Thursday, October 17, 2013

All in favor of Women's Rights and Participation in the Jewish World -- Have I got a text for you!

Masechet Hagiga just keeps getting more and more interesting: All in favor of women’s rights and participation in the Jewish world pay attention!!!!!

So keep in mind that what follows is not coming from some 2013 contemporary feminist regarding rights for Jewish women in the religious arena, but FROM THE GEMARA!!!! And now I will share with you what I have learned recently from Masechet Hagiga, I ask that you turn your attention to the bottom of 16b for those who want to look at the reference I am citing and exploring here. To continue the ongoing theme from my last blog post, we are looking at the issue of OBLIGATION and personal assuming of that obligation to be part of the larger community. The central topic of discourse in the cited text is the offering of the Hagiga, the offering associated with the observance of the Shalosh Regalim (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot).

What I am about to share is not even a main conversation but almost an aside to the larger topic regarding how one is to offer their Hagiga with their full force. This leads to the concern of whether or not this constitutes WORK, therefore throwing into question whether or not it is acceptable to do those tasks associated with this offering on days of observance on which there are restrictions regarding work to be done. For a comparison that is only relevant to a point, think, in terms of modern application, the many different distinctions made regarding how we prepare food for Shabbat or Yom Tov during their observance according to Jewish Law and those actions permitted as well as those not permitted.

Now, here is the general flow of the discussion, obviously leaving out many details and asides characteristic to discussions in the Gemara. Men would have to perform semicha (consecration of the animal to be offered) on the offering by putting all of their strength on the head of the animal to be sacrificed. In the text it is brought out that there are those who rest their hands lightly on the head of the animal. It is suggested that those who do this would be women; for what reason would men have to not put their full force into such an action. Then the question is posed as to why this is stated regarding the women for they do not have the OBLIGATION to perform Semicha on the offering. However, as the discussion continues, it is explained by the Tosafos that these offerings were consecrated by the WOMEN and not their HUSBANDS and that this was allowed for the purpose of peace of mind, since women were not obligated to perform this MITZVAH but chose to do so anyway.

Further, the Gemara in Rosh HaShanah 33a and elsewhere cite THIS TEXT as the precedent that women are permitted and welcome to take on MIZVOT ASEH SHEHAZEMAN GRAMA (commandments that are time bound and therefore women are exempt from them) for purposes of fulfillment (peace of mind).

So, why don’t more of us use this text and its trail of discussions when considering the part that women play in our congregations and public assemblies today? Maybe some of our Yeshivot should run a remedial course, reminding all of us that these texts and others like them exist. I maintain that our Tana’im and Amora’im (teachers of the Mishneh and Gemara up until the 6th century) often had more of a sense of how to include all in the community in any way possible than too many leaders in our more observant world today. These teachers from the pages of my Jewish texts are the ones I want to use as I continue to figure out my religious stance in my community!

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