On Saturday (December 15th), I was reading through the Dallas Morning News when I came across an article about a group entitled Women of the Wall. The article detailed an effort by Jewish women to be allowed to not only pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem but also to pray as Jewish men do with kippahs (yarmulkes), tefillin (phylacteries) and prayer shawls. They have been arrested for attempting to approach the last remaining vestige, the outer wall, of Herod’s Temple in order to pray and worship God.
Naturally, I had to go visit the website of this “rascally group of women.” I found women who are longing to be recognized as Jewish women before men and before God himself. After a a quick search, I found a prayer that I wanted to not only share and but also to analyze …
May it be Your will, our God and God of our mothers and fathers, to bless this prayer group and all who pray within it: them, their families and all that is theirs, together with all the women and girls of your people Israel. Strengthen us and direct our hearts to serve You in truth, reverence and love. May our prayer be desirable and acceptable to You like the prayers of our holy mothers, Sarah, Rivka, Rahel and Leah. May our song ascend to Your Glorious Throne in holiness and purity, like the songs of Miriam the Prophet, Devorah the Judge, and Hannah in Shilo, and may it be pleasing to you as a sweet savor and fine incense.
And for our sisters, all the women and girls of your people Israel: let us merit to see their joy and hear their voices raised before You in song and praise. May no woman or girl be silenced ever again among Your people Israel or in all the world. God of justice, let us merit to see justice and salvation soon, for the sanctification of Your name and the repair of Your world, as it is written: Zion will hear and be glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, over Your judgments, O God. And it is written: For Zion’s sake I will not be still and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be silent, until her righteousness shines forth like a great light and her salvation like a flaming torch.
For Torah shall go forth from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem. Amen, selah.
The first paragraph of this prayer is a wonderful weaving together of the women of the Tanakh by Rahel Sharon Jaskow. This paragraph allows us to visualize a wonderful group of strong women who sometimes had “to take the lead” because the men of the Hebrew Scriptures either could not or would not. And I doubt that anyone, except perhaps the most Orthodox of Jewish men, would take issue with these words.
If you are reading this article closely, you might be wondering why I included the paraphrastic or subordinate phrase about Orthodox Jewish men. Perhaps because of the fact that according to Rabbinic tradition, Jewish women have three responsibilities — (1) light the Sabbath candles; (2) prepare the challah for the Sabbath; and (3) the ritual mikvah (rite of purification) which occurs once a month until menopause — but not one of them involves prayer. In fact and through some research, I have found four interesting pieces of information about the perception of women in the synagogue in general and prayer specifically among the followers of Orthodox Judaism …
- Unable to be counted as a person for the prayers of the synagogue
- Regarded as less privileged because of fewer commandments
- Separated in the synagogue (mechitzah) and unable to approach the “pulpit” (bimah)
- Not required to attend services because her husband will be responsible for her spiritual growth as he has more commandments
Perhaps the best way of illustrating this “wall of separation” in some sects of Judaism is to give one a snippet from Chaim Potok’s Davita Harp which relates the story of Davita who wants to know why she as a young girl and then woman cannot pray like her step-father and brother can …
I realized, as we sat together week after week in the little synagogue in Sea Gate, that she never prayed. One Shabbos during the service I quietly asked her about that.
“A woman is not required to pray,” she said.
“What do you mean?” All around us women were praying.
“A woman may pray if she wishes. But she is not required to pray. That’s the law. Ask your father. I don’t wish to pray. I prefer to read the Bible instead.”
The women’s section in that little synagogue was even more confining that the one in the yeshiva synagogue. A heavy muslin curtain had been drawn across the last few rows from wall to wall, forming a space that resembled a large cage. We could hear the service and see nothing. I found no holes or tears in that curtain. My new father was leading the service. I enjoyed hearing his deep baritone voice and wished I could see him.
By the end of the book, Davita apparently comes to be reconciled to her place within Jewish society; however, we find in one of Potok’s last works, Zebra and Other Stories, a middle-aged Davita who is divorced from her husband and separated from her relationship with God. Davita represents, from my own first-hand observations, many Jewish women who long to be connected to God but feel blocked or prevented by their own religion and faith. For while Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox has been questioned for its veracity, there can be little doubt that many Jewish women (including the author of the “Inside Out” feature found in The Forward) could echo the second paragraph of the prayer of Women of the Wall (see above) that states — “let us merit to see justice and salvation soon.”
They feel bound by Talmudic statements which reduce them to mere objects worthy of nothing more than pity and subservience. They perhaps even feel as spiritually bound as the Agunot — Orthodox Jewish women who are bound to an abusive husband because he will not grant them a get (divorce). Sadly what they do not realize is that their justice and salvation and freedom from their spiritual chains has already come through Jesus the Jewish Messiah … of women. They do not know because they have never heard the truth of who Jesus is and who He wants to be in the lives and hearts of Jewish and all women.
They do not know of how much God the Son — Jesus of Nazareth — loves and values the place of women in His Kingdom. He first revealed His Messianic identity to the Samaritan Woman. He first appeared after the resurrection to Mary Magdalene who had once been possessed by seven demons. His own matriarchal lineage indicates that He loves and values flawed and imperfect women who often only longed to feel love by God…
- Eve … was given the first promise of the Messiah (Genesis 3:15-16)
- Sarah … was the made the queen through whom Messiah would come (Genesis 17:15-19)
- Rebekah … was the mother of Jacob (Israel) who actually saw God face to face (Genesis 32:24-30; 35:5-10)
- Leah … was the first woman to whom it was described that God saw and thereby enabled her to praise Him (Genesis 29:31-35)
- Tamar … was called righteous by Judah and from whom would come Messiah (Genesis 38:1-30; 49:10; Matthew 1:4)
- Rahab … was a prostitute who became a Matriarch of David and the ultimate Son of David (Joshua 6:1-25; Ruth 4:20; Matthew 1:6)
- Naomi … was given a kinsmen redeemer because of Ruth’s selflessness through Obed — grandfather of David (Ruth 4:16-17)
- Bathsheba … was given two sons — Solomon and Nathan — from whom Messiah would descend (2 Samuel 7:13-14; 11:1-12, 25; Matthew 1:6; Luke 3:31)
- Mary … was probably only a 14-year-old nobody from Nazareth who became the mother of Messiah Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:25-2:39)
There is no more need for Jewish (or any) women to wander on a quest for answers or to wonder if God loves them as women. The answer is YES and the answer is through Messiah Jesus.