New customs are great, but I prefer the old ways

Posted on 10 January 2019 by admin

“Wow! That would really jar your mother’s pickles!” That was the nonsensical phrase my own mother always used when something strange hovered on her horizon. I’ve never used it until now, but there’s a first time for everything, I guess. For me, this is it.
The Women’s League for Conservative Judaism (since I’m a Jew strongly identified with a Conservative congregation, that’s one of my favorite organizations) has announced that — just in time for the annual World Wide Wrap begun years ago by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs — it’s now joining the men to “truly educate and encourage women to don tefillin, and embrace the mitzvah…” The premise — and promise — are to give women the increased spirituality that men achieve by drawing closer to God in this particular way.
“Spirituality” is a buzzword these days. I recently received a pamphlet about how to be spiritual without being religious. But I consider myself both: a person religious and spiritual, without separating the two. I have never thought tefillin would increase either of these things.
Full disclosure: My being religious and spiritual is not only possible and present without tefillin, but I embrace both without a tallit as well. My decision not to wear that came a long, long time ago, because I was educated in Judaism a long, long time ago by men. They said some things were not for women, and I believed them. And I live with those old “beliefs” — for that is what they are — to this day. I’m sure I’m wrong in the eyes of many, but I am content in myself. The things I was denied as a female Jew in the predominantly male Jewish world of my growing-up time set patterns for me that even now, when my choice is to keep or break them, I choose the former.
Believe it or not, this isn’t always easy. My congregation allows me to bless the Torah, but when I ascend the bima to do so, I do not touch it. I do not carry any on Simchat Torah. When one is paraded past me on Shabbat mornings, I “kiss” it with the binding of my prayer book. This is how I grew up, and it still satisfies me. However, a (male) rabbi once, fairly recently, chastised me for not donning a tallit: “Why are you denying yourself that spirituality?” was what he asked. And I answered, “My spirituality does not reside in a piece of cloth.” I was not happy with his question, and I’m sure he wasn’t happy with my response, either.
Girls of my time did not go to Hebrew school, and a bat mitzvah was not yet a rite of female passage. So, I never felt deprived of things that clearly were not mine, and I grew up happily Jewish without them. I still live happily Jewish without them. I have not wanted a bat mitzvah as an adult any more than I want to wear a tallit or adopt the straps and boxes of tefillin. I am happy for girls — and women — of today who have these opportunities and want to take advantage of them, but I am not envious.
For me, religion and spirituality — Judaism and Jewish spirituality — go together. They are united in my very bones, and cannot be separated. And I feel the latter in a way of internal peace that needs no external enhancement.
So: What does it mean, to “jar your mother’s pickles”? Maybe to put cucumbers and brine together in a jar and let them sit and mellow into something quite different — an act of creation of a sort. Or it could mean to shake the jar — maybe to the point of its falling and shattering, destroying its contents altogether. I choose the first. The opportunities open to women today do not upset my metaphoric pickles, which continue to satisfy me as I live happily, and Jewishly, without them.
Your opinions are welcome.

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