Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Irony of Religious Women

It seems to me, that the more religious a woman becomes, the less she's supposed to keep.

Take Chanukah; I've been lighting candles since before I can remember, probably since I first brought a Chanukiyah home from kindergarten. Now really that should brand me as Modern. At home it seemed natural.But my more religious friends, or maybe I should say more Chareidi ones, well they don't seem to be in such a rush to light. They wouldn't dream of bringing flame to wick themselves, that would be far too shocking. Even being there, to watch the act take place, is rather low on their priorities. "my father/husband will be Motzi me" they say.

It doesnt stop there. The more religious women are, the less they go to Shul. The truly Frum woman avoids attending the synagogue altogether, except perhaps for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, on the rare years she doesn't have little kids to prevent her from going.

And if a woman is lucky enough to be Chasidic, she stands a good chance of not having to fast on the fast days, aside for the major ones.

Then there's Succos. I've already written about that. No self respecting Frum woman should be caught sleeping in a Succah. Unless she wants to risk being branded a feminist, that is. Certain Chasidic sects are against women even eating in the Succah. It could give them ideas above their station. One Chasidut holds that if a mother wants her sons to grow up to be Torah scholars, she should avoid the Sukkah as much as possible.

I've decided it's a great tactic, becoming more Frum. It will free up my time for the important things in life, now that I won't have to bother with doing all the religious stuff.


  1. unfortunately that does not work for men...

  2. "Frum" does not equal "Chassidish."

    People are either frum, or not frum, in my opinion.

    When I was in college, a girl I knew who was slightly more modern than me had a stringency on kashrus that my family doesn't keep. The irreligious Jews didn't understand this; the way they thought orthodoxy worked meant that my family would keep more than this girl's family.

    You know that's not how it works. Either your frum, or not frum. The things you list---sleeping in the succah, lighting the menorah, aren't halachically required of women. For a woman to keep it doesn't make her more religious than me. I don't do either. That doesn't make me chassidish.

    As for shul, some women can't get up in the morning. They don't need to daven with a minyan or answer kaddish; what religious principle are they violating? (I'm in shul for barchu nearly every Shabbos).

    In the NYTimes there was an article about the COnservative women who are fighting for the right to daven by the kosel in talleisim. They're feminists. What's the difference?

  3. A new segula -- avoid the sukkah! You can market that! It should be particularly popular in cold climates. Should a woman also avoid shaking the lulav? How about skipping parshas Zachor?
    It's true that women are patur from mitzvos ase shehazman grama, but the only ones they tend to avoid unless they are taking a feminist stance is tallith and tefillin.

    I really don't like that girls get the message that they don't really have to daven before eating -- as reinforced by RW schools' assumption that they have breakfasted at home before they daven together in school. It is a real ironic twist that by trying to emphasize the importance of davening, which is why they want them to all daven together, lest they would skip it at home, they end up conveying the point that davening can be pushed off. One of my daughter's teachers told me she took it the normal practice to only say brachos before breakfast; she still does it, though she is not davening with a group.

    Then there are the girls and women who believe they are patur from all fasts other than Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av, even if they are not pregnant or nursing.

  4. Troi, she's saying the less a woman observes, the more "frum" she is considered (or "extreme", if you will).

  5. I believe the menorah is supposed to be lit by everyone in the house - ideally. A wife can light for her husband and vice versa, because they're the same person. If there's a shortage of oil or whatever, one candle suffices per house.
    I don't know why girls give away their mitzvah to their fathers.

  6. When our family moved from a modern community to a more right wing community, people were really surprised that our young daughters went to shul. But our daughters were used to it, and they liked it. Most of the unmarried girls in right wing communities don't go to shul, starting at toddlerhood, approximately.

  7. B4S- I thought it was preferable for a guy to light seeing as it is a time bound mitzva. Just like it's preferable for us to light Shabbos candles. And, plus, husbands get so excited when Chanukah comes around- they're like little kids playing with matches- how could I spoil his fun by asking to light instead :D

  8. My family is not Chassidish, and the girls did not light menorah. Not that I didn't want to when I was younger, but it is not only the concept of lighting; there is the idea that respect is shown to the head of the household (meaning my father) by watching, taking in, and being yotzei with his lighting.

    We hold the same way on Shabbos; only my father makes kiddush, even when my brothers are visiting with their families. And if we go to company, my father defers to the host's kiddush.

    When we visit other homes and every boy with a pulse, no matter how young, makes his own kiddush and hamotzi, we find that to take away from the respect of the father (besides for taking forever).

    And as for sleeping in the succah . . . the men in my family don't.

  9. nmf #7 - you can both light and have two menorahs.

  10. I am Chasidic so let me clarify a few things.

    The Sucah 'segula' is based on a major dispute between the Sefaradim and Ashkanaim regarding women making a bracha on mitzvos that are of the 'zman-gerama' time required catagory, based on the words of the bracha 'asher kideshanu...v'tzivanu' [thou has commanded us] when according to the truth Hashem has NOT commanded women to be in the sucah or hold the lulav etc.

    Some Ashkenazi Poskim have taken the sefardi position; famous among them is the Chacham Tzvi. Since the Tzanzer Rav was a decedent of the Chacham Tzvi he insisted all his children to follow this psak. When some of his daughters hesitated. He promised her Olam Habah for refraining to make that bracha.

    BTW Rabbi Ovadia Yosef the former Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Israel has waged a long sometimes bitter battle to change the minhag of some sefardi women who took on the Ashkenazi minhag of reciting "mitzva" brachot. Which according to the Bait Yosef has a problem of plain 'sheker'.

    And it is abselutely true that, being Charedi is nothing related to being Machmir. So if a certain group has a particular leniency; keeping that tradition IS the charedi/conservative thing.

    Myself being a conservative stickler for tradition I am very careful in my home not to let the latest chumra/fad enter my home. Hence my sink has no filter!

    [so I am consuming the same copapods my father grandfather/s did, up till Moshe Rabainu. gulp! ooops!]

  11. As far as I understand the Sephardi position, the women are told not to make the bracha. But they are not told they cannot eat in the sukkah, take the lulav or count the omer without a bracha.

  12. I’m sure the other commentators will cite some of the halachic opinions on whether women can or cannot indulge in different mitzvot. But, regarding a wider general discussion, and then also more specific to the topic of ‘why women don’t do some of the mitzvot that men do’, there’s a shiur by Rabbi Zeldman where he points out a subtle yet significant realisation that is easy to overlook, unless you give it a little consideration...

    And that is, that... Judaism is about obligations, not rights.

    It’s easy to take the common Western mindset for granted, of seeing things in terms of our rights. In its less religious extremes, this could lead to, say, a complaint of, "Men get to wear tefillin, and we don't. That's not fair." But it’s not about fairness.

    So when it comes to such classes of mitzvot, men have an obligation. Women do not have the obligation. Sometimes that could mean that she's allowed to, but just isn't obligated. Sometime it means that the obligation so completely doesn't apply to her, that she shouldn't even be focused on it at all.

    (The word "Mitzuveh", means 'to be obligated'. It’s not like an available option to exercise at will.)

    Really, when you re-frame this as ‘obligation’ vs ‘right’, the picture completely changes around.

    It's like saying the following moshal:
    Two people go to a doctor with a stomach-ache. Your friend goes in to the doctor, and comes out with a bottle of big green pills. You then go in to the doctor’s office. The doctor does his examination, checks you out, and prescribes a bottle of small purple pills.

    So are you going to say to the doctor, "Well, that's not fair! My friend gets big green pills and I don't!?" No one would insist on also having the green pills as a matter of fairness. You don't have a right to take the other pills. The friend's taking the green pills is an obligation because they have a specific sickness. If you don't have that sickness, then why are you taking that medicine?

    A man has a need to wear tefillin. And that's why a man is obligated to wear tefillin. A woman doesn't have that need. (Realise also, that having a need is equivalent to having a lacking in some regard. Generally speaking, women are inherently more spiritual, and as such don’t need all the added spiritual aids and reminders that men do, like tzitzit, set davening, tefillin etc.)

    Not having a need, means it's not going to impact you spiritually, and that's why ’ה doesn't obligate her to do it.

    To look at it as a right, is entirely switching the picture around and misunderstanding.

    It’s about obligations, not rights.

  13. For interest sake though, concerning Chanukah specifically; there’s a bit of a complex path (interestingly with the traditional Sephardi and Ashkenazi authors swapping sides at times) to get to the halacha of who and how the lighting is done.

    The debates get broken en route to analysing how to light mehadrin min ha’mehadrin (with most splendour), according to whether the mitzvah is on the object (the household) or the individual, and whether the hidur comes from representing the count of days, or from added lights, and subsequently whether saying a brocha on hidur is le’vetalah (in vain).

    There’s for sure a strong side to say that everyone (men, women and children) are obligated in lighting. But there’s also a special tekana that there ideally need only be one lighting for the husband and wife, as they are considered k’gufa echad (like one body). (This can be seen by the fact that the woman can also light for the husband.)

    Hope that sheds some light on the matter ;)

  14. About Channukka- It's one thing when a woman has her husband light for her. I'll probably do the same thing when I'm married. But in families where the kids light independently, there's no reason the daughters shouldn't be lighting along with the sons.

    This post isn't about the standard "Why can't women wear tefillin?" question. It's about all the Mitzvos that women are halachically required\allowed to keep, but are discouraged from.

    (BTW Troi, I meant all Chareidi/Yeshivish women. not only Chasidic ones. Except for the not fasting bit)

    And I never meant to say it's wrong, just that it's funny.

    Actually, being chronically lazy, the no Shul thing works great for me!

  15. Frum

    I didn't see your post as a sort of complaint just as an inquiry why this is so.

    I cited the Tzanz minhag and psak [FYI Bobov are decendents of of Tzanz] Because if an ashkenazi women takes on the chumrah of not reciting a bracha le'vatala, therefore she doesn't want to make 'birkas Ha'mitzvos' such as sucah and lulav, she can't just do the mitzva as many sefardim women do.

    Since according to Ashkenazi minhag she should recite the bracha if she is doing the mitzva. That is the reason why Tzanzer Rav promised his wife and daughters Olam Habah for forgoing 'doing' these kind of mitzvos altogether, and thus avoiding the safek of reciting or not. Of course Sefaradi women have no such problem they can just do the mitzva and don't recite the bracha.

    FYI There is now available a special women's sidur published according to Rav Ovadia Yosef's rulings and the Yotzer Ohr bracha before Krias Shma has no mention of Hashem's name. Just "Baruch yotzer or etc". In compliance with the Sefardi psak and minhag. It is Available in Sefarim stores.

    As for Chanuka, the Chasam Sofer questions the widespread minhag of women not lighting the candles and gives a possible reason, that in the old days when Jews had no problem lighting the menorah at the door close to the street, women refrained from doing it in public becuase of 'kol kevuda bas melech..' So the minhag stayed the same even when in our times we light the candles inside our homes.

    Noadays specially in Israel many yeshivish people have adopted the original minhag and light chanuka menoros at the street entrance to the their home.

    Yosef 718

  16. Note that it is clear from the remarks of Rema (Shulhan Aruch OH 639:2) and the commentators there (e.g., Magen Avraham) that ideally, privacy concerns being satisfied, a married woman would / should sleep with her husband in the Succah, at least to facilitate his fulfillment of the commandment of sleeping there.

  17. I think this is a cultural thing chasidic vs. litvish.
    Personally, I have a close family member who is very very ultra frum ,thick stockings no makeup etc etc.
    She is extremely makpid on all of these! Will not take a drink outside the sukka, will not eat before shaking the lulav, will not miss any of the three tefillos.

    I have another question- why are there some positive-time related commandments that woman are not obligated and yet do and are encouraged to do? (lulav,shofar, matzah, megilla) and on the other hand there are some that they are not encouraged to do, and it would even be considered "bad" like teffilin, tzitzis etc???

  18. kasay,

    It becomes a bit of a finicky distinction, but b'kitzer, lulav, shofar, matzah etc. aren't "aseh she'ha'zman grama" (positive time-bound), they're more accurately posoitive EVENT-bound mitzvot. (Eg. On the occasion of Rosh HaShannah, hear the shofar.)

    For some of those there are further mekors. Like on Pesach it's a neg commandment to not eat chametz, so matzah kinda be comes the de facto obligation. For magilla on Purim, the miracle came about through women (Ester), so they have a portion in it's mitzvah. For others the reason can be that it's a mitzvah d'rabbanan.

    Here's a question I'll let you think about though... If a widowed mother has a son, is she obligated to get the son milah'ed, or is that time-bound positive?...

  19. She has no obligation more then anybody else so if she refuses to seek a mohel it rests on the Beth Din to see to it that the child is circumsized.

    But she can take it upon herself, just as Tziporah did in the the Torah.

    As for Tefilin its because they require a 'guf naki' clean body and that is not always possible for a woman who is at particular time of the month. The other reason is related to Tzitzis, which is seen in public and it is considered unapropriate to be seen so in public. However the Talmud and other sources report of many pious women in history who preformed both tefilin and tzitzis.


  20. As far as I understand the Sephardi position, the women are told not to make the bracha. But they are not told they cannot eat in the sukkah, take the lulav or count the omer without a bracha.

    It depends who you ask I imagine. There is something in kaballah that indicates women should not even count the omer sans beracha. Same goes for the lulav.

    But sitting in the sukkah, while women might not be obligated, every Sephardi woman I know of sits in the sukkah, but you are supposed to be careful and not answer amen on lesheiv b'sukkah because there would be a hefsek between the beracha and partaking in challah.

    As for my children, I don't care to discourage them where there is a prevelant (Ashkenazi) custom. Hence, my kids light their own chanukyiot although our minhag is one per house.

  21. I submitted the question about the Sephardi position to Rabbi Maroof. He replied,
    "Just not to say the beracha. It is still considered meritorious for women to do the mitzvah."

  22. The thing is, Judaism is not the sort of religion that considers someone more frum if they do more. Men were given more commandments because they need more improvement; women are considered to be naturally more spiritual, so they are not given thoe commandments.

    Sure, a woman can do these things. But if it is at the expense of the things she should be doing, one does not cancel out the other.

    For instance, women are not required to say musaf because the women did not bring the karban musaf. Some even say that a woman should not say musaf. So if a woman comes to shul late, having not said shacharis and says musaf, she is lacking in not saying shacharis. She gets no brownie points for saying musaf.

  23. Hey- I was raised and married chassidish and me and the kids go to shul each shabbos. I never skipped a fast until I was inpatient for chemo but I never slept in s sukkah cos the men in my family dont either. Oh, and I also never lit a menorah because I'm a pyromaniac and my father never let me near matches :-)

    I kind of hear what your post says, but chassidish does not equal frum.

  24. Kasay wrote: I have another question- why are there some positive-time related commandments that woman are not obligated and yet do and are encouraged to do? (lulav,shofar, matzah, megilla)

    There is not one answer for all of these. Matzah - women are chayav just like men, because the mitzvah of eating matzah and the issur of eating chametz go together. Megillah - women are chayav almost like men, because they were also part of the miracle. Lulav and Shofar they are patur.

  25. The more "frum" a Jew you are, the more you internalize the Christian concept that women are responsible for the evil in the world, and are responsible for its tiqun. Crime in the world? Put more clothing on the women!

  26. As a woman, you can do anything.

  27. Perhaps this post on my blog may provide some insight in answering the valid question posed.