There’s a line in the Haftorah for Parashat Beshalach that says, “Devorah, Eshet Lappidoth (wife of Lappidoth; also, a fiery woman), was a prophetess.” The sages tell us that the term Eshet Lappidoth derives from the Hebrew word lapid (torch) and refers to Devorah’s vocation, which was preparing the wicks for the Tabernacle. Devorah’s custom was to prepare thick wicks that give off immense light. Some even go so far as to see cause and effect in the language of the text: because Devorah was Eshet Lappidoth, she was a prophetess.
This seemingly simple sentence in the Haftorah caught my attention, as if it were illuminated in neon, as I struggled to understand the hopelessly out of touch statement, this week, by the Orthodox Union that it is halakhically impermissible for women to serve as rabbis or act in any way that connotes authority over the community. And, coming as it does, so shortly after the (ongoing) despicable treatment of the N’shot Hakotel (Women of the Wall) on Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat, in which women wearing talitoth and kippoth and carrying Torah scrolls were not permitted to pray at the Kotel, though they have every legal and moral right to do so, I was especially impressed by the Tanach’s recognition of Devorah as a leader of the Jewish people.
This isn’t the forum for me to take on the arguments made by the OU one by one, nor am I enough of a Torah scholar to refute their specific points. I refer you to others, better qualified than I, who have commented, such as Herzl Hefter (“Why I Ordained Women” http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/why-i-ordained-women/) and statements by Yeshivat Maharat and the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.
I do feel it’s fair to point out that of the seven eminent poskim (adjudicators) who issued the OU statement, exactly none of them were women. This would be ironic, perhaps, were it not, of course, emblematic of the fundamental problem.
In any event, as much as I’m infuriated by backward halakhic thinking, based on customs that are increasingly unsustainable in the modern world, I’m convinced that this debate won’t be determined by rabbis. Instead, communities of halakhic Jews will ultimately determine the outcome of this debate (and many others) by demanding creative halakhic solutions to contemporary challenges. Perhaps this will lead to further schisms within Orthodoxy. That would be a shame. But as much as Orthodoxy may suffer losses, I am confident halakha will survive.
And, that brings me to this week’s parsha poem, entitled Upon Meeting My Granddaughter for the First Time. The poem is dedicated to Charlie Ruby Gindea, now 21 months old.
Upon Meeting my Granddaughter for the First Time
–For Charlie Ruby
You lay sleeping on my chest, like your mother used to.
Three days old and growing on me already. Your body
seems heavier than 7-pounds, 6-ounces and, soon, your
warmth and the rhythm of your breath have lulled me to
a dream state. I see you at 6, reciting the four questions.
At 12, chanting from the Torah. Now, you are graduating
from college. Now, you stand under the chuppah. Now,
you are a mother yourself. And, somehow, I know you
are a new kind of Jewish woman. Defined not by the value
of rubies, not by your husband’s praise. No man controls you.
No rabbi dictates what you may study, where you may pray.
In Jerusalem, you sing the Hallel and the black hats cover
their ears. But your voice is a whirlwind, an earthquake.
The pent-up force of a thousand generations of silenced women.
It carries through streets and neighborhoods, study halls and
synagogues. Impossible to ignore. Impossible to stifle.
It breaks chains. It penetrates the heart. It penetrates the soul.
It penetrates, even, the ancient stones. And, then, a familiar
odor wakes me from my reverie. You are no prophet, darling.
No crusader. Just a baby, whose diaper is full. Let’s get that
taken care of little Charlie. Little love. Little girl of my dreams.