Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Jew... and His Wife

I don't know Elad Nehorai, the man behind the Pop Chassid blog. But in a recent post, Nehorai writes about how ba'alei teshuva are uniquely positioned to point out inconsistencies in the Orthodox world. Since we ba'alei teshuva come to Judaism with fresh eyes, having rejected much of the pull of the surrounding secular culture, we are already trained to notice what Nehorai calls "mistakes". He asserts that it's our job, not just to notice them, but to "rebel", that is, to point out where the traditional Jewish world has gone awry.

His post reminded  me of something that has long distempered me. I have see it so often over the past 25 years, and yet, each time I see it, it still makes my systolic blood pressure rise 20 points. It makes my eyes bleed. It makes me want to scream.

ITEM: He Who blessed our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - may He bless this entire holy congregation along with all the holy congregations; them, their wives, sons and daughters and all that is theirs... [Mi Shebayrach following Yekum Purkan]

ITEM: For this betrayal, the Jewish People were punished by being condemned to wander in the desert for forty years, until they would all die, and only their children would enter the Holy Land. [Actually, only the men of that generation, save Yehoshua and Calev, died as a punishment for the Sin of the Spies. The women of that generation did not die in the desert.]

ITEM: When I was learning about Simchat Torah for the first time, I read in a book of Jewish customs that every Jew dances with the Sefer Torah on Simchat Torah. I was so naive at the time. I thought that meant that every Jew dances with the Sefer Torah.

ITEM: In a siddur, the words of prayer are grammatically correct only if the person praying is male.

ITEM: Ishto k'gufo - "His wife is like his body."

ITEM: "All men are Jews, though few men know it." — Bernard Malamud

ITEM: Ish Ubeito by Eliyahu Kitov. Translated as The Jew and His Home: A Guide to Jewish Family Life.

These are seven exceedingly random examples. I could have listed a hundred and seven. Or a thousand and seven. Or ten thousand and seven. All examples of the Jewish world's maddening tendency to say Jew when what is really meant is Jewish man.

Sometimes, it is necessary to refer to Jewish men separately from Jewish women. I have no issue with that. However, having been made aware of this maddening tendency, I'll thank you from refraining from co-opting the words Jew, all Jews, the Jewish people, etc. when what you actually mean is:

this...

or this...

or this...

or even this.

21 comments:

Pnina G. said...

I stopped saying "hem u'nesheihem" on my own a little while back. I'm finally davening in a shul where they omit it as well and it makes me quite happy. There are also many shuls in which women and men dance with Sifrei Torah on Simchat Torah. The good thing about items such as those (ie. siddurim either having only one gender or sticking in a "nashim omrot:", etc) on this list, is that they are quite frustrating and hard to change, but not impossible.

Tzippy H. said...

The Rinat Yisrael siddur has gender correct Hebrew for women.....

Hannah B said...

one of the things that i maintained from my years in the conservative movement was the adaptations they made in birchot hashachar. instead of shifcha/eved, they say she'asa li bnei chorin; instead of goy, they say she'asa li ivri; and instead of isha/kirztono, they say she'asa li b'tzalmo. it is a small thing, but is much more affirming that the original. i have to agree with you that it is so difficult to deal with these issues and i also have difficulty coming to terms with it. however, i mostly turn a blind eye to it, because there are many good things in the relgious lifestye we have chosen. it is just so frustrating when it seems the orthodox world is moving backwards instead of looking for ways to be inclusive within the framework of halacha.

Elad said...

Pop Chassid here.

I'm just curious, however valid your point is, what about my post sparked this point? Do you assume that I only meant men when I wrote my post, G-d forbid?

Just curious, because it seems to be a random tangent not related to my article especially since my post was aimed at both men and women.

Bat Aliyah said...

Elad - Your post empowered me to act as a "rebellious" ba'alat teshuva and point out something that the traditional Jewish world gets wrong exceedingly often.

hashgachapratit said...

I remember once, Rabbi Berel Wein, said, from the pulpit, on Simchat Torah, "Everyone will get an aliyah". My mom went up to him and asked when she would get her aliyah. He was a bit taken aback and smiled and said only the men would get aliyot. She then rebuked him for having said "EVERYONE will get an aliyah" -- she told him that by saying that and then excluding women, he was thus indicating that women were not "everyone" but something other. She said if he meant only men would get aliyot then that is what he should say. He agreed and supposedly he has been more careful when he says things of that nature. I cannot vouch for that, as I do not know. But - kol hakavod MOM! :-)

Chana said...

Maybe sometime we can have material about "Jewish Women" that does not sound like 6th grade Health class.

Unknown said...

Some of your comments are applicable only to Ashkenazim. Sephardim have different versions of some blessings.

Mick Jaron said...

I can hardly argue with your premise that in the Jewish world there is a maddening tendency to say Jew when what is really meant is Jewish man. This tendency is so entrenched that on Friday nights when we greet the Shabbos Queen, some of us are fearful that the Queen may be in drag…oy vay.
We are making incremental progress though; these sidurim differentiate between genders in the prayer that is said upon wakening:
למען
שמו באהבה
The Koren Siddur
Nehalel Shabbat Siddur
Rivikah, not to worry; when Meshiach comes, he or she will sort it out. (Personally speaking, I think it’s my wife, but she is too modest to even talk about it).

Anonymous said...

The Bernard Malamud quote is not apt because he was using the English word "man" as a synonym for "mankind". Even Ayn Rand, despite being a woman, used the word "man" in this way. It is not inherently sexist.

Chava L said...

Let's not forget that the parents of the choson/kallah consist of R' So-and-so V'rayato. She apparently is worthy enough to do the bulk of the child rearing to bring said child to the chuppa, but not worthy enough for her own mention...

Lisa C said...

frankly, for me the terminology issue takes a back seat to other, more crucial issues, like how women are actually treated, not just addressed, in various Jewish outlooks, and each one comes up short. because just as women are not sufficiently empowered in much of haredi orthodoxy, women become prey in other ways in secular "judaism", in that they are not encouraged to behave or dress modestly, or to maintain ritual purity, and as a result lose out on the spiritual wealth in that realm, which is another kind of impoverishment. the terminology may reflect this outlook, and it may be that changing that can change the outlook. yet it is, at least in the orthodox world, a consequence of resistance to change, primarily. and in the name of change for its own sake (something evident in many "jewish" movements"), many mistakes were made as well.

Gitel H said...

The Sephardi women say "modah ani," instead of "modeh ani," and also have feminine versions of the morning blessings.

Ike F said...

I agree with you that a lot of the language of the tefilot is meant for men to say and ignores women. And I believe that Orthodoxy needs to be open to certain fixes because times have changed.
Especially if we are talking about a Mi Sheberakh. There is no requirement to say exactly what is written in the siddur. We invent new ones all the time.
The one you mention, Mi Sheberakh LaKahal, also really bothers me because it says Hem uNshehem. I just want to note one thing about this. It is not saying that women are not Jews. It is saying that they are not in the Kahal, which is the people attending synagogue. I suppose that when this was written, women didn't attend shul. Which today is not true. So, for this reason, the language should be changed.

Anne N. said...

It's been making me nuts for about 40 years!

If the language that expresses women's spirituality and relationship to G-d isn't there, put it there.

Sharon G. said...

I agree that there are *individuals* who do not understand the woman's exalted place in Torah-observant Judaism but the principles are tried and true - with honor and respect for women in our equal-but-different role. I am not Sephardi but I say "modah ani", too. I am often pleasantly surprised by what is accepted and encouraged when I take the time to ask and to learn.

Hinda Rochel said...

I have been complaining about this for years. It frustrates me kn ow end. JEWISH MEN, you mean JEWISH MEN. Every time I hear or read something where it is men who are referred to and not Jews. I'm glad I'm not alone in this.

Sarah B said...

Thanks for posting this. I'll call out another thing I hear often, that is wrong: When (we) Orthodox people say "there aren't a lot of Jews in town" when what we mean is there aren't a lot of SHOMREI SHABBAT or ORTHODOX Jews in town. There can be huge Reform and Conservative congregations, but we'll still say "there are no Jews," and that's not right.

Tzippy L. said...

"I asked the man I saw, How many Jews in this town/He said to me, There used to be a minyan around/Plus their wives/So twenty in total/But one of them passed away and we've been feeling down/Which makes nineteen now/But now it seems as though another Jew has been found/And that brings us back to twenty"

Elad said...

Ah I see, Bat Aliyah, thank you for clarifying :)

littleduckies said...

I worked on that siddur. :)