I’m a Torah-Observant Jew, born and raised. And I love it.
I’m part of something bigger than myself. That’s not always easy to handle. Let’s face it- we all want to have things be about ME, ME, and ME. And remembering that it’s usually not about me isn’t easy, let alone putting that into practice. But when I think about it, I love and appreciate it.
I love the fact that Hashem is watching over me and all of us every second. I read a wonderful piece of advice many years ago which was to look for Hashgachah Pratit everywhere possible. Most people would dismiss it as coincidence but I don’t. To me, it means that there’s meaning and purpose in life and I love that.
I studied in yeshiva for 18 years. There was always Limudei Kodesh plus Limudei Chol. The schools I attended were excellent with both. I chose to go to Stern College for Women and if I had to do it over, the only thing I would change is that I wouldn’t have majored in psychology. But I had other options. There I was, in a Torah environment, and yet I wasn’t limited as much as I could’ve been. I was friendly with someone who thought I was a physics major (yes, that was offered). Now my children are in yeshiva day schools that are giving them good education in both Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol and are preparing them for good career options.
I’m the one who says “She’Asani Kirtzono” and I love that. I love the fact that I have my own inherent value in Hashem’s eyes and that it’s not one iota less than that of a man. Am I insulted that men say “Shelo Asani Isha”? Not in the least. Of course cisgender men are grateful not to be women- imagine them going through pregnancy and childbirth!
Is Halachah really limiting? Not exactly. My friend, a professional musician, explained it beautifully when she said that anyone can open their mouths and make noise but it takes some restraints from the teeth, tongue, and lips to make actual speech or music. Similarly, we have disciplines that allow our real selves to shine. And does Halachah limit creativity? Quite the opposite. I have to keep kosher, but I can come up with my own recipes and dishes within that realm. I have to dress b’Tzniut but I love coming up with my own outfits and using color and accessories to flatter my body and express my personal style. I also love using my homemade jewelry for that. These are just two examples but they remind me that within Halacha, there’s a lot of room for individual expression.
Speaking of tzniut, I understand that for so many people, tzniut is nothing more than a dress code that we had to follow in school. But in truth, it’s so much more than that. The idea is that we’re supposed to dress and behave and carry ourselves as dignified human beings and we’re supposed to look at each other that way. After all, men AND women are created B’Tzelem Elokim. And does it limit creativity? Not on your life! Dignified and conservative are not the same thing. I know women whose personal styles are classic/conservative and they pull it off beautifully but that style makes me look like a stodgy old lady. My style is more creative and I can do that without sacrificing one iota of dignity.
Yes, I work. Boy, do I work! I carried each of my three children in my tummy and then gave birth and then nursed them and nurtured them. Not that my husband didn’t help- he’s always helping me- but it’s still hard. Yes, I work outside my home and family but I also feel good about raising my children and being a wife to my amazing husband. And it’s secular society that says that I shouldn’t feel good about it. According to them, you only have real, respectable value if you work outside the home.
Are there problems in Torah Judaism? NO!
Are there problems in Jewish communities? Absolutely YES!
Are there problems with how people use or misuse Torah law? Of course there are!
The first of these questions is why I feel empowered to write about the latter two issues. Torah Judaism is what Hashem gave us and I want to use that to help my fellow Jews and to be someone by whom Judaism can be judged for the better. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems. There are a LOT of problems many of which are caused by people who misuse and abuse Torah law and twist it to suit their own ends.
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis described it best with her story about the rabbi and the soap manufacturer. The two men were out walking and the soap manufacturer said that Torah and mitzvot and religion are all wrong and we don’t need them. After all, look at all the bad guys we have. The two men continued walking and they came upon a group of children playing and getting dirty. The rabbi said that soap is all wrong and we don’t need it. After all, these children were all dirty. The soap manufacturer said that soap is a good thing but that these children just hadn’t used it properly. The rabbi said that Torah and mitzvot and religion are also good things but that people just don’t use them properly.
As a woman, I see many of the problems firsthand. Torah Judaism does NOT erase women but many communities do. Torah Judaism doesn’t allow any form of abuse against women (or men) but many communities do enable it. Torah Judaism allows women to contribute to Klal Yisrael in many different ways but many communities won’t allow anything that doesn’t fit into their norms.
While the problems are there and I would never seek to minimize them, it’s the good things that keep me here. Torah Judaism is a wonderful thing and I’m proud to be a part of it and I hope to pass that love and pride to my children and to all my fellow Jews. And I’m grateful for any chance I get to help change things for the better.