Thursday, February 24, 2011

Women in Prayer: Part 20, Shema

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.

Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

Blessed is the Name of the glorious kingdom for all eternity.

You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources. Let these matters that I command you today be upon your heart. Teach them thoroughly to your children and speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise. Bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be tefillin between your eyes. And write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

And it will come to pass that if you continually hearken to My mitzvot that I command you today, to love and serve the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul - then I will provide rain for your land in its proper time, the early and late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil. I will provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied. Beware lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others and bow to them. Then the wrath of God will blaze against you. God will restrain the heaven so there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce. And you will swiftly be banished from the goodly land which God gives you.

Place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul; bind them for a sign upon your arm and let them be tefillin between your eyes. Teach them to your children, to discuss them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on your way, when you retire and when you arise. And write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates. In order to prolong your days and the days of your children upon the ground that God has sworn to your ancestors to give them, like the days of the heaven on the earth.

And God said to Moses saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they are to make themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations. And they are to place upon the tzitzit of each corner a thread of blue. And it shall constitute tzitzit for you, that you may see it and remember all the mitzvot of God and perform them; and not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray. So that you may remember and perform all My mitzvot; and be holy to your God. I am God, your God, Who has removed you from the land of Egypt to be a God to you.

שְׁמַע יִשרָאֵל ה' אֱלהֵינוּ ה' אֶחָד:
בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוד מַלְכוּתו לְעולָם וָעֶד:

וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה' אֱלהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל מְאדֶךָ: וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּום עַל לְבָבֶךָ: וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ: וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאות עַל יָדֶךָ וְהָיוּ לְטטָפת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ: וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזֻזות בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ:

וְהָיָה אִם שָׁמעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל מִצְותַי אֲשֶׁר אָנכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּום לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה' אֱלהֵיכֶם וּלְעָבְדו בְּכָל לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁכֶם: וְנָתַתִּי מְטַר אַרְצְכֶם בְּעִתּו יורֶה וּמַלְקושׁ וְאָסַפְתָּ דְגָנֶךָ וְתִירשְׁךָ וְיִצְהָרֶךָ: וְנָתַתִּי עֵשב בְּשדְךָ לִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשבָעְתָּ: הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם פֶּן יִפְתֶּה לְבַבְכֶם וְסַרְתֶּם וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֱלהִים אֲחֵרִים וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶם לָהֶם: וְחָרָה אַף ה' בָּכֶם וְעָצַר אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְלא יִהְיֶה מָטָר וְהָאֲדָמָה לא תִתֵּן אֶת יְבוּלָהּ וַאֲבַדְתֶּם מְהֵרָה מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ הַטּבָה אֲשֶׁר ה' נתֵן לָכֶם: וְשמְתֶּם אֶת דְּבָרַי אֵלֶּה עַל לְבַבְכֶם וְעַל נַפְשְׁכֶם וּקְשַׁרְתֶּם אתָם לְאות עַל יֶדְכֶם וְהָיוּ לְטוטָפת בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם: וְלִמַּדְתֶּם אתָם אֶת בְּנֵיכֶם לְדַבֵּר בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ בְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ: וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזוּזות בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ:
לְמַעַן יִרְבּוּ יְמֵיכֶם וִימֵי בְנֵיכֶם עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע ה' לַאֲבתֵיכֶם לָתֵת לָהֶם כִּימֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם עַל הָאָרֶץ:

וַיּאמֶר ה' אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמר: דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם וְעָשוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם לְדרתָם וְנָתְנוּ עַל צִיצִת הַכָּנָף פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת: וְהָיָה לָכֶם לְצִיצִת וּרְאִיתֶם אתו וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת כָּל מִצְות ה' וַעֲשיתֶם אתָם וְלא תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם זנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם: לְמַעַן תִּזְכְּרוּ וַעֲשיתֶם אֶת כָּל מִצְותָי וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים לֵאלהֵיכֶם: אֲנִי ה' אֱלהֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר הוצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לִהְיות לָכֶם לֵאלהִים אֲנִי ה' אֱלהֵיכֶם. אֱמֶת:

The Shema address the concepts of loving God, reward and punishment, and the idea of remembering these ideas in everyday life. It’s easy to say, “Yeah, I love God and know that if I love my Creator I’ll be rewarded and if I worship other gods I’ll be punished,” but harder to integrate those concepts into how you live your life. These passages are taken from the Torah (Deut. 6:5-9, Deut. 11:13-21, and Num. 15:37-41), written by God. We are told by the Creator that the easiest way to remember these things is to “bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be tefillin between your eyes…make…tzitzit on the corners of [your] garments…”

Wikipedia defines tefillin (phylacteries) as “a set of small cubic leather boxes painted black, containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, with leather straps dyed black on one side.” That’s pretty much got it down. Every morning, Jews tie tefillin on their arms and foreheads before they pray. The four scrolls within the tefillin are Exo.13:1-10 (about how the Jews must remember the redemption from Egyptian slavery), Exo. 13:11-16 (the obligation to tell your children about Egypt), Deut. 6:5-9, and Deut. 11:13-21 (the above two passages). Wikipedia defines tzitzit as “specially knotted ritual fringes worn by observant Jews.” (It originally said Jewish males, but I edited it. Heh heh.) That’s also pretty much on target.

Wikipedia says that tefillin is “worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers.” This is only 49% true, as traditionally, only observant men wear tefillin. Tzitzit are usually worn throughout the day, underneath the clothing. Like with tefillin, tzitzit is also traditionally only worn by men.

Why is it that only men have worn tefillin and tzitzit throughout history? The Talmud exempted women from most mitzvot asai sheh’hazman grama (positive time-bound commandments). As a result, women have not been required to wear tefillin and tzitzit, which are both mitzvot asai sheh’hazman grama. While they might not be required to, there’s absolutely no halakhic (Jewish law) reason not to. The only reason women wearing tefillin is not widespread is because of societal reasons. (Maggie Anton explores the concept of medieval Jewish women wearing tefillin in her amazing Rashi’s Daughters series.)

In her classic post about tefillin and tzitzit, Shira Salamone discusses obstacles women face about wearing tefillin and tzitzit. Other than her post, I’ve never heard of the concept of either tefillin or tzitzit being beged ish (men’s clothing forbidden from women’s usage), but I have heard the opposition on tzniut (modesty) grounds. (I’m going to explore tzniut in later posts, but suffice it to say that women aren’t allowed to show their elbows, which is something necessary for tefillin-wearing.) However, I don’t see why this is such an issue. If a woman is praying, chances are she’s either in synagogue, where she’s separated from any men by a mehitzah (divider) where they won’t be able to see her elbows, or at home, where she can pray in private (like Joheved, Miriam, and Rachel do in Rashi’s Daughters). No elbow-showing!

You’re probably all assuming that I’m extremely enlightened and pray with tefillin and wear tzitzit every day. Wishful thinking. Since I’m still in high school, I live under my mother’s very Orthodox roof, and I won't disrespect her beliefs while I’m in her household. Once I graduate and get to college, however, I’m looking forward to wearing tefillin and tzitzit. (I’m still on the fence about a yarmulke.) Is it something I expect every Orthodox woman to do as of yet? No. But if you said to someone twenty years ago if they thought there would be any women in Orthodox Jewish leadership, I’m sure he or she would have said that you’re crazy. So too with tefillin and tzitzit: if enough women have a strong desire to become closer with their Creator and want to wear tefillin and tzitzit, the practice will become widespread and accepted.

As we say the Shema, it is imperative that we remember how important it is to remember God and the mitzvot given to us to observe. For those of us wearing tefillin and tzitzit, you've got it a little bit easier. For those of us who don't, we must try to make it possible to wear tefillin and tzitzit, and if it's not, we have to go out of our way to remember these two mitzvot as we recite them in the Shema. If we don't, we're lost.

Monday, February 21, 2011

How AP European History Deals with Women

This was cross-posted on the FBomb.

I don’t like being patronized. I know this is probably not a shocking fact, but I would like to make it extremely clear that I HATE being patronized. (For those of you who would like a definition, to patronize someone is to behave in an offensively condescending manner towards him or her.) It also annoys me to no end when people patronize womankind.

This year I’m taking AP European History. Ignoring the fact that the teacher is honestly the worst I’ve ever had (although it is rather fun piping in with my obnoxious feminist comments), I find the course itself…well…rather patronizing towards women. Maybe I’m overreacting and being too picky, but nevertheless it annoys me that there are specific “women in xxx” units.

On a handout my teacher gave us outlining women’s role throughout the periods we’ve learned, it says at the top, “A generation ago, women’s history, if it appeared at all in the textbooks, was generally relegated to a few sidebars. Now, women’s history should be an integral part of your AP European History course.” The sentiment is noble: I completely support it and am glad that AP is making such a concerted effort to include women’s history in the curriculum. However, I find it kinda patronizing and a little bit sexist that they completely separate women’s history from the “mainstream” history.

I’ve taken notes in Goldhar format ever since my school had Rabbi Goldhar, the creator of the format, come in and teach it to us. It’s really helpful, since instead of taking notes in paragraph or even list format, it’s putting the main idea into a bubble on the left side of the page, and writing information pertaining to the main idea in spokes coming out from the bubble. Looking through my Goldhar notes for AP Euro, everything is in neat little bubbles. Under the Scientific Revolution, I have 16 bubbles, one of which is the “Women in Science” bubble. Under the Enlightenment there are 19 bubbles, one of which is the “Role of Women” bubble. Under the French Revolution, I have 29 bubbles and - you guessed it - “Women vs. Men in Philosophy,” “Women March Versailles,” and “Women in the Revolution” bubbles.

I find it kinda sad that not only was the pathetically small amount of information taught about women in those respective periods, but that said information was taught in a singular unit, grouped together simply because the people involved were women.

Let’s use the Scientific Revolution as an example. I have bubbles dedicated to Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke. “Women in Science” has a lot of spokes, including ones dedicated to Margaret Cavendish, Maria Cunitz, Maria Winkelman, and Emile Chatelet. Why couldn’t the discoveries of Winkelman been mentioned under the same heading as those of Copernicus, since both of them tried to figure out an accurate calendar? Why don’t Newton and Chatelet get accorded honors at the same time, since Chatelet translated Newton’s work into French? I’m not saying to make a bigger deal out of their scientific research than they deserve, but just don’t separate the women’s work from the men’s work simply based on gender.

So that’s my two cents on how to include women’s history in the curriculum. It’s definitely a step in the right direction to include them in a separate unit, and I commend the AP for making such a concerted effort to keep women in the syllabus. Nonetheless, it’s much closer to the goal of complete equality between the sexes to include women in the mainstream program of study.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Star of Davida Interviews Vanessa Hidary

Vanessa Hidary is a Sephardic poet from the multicultural Upper West Side. She wrote the one-person show “Culture Bandit,” about fostering understanding between cultures. Part of “Culture Bandit” is the poem “Hebrew Mamita”, which Ms. Hidary wrote after going through life being told that she doesn’t look Jewish. Her work has appeared in HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, short film “The Tribe,” and Central Park’s Summerstage. I fell in love with her work after seeing her performance in “The Tribe,” and I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to interview her. It was completely amazing to be able to connect to her on a personal level after connecting to her work so deeply.

Talia bat Pessi: So you grew up on the Upper West Side but didn’t feel Jewish - I find that interesting, as the UWS is a hotbed of Judaism. Do you know why you never felt such a connection to Judaism?
Vanessa Hidary: I definitely felt a connection when I was younger, it just wasn’t so strong. It’s become more of a hotbed of Judaism in the past ten years, but I think of the Upper West Side when I grew up in it as a multicultural area. My parents came to the UWS when it was very transitional, so I felt a connection to Judaism, which led to my current career, but I was more involved in being a New Yorker and exploring the city than being a Jew and exploring Judaism. I never felt like I fit into Hebrew school because I was different, it turned me off since I never fit into that. I felt like I wasn’t the typical Jewish kid, lots of kids in my generation felt that. So it’s not that I had no connection, just that it wasn’t my only focus. I was Reform, so we celebrated the holidays but didn’t really keep Shabbat, but I did go to Hebrew school and did stuff like that.

Are you still Reform?
I don’t really like giving myself a title, I don’t belong to a temple. I do Judaism in my own way. I do the holidays and fast on Yom Kippur but I don’t go to temple often. My career makes me more Jewish. I pray in my own way, but I’m not observant in the typical way of things.

How did you get into poetry and performance art?
I started out with acting. I wanted to be actor, so I got my Masters in acting in Rhode Island, but I had no idea what my route would be. There were several one-person shows theaters in the area, and I was drawn to writing, but never thought that a combination between the two was possible, so I found the misfit interesting. In grad school I wrote my own material. Afterwards, it was hard for me to cast myself, I felt like I couldn’t fit into a box of a specific type of actor, since I’m an urban Jewish girl with a different personality and charm. I performed monologues and people were interested in my voice, my story. I saw a poetry show and I knew this was it, what I was meant to do, hip hop and rhyme and social justice. I also saw women of different shapes and colors and sizes, which I really felt comfortable with, since I never felt like I had to be a perfect thing or fit into a pretty girl mold. So I wrote my first poem with “Baruch ata Ado-nai, viva Puerto Rico ha olam, hamotzi fight the power min ha’aretz,” and people were listening. I saw I had an interesting story that people, Jewish and not Jewish, wanted to hear, that people started responding. I wrote “Hebrew Mamita,” a one person show, and the rest is history.

About “Hebrew Mamita” - what was your inspiration? Was it really a boyfriend who thought you didn’t look Jewish?
It was many incidents, the feeling of my whole life, my personal struggle of being the only Jewish girl around and not feeling like I own that. I ended up embracing Jewish stereotypes, which really disturbed me, so people irritated me when they would say that I don’t look Jewish. My friends went through revolutions for own cultures, be it black or Hispanic or Dominican or what, so I examined my own history to be proud of my roots - those communities influenced who I am. I wrote “Hebrew Mamita” as a breakout piece, to prove that I can be Jewish and proud and love other cultures. People feel that to blend in you have to be something you’re not. I wrote that piece for everyone, more of my performances of it aren’t for Jews, since the piece is for all people who are in a culture and can relate to not feeling a part of it sometimes. I also perform it outside of the Jewish community because they don’t usually hear pride in being Jewish.

I know Matisyahu has gotten some negative feedback from the Jewish community for singing for the masses, but I disagree with that view, because I think Matisyahu is giving people a positive taste of Judaism when they wouldn’t usually get it. Is that kind of what you feel?
It’s important to show that Jews are of many different styles, and because there are no Jewish girls where I go I feel it’s my journey, my calling, to do so. In my upbringing there was all a plan, the struggling over feeling not-so-traditional. I still feel like I don’t fit in all the time, but I feel like this was what I was supposed to do. It might piss people off, but I can deal.

I was first introduced to “Hebrew Mamita” through the short film “The Tribe,” and got chills when I first heard it. How did you get involved with “The Tribe”?
I attended Reboot, which is a Jewish think tank, we go to Utah and we talk about being Jewish and stuff like that, and I met Tiffany Shlain, the director of “The Tribe,” there. She had been working on it for a while and she felt it was missing something and that “Hebrew Mamita” could fill that void, and it did. It was an amazing experience, we went to festivals for “The Tribe” and everything.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people out there who struggle with their identities?
There are a lot of people who feel like you out there, there’s no right way to be who you are. It’s hard because the community enforces rules, but I believe there’s a place for all of us, even though not everyone is gonna do it the same way. If you just talk about your struggle with identity for long enough, you’ll find people who connect. I had no idea so many people had their own conflicts about identity. You just have to tell your story.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Top Reasons I Hate Full Frontal Feminism

I wanted to read Jessica Valenti’s book Full Frontal Feminism because I keep seeing these amazing reviews online about how it’s a hallmark of Third-Wave Feminism. I got it from the library, read it, and hated it beyond all reasonable beliefs. Here’s a full list of the reasons why I hate Full Frontal Feminism.

1. She curses ALL THE TIME. Let it be known that I HATE cursing. It makes a person sound like an immature moron who’s got a seven-word vocabulary; i.e., Valenti sounds as such. I understand that on the first page, she uses the “the worst words you can call both women and men mean ‘girl’” exercise, so there’s a purpose to cursing there, but in other places, she’s just using bad words to be annoying.

For example, “We should be able to wear whatever the f**k we want without fear of rape” (66). Of course! I completely agree! But I find myself completely not taking her seriously because she comes across as an uneducated idiot when she uses bad words like this. If she had just left out the bad word, I would respect her and her idea so much more.

She seems to like her tushy a lot, though, because she constantly says things like “sisterhood, my a*s” (14). It really warms my heart that she has such positive body image regarding her rear end.

2. She makes up (incorrect) statistics. Just one example of this is “2004 was the first election in which women voted at a higher rate than men in the US presidential election” (222). NO, IT WASN’T! Women have voted in larger percentages than men since 1980, and in larger numbers than men since 1964, according to CAWP and EMILY’s List! Valenti does not cite where she got this incorrect information, along with several other pieces of non-sourced statistics and facts.

3. She can't decide if every woman is a feminist or only some are. In the chapter “You’re a Hardcore Feminist. I Swear.,” she goes on and on about how every woman at heart truly believes in feminist goals, even though they often don’t call themselves feminists. Then she talks about “sisterhood, my a*s” (14) and how she “realize[d] that feminism isn’t for everybody” (15) when a woman posted an anti-feminist, homophobic rant in response to an online article. MAKE UP YOUR MIND! Which is it? Are all women feminists or have you “never really bought the ‘we’re all sisters’ thing anyway” (15)?

4. The entire book sounds like an overlong blog post. It’s informal, she curses, she jokes too much, and it devalues and delegitimatizes all of the concepts in the book. She makes serious concepts like equal pay for equal work and rape seem like jokes. For example, she uses the term “a*s-raped” (96) instead of saying “sodomized” or some other, more respectful term for the victims of such an act, which makes it a joke, something not taken seriously.

5. She keeps using the term lady. I know I’m probably one of the only people who pick up on this, but lady is a sexist term if you use it when you wouldn’t usually use the term gentleman, since it puts women on a pedestal. This puts them above men rather than equal to them.

6. She constantly discusses how she doesn’t like to f**k Republicans. To be perfectly honest, I'm really not interested. I find it extremely inappropriate that she makes such negative comments towards Republicans and having sex with them for two reasons.

Reason one: I really don’t want to know about Valenti’s sexual partners. I took this book out of the library to read about feminism, not who she wants to do it with.

Reason two: It’s just a little bit offensive to Republicans to say that you don’t want to have sex with them. Valenti says that she loves a shirt she has that says “I don’t f**k Republicans” on it (139), urges people to wear that shirt (150), and suggests, “don’t have sex with Republicans” (32) as a good sex tool.

I call myself an eclectic and don’t identify with any party, so I’m not taking this personally. I still find it really stupid that Valenti will unconditionally refuse to have sex with a Republican. What if that person is a feminist who just happens to identify with the Republican party? Will you still not have sex with him, or is the fact that he votes at Republican primaries just too much of a turn-off?

7. She thinks that the world doesn't need to be repopulated. She says, “I’m all for having babies, but just keep this in mind: reseach shows that for every year a woman in her twenties waits to have children, her lifetime earnings increase by 10 percent. Just saying” (125).

So apparently women shouldn’t have children until they’re in their thirties, when it can be harder to have children and will have to spend money on fertility treatments! (I guess they’ll have more money to spend because they’ll have been paid better in their twenties?) Or in fact, maybe society should forgo children entirely! How should the world be repopulated? Valenti doesn’t say. Maybe the world has enough people.

8. She has absolutely no tact. “For the life of me, I will never understand why a woman today would change her last name [at marriage]. It makes no sense whatsoever. You want future kids to have the same last name as you and your hubby? Hyphenate, b***h!” (147)

Okay, you know what? I agree. Women shouldn’t change their last names at marriage. I address my full philosophy on this in this post. But what a way to phrase it - “Hyphenate, b***h!” Has it ever occurred to her that this is highly offensive to all the women out there who have already taken their husbands’ names? Or that maybe there are more succinct ways of phrasing such a concept? I think a woman who's on the fence about taking her husband's name might just be a wee bit offended at the fact that she's being called a b***h.

9. What little she does cite is faulty information. She goes on about how horrible hospitals are for birthing mothers because they “force” women into having C-sections, which, according to an UNCITED statistic, have a higher risk of death to newborn babies (153) because it’s easier for doctors (159).

If she really read the New York Times article that I’m assuming she got that information from (considering it cites the same study that she mentions, and I doubt that she’s an avid reader of Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care), she would have noticed the line that says “The authors acknowledge that the study has certain limitations, including concerns about the accuracy of medical information reported on birth certificates…It is possible, though unlikely, that the Caesarean birth group was inherently at higher risk.” (Italics mine.)

10. She wants babies to die. (I know I'm exaggerating.) She mentions how she supports women who want to get away from the horribly constricting hospitals and use midwives and doulas at home instead, because “organizations like the New York-based BirthNet actually sat that 90 percent of pregnancies are natural births that don’t need hospital assistance.” But the 10% of pregnancies that do? Eh, who cares. Let those babies die. I forgot, we don’t need the world to be populated anyway.

11. Saving the best for last: she's a classist anti-Semite! I love how in the section about how horrible classism is, she makes classist and anti-Semitic remarks. She says that “the majority of my friends in high school were Jewish gals from the Upper West Side of Manhattan” (231), and then says that the same friends remarked, “‘Your mom is so cute! Her accent sounds so…uneducated!’” (232) They would have said the same thing of my Eastern European Holocaust survivor grandmother; I’m not trying to defend them. But Valenti is committing an act of classism by needlessly mentioning that they’re Upper West Siders, and being extremely anti-Semitic by needlessly mentioning that they’re Jewish. (Just to note, on Feministing.com, there’s only one apparently Jewish editor or correspondent.)

From what I could glean, the book is meant as a feminist kiruv book for women who aren't at all associated with the movement. (Kiruv is the movement to get secular Jews closer to Torah Judaism.) The book felt extremely distancing to me, and made feminism just look bad. It kind of hurts to think that people have actually read this book and possibly been distanced from feminism because of it.

Now that I’ve completely ripped apart the book and bashed it to death, I would like to say that I do agree with the vast majority of points that Valenti brings up. After I read Full Frontal Feminism and went on about how much I hate it and how I want to write a blog post about it, my mom asked me if I would put Valenti in the Black Holes of Davida. My immediate reaction was absolutely not. She’s a fellow feminist; we may not agree, but I’m certainly not going to blackball her, even if she is a classist anti-Semite who thinks that women shouldn't have children or cite any information. (I know. I just had to say it.)

All I have to do now is write a book about my own views on feminism…

Monday, February 7, 2011

Shining Stars of Davida: Belva Lockwood

When one hears First-Wave Feminism or suffrage movement, one normally thinks of women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. If you know more about the women’s rights movement, you might think of women like Alice Paul, and Carrie Chapman Catt. These are all women who made enormous contributions to the women’s rights movement, and their accomplishments should never be downplayed. However, there is another key player of the suffrage movement that has fallen into obscurity: Belva Lockwood.

Belva Lockwood was born on October 24, 1830 to a traditional family in upstate New York. She was a precocious child, reading the whole Bible by age ten. Her father never appreciated her brilliance, though; he told her that “girls should get married, only boys go to college.” Even though Lockwood wanted to pursue a higher education, he wouldn’t allow her to. Because her family needed extra income, she began teaching at age fourteen. When she discovered that her salary was less than half of her male colleagues’, she was furious and complained to the school board. They told her that the men had families to support, and needed a higher salary. Fuming, she confided in her minister’s wife, who told her, “I can’t help you; you cannot help yourself, for it is the way of the world.” This comment sparked Lockwood’s desire to combat inequality of the sexes. However, with lack of funds or education, she put her dreams on hold, getting married and giving birth instead. After her husband died in a workplace accident just a few years later, she felt hopeless. After teaching in a poorly-paid job for several months, she decided to take her singleness as an opportunity to deviate from the traditional woman’s life, and enrolled in a newly-coeducational college.

After graduating, Lockwood resumed her teaching career, radicalizing the curriculums of several girls’ schools to include calisthenics and public speaking courses, among other typically male classes. Bored, she moved to Washington, D.C., seeing that everything that changed the country happened there. While in D.C., she found out that women in the federal workforce received a lower salary than their male counterparts. Horrified at this blatant discrimination, she drafted a bill that forbade this, in addition to outlawing sex discrimination. While her bill was defeated, a similar bill was passed. Her work bore fruit; the percent of women employed by the federal government with a salary over nine hundred dollars jumped from 4% to 20% in the 1870s.

After her work with the bill was done, she wanted to enroll in law school, but was rejected by all of the universities she applied to on account of her sex. In response to her rejections, the government established the coeducational National University Law School. Fourteen other women enrolled with Lockwood; only one graduated with her. Despite the fact that they completed all necessary courses, they were denied their diplomas. After months of unsuccessfully fighting for it, she took things into her own hands and wrote to President Grant, who was also the head of National University Law School, requesting her diploma. She got it within days, and was admitted to the Washington, D.C. bar soon afterward.

Lockwood faced even more obstacles after she became a lawyer, as women were unable to speak in the Court of Claims. Already familiar with the law-making process, she drafted another bill allowing qualified women to speak in front of the United States Supreme Court. It was passed, and she was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court. She first spoke in front of the Supreme Court when she lost a case that went to appeal; due to D.C.’s status in law, the Supreme Court heard it, and she defended her case.

In addition to Lockwood’s work in the legal field, she also ran for president. In 1884, Lockwood was nominated (originally jokingly) by the Equal Rights Party. Many other major feminists condemned her campaign, feeling that she was making a mockery of the suffrage movement. Men also disapproved of her presidential bid, even making Mother Hubbard Campaigns, where they would dress up like Lockwood and make nonsensical speeches to mock her. Despite the lack of support, she campaigned in earnest, going on a lecture series across the East Coast and Midwest, her running partner Marietta Snow on the West Coast. Nonetheless, only 4,711 votes were accredited to her, although she felt that many votes cast in her name were thrown out or given to other candidates. She ran again in 1888, but this campaign was criticized even more; she only officially received one vote.

After her unsuccessful presidential runs, she continued her law practice. Lockwood had an extremely lucrative career, making $3,500 a year when 80% of families lived off of $500 or less. She handled her biggest case in 1905, when she represented the Eastern Cherokees in a lawsuit against the government to compensate the Eastern and Emigrant Cherokees for the land expropriated from them during the Trail of Tears era. She won, awarding the Cherokees $4.5 million, the largest case ever won against the federal government at the time. The government’s appeal was in front of the United States Supreme Court, and when Lockwood spoke, it was the second time she argued in front of the Supreme Court.

Sadly, this was the last major accomplishment in this scandalous woman’s life. She died on May 19, 1917, in the middle of serious attempts to gain the right to vote. While Lockwood may have died without ever being able to vote, her actions were indispensable to the future of the suffrage and women’s rights movement. As the first woman to speak in front of the Supreme Court and the first successful female lawyer, she opened doors for women to enter the law field. Women currently make up 47.5% of law students and 33% of all practicing lawyers; such figures would be impossible without Lockwood’s contribution to herstory. Lockwood’s presidential bids also allowed women to aspire to the highest levels of government. Hundreds of women have run for president, and there have even been a few real contenders, like Hillary Clinton. Lockwood also opened doors for women in politics in general; without Lockwood’s influence, the thousands of women who hold office would never have been able to achieve success. Despite the fact that Belva Lockwood is a woman who has fallen into obscurity, she has hugely impacted the world as we know it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Women in Prayer: Part 19, 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.

Bestow peace, goodness and blessing, life, graciousness, kindness and mercy, upon us and upon all Your people Israel. Bless us, our Parent, all of us as one, with the light of Your countenance. For by the light of Your countenance You gave us, Lord our God, the Torah of life and loving-kindness, righteousness, blessing, mercy, life and peace. May it be favorable in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel, at all times and at every moment, with Your peace.

Blessed are You Lord, who blesses the people Israel with peace. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer.

My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. Let my soul be silent to those who curse me; let my soul be as dust to all. Open my heart to Your Torah, and let my soul eagerly pursue Your commandments. As for all those who plot evil against me, hasten to annul their counsel and frustrate their design. Let them be as chaff before the wind; let the angel of the Lord thrust them away. That Your beloved ones may be delivered, help with Your right hand and answer me. Do it for the sake of Your Name; do it for the sake of Your right hand; do it for the sake of Your Torah; do it for the sake of Your holiness. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer.

God who makes peace in the heavens, may You make peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our parents, that the Temple be speedily rebuilt in our days, and grant us our portion in Your Torah.

שים שָׁלום טובָה וּבְרָכָה. חֵן וָחֶסֶד וְרַחֲמִים עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשרָאֵל עַמֶּךָ. בָּרְכֵנוּ אָבִינוּ כֻּלָּנוּ כְּאֶחָד בְּאור פָּנֶיךָ. כִּי בְאור פָּנֶיךָ נָתַתָּ לָּנוּ ה' אֱלהֵינוּ תּורַת חַיִּים וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד. וּצְדָקָה וּבְרָכָה וְרַחֲמִים וְחַיִּים וְשָׁלום. וְטוב בְּעֵינֶיךָ לְבָרֵךְ אֶת כָּל עַמְּךָ יִשרָאֵל בְּכָל עֵת וּבְכָל שָׁעָה בִּשְׁלומֶךָ:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', הַמְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמּו יִשרָאֵל בַּשָּׁלום:

יִהְיוּ לְרָצון אִמְרֵי פִי וְהֶגְיון לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ. ה' צוּרִי וְגואֲלִי: אֱלהַי. נְצר לְשׁונִי מֵרָע וּשפָתַי מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה. וְלִמְקַלְלַי נַפְשִׁי תִדּם. וְנַפְשִׁי כֶּעָפָר לַכּל תִּהְיֶה. פְּתַח לִבִּי בְּתורָתֶךָ. וּבְמִצְותֶיךָ תִּרְדּף נַפְשִׁי. וְכָל הַחושְׁבִים עָלַי רָעָה. מְהֵרָה הָפֵר עֲצָתָם 
וְקַלְקֵל מַחֲשַׁבְתָּם: עֲשה לְמַעַן שְׁמֶךָ. עֲשה לְמַעַן יְמִינֶךָ. עֲשה לְמַעַן קְדֻשָּׁתֶךָ. עֲשה לְמַעַן תּורָתֶךָ. לְמַעַן יֵחָלְצוּן יְדִידֶיךָ 
הושִׁיעָה יְמִינְךָ וַעֲנֵנִי:
 
יִהְיוּ לְרָצון אִמְרֵי פִי וְהֶגְיון לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ. ה' צוּרִי וְגואֲלִי: עשה שָׁלום בִּמְרומָיו. הוּא יַעֲשה שָׁלום עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשרָאֵל. וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן:

יְהִי רָצון מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבותֵינוּ. שֶׁיִּבָּנֶה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ. וְתֵן חֶלְקֵנוּ בְּתורָתֶךָ: וְשָׁם נַעֲבָדְךָ בְּיִרְאָה כִּימֵי עולָם וּכְשָׁנִים קַדְמונִיות: וְעָרְבָה לה' מִנְחַת יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלָיִם. כִּימֵי עולָם וּכְשָׁנִים קַדְמונִיות: 

This extremely long brakha (blessing), called Sim Shalom, requests God for peace. Despite the fact that we ended the bakashot (requests) with Shema Koleinu and began hoda’ah (thanks) in Modim, more bakashot were put at the end to squeeze in as many as possible. We pray to be given peace throughout our lives, saved from speaking negatively of others, and for the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) to be rebuilt.

We ask God so extensively for peace because without it, we are not able to enjoy any of the blessings the Holy One has given us. Just think: if the world became an overnight utopia where women were completely equal with men, but everything in your life was going crazy, would you be able to appreciate your newfound equality?

The Chatam Sofer, a commentator, explains that the word sim in Sim Shalom represents three qualities of peace: shemen (oil), yayin (wine), and mayim (water). Torah learning is symbolized by oil, and Torah learning is the easiest way to get peace. Wine is known to cause joy, a way to find peace in life. Water is a staple of life that people have to come together to procure (think of Israel’s constant near-drought status and the solutions the country has come together to discover), a way to get peace between people.

The Jewish feminist movement could definitely use some of the above aspects of peace. While a multitude of feminist-leaning institutions of Torah learning exist, like Drisha and Midreshet Lindenbaum, there needs to be more out there. There also have to be more Torah scholars who are dedicated to finding a solution to agunah. We could also use more joy within the Jewish feminist community. Between the statistics of agunah and domestic violence, eating disorders within the community, and homosexuals’ exclusion, we need to be cheered up every once in a while. Jewish feminists also have to work harder at coming together to solve problems.

Between the controversy over Rabba Sara Hurwitz’s ordination as an Orthodox woman rabbi and her title, Women of the Wall’s leader Anat Hoffman’s arrest, and assorted other chaotic events, we could use some peaceful times where justice for women isn’t miscarried. The more we pray for peace within the women’s movement in this brakha, the more we’ll get it.

This marks the end of the Shemoneh Esrei segment of the Women in Prayer series. Look forward to feminist analyses of the Shema, Sheh'Lo Asani Isha, and other prayers!