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Posted on August 11, 2010 By Leah Kohn | Series: | Level:

HI LEAH,
You are the first person that has been able to describe the concept of the not making me a woman prayer in a way I can understand. I don’t know a lot about Judaism, but enough to know how precious women are viewed. That prayer was very bothersome to me in spite of that knowledge. You have been very helpful.
KAREN

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DEAR MRS. KOHN,
Re: the prayer said by men “….not having made me a woman” I remember when I volunteered for a Jewish women’s shelter, and many girls there expressed their resentment towards that phrase in the prayer. It was sad to see how much they had become a product of society. I suppose they felt that the statement was derogatory and had to defend themselves. I guess modern women always feel they are products of great injustice. I personally was surprised by the phrase the first time I read it, having been influenced by feminine views along the way. But now that I look at it, I wouldn’t want to be a man either. I think a Jewish woman has a very special place in Hashem’s plan, and that we are placed on a very high spiritual level that even men cannot understand or imitate. So I don’t think the phrase was meant to debase women, but to elevate us to a very special level.
SHAYNA

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DEAR MRS. KOHN:
Do you think it is naive to express surprise that anyone would be troubled by the prayer “who has not made me a woman?” It seems to me that the very reason you do not feel troubled by it is because, as you said, “For as long as I can remember I had been surrounded by men who each morning recited the prayer…” In other words, it was fed to you with your mother’s milk, and it is all you know. It is very hard to question that which comprises your childhood and your world, especially if your upbringing has, thank Heaven, been a happy one. (By the way, spousal abuse among the ultra-orthodox is not less than in the public at large, and some argue it’s higher, and hidden under the cover of “Shalom Bayit” (harmony in the home))…

I also believe that wrestling with the text is indeed a Jewish tradition! And so it is not revolutionary or even rebellious to question liturgy and Torah, as long as we do it for the sake of Heaven…The Ten Commandments appear twice in the Torah. The first time it is written, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, ox…” The second time it is written, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, house, ox…” somehow, between Exodus and Deuteronomy, the position of wife moved, from second place between house and ox, to first place before house! This is surely not a mistake. Her position, worth, and recognition, grow even over the course of the Torah itself! How much more so should her position, worth, and recognition, continue to grow throughout history, in the present age, and beyond, just as the position, worth, and recognition of all peoples continue to grow, until we are all able to recognize the dazzling Divine Image in every single human being. And so when text is questioned because it devalues another, we are following in the tradition of Torah when we examine it critically, and perhaps revise it with love. Your analysis is beautiful, creative and enlightening, but I can’t help but wonder if you are more a loyal follower of cannonization, as opposed to being committed to the very Jewish tradition of wrestling openly with text.

For every Talmudic quote we can glean that lifts women to the highest, there are thirty that make all of her endeavors laughable, foolish, and simple-minded. How do we explain that? We pick and choose those that support our own vision? Thank you for inviting us to dialogue with you on this matter!

DEAR READER:
Hello and thank you for your articulate response to our “who has not made me a woman” class… I agree with you that to seek an explanation for this blessing is squarely within the tradition of Torah inquiry. The point I was making in my essay was that, although I did in fact question many things fed me “in my mother’s milk” and wanted to understand them on an adult level, I never felt it was critical to explore this blessing in-depth. This is because I never took the blessing literally, at face value, perhaps because of my positive experience with Jewish womanhood from the very start. As an integral member of an observant community, I was certainly at an advantage, because I was able to process the blessing and answers to my other questions within a positive context. I have, nonetheless, spoken with those from less cohesive backgrounds who have had no trouble processing this phrase, as well as others who were in fact bothered by it.

In another part of your email, you argue that: “spousal abuse among the ultra-orthodox is not less than in the public at large, and some argue it’s higher, and hidden under the cover of Shalom Bayit” (harmony in the home). I would be interested in seeing any statistics that back up this statement.

In response to your observation that the Jewish wife’s status grows as the Torah progresses – the fact that the Five Books were written by G-d does not leave room for this type of evolution. The idea of this concept becoming further developed as the Torah text proceeds is a human construct. The change in order, to which you refer, is also G-d given and as such has a specific reason (see Ramban & Ibn Ezra on this issue).

Finally, I feel that your statement, “For every Talmudic quote we can glean that lifts women to the highest, there are thirty that make all of her endeavors laughable, foolish, and simple-minded” requires backing up.
BEST REGARDS, LEAH KOHN

(FROM THE SAME READER AS ABOVE)
SHALOM LEAH ~
Thank you for your response. I do truly admire you. You know, I started to write a list of 30 Talmudic, Biblical, and Aggadic quotes that paint women as simple-minded, prone to folly, wayward, and seductive, but then I deleted it because I don’t want to make such a list. I love being a Jewish woman, and I love going to mikveh…I especially loved walking home from the mikveh one snowy evening, and the cold stars winking at me. That silver and cobalt night will always stand out in my mind because it’s the night we conceived our son Rachmiel. (Although I do wish the mikveh lady had been nicer…that has been my experience with mikveh ladies, a lot of gevurah (strength) and very little hesed (kindness)! I think you need to show hesed when someone is standing vulnerable and bare before you!) Anyway, my point is that I am not making an “indictment of the Jewish woman.” And I don’t want to, that is why I deleted my disturbing list. And I do believe in Torah from Sinai and have spent much of my life studying it, absorbed in it, but I also believe that how the Torah speaks to each generation is part of an ongoing revelation. I believe that religion is the pursuit of the ultimate Truth, and in that pursuit, one cannot have blinders.

I worked as a volunteer in an AIDS clinic. We kept the clinic open late at night because orthodox men did not want to come during regular hours because [they did not feel comfortable being seen entering]. I listened as a counselor urged an ultra orthodox man with HIV to tell his wife, but he refused. One of his children contracted herpes through the mother and is blind. I walked through an ultra-orthodox neighborhood in Jeruslam with my husband. We were recently engaged at the time, and we had just bought a kittel (white robe for men) for him to wear at the wedding. As we walked, my fellow “Jewish brothers” covered their eyes when passing me, or spit. I was modestly dressed, maybe a collarbone showed. That same summer my then fiance and I were walking home on Shabbat, we walked four miles, talking and singing zemirot (songs), feeling the sanctity of the day, only to be broken when going through an ultra-orthodox neighborhood where no one would return our Shabbat Shalom greeting and kids were running around with rotten cucumbers to throw at cars. In the Pursuit of Ultimate Truth, one MUST BE HONEST…

Orthodox women in abusive relationships stay married to their batterers an average of eight years longer than non Jewish women. I am a reform Jew. My husband an I observe niddah (family purity), Shabbat and Kashruth, toiveling (immersing in a mikveh) every new dish and checking hekshers (rabbinical supervision related to kashrut). But we believe in equality and social action. Although I am a reform Jew, I am ashamed of a lot of things in my own movement. I am ashamed of the lack of education many of our members have. I am ashamed at the rate of interfaith marriage. There are many things. I am honest enough to admit this because I am in the Pursuit of Ultimate Truth. The Orthodox world, both female and male, needs to be honest in this pursuit as well, instead of defending every lunatic and “Spitter” and “cucumber thrower” and Hasid with AIDS and batterer. Or defending mishnayot that group women and slaves together, or compare women to “meat from the slaughterhouse.” Or even “Who has not made me a woman.” The truth is, Leah, that I love tradition so much, my whole being cries out for it, and I observe it in my home, but there are these moments, when I draw close, that someone pushes me away. There is a meanness toward the “other”, and I have to include “woman” in the category of other, that defeats the whole message of Kiruv (outreach). I cannot deny what I see.

DEAR STUDENT PARTICIPANT:
Hello and thank you for your heartfelt email. I agree with you that inappropriate behavior from any Jew, whether orthodox or reform, should be criticized and is unacceptable, but I feel that putting this observation in the same category with the words of our Sages is mixing two unrelated topics. The words of our Sages are part of the Oral Law, which is Divine and beyond the realm of flaws in human behavior. (Rabbinical credibility is a topic on its own. For a brief discussion, as it relates to “who has not made me a woman,” please see my response to Michael, in our previous email class.)
BEST REGARDS, LEAH KOHN

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MRS. KOHN,
I have always wondered about this prayer’s intentions. I interpreted it as meaning that men were thankful for having the responsibility for performing some very specific mitzvot whereas woman had a choice, but not an obligation. I thought your explanation about the perceived thankfulness men feel for the extra responsibility incumbent on males, was very clear. Thank you for imparting understanding. [I do have to tell you though, that the wording still gives me pause.]
Todah, LOUANNE

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MRS.KOHN,
Thank you for the essay on the prayer men say about not being made a woman. My religious education was at end by the time I was 10 years old. However, I never found that prayer to have any politically incorrect undertones. In my short time of living in a religious home and community, I understood the responsibilities of both men and women and how different they were, but how one’s responsibilities were mirrored by the others. I always thought this prayer meant more that, “the women in my life have so much to endure that I must thank G-d for making me a man, for these woman are strong and special.” I never thought that it suggested that we as woman were less important.
SINCERELY, RACHEL B

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TO: [email protected]
As a woman who is observant from birth and attended Bais Yakov schools, I never felt inferior to men. I come from a Chasidic background and my husband, who is from a Yeshivish background, always respected my superior knowledge of “Prophets”. So although girls aren’t taught Talmud, they are taught other things that boys generally aren’t. The reason I am writing though, is that lately reciting the blessing, “who has made me in His own Image” has been a comfort to me. I am 45. I am going grey. I need reading glasses these days. I am starting menopause. I was feeling bad about these changes in my body. Then I realized: “who has made me in His own Image.” He has made me according to His will–aging body and all. I find that comforting. I must take care of my body. I excercize and take vitamins but aging is the way it’s supposed to happen. Baruch Hashem that I am alive to be able to age.
SILKY

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DEAR MRS. KOHN:
I’m sorry. Although I find the Project Genesis weekly parsha enlightening, this piece (An Examination of Rabbinical Integrity Related to the Blessing, 10/5/00) was so poorly written and so inadequate in addressing the question it raised, I no longer wish to read Mrs. Kohn’s dvarim (words).

While I do not expect her to be apologetic or contradictory to halacha, by insisting that the wise men of the Sanhedrin (who I believe she is referring to) are not prejudiced against women is to answer a very complex question in an unsuitably simple manner, and thus a very offensive and unstisfactory one.

I have heard many d’varim (talks/thoughts) on the subject of this prayer, and all were more insightful and satisfactory than Rebbitzin Kohn’s. She showed a lack of respect for her readers by giving such an unsophisticated and unworthy answer.
Thank you, JONI

DEAR JONI:
While you may well feel my essay, “Who Has Not Made Me a Woman: An Examination of Rabbinical Integrity Related to the Blessing” was unsatisfactory, I believe the piece reflects my own ongoing respect for my readers, regardless of our differences in opinion. In addition, I also respect their constructive criticism of my work, as evidenced by the student questions and my answers to their emails, which we publish regularly.

In my opinion, your own response to my essay falls outside the parameters of what I consider appropriately constructive criticism. I do not believe unsupported observations such as “offensive,” “unsophisticated,” “unworthy” and “poorly written” further our dialogue. Such disrespectful terms require backing up, in order that they might at the very least be connected to legitimate sources.
BEST REGARDS, LEAH KOHN

Women in Judaism, Copyright (c) 2000 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and ProjectGenesis, Inc.




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