Jewish Women

Come, let us celebrate! After centuries of silence, the voices of Jewish women are at last heard in the land-each in her own distinctive idiom, each with her own unique teaching. Surely our cup runs over!

Our Bubbes teach: How much of the Jewish heritage has been transmitted through our mouths! From our fragrant kitchens come recipes from the Old World, all dating back to the miraculous manna that fell from heaven. Our memoirs recount our people's wanderings and trials, our irrepressible zest for life, our homespun wisdom, our remarkable adventures in the New World. From them we learn ways to bring Jewish life alive with Jewish mystical hints in the kreplach and stuffed cabbage. We see how they cry on Rosh Chodesh and wonder about how their grandmothers explained those tears.

Our Mothers teach: What a challenging country America has been for us! What a struggle to keep our daughters close to us and yet let them go on their way. To make sense of it all-for us and for them-we have written stories, novels, poems, and plays, trying through our imagination to reconcile all the conflicts of our hearts: how to be a good Jewish mother, daughter, wife, and at the same time, to spread our wings and take flight; how to honor our people without dishonoring ourselves; how to support others without surrendering our dreams. We are proud to have been pioneers, here and in Israel, and we have delighted in seeing our lives celebrated in biographies and autobiographies, diaries and letters. We learn how they kept Shabbat alive with special dresses, even if they only had two of them. We discover the way they used a mineral bath of flowing water as a kosher mikve in the Rocky Mountains.

Our Daughters teach: How wonderful to be a Jewish woman today! So many opportunities to embroider the fabric of Torah! We are expanding our ever-evolving liturgical tradition both by writing new prayers as well as by re-introducing forgotten ones, the special tekhines written by women to celebrate and safeguard home, family, and soul.

From them we are learning to read our ancient language to look up the sources of those wonderful tales we heard from our grandmothers. They sound different and new when we read the ancient texts for ourselves. We treasure all the women our tradition describes from Naama, the wife of Noah, to Sara, Tamar, Devorah, Tamar. We admire their courage and vividly imagine being in their place and time.

We are joining the debate begun centuries ago by the Rabbis: What exactly did God say on that mountain top long ago? To find the answer, we have gone back, as Jews have always done, to Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, and the long tradition of Jewish Law, creating our own commentaries on these ancient writings. In addition to the commentaries, we have modern tools-the methods and perspectives of anthropology, historiography, archaeology, feminist criticism, deconstruction, postmodernism, and gender studies-to discover treasures still buried in these texts.

We have also developed our own special form of midrash, imaginative interpretations drawn out of the plain meaning of the original texts, and in so doing, filling in the spaces between the lines, the voices that have spoken beyond the hearing range of male Jewish historians, the stories that have escaped notice.

And from our daughters we have found renewed meaning in age old mitzvot. Our artists have made us a amazing variety of candlesticks, mezzuzot, menorahs, talitot and wedding canopies. Jewish arts of weaving, dying, silver work, pottery and embroidery are reborn in their hands. Like 20th century creators of the mishkan, our artists our schooled in every craft. Images from around the world and from a newly articulated inner world emerge endless variety.

And our motherline has become sacred to us. We search family photos and the memories of aging relatives for a hint of our grandmother,s inner world. What strengths of character have we inherited from their names, their persistence, their energy and their unfullfilled dreams?

 

 

Ellen Frankel, Ph.D.



Ellen Frankel is currently the Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Publication Society.