I wanted to write this post about women and Yom Kippur, as I often have done for other Jewish holidays, on topics such as what roles women should play during the holiday, stories about women associated with the holiday, etc. But I searched, and was kind of surprised that I found nothing in particular to write about.
On the first day of Rosh Hashana last week, I listened to a congregant at my synagogue chant Haftorah, the additional reading from Jewish scriptures that follows the reading of the Torah on Shabbat and holidays. This particular Haftorah continues to hold great relevance and importance for Jews today, and particularly for Jewish women. It tells the story of Hannah and her desire to bear a child. In the story, we learn that Hannah and Peninah are both the wives of a man named Elkanah. Peninah goads Hannah because Hannah, like many of the Jewish matriarchs, is barren.
I just came home from a trip to my local suburban mall with two friends from elementary school. The mall is looking good – the walls are an upscale beige accented with stained wood, and new stores like Coach and BCBG emphasize that those who shop here must have ample money to spend. The mall is clearly marked as Jewish, too, with shoppers wearing long skirts, kippas, or less modest clothing adorned with Jewish symbols and summer camp logos.
Earlier this week, a post on The Sisterhood blog (with whom JWA regularly cross-posts) publicized a call from Women of the Wall for photographs of women with Torahs as part of a solidarity movement with WOW, who have been subject to harassment and arrest over the past several months in their attempts to hold egalitarian Rosh Chodesh services at Robinson’s Arch in Jerusalem.
Can a woman perform a bris? Jewish scholars, even the most Orthodox, answer with a tentative “why not?” for there is no halachic (Jewish law) prohibition against mohelot – female mohels. While Jewish law states that it’s preferable for a Jewish male to perform the brit milah (circumcision) if one is present, it is not mandatory. The symbolism of a woman circumcising a man is inherently provocative, touching on questions of spirituality, nurturing mothers, and emasculation. Many men, when polled on the subject, reflexively cross their legs.