You’ll see that Neil has inserted me, as well as himself, into the cover photo for this blog. Thanks to Photoshop such things are easily possible these days. You might say that I look natural enough — even the hat works. I like the hat! I seem to be totally present in the scene and yet, to the men on either side of me, I remain invisible. They are oblivious to my presence.
Now perhaps it would be quite another matter if I were married to one of them! Yes? Would my presence still seem so “natural”? Well as a matter of fact I AM married to one of the men pictured here. There he is – the one looking right at you while I am talking! Do you hear my voice? (In some ways he has made it safe for me to sit at the table but that is another story for another time!)
While he is not oblivious to me in the “here and now” (and I hope that you are not either) if we had lived “there and then” it might have been quite another matter. According to today’s daf he would need to decide where to put his tefillin before going to bed with me and perhaps he might conclude (as some rabbis did) that while potentially degrading to the tefillin, it is better to keep them near our marital bed than have them stolen or eaten by mice. He would also need to decide whether or not to say the Sh’ma in bed if and when our backsides touched.
He would also learn that Shmuel said “the voice of a woman is considered nakedness” and that “the hair of a woman is considered nakedness”.
And he would be encouraged to wrestle with all the laws about how to distance himself from the reactions and rhythms of his own body. Specifically he would study rules about how to distance himself from “sneezes from below” and how such “sneezes” impact the time and completeness of his prayer. He would be encouraged to see the natural rhythms and functions of his fine male body as obstacles to prayer. And as he danced on the head of a pin figuring out how to keep his body as far away from his mind as possible, I would bleed monthly along with the rhythms of the moon and celebrate the mystery of my body and all bodies with my fellow women.
So here we are in the here and now. He wrestles with this text and I wrestle with this text. The purpose of our wrestling is not entirely clear even as we do this! It is surely not so much to determine which halachah to follow but rather to understand something. What is that “something”. What are we doing with these texts … many of which are so challenging or just silly?
This I know. I am here. I have sat down at this table. I have not asked your permission to do so but I have not made a big fuss about it other. I’ve dressed modestly, almost androgynously, as you might observe. I don’t want to draw attention to myself as such as this is not about me in some small sense of the word. I have a voice and I use it thoughtfully. It is strong and it has integrity. My voice is neither dangerous nor intimidating – at least not in the way the Rabbis would argue. Whether you look at me or not I am here and I’m not going away unless I decide to leave; you cannot and will not toss me out or aside or disrespect me in any way.
On the contrary when you hear my voice I encourage you to come closer. You may be surprised by the interesting conversations we might have!