What is this need you have?

…and why don’t I have it?

Years ago, I visited a friend and her family over Shabbat. I had made aliyah the year before with my three young children; she had recently given birth to her third. Though she and I had gone to college together, our husbands had little in common. She was exhausted and as I found myself holding her adorable baby, I thought yet again about having another.

As I rocked the baby in my arms and we talked about motherhood and how far we had come from those days back at Columbia, my friend clapped her hands together and said, “I’m done. Factory closed.”

She had her three children and she was content. I had my three children and wondered why I didn’t have that same feeling. I wanted another child. My husband was hesitant at the time – we’d just moved to Israel and he was getting used to the country and his job. We had just been told his parents were both very ill and at any point, he could (and was) called back to their side. Leaving me behind with three small children was very difficult for him – leaving me pregnant or with an infant was beyond his ability.

We agreed to wait and sadly, within a year, both his parents passed away. A few months later, our fourth child was on the way and then, when he was a few years old, that ache began again. I told my husband I wanted another, that I would always regret not having a fifth.

“You’ll always want another,” he told me. And indeed, to some extent, he was right. When I finally had that feeling that I was done having children, it was more an issue of age than will.

What is this need you have to have more children? I can’t explain it, other than it is there and brings me great joy. And now, I am in the reverse position. I look at some friends and acquaintances and I wonder – what is this feeling you have? Why do you feel this way?

This time, it is connection to the man-woman question and religious practice. I feel no need to be a man (and to be honest, I don’t think they do either); and yet, I feel no need to practice Judaism according to the laws traditionally associated with men. I have no interest in tephillin, in a wearing a talit. I close my eyes and light the Shabbat candles and think there are few more meaningful or beautiful obligations.

I don’t want to sit up front and I don’t care if “my” place is up in the balcony or beside or behind the men. I pray to a God that is everywhere, hears everything. I don’t believe He listens to the men’s section more attentively or grants them more than that with which he has blessed me.

I believe the chair of honor is what you make of it, not where the chair is. If a great person (man or woman) comes to my home, the place of honor will be where that person sits – and not the head of the table. The Chief Rabbi of Maale Adumim came to my house one time and sat on the side of the table – but the honor was his and all ears and eyes turned to him as he spoke, blessing my son and new daughter-in-law.

What is this need you have? I want to ask my friends. Men and women are infinitely different, spiritually different. We hold within our bodies the ability to nurture life. No man is able to do that and nothing, nothing compares to that. The future of the Jewish people comes from within our bodies and we are the first to nurture that life, months and months before our children’s fathers have the opportunity.

I do not condone inequality. I do not believe women should be arrested for wanting to pray – just as Jews should not be arrested for wanting to pray on the Temple Mount. But while I can understand a Jew wanting to worship at the single holiest site for the Jewish people, I do not understand the need women have to parade themselves – and yes, that is what they are doing – to get media attention and demand to wear the elements of our religion that have been traditionally for men.

A man has need of tephillin and a talit – a woman does not. These are vehicles that God has given to man to help him better attain and maintain spirituality. In taking on these mechanisms of man, I believe women lose that which God has given to us.

God’s ears do not work as ours do. The louder you yell, the more likely it is that a human being will hear you. God needs no one to yell at Him. A woman’s prayers said quietly at home or in a corner reaches God’s ears as easily, as loudly, as a man donning a talit and raising his voice at the front of the synagogue or the Kotel.

When a Knesset member from Meretz announced she was joining the Women of the Wall to protest – I had to stop myself from asking if she understood that the Kotel was a place of prayer and I still wonder if she’d have bothered to go if the only thing on the agenda was really prayer.

Should the Women of the Wall be arrested or molested for praying with the instruments of man? No, they should not, and shame on the men and women who bothered them. I doubt their prayers are worth anymore than those of the women who were so busy protesting their right to wear men’s apparel they forgot the very purpose of the place and worse, turned their backs on why women don’t have to perform the same mitzvot.

I don’t understand this need some of my friends have. I sit in the very front row of the House of God in which I pray. I am there – up front, each day, each week. I have the most direct channel to God humanly possible.

I truly believe that a man is best served by joining with nine other men and together raising their voices and hearts to thank God and worship. A woman? Direct and straight – we need only stop and pray on our own. God is not a woman and though many of us continue to write in the masculine, God is not a man.

In fighting to be equal with a man, women often forget that they are already equal in the eyes of God and therefore, there is no struggle needed, no additional requirements that need to be assumed.

That God gave to woman the honor and the duty to bring in the Sabbath, to bring forth the children and nurture them, is proof that God does not recognize the need for us to stand in front, up front, beside or under man.

One can be separate but equal and it is wrong to equate separate with inferior or unequal. And for those who say we should point to how Haredim treat “their” women or treat “our” women, I would ask why you allow yourself and your worth to be defined by a man when God has placed you at the forefront of the destiny of Judaism and Israel.

I don’t know what that feeling you have is and I don’t know why you have it. I will take my chair, wherever it is, my candles, my children – the challah I bake each week and the love I find in this land over a chair beside some man I don’t even know.

About the Author
Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running for more than 5 years. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write her thoughts and dream of a trip to Italy, Scotland, and beyond.