Thursday, October 7, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 7, 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.

Behold our affliction, take up our grievance and redeem us speedily for Your Name’s sake, for You are a powerful Redeemer. Blessed are You, God, Redeemer of Israel.

רְאֵה נָא בְעָנְיֵֽנוּ, וְרִֽיבָה רִיבֵֽנוּ, וּגְאָלֵֽנוּ גְּאֻלָּה שְׁלֵמָה מְהֵרָה לְמַֽעַן שְׁמֶֽךָ, כִּי אֵל גּוֹאֵל חָזָק אָֽתָּה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, גּוֹאֵל יִשְׂרָאֵל

This brakha (blessing), called Geulah, is about redemptions. As we say it, we are pleading for God to see our pain and help us fight our battles, for God to free us from the exile we are in: to redeem us.

While the Jewish nation has been downtrodden since 70 CE, when the second Beit HaMikdash (Temple) was destroyed, women have been downtrodden since ancient times. They always had predestined roles and were limited by society’s expectations of them; a woman's biggest success was living up to their biological function. It was only in 1848 CE when women began demanding their rights in America, and it took until 1920 to get the basic right of equality, the vote. It was only in the 1960s when women truly began to achieve any sort of real societal equality with men. Even now, fifty years later, women are far from equal. It’s an understatement to say that women desperately need to be redeemed from the state they are in.

To be redeemed, however, we cannot depend on ourselves or anyone else to give us our rights: we can only depend on God. We must continue to beseech the Creator to enfranchise us further. If we don’t, the world will never be in a state of equality. If we do, the lives of our daughters and granddaughters can be radically different from our own lives, from our mothers’ and grandmothers’ lives. The reason I find this Women in Prayer Series so important is because our connection to God is what determines what we will get in life, and the only way we can strive for a perfect relationship with the Holy One is by praying with kavana (strong meaning). If we do not pray, we will not be redeemed.

When we feminists say the brakha, we should pray that women continue to be redeemed. If we do not ask God for redemption and depend on other sources, we will be lost. Joseph spent an additional two years in jail because he asked an intermediary to ask Pharaoh for mercy instead of depending on God wholly. This is not to say that we should expect God to give us a miracle: it's imperative that we fight hard for our rights. We just have to remember that God controls everything, both our successes and our losses. Hopefully the losses will be few if we pray to God for redemption.

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