We usually learn from the male perspective. The Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, was clearly written by men. The most common name for a woman in the Bible is eshet, meaning “wife of.” We learn the names of all the male characters in the Bible, but rarely know a female character. Sure, we can rattle off names of significant female character, but that is precisely because they stand out. Most of the action of our sacred narrative is dominated by male action, mannish interpretations, and men telling us what the lessons are deep within our text.
We are getting better as a society. We are listening to women when they have something to teach. Some of the greatest rabbis of this generation are women. My bookshelves are full of incredible books by Jewish women. Nechama Liebowitz, Anita Diamant, Maggie Anton and more.
One of my favorites is the Women’s Torah Commentary, which features a compendium of modern women commentators on our sacred text, and is edited, written and published exclusively by women. We also no longer use texts or music from those who have mistreated women. This is why we never do music written by those who have been accused of harming women, nor would we show a movie or TV show with those kinds of men. They have done far too much damage to the feminist conversation, and using their creations can taint the learning and prayer experience for all of us.
Perhaps the most unfortunate truth in all of this is that I am ill-equipped to break the chain of masculinity in our tradition. As egalitarian as I try to be, as promoting of women’s issues as I hope to be, as much as I want us to learn together about women’s issues, I am not a woman. It could even be said that this entire article is mansplaining.
I cannot help being born male, nor would I change a thing. I enjoy being who and what I am, but I cannot teach from the perspective offered by our many great female teachers. My experiences are different. I have never had to read myself into our teachings. I have never been suppressed by gender hierarchy. I have never been ridiculed or parodied for trying to push the feminine point of view into our sources of knowledge. I just cannot empathize.
But I can sympathize. I can be supportive. I can learn with you women and men alike, and put together a program where we, as a community, learn from some amazing women this year. It is with this in mind that CBT’s study theme for the Jewish year 5780 is Jewish Women Authors.
As a part of this effort we are bringing several Jewish women authors to Orange County so we can learn from the sources. As Ben Zoma says in Pirkei Avot, “Who is wise? The one who learns from all people.” Jewish women authors have a completely different perspective from mine and other men.
As a very special treat to anyone who would like to join us, on January 10 at 7:30 PM, during Shabbat services, we are hosting Stephane Butnick, one of the hosts of the podcast “Unorthodox,” and author of the newly-released The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia. If you are not familiar with the podcast “Unorthodox,” you should download an episode or two and listen in your car or wherever you listen to podcasts as soon as you are finished reading this article.
In February and March we will be welcoming other authors, including Anita Diamant on Saturday, March 21. More information will be available on that front soon.
Throughout the years 5780 and 2020, may we become wise the way Rabbi Ben Zoma would suggest. May our learning this year bring voices that we might otherwise not hear that open us up to new perspectives.
Rabbi David N. Young IS THE HeAD RABBI At Congregation B’nai Tzedek and A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.