the Jewish boys, and as a result was killed. Jethro fled, and was rewarded that his descendants would sit on the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin. Job opposed Pharaoh’s plot but was silent, virtually giving his seal of approval. Because of this, he was punished with great afflictions rather than death. (This is also another reason why Job can’t be Jewish - why would Pharaoh have been consulting with a Jew about how to kill the Jews out?)

There is another answer to why Job was afflicted, however. At the beginning of Job, it says, “Seven sons and three daughters were born to him…His sons would go and make a feast, at each one’s home each on his set day; and they would send word and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them” (Job 1:2, 4). At the end, the narrative says, “God blessed Job’s end more than his beginning…He had fourteen sons and three daughters…Their father gave [the daughters] an inheritance among their brothers” (Job 42:12-13, 15).

At the beginning, before Job went through all his trials, he did not give his daughters and sons the same inheritance. His daughters could not even host their own feasts and had to go to their brothers’ homes to do so. After Job lost his children, he realized that they were all equally precious gifts to him; a daughter is no different than a son. As a result, he righted his wrong and gave his daughters an equal portion. Is it possible that Job was being punished for not giving his daughters an equal inheritance to his sons? I think so.

This blog post is dedicated in memory of Fraydel bat Faigel. Fraydel was a strong, outgoing woman, and another Shining Star of Davida. She became a teacher, but that was not her original intention: she was thrown out of law school because she was pregnant. She opposed any sort of prejudice and was known to be friendly and accepting of all people, regardless of their sex, race, or any other factor. Fraydel’s son-in-law spoke about Job at the Shloshim meal her daughter sponsored and inspired this post.

I dub Job and Fraydel bat Faigel inductees into Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make feminists proud.