Monday, October 1, 2007

A new beginning

Parsha Bereishit (Genesis 1:1 - 6:8). And the seasons they go round and round... and here we are back at the beginning. Firsts. On Wednesday the 3rd my son will be consecrated at our temple... I assume he will receive a little Torah, just like the ones his father and I have sitting amongst our Judaica books and siddurim. It will begin his formal Jewish education and further his love of our people and history. Hopefully, Reid's experinece will be much more positve than that of Elizabeth Rosner...

Once upon a time, I thought a quintessential feature of being Jewish involved asking questions. But I learned early on that challenging the Modern Orthodox rules of my upbringing meant I would be considered a rebel and a troublemaker. Maybe I was born into the wrong tribe, or at least the wrong family, but 613 commandments just about brought me to my knees. And I was supposed to be grateful.

My father’s determination to provide me with a serious Jewish education alongside my secular one filled me to the point of bursting with regulations and prohibitions. Having outgrown the first few years of Sunday school, I was forced to attend Hebrew school several afternoons a week. No amount of protesting, regular and vociferous, could persuade my parents not to send me.

I began learning the seemingly infinite prescriptions involving my most basic habits. Forbidden food combinations focused especially on keeping milk away from meat. In other words, no cheeseburgers, no glass of vitamin D with my steak, no butter or white bread for the chicken sandwich. Eventually, I appreciated the humane philosophy behind this, the idea of not “drowning a calf in its mother’s milk.” However, attempting to explain it all to my friends as they headed to McDonald’s was no small feat. You’ve never, ever had a cheeseburger? they wanted to know. And what do you drink with your dinner?

This bizarre diet paled in comparison with the list of what not to eat at all: anything deriving from a pig, any seafood with a shell, and any animals that had only one stomach and no cloven hooves. There were supposedly rational determinations behind all of this, and I marveled at the elaborate details. Grown men sat around and debated these questions? For centuries? Even today?

Although as a girl I had been spared the ordeal of circumcision, it soon became evident that there were numerous female body parts to keep covered up. Shoulders, for example, were dangerous, and thighs off limits. Apparently it was my job to ensure that men weren’t tempted by my flesh. This was especially critical when it came to being distracted from their devotion to prayer by my provocative displays. No upper arms. No knees. Some ultra-Orthodox codes even included prohibiting any glimpses of elbows and ankles. Not to mention hair. The neckline: Forget about it. Cleavage? Are you kidding? These were the days of mini-skirts and halter-tops, but not in synagogue, God forbid. Not on your life. The post continues here.

The Bereishit Calligraphy above is from The SOFERET Avielah Barclay the first woman to be certified in sofrut, Jewish ritual scribal arts, & the first woman to practice this craft in over 250 years. I sure hope Avielah is the first of many.

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