Yentl at Theater J, Post-Show Panel on Women and Religious Tradition

yentl

UPDATE: Change of panelists for September 14

Theater J’s new production of Yentl, based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story, explores issues of gender and religious tradition. Panel discussions following Sunday matinees extend the conversation.

Virginia Spatz, co-organizer of Washington Friends of Women of the Wall, is joining a post-show panel on Sept. 14, so Theater J is offering a discount to friends WfWOW and their friends for any date of the run:

Tickets: Visit Buy Online or call Box Office Tickets at 800.494.8497.

Find out about ticket discounts here.

SPECIAL OFFER: Use coupon code ‘YENTL10’ and save $10! Buy online or call and mention the code.

 

“Jewish Women and Religious Tradition”

September 14 panel, post-matinee, approximately 5:30 p.m.

  • Sarah Breger, managing editor, Moment Magazine
  • Bonnie Morris, Professor of Women’s Studies, George Washington Univ; Author and Historian
  • Virginia Spatz, writer, educator, activist and WfWOW co-organizer

 

YENTL

AUGUST 28 – OCTOBER 5, 2014

Based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy”

Adapted for the stage by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer

With new music and lyrics composed by Jill Sobule, additional music by Robin Eaton

Directed by Theater J Associate Artistic Director Shirley Serotsky

As a girl in 19th Century Eastern Europe, Yentl is forbidden to pursue her dream of studying Talmud. Unwilling to accept her fate, she disguises herself as a man. But when she falls in love, Yentl must decide how far she’s willing to go to protect her identity. Invigorated with a bracing klezmer/pop/rock score from Jill Sobule (the original “I Kissed a Girl,” “Supermodel”), Yentl asks up-to-the-minute questions about gender and sexuality.

For more on this production, see Exploring Divine Fluidity

Is this 1959 or 2014? Prayers for a Change

BarbieDC4MBDC Tefillin Barbie would love to focus on her passions of Jewish text and gender studies. But — don’t let that frozen smile fool you — she’s got other pressing concerns as well.

She finds, in fact, that concern for the racial tensions exploding in Ferguson, MO, and around the country dominate her prayers.

For example, upon donning tefillin in the morning (Koren Saks translation; Barbie’s own meditations):

From Your wisdom, God most high, grant me [wisdom], and from Your understanding, give me understanding.
Help me understand how our country remains so divided and how to help promote a better vision and a more just reality.

May Your loving-kindness be greatly upon me, and in Your might may my enemies and those who rise against me be subdued.
I pray in the spirit of the Talmudic great, Beruriah, who scolded her husband, Rabbi Meir for praying that “sinners be no more,” insisting instead that he should instead pray that the sins that should be no more. (See Berakhot 10a; Midrash Psalms 118)

Pour Your godly oil on the seven branches of the menora so that Your good flows down upon Your creatures.
There are so many areas of the globe in need of attention, but may our collective actions bring more divine flow to Ferguson, MO, and other spots in need of extra oiling.

You open Your hand and satisfy every living thing with Your favor.
May these straps, donned in prayer, remind me to keep my hands on productive, positive work for a better world and keep my mind away from panic, hatred, or despair.

Tefillin Barbie Tries a New Siddur

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Soferet [scribe] Jen Taylor Friedman uses her scribal arts to create a variety of ritual items: ketubot [marriage certificates]; scrolls of the Book of Esther; scrolls to be used in mezuzot [doorpost markers] and tefillin [ritual boxes bound to arm and head]; as well as complete sets of tefillin. In 2007, she became the first woman we know to have completed a full Torah scroll. (More about female scribes)

UPDATE: An earlier version of this blog listed vegetarian tefillin among HaSoferet offerings. This was in error. Apologies. See discussion and comments below.

Barbie_ArrivedSince 2006, Taylor Friedman has also been providing mini-tallitot [prayer shawls] and tiny tefillin for Barbie® dolls.

One of these “Tefillin Barbies” recently traveled from Montreal to Washington, DC.

DC Tefillin Barbie arrived with a volume of the Babylonian Talmud in her hand. Seems she was studying something in Yebamot. This tractate focuses on marriage of a widow to her brother-in-law, but I believe Barbie may have been exploring passages, which appear near the beginning of the volume (4b, 5b), about tying of tzitzit, ritual fringes.

Study vs. Prayer

Early critics of Tefillin Barbie argued that, because tefillin are donned for prayer, Barbie ought to have a prayerbook in her hand, not a Talmud volume; some also criticized the particular edition of the Talmud she uses. (See, e.g., DovBear; more below).

In response, Taylor Friedman’s website now explains that Barbie is engaged in “daf-yomi” [page a day] study of the Talmud. (This practice requires seven years of daily discipline to complete. Some women in Israel and in the U.S. engage in this study, but it is usually considered a male enterprise; in addition it’s usually considered an orthodox practice, although non-Orthodox Jews also participate.) She adds:

Barbie is hardcore, see? She’s taking daf-yomi shiur before minyan starts, telling you that she’s sorry you don’t get that Tosafot but we don’t have time to get into it right now and she’ll go through it with you if you can stay afterwards.

Perhaps a real hardcore Barbie fan might get a whole set of mini-Talmud volumes, so she is carrying the right volume for any particular day of the seven-year Daf-Yomi cycle: For example, she’d be starting Moed Katan/Hagiga [Minor Feast/Festival Offerings] today (8/13/14). But I’m pretty sure DC Tefillin Barbie downloads her learning off the internet or uses a local library volume.

Meanwhile, having been warned “that tallit and tefillin are not designed to come off, and that this is a collector Barbie, not a toy suitable for small children,” I assumed Barbie might be pretty set in her ways. But when she arrived, I realized that she was, in fact, a Barbie doll…

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Of Plumbing and Gender

A few years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in Hartford Seminary’s “Building Abrahamic Partnerships,” an eight-day program offered each summer for a new group of Christians, Jews and Muslims. While there, a plumbing problem accidentally illuminated — for me, anyway — a truth about gendered religious experience and dialogue.

As it happened, a pipe disaster rendered the ladies’ room unusable on the same morning we were discussing gender in Judaism. The program director announced that alternatives were being explored and that perhaps a schedule for sharing the men’s room would have to be arranged. (Things worked out fine, but that’s not the point here.)

“How appropriate,” I remember telling the group. “Because this is how Jewish women live all the time.”

Even if his usual practice is egalitarian, a Jewish man can opt to be counted in an Orthodox minyan and accept honors there, for example. A Jewish woman has no such option, except in women’s and “partnership” settings. Women’s leadership is recognized in many prayer communities and not in others; men have options in this case, while women do not. In Orthodox settings, women might have seating that provides good access to the service; or they might be seated in a distant balcony.

….Maybe men will share the bathroom; maybe women will walk next door….

Maybe there will be time to discuss how women’s experiences of the lifecycle, of sacred text, of leadership and relationship to ritual differ in substantial ways from men’s; maybe not.

Maybe there will be some acknowledgement of the differing power structures experienced by women and men in and across faith communities; probably not.

Gender-related issues are in some sense “optional” for men in interfaith dialogue, while women generally don’t have that choice unless the dialogue has been carefully designed to incorporate their perspectives.
 

Accidental Analogy

Sometimes a plumbing accident is just a plumbing accident, and I am not sure that my fellow BAP participants found the bathroom situation so educational….

But I do think the accidental analogy is worth some thought:

In interfaith dialogue in the U.S. and some other parts of the world, participants arrive from communities in which gender plays very different roles. In some communities, gender defines many religious obligations and rights; in others, this is no longer the case.

Assuming that, for the sake of getting along, everyone will subscribe to the former view is akin to announcing, “We only have a men’s room. Women will be offered an alternative arrangement.” Assuming, instead, that everyone will subscribe to the latter view, on the other hand, might be likened to a sort of “one bathroom, no rules” approach.

Neither approach is particularly useful or respectful on its own — either in bathroom logistics or in dialogue. What is required, IMO, is a frank discussion, a careful compromise and an acknowledgement that the end practice will probably not suit everyone, even if it does allow peaceful co-existence and further dialogue.

More?

For more on gender and religion, interdenominational and interfaith dialogue, and related issues, please see Gender/Sexuality/Dialogue pages (moving from InterfaithandGender.org)
 

Gender: the Heart of (Inter-)Religious Understanding

“A Song Every Day” focuses on Jewish thought, often highlighting issues of gender and sexuality. These issues are central to interdenominational Jewish differences as well as to controversies within and across other faith communities. …And yet, much interfaith and interdenominational dialogue proceeds without directly addressing gender — beyond, perhaps, “balance by numbers.” Guidelines for local dialogues rarely mention the topic. Scholarly explorations remain largely within academy walls. IAGlogoSmallThis must change if inter-religious dialogue is to truly succeed. And successful inter-religious dialogue is essential to addressing many conflicts here in the U.S. and abroad. Thus, “A Song Every Day” offers “InterFaith and Gender” resources. Here’s the new parent-page: Gender / Sexuality / Dialogue. Thanks for your patience as “A Song Every Day” undergoes some re-organization.

In Need of New Language

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) needs new God-language and is asking for input. Here are two cents, which I hope will be useful to the CCAR and all who happen upon them.

Searching for Reform perspectives on the Amidah, I stumbled upon a “RavBlog” post relating to one of the blessings. Rabbi Leon Morris, a member of the editorial team for the Reform movement’s inchoate machzor, asked: How “Current” Should a Prayer Book Be?

His post raises a number of questions, ones I’m not sure the author intended but ones the CCAR — and the rest of us — would do well to consider.
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Who Is a Jew and how would the Forward recognize her?

UPDATE, 11/15, 13:36: Both the Jewish Telegraph Agency and the Forward have replaced the original photo with different ones: JTA’s article is now accompanied by a photo of an open Torah held by jacketed arms, adorned with a prayer shawl; the Forward‘s new photo shows three males in kippot (head coverings) with dreidels (Chanukah tops). Neither photo seems to have any relationship to non-Jews at the Torah, but the one that was clearly a mistake is now gone. No correction or apology in either place, however, and it is not clear whether JTA is correcting the mistake with other outlets that might be using their article.
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The Whole World Is Watching

I was young during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when my hometown police violently arrested protestors in Grant Park. I grew up thinking that a chant of “The whole world is watching” and a little press coverage were important tools in social change. And I listened to the Chicago Transit Authority album so often that the words of the “Someday (August 29, 1968)” still come to mind unbidden whenever I witness or learn about police/state violence.

Someday you will see how long we’ve waited for the time
to show you how we’ve got to get together with you all

Songs of Hallel.  Photo: D. Tepfer

Songs of Hallel outside Israeli Embassy, 3/11/13, Rosh Hodesh Nisan, in solidarity with Women of the Wall. Photo: D. Tepfer

This morning (3/12/13), for the first time in months, Women of the Wall in Jerusalem was able to pray without arrest. Most likely the presence of the several Knesset members, secular women who joined in solidarity, prevented arrest. But there were also the prayers and notoriety generated here in Wash, DC and in other U.S. cities.

Although there were no arrests, WOW had to pray through the shouting and taunts of hundreds of men and some women who believe WOW is “desecrating a holy site” with their worship. Lack of arrest does not mean the healing, on either side of the situation, is done.

But Women of the Wall in Israel is international and cross-denominational. Washington Friends of Women of the Wall includes men and women, and yesterday’s solidarity gathering included Conservative, havurah, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal, transdenominational and unaffiliated Jews participating. This, we hope and pray, will be part of getting us all to “Someday.”

More Gratitude: Waking Up in Real Life


It is an age-old Jewish practice to start a day with gratitude and thanks. The question was raised in a recent study session about why tunes for the earliest of morning prayers tend to be very peppy, while not all of us awaken like that. One associated teaching is that we should approach each day with as much vigor as we have. I no of no sleepier versions, so to speak, so perhaps someone needs to compose a “modah ani for slow wakers.”

Early blessings to accompany the acts of awakening — opening the eyes, putting feet on the ground, dressing, etc. — are found in the Talmud (Berakhot 60b) and included, in various orders and with different forms of address to God, in countless Jewish prayer books. Among the blessings recited earliest in the day are those focusing on the soul, body and intellect. This practice is meant to train the Jew to enjoy nothing — not even the functioning of own bodies or brains — without acknowledging and thanking God.

As discussed in Temple Micah’s first Shabbat session on the siddur, the “modah/modeh ani” prayer came into practice more recently — recent, as in the last few hundred years. It is an odd blessing, in Jewish tradition, because it does not mention God’s name. Leaving aside the reasons for this, the real power of the prayer is in practicing conscious direction of thought upon awakening (or as soon thereafter as possible).

In that spirit, here are some further resources and notes:
Gratitude without God
Gratitude with Coffee: in the Midst of Work, Attending to Others
Gratitude in Tough Times and in Mourning

Here are two musical approaches to modah/modeh ani. One was composed by Cantor Jeff Klepper and is frequently sung at Temple Micah; it’s performed in this video a capella by a mother and daughter. Another is Rabbi David Paskin performing his own composition. There are many other versions, but these are two I like.

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“Sacred Religious Duty”

In 1877, Rabbi Leopold Stein, a prominent figure in the Reform movement, published a 36-point catalog of religious ordinances for “present-day Israelites,” entitled “Torath-Chajim” [Living Torah]. This was one of the readings in Temple Micah‘s recent class on “‘Challenges’ in Contemporary Jewish Faith.”

Class reactions to Stein’s specific ordinances were varied. As were responses to his use of “law”: distinguishing between “divine laws of the Bible” and “rabbinical ordinances…which excessively weigh down and impede life,” on the one hand, and, on the other, labeling some “rabbinical institutions” as “sacred obligations to us in the ordering of our religious life and law.”

I was personally struck by two spots in Stein’s text where one form of “obligation” is seen to trump another:

Ordinance #19 of Torath-Chajim insists that “we have both the right and obligation” to set aside rules which make it impossible for a modern business person to observe Shabbat. Ordinance #20 states that it is “a sacred religious duty” to do away with second-day festival celebrations. While the idea of “sacred religious duty” could launch many volumes of discussion, my most powerful response was to wish I heard this phrase more often in contemporary Reform discourse. I particularly miss it when speaking — as Stein is doing — about variant understandings of such duties.
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