by Rabbi Shira Wallach
As a Conservative Jew, a woman, and a rabbi, I tend to look for spaces in Judaism in which gender doesn’t matter. I seek spaces in which one feels valued for their soul, for their intellect, for their curiosity, for their earnestness. And most of the time, when I can create or facilitate an experience that minimizes the gender divide and maximizes all of the other things that bring us together, I consider that a good day’s work. Ultimately, I’d love to help guide our community to become a place where both men and women feel equally welcomed and embraced in ritual, social, and cultural roles, where each individual feels drawn to a journey of holiness and mitzvot.
But sometimes, as I’ve learned over the last few weeks, that journey needs to happen in a variety of spaces—some, with the larger community, and others, in groups by gender. I’m talking, of course, about the new sparkle in my eye, the new spring in my step: the Women’s Torah Study class at Shearith. Thanks to Lisa Zale, who approached me last year to ask if I could offer a women’s perspective on the weekly torah reading, we now have a regular meeting of women over lunch on Wednesdays, in which we do just that. And I’m finding that I can bring ideas that I can’t share in any other space.
We can talk about how we want to apply modern sensibilities to ancient texts but know that we can’t. We can talk about how it feels to know that our sacred tradition was written for men and about men. We can talk about how omission of women’s voices has adversely affected our ability to feel like equals in religious spaces.
But being able to talk about all of these things is essential if we are to have an honest relationship with Judaism. Despite its shortcomings, our tradition is often remarkably visionary when it challenges foundational assumptions about gender roles. And furthermore, both biblical and rabbinic voices teach us how to engage in conversation with the text when it falls short. For generations before us, our teachers have demonstrated how to infuse our values into the ongoing project of studying torah so that it is equal parts challenging and inviting. Today, we accept our inheritance, we raise our voices, we write our own stories.
Join us every Wednesday from 12-1pm in the Beit Midrash.