A Story from the Front Lines: Special Guest Post by Rachel Kohl Finegold, Education and Ritual Director, Anshe Sholom

A Story From the Front Lines

Guest post by Rachel Kohl Finegold

Education & Ritual Director, Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, Chicago

 

I share this story because it is often helpful, alongside halachic or philosophical argument, to look at a sociological reality that arises as a result of minhag yisrael.

 

For many years, I worked as a counselor and eventually a division head in a Modern Orthodox camp in the Poconos. This is a co-ed camp which draws kids from many NY/NJ communities (and beyond), including Teaneck, Brooklyn, West Orange, and so on. As anyone who has been in camp knows, the dining room often becomes a place of cheering and singing, even playful competition between bunks or divisions in camp. It was not uncommon for the girls’ side of the chadar ochel and the boys’ side of the chadar ochel to be engaged in this kind of cheering at each other. This would usually be the teens, who were most interested in what was going on on the other side of the room, but often the younger kids would chime in as well.

 

The boys and girls would get up on their benches and the boys would chant something like, “Back to the kitchen! Back to the kitchen!” and the girls would respond perhaps “You’re sleeping on the couch tonight!” It was obviously funny to them because they were playing on gender stereotypes, and it was fun to try and get the boys or girls mad! One of the chants that the boys would use would always be “Shelo asani isha! Shelo asani isha!” Although I would sometimes hear a few girls respond with “She’asani kirtzono!” they usually didn’t retort with that, because it didn’t quite pack the punch they needed to get the boys back. They would find a better comeback. Maybe “Boys smell” or, if we were lucky, something wittier.

 

I emphasize, once again, that these are kids who come from mainstream Modern Orthodox Yeshiva day schools, some single-sex and some co-ed. These were not just a few kids, but the vast majority of the 9th and 10th graders in camp chanting. My goal is not to reprimand the camp itself, because I do not think these perceptions can be formed in a single summer, or even multiple summers. These children had been saying these brachot all their lives – in school, in shul and in camp.

 

Even if we adults feel comfortable with the matbe’a of “shelo asani isha”, clearly, our children perceive an undercurrent of male superiority in this bracha. Whether we choose “she’asani yisrael” or some other solution (I have been saying “she’asani isha” for years, because I am truly grateful for being female and because there is liturgical precedent for it), we must recognize that the negative messaging is getting through. Even if our girls and boys absorb negative gender stereotypes from our surrounding culture, I would not want them to perceive them from within our holy tradition.

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7 Responses to A Story from the Front Lines: Special Guest Post by Rachel Kohl Finegold, Education and Ritual Director, Anshe Sholom

  1. itchiemayer says:

    Judaism would be so easy if we just did what we wanted. I don’t like this or that so I’ll do what I want.

    Women are fortunate that THEY determine that our children are Jewish and not the man.

    Women are fortunate that chazal say that a man should honor his WIFE in a manner ABOVE his means, but should eat below his means and dress according to his means.

    Women are fortunate that they can’t be so restricted in who they can marry as a Kohen is. A middle aged Kohen can’t marry so many women that are available to marry as they can’t marry divorcees or converts. So as a Kohen I should say I’ll marry who I want to marry?
    At worst, women might be forbidden to Kohanim which isn’t really so restrictive.

    The bracha for a woman is She’asani Kirtzono. It is what it is. Besides, it seems pretty pious to thank God every day for making women according to his will.

    We all have our special niche in Klal Yisroel. They are all integral pieces to the puzzle. Perhaps if we are uncomfortable with certain practices, we should consider that it is maybe something in us that is lacking, and not a deficiency in the liturgy or Shulchan Aruch.

    I am happy that we have a come a very long way in the Torah education of females in the last 175 years or so, and I defer to Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveichik, zt”l that allowed his own daughters to learn gemara (although he clearly thought only certain tractates were permitted). In other words, I am not a neanderthal.

    Even if I were uncomfortable at the thought of my eight day old son going through the pain of circumcision, should I even consider not doing it? Just because it doesn’t sit well with me? I acknowledge that the analogy isn’t great and that the mitzvah of bris milah is in a different league than reciting the morning brachos, but once pandora’s box is open…..

    Hatzlacha

    • Aaron says:

      “Judaism would be so easy if we just did what we wanted. I don’t like this or that so I’ll do what I want.”

      It so happens we DO have choices and we to a fair degree, we CAN do what we want as long as it doesn’t fly in the face of halacha. You may want to wear Rabbeinu Tam’s tefillin but I don’t. So I’m doing what I want and you’re doing what YOU want.

      “Women are fortunate that THEY determine that our children are Jewish and not the man.”

      So what? What does THAT prove and what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

      “Women are fortunate that chazal say that a man should honor his WIFE in a manner ABOVE his means, but should eat below his means and dress according to his means.”

      Please explain to me HOW a man honor’s his wife in a manner above his means? Does that mean that a woman doesn’t honor her husband above HER means? Please read the following and then tell me what you just wrote with a straight face.

      JEWISH MARRIAGE IN ANTIQUITY by Professor Michael L. Satlow, Ph.D. (With Distinction) Professor of Judaic Studies, Brown University. The following is a tiny excerpt from his book:
      Rabbinic marital ideals mirror to a great degree those of Jews of the Second Temple period. A wife (and only a wife) was expected to be sexually faithful to her husband, in return for which her husband would honor her.

      “Women are fortunate that they can’t be so restricted in who they can marry as a Kohen is. A middle aged Kohen can’t marry so many women that are available to marry as they can’t marry divorcees or converts. So as a Kohen I should say I’ll marry who I want to marry? At worst, women might be forbidden to Kohanim which isn’t really so restrictive.”

      Your last sentence above refutes the first part of what you wrote and you make light of it, as if it means nothing.

      “The bracha for a woman is She’asani Kirtzono. It is what it is. Besides, it seems pretty pious to thank God every day for making women according to his will.”

      You may interpret it that way, but many more people feel it is a put down. It’s like saying to a blind person: “God created you according to his will.” Do you really think that is going to make the blind man feel better?

      “We all have our special niche in Klal Yisroel. They are all integral pieces to the puzzle. Perhaps if we are uncomfortable with certain practices, we should consider that it is maybe something in us that is lacking, and not a deficiency in the liturgy or Shulchan Aruch.”

      That is a condescending statement and appears as if you are superior to anyone who questions or is uncomfortable.

      “I am happy that we have a come a very long way in the Torah education of females in the last 175 years or so, and I defer to Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveichik, zt”l that allowed his own daughters to learn gemara (although he clearly thought only certain tractates were permitted). In other words, I am not a neanderthal.

      OH, that’s wonderful and big of you. Yasher koiach!

      “Even if I were uncomfortable at the thought of my eight day old son going through the pain of circumcision, should I even consider not doing it? Just because it doesn’t sit well with me? I acknowledge that the analogy isn’t great and that the mitzvah of bris milah is in a different league than reciting the morning brachos, but once pandora’s box is open…..”

      You are half right about the analogy not being great. It’s ABSURD!

  2. Shmuel says:

    If Rabbi Kanesfky’s original post hadn’t reached the point of unintentional self-parody, this one surely has.

  3. Eli says:

    I assume by the timing of this post that you intended to conclude based on this story that we should consider R. Kenefsky’s proposal to drop shelo asani isha. I’d like to propose a different conclusion. Instead of jumping to point fingers at our tradition and at Chazal as the source of the problem, why not point our fingers at ourselves? Maybe we ourselves, both as men and women, aren’t living these supposed values we have, and our children are picking up on it. The bracha here isn’t at fault. An honest appraisal of the bracha yields countless interpetations that amply satisfy the apparent contradiction to respecting women. What we need to change is ourselves and the message we convey to our children to ensure that they don’t use holy vessels to contain and express unholy values.

  4. Anonymous says:

    In summary: Because we don’t educate our children well and then they make us feel insecure about the way chazal composed the davening, we should therefore change the davening. Duh. I hope the authors see their folly and this article is removed as quickly as Rabbi Kinefsky’s was.

  5. Yoni says:

    Eli, while your point about self-reflection may be valid, “An honest appraisal of the bracha” points in only one direction. It was written a very long time ago by men who had no possible way of knowing that 2000 years later it could be perceived as offensive.

    The “countless interpretations” are mere proof that this is the case.

  6. Zelda says:

    My conclusion from Ms. Finegold’s camp story is that co-ed schools and camps lead to competition and disrespect between boys and girls. When each gender is educated separately to view itself as having very specific goals and challenges, they have neither the opportunity, or the need, to put down the other gender. When, eventually, the men and women rejoin each other to marry, they are more interested in cooperation than in childish one-upmanship.

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