I’ve got this theory with new vocab words, that when it’s time for you to learn a new word, the words will just come find you and plop themselves all over your life–suddenly the same word is on the radio, in the Rashi commentary on the Talmud you’re doing, in the stupid form you have to fill out to get a plane ticket, being used by the Israeli who’s trying to tell you something important about lunch, and then back again in your homework somewhere else–and they hang around ’till you learn the dang word and then they wander off to bother someone else.
I’ve long been feeling inhabited (haunted? possessed?) by one particular mitzvah that I do, but this is getting to the point of absurdity.
Sooo, I’ve been working on this essay about Being Tzitzit Girl In Jerusalem for Bitch magazine–they’re a smart smart feminist rag, I’ve written for them for years, the editors are dear friends, etc. Actually, one of the folks over there was reading some of my early rants in this blog (probably this and this) and persisted until I folded and agreed to write something more formal for them about it. It’s been both really interesting to have to put down all of my feelings on the subject in a cogent way, and also really hard to try to figure out how to articulate all of the nuances and issues for a non-Jewish audience, both in explaining why some of this is such a big deal (at least for me in Jerusalem today) and also in trying to to make NOT it sound like “Orthodox Jews bad! Spunky feminist good!” because I don’t think that, and all the issues are a lot more complicated.
So I’ve been walking around feeling the complexities–including my own mixed feelings about what’s hard about being here, this tension I feel sometimes between what my feminist self might need and what my spiritual aspirant self might need (yes, God wins over politics, but if you need feminism to get to God…?)
So of course last night we did tzitzit in my women and halalkha class. It was very emotional for me, studying these sources. Because it’s so personal. So, like, the Remah (Ashkenazi law guy) says that women are allowed to wear tzitzit and say the bracha but they shouldn’t because it’s arrogant–so then we went over and looked at some other sources that talk about “arrogance”, like someone else (Avuraham) says that it’s arrogant to kiss tzitzit while saying the Shema. Which is now a totally accepted practice, and potentially implicates all those who do it (which is everybody, at least in Ashkenazi shuls). So THEN we got into whether or not arrogance was a culturally relative thing, whether it had to do with time and place (ie it wouldn’t seem arrogant to kiss the tzitzit because everyone does now), where the line is between “arrogance” and “going beyond the measure of the law,” ie being scrupulous or taking on extra practices in a way that’s praised in Jewish literature, etc. The whole thing is so complicated, and the rabbinic decisions to, say, exempt (not forbid, mind you!) women seems even more arbitrary when I learned that a blind person IS obligated to tzitzit (The core of the mitzvah is about seeing them). You would think they’d sooner exempt someone who can’t truly fulfill the mitzvah, but it really is (IMHO) an issue of power and control that they exempted women in the first place. Anyone who wants to hear my extended dance remix on women and Postitive Time-Bound Mitzvot is welcome to say so in the comments–I’ve got what to say about it.
Think I’m ranting now? I was really ranting at the end of class last night. Luckily it was a great group to whom I was able to rant, so I feel better and ultimately only restrengthened in terms of my original thoughts and perspectives about this. Which is good, ’cause rewriting that essay would be a pain.
Anyway, I’m about to go to school to prepare for my practical halakha class. Guess what the topic du jour is? Oh, yes, of course. Tzitzit.
I’m not sure what the lesson is that I’m supposed to be learning from this–when it is, exactly, that tzitzit get bored and wander away and just become another mitzvah that I perform as part of my little attempts to live a life in alignment with Deity–but it’ll sure be interesting when I do. Or maybe I’m just gonna have to be Tzitzit Girl for a while longer. Then, after that, maybe I can eat/sleep/breathe something new and thrilling, like, say, kashrut.