Thursday, January 27, 2011

Women in Prayer: Part 18, 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.

We thankfully acknowledge that You are the Lord our God and God of our parents forever. You are the strength of our life, the shield of our salvation in every generation. We will give thanks to You and recount Your praise, evening, morning and noon, for our lives which are committed into Your hand, for our souls which are entrusted to You, for Your miracles which are with us daily, and for Your continual wonders and beneficences. You are the Beneficent One, for Your mercies never cease; the Merciful One, for Your kindnesses never end; for we always place our hope in You.


And for all these, may Your Name, our Ruler, be continually blessed, exalted and extolled forever and all time.


And all living things shall forever thank You, and praise Your great Name eternally, for You are good. God, You are our everlasting salvation and help, O benevolent God. Blessed are You Lord, Beneficent is Your Name, and to You it is fitting to offer thanks.

מודִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ. שָׁאַתָּה הוּא ה' אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבותֵינוּ לְעולָם וָעֶד. צוּר חַיֵּינוּ. מָגֵן יִשְׁעֵנוּ אַתָּה הוּא לְדור וָדור:
נודֶה לְּךָ וּנְסַפֵּר תְּהִלָּתֶךָ עַל חַיֵּינוּ הַמְּסוּרִים בְּיָדֶךָ. וְעַל נִשְׁמותֵינוּ הַפְּקוּדות לָךְ. וְעַל נִסֶּיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל יום עִמָּנוּ. וְעַל נִפְלְאותֶיךָ וְטובותֶיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל עֵת. עֶרֶב וָבקֶר וְצָהֳרָיִם: הַטּוב כִּי לא כָלוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ. וְהַמְרַחֵם כִּי לא תַמּוּ חֲסָדֶיךָ. מֵעולָם קִוִּינוּ לָךְ:

וְעַל כֻּלָּם יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִתְרומַם שִׁמְךָ מַלְכֵּנוּ תָּמִיד לְעולָם וָעֶד: וְכל הַחַיִּים יודוּךָ סֶּלָה. וִיהַלְלוּ אֶת שִׁמְךָ בֶּאֱמֶת. הָאֵל יְשׁוּעָתֵנוּ וְעֶזְרָתֵנוּ סֶלָה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', הַטּוב שִׁמְךָ וּלְךָ נָאֶה לְהודות:

In this brakha, called Modim, is the third part of Shemoneh Esrei, hoda’ah (thanks). We thank God for being our god and protector in the past and future, for giving us life and daily wonders. It’s important to remember to be thankful, since constantly asking for things without ever being grateful to the One who gives it to you is disrespectful.

There are so many things the feminist movement has to be grateful for. Starting from the beginning, we have the right to vote; it took from 1848 to 1920 to get it done, but women across America were finally enfranchised less than a century ago. Canadian women got the vote in 1918 along with British, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh women. It was hard work for all the suffragists who fought for the ballot, but they persevered so that we could benefit. We have indeed; in America, ever since 1964, more women than men have voted, and since 1980, a larger percentage of women have voted.

We also have the right to control our own bodies. Before Roe v. Wade, women had to pursue illegal abortions (or claim they had been raped, like Ms. Roe, originally tried) in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Illegal abortions could result in infertility or even death of the mother. Ever since 1973, women have had the prerogative to get a legal, safe abortion.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, very few women were allowed to practice medicine and law. In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor, was rejected by several medical schools because she was a woman. Lucy Hobbs Taylor, the first female dentist, was not accepted to dental school because of her sex and opened a practice without a degree in 1861. Belva Lockwood, the first successful woman lawyer, had to fight to receive her diploma and be admitted to the bar. Nowadays, approximately half of all the students in med and law schools are female.

Women are slowly but surely entering Jewish leadership. In non-Orthodox denominations, women have officially entered the rabbinate for several years. Within Orthodoxy, women are currently pursuing positions of power. Rabba Sara Hurwitz is considered the first Orthodox woman rabbi. Women like Rachel Kohl Finegold and Lynn Kaye do not go by an official “rabbi” title, but do similar work at their respective synagogues. Women out of the rabbinate are also doing a lot of good: there has been recent proliferation of yoatzot halakha, women who specialize in halakha (Jewish law) regarding women’s issues (like taharat mishpacha, family purity).

All in all, feminists, both secular and Jewish, have a lot to be thankful for. Is there still a lot of work ahead of us? Of course. But as we say this brakha, we have to sit back and thank God for allowing all the progress that has been made within the feminist movement.

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