Thursday, October 21, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 9, 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.

Bless on our behalf, O Lord, our God, this year and all its kinds of crops for the best, and give a [blessing/rain and dew] on the face of the earth, and satisfy us from Your bounty, and bless our year like the best years. Blessed are You, God, Who blesses the years.

בָּרֵךְ עָלֵֽינוּ, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ, אֶת הַשָּׁנָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת כָּל מִינֵי תְבוּאָתָהּ לְטוֹבָה (וְתֵן בְּרָכָה/וְתֵן טַל וּמָטָר לִבְרָכָה) עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, וְשַׂבְּעֵֽנוּ מִטּוּבָהּ, וּבָרֵךְ שְׁנָתֵֽנוּ כַּשָּׁנִים הַטּוֹבוֹת לִבְרָכָה, כִּי אֵל טוֹב וּמֵטִיב אָֽתָּה, וּמְבָרֵךְ הַשָּׁנִים. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, מְבָרֵךְ הַשָּׁנִים

This brakha, called Birkat HaShanim, asks God to take care of us financially (the brakha refers to crops as wealth) and give us all the staples of life in a non-fraudulent way.

World hunger affects over a billion people across the globe, 915 million of them in developing countries. Approximately 146 million children, or 15% hunger victims in developing countries, are underweight as a result of hunger. 17 million children a year are born underweight because of their mothers’ malnutrition during pregnancy. Due to society’s sexist dictates, women are the primary food producers, and as a result are more impacted by world hunger. 50% of pregnant women in developing countries suffer from nutrient deficiencies, and as a result 315,000 of these women die during childbirth a year. Pregnant and nursing women require specific diets and nutrients that hunger-stricken countries cannot provide for them.

America also suffers from hunger. In 2008, 49.1 million people lived in food-insecure households; 37.2% of those homes were headed by single women. The economic crisis also hasn’t made life any easier for American women. As women have made 77 cents to men’s dollar anyway every year since 2001, the economy affects women even more than it does men. Women comprise 68.2% of low-income workers, the vast majority. More women than men suffered from the foreclosure epidemic, 32% compared to 24%. 39% of women are below the poverty line, compared to 26% of men.

When we say this brakha, we should ask God to provide food and a sufficient income to our sisters in foreign countries and closer to home. Women will continue to be oppressed as long as a large percentage of them need to worry about basic survival, whether they don’t know where to get their next meal or how they’re going to pay their mortgage. We should also pray that women should receive salaries equal to men’s during this brakha. Without equal footing in the workforce, women can’t ever hope to receive the same treatment in the world at large.

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