Several years ago, I met Penina Taylor when she spoke at a shul near me. Her story of how she became a Ba’alat Teshuvah is mind-blowing. One thing I remember in particular is reminding all of us that we are supposed to be the “People of the Book,” and yet how many of us regularly read our Book? Do we really know what’s said in our holy writings?
A couple of months ago, I saw an FB post that said that an appropriate response to terror attacks in Eretz Yisrael was for men to focus on learning Torah and for women to focus on tzniut. Of course I questioned this- if we’re only going to focus on one mitzvah, why not have everyone focus on learning Torah or on Shmirat HaLashon which are both relevant? Someone answered by saying that when women keep tzniut, it’s as if they’re keeping all 613 mitzvot. I asked for the source of this and no one has answered.
A few weeks ago, I saw an FB post in which a rabbi was describing the benefits of tzniut and he said that this was for a smart audience. His description was all about why women need to cover up more and it came off as a load of misogyny. Yes, that’s part of tzniut but it’s one very small part. And it’s not all on women- men are obligated in tzniut as well. Plus, it came off as if he was saying that “smart” people would just swallow it without argument.
Then, just recently, I was reading an article on the Aish website and the author, a rabbi, said “We are not meant to be uncomprehending robots.”
Unfortunately, when we don’t read and learn Torah and think and ask questions, we can easily get bamboozled by those who take a verse here and a few words there and use it to corrupt. This is a common tactic among missionaries who seek to turn us away from Torah Judaism and towards other faiths but strangely enough, it’s also a common tactic among Jews who twist Torah and Mitzvot to suit their own ends. And they rely on laypeople to just accept what they have to say and go along blindly.
Just going along blindly with all of this is exactly what allows for all kinds of abuses. It allows for women to be erased from view and treated as objects. This then leads to further abuses such as domestic violence and Gett refusal. It also allows for women and men to be victims of predators.
I agree with Penina. We are the People of the Book and therefore we deserve to read it and to learn Torah and the sources and to ask questions and think. The more we understand who we are and what we’re doing, the more joy and meaning we can get out of mitzvot and the more we can grow closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
I also agree with the Aish rabbi that we are not meant to be uncomprehending robots. Just going along blindly can get us into trouble. It’s not that we shouldn’t trust those who have studied these things full-time and who have done a lot of research just to be able to help us and serve Klal Yisrael. But the best leaders want us to study and think and ask questions and learn. They’re confident in what they’ve learned and they want us to feel confident in it too.
It’s time for every Jew, man and woman, to learn Torah and learn the sources and ask questions and think. It’s time to reassert our status as People of the Book.