estherhugenholtz: Writing (Writing)

This presentation was in part inspired by a 'd'var haftarah' I wrote last year on Hosea. I decided to take the main concept from my d'var haftarah and rework it in a more thorough and cohesive manner. Enjoy!

Living by Example, Re-envisioning of Love:

the Marital Covenant in the Book of Hosea


For those of you who wrap tefillin, you will know the beautiful passage from Hosea 2:21-22:


Verastich li leolam, vere'astich li betzedek, uv’mishpat, uv’chesed uv’rachamim, verastich li b’emunah veyada’at et Adonai’ – ‘(And I will espouse [betroth] you forever, I will espouse you with righteousness and justice, and with goodness and mercy, and I will espouse you with faithfulness, and then you shall be devoted [you shall know] the Eternal.’


Hosea (8th century BCE) lived in the days of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah and of King Jeroboam, son of Joash of Israel. He is in many ways both a remarkable and tragic prophet. His prophetic message is executed by him living it personally as an example. Hosea’s critique of the spiritual infidelity of the Children of Israel is reinforced by the circumstances of his own life. In Hosea’s case, the personal is profoundly political. He is forced to marry the prostitute Gomer of Diblaim and sires three children with her. This causes considerable torment for Hosea, as Magonet writes in ‘A Rabbi’s Bible – Prophets in Conflict’:


“Hosea finds in the troubled and tangled emotional interrelationship with his unfaithful wife the feelings and reactions of God when confronted with a wayward Israel, lurching back and forth between love and hatred, overwhelming sympathy and bitter feelings of betrayal.”[1]


These personal events happen against a larger political backdrop of the latter days of the Kingdom of Israel (the Nothern Kingdom), before it is overrun by the Assyrians in 721 B.C.E. The book of Hosea describes a society in decline with rampant injustice and idolatry through the Cult of Baal.

Hosea sires three children with Gomer and all three are cruelly yet prophetically named: Jezreel (‘God will scatter/sow’), after the valley of the Kings where many sins were committed and Lo-Ruchama (‘unloved’) and Lo-Ammi (‘not my people’).


Hosea was the first prophet to phrase the covenantal relationship between God and Israel in marital and monogamous terms. Chastening the Jewish people for their idolatry, he compares this to adultery and creates an oft-repeated refrain of monotheism as spiritual monogamy. However, Hosea is not only interested in chiding the Jews in the name of God but also offers them healing their relationship through the forgiveness of God. The divine voice oscillates between anger and love. It is unsurprising, then, that Hosea and Gomer are reconciled in the end (in chapter three) as he buys Gomer back from her lovers.


“…Go, befriend a woman who, while befriended by a companion, consorts with others, just as the Eternal befriends the Israelites, but they turn to other gods… then I hired her for fifteen [shekels] of silver, a homer of barley, and a lethech of barley; and I stipulated with her, ‘in return, you are to go a long time without either fornicating or marrying; even I [shall not cohabit] with you.’” (Hosea 3:1-3)


What is surprising, however, is the form in which this reconciliation takes place. Hosea takes back Gomer, even though she has been with (or married to) other men. This is a direct violation of a Torah commandment in Deuteronomy 24:4:


“A man takes a wife and possesses her. She fails to please him because he finds something obnoxious about her, and he writes her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house, she leaves his household and becomes the wife of another man; then this latter man rejects her, writes her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her, an sends her away from his house; or the man who married her last dies. Then the first husband wo divorced her shall not take her to wife again, since she has been defiled—for that would be abhorrent to the Eternal.”


Interestingly, this motif is repeated in Jeremiah 3:1:


“[The word of the Eternal came to me] as follows: If a man divorces his wife, and she leaves him and marries another man, can he ever go back to her? Would not such a land be defiled? Now you have whored with many lovers; can you return to Me?—says the Eternal.”


What is even more intriguing about the marital metaphor in Hosea is the way in which it is re-imagined. Feminist scholars have critiqued the use of the marital metaphor in prophetic literature. Often, women are imagined by the prophetic imagination as being unfaithful and unclean. It is true that in many cases, the patriarchal model for marriage is reaffirmed.


A feminist Bible scholar writes in ‘Women’s Bible Commentary’:


“The book of Hosea is a much-examined work among feminist biblical scholars because the prophet Hosea is the first to employ the metaphor of husband for the Deity, casting Israel in negative female imagery as the adulterous wife. This imagining reflects the historical situation in Ancient Israel where gender relationships were asymmetrical… this socially conditioned relationship deeply affects the theology of Hosea… certainly the male violence embedded in the text of Hosea… should make readers… wary of an uncritical acceptance of the marriage metaphor.”[2]  


And yet, from this model speaks a great tenderness and love between God and Israel. As Mufts writes in ‘Who Will Stand in the Breach? A Study of Prophetic Intercession’:


“God originally sent prophets to Israel to demonstrate to them His great love. Even at the moment of His anger, He manifests His love by listening to the prayers of the prophets, prayers that control and calm His anger.”[3]


So, there is a tension between castigation and love, a historical reality and a prophetic (perhaps even messianic) ideal of marriage and gender relationships. We can see something similar in the disparity between Genesis chapter one and chapter two and three. In Genesis chapter one, the equality of man and woman is asserted:


“And God created man in His image: in the image of God He created him. Male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:27)


In Genesis chapters two and three, however, the narrative is significantly different:


“This one at last, is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, this one shall be called Woman, for from Man she was taken.” (Gen. 2:24) and “and to the woman, He said, ‘I will make most severe your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bear children, yet your urge shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16)


A similar pattern can be found in Hosea. The key words that illustrate this tension are ‘Ba’al’ and ‘Ish’. Initially, a woman’s husband is described as a ‘ba’al’, a master and ruler. This is the patriarchal marriage that feminist scholars critique. This is the historical reality in which Israelite women were acquired for a bride-price and subjugated to their husbands. Yet, in Hosea’s bold re-envisioning of marriage between the Eternal and Israel, the ba’al is replaced with ‘ish’; a far more neutral and egalitarian term.  


‘And in that day—declares the Lord—you will call Me Ishi, and no more will you call Me Ba’ali. For I will remove the names of the Ba’alim from her mouth, and they shall nevermore be mentioned by name.’ (Hosea 2:18)


Hosea is proposing something revolutionary, I think. Not only is the Eternal eager to take His beloved bride back (just as Hosea took Gomer back) but moreover, He is yearning to develop their relationship. God appears to says through his prophet that in the Messianic Era, Israel and God will not relate to each other in old terms but in new ones. Not through a model of patriarchy shall God be served, but perhaps through a model of marital egalitarianism. The poignantly neutral word ‘Ish’—man—is substituted.


And so, I suggest that the text has two important layers: the reality of a patriarchal marriage and the ideal of a fully egalitarian, spiritual marriage. Of course, it would be anachronistic and inaccurate to project modern notions of egalitarianism and feminism onto the book of Hosea. And yet, one cannot help but notice Hosea’s radical reworking of the marital relationship. What started in abuse and a disparity of power may end in an authentic relationship of love between equal spouses or partners (not unlike the lovers in Shir haShirim!). Interestingly, also the prophet Malachi speaks tenderly of a wife:


“… the Eternal is a witness between you and the wife of your youth with whom you have broken faith, though she is your partner and covenanted spouse.’ (Mal. 2:14)


The Hebrew used here is ‘chaver’techa v’eshet britecha’. The word ‘chaver’ denotes both deep friendship and equality. This in turn is strengthened by the word ‘brit’, covenant.


It seems fitting then, that after the passage (in chapter two of Hosea) on ‘ishi’, the citation at the beginning of this presentation is invoked: ‘ve'erastich li leolam’… Hosea speaks to us on many levels: the real, the mundane, the problematic, patriarchal the personal, but also the hopeful, the prophetic, the messianic and the deeply intimate. If Hosea could imagine a ‘tikkun’ between the Eternal and Israel just as he imagined a tikkun between him and Gomer, then shouldn’t we as modern readers be able to do the same? Let us think about the ramifications of both Hosea’s theological and marital re-imaginings: authentic and healthy relationships between spouses and the Divine that honour and respect the integrity of all parties concerned.

1] Magonet, Jonathan, ‘A Rabbi’s Bible – Prophets in Conflict’, p. 156

[2] ‘Hosea’, Yee, Gale, A, in ‘Women’s Bible Commentary’, Newsom, Carol Ann, Ringe, Sharon, H., Westminster John Knox Press, 1998, ed., p. 211

[3] Mufts, ‘Who Will Stand in the Breach? A Study of Prophetic Intercession’ in ‘Love and Joy’, p. 33


estherhugenholtz: For discussing Torah and mitzvot (V'ahavta)

Haftarah for Bamidbar: Hosea 2:1-22

I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You

How can I forget the day that I was to be married to my beloved husband? Of course, every wedding has its memorable moments. There’s the whispered holiness of the mikveh the day before, the silken-soft rustle of dress and veil, the lilting scents of perfume and bouquet. More importantly, the hugs and kisses of loved ones in celebration punctuate my memories. Of course, there is dancing and song and laughter. The giddying experiences of being hoisted upon chairs during the Hora and the sweetness of sanctified wine upon eager lips.

To me, however, the moment suspended in eternity was when my beloved chattan pronounced the words that sanctified me unto him according to the Law of Moses and Israel and when he - amongst all the pomp and circumstance of the day – slid a simple, unassuming gold band on my finger. From that moment on, my heart sang, we were covenanted to each other.

Of course, a wedding is the culmination of an intense process of emotional and spiritual growth between two people. Most great love stories have spectacular endings yet humble beginnings. So too for my husband and myself. What is there to tell? We met in synagogue!

One of the world’s greatest love stories is the relationship between God and the Jewish people. This saga also had humble origins—with a shepherd from Ur Kasdim. And, like most love stories, there was an intense process of emotional and spiritual growth between God and Israel. In our case, this took place in the desert, after a spectacular elopement from Mitzrayim.

Parashat Bamidbar recounts this formative period in the covenantal relationship. The parashah sets the stage: “on the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt…” (Num. 1:1) only to continue with a seemingly strange demand: “take a census of the whole Israelite community by the clans of its ancestral houses…” (Num. 1:2)

Hence, Moshe and Aharon are instructed to count the people and administrate them, the overarching theme of the parasha.

According to Rashi the census may not be strange at all. This famous early Medieval commentator explains that God counted the people out of His great love for them. What better way to cement a relationship than to pay close attention to detail; to the needs of your love and to take constant note of their presence? Or as the 19th century poetess Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote in Sonnet 43: ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’

The Haftarah on Hosea ties in beautifully with this theme and expands it.

The eighth century (BCE) prophet Hosea was the first prophet to phrase the covenantal relationship between God and Israel in marital and monogamous terms. Chastening the Jewish people for their idolatry, he compares this to adultery and hereby creates an oft-repeated refrain of monotheism as spiritual monogamy. However, Hosea is not only interested in chiding the Jews in the name of God but also offers them healing their relationship through the forgiveness of God. The divine voice oscillates between anger and love, like a lover spurned or husband betrayed.

Hosea persuades his audience by appealing to metaphors of both a romantic past and a promising future.

Love in the wilderness is one of the nostalgic metaphors that the prophet Hosea draws on. Through him, the Holy One Blessed be He reminisces that He ‘will speak coaxingly to her and lead her through the wilderness and speak to her tenderly… there she shall respond as in the days of her youth, when she came up from the land of Egypt’ (Hosea 2:16-17).

Not only is Hosea a prophetic mouthpiece for God’s desire to enter and maintain a covenantal ‘marriage’ with Israel, but he also becomes an actual conduit for that desire. The prophet is forced to take the prostitute Gomer daughter of Diblaim as his wife and accept the fruits of her womb as his own children, regardless of which unknown man sired them. His children he shall name ‘Lo-Ruchamma’ (Unforgiven) and ‘Lo-Ammi’ (Not My People) as an embodiment of God’s feelings of betrayal by Israel on account of their idolatry. In essence, Hosea lives—body and soul—in the experience of a broken relationship that must—and will be—fully restored.

When Israel will return to God in unwavering loyalty and worship of Him alone, this relationship will be restored. With inspired Messianic fervor, the prophet voices God’s desire:

‘And in that day—declares the Lord—you will call Me Ishi, and no more will you call Me Baali. For I will remove the names of the Baalim from her mouth, and they shall nevermore be mentioned by name. In that day, I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the creeping things of the ground; I will also banish bow, sword, and war from the land. Thus I will let them lie down in safety.’ (Hosea 2:18-19)

 The pun on ‘ba’al’ is obvious to the attentive reader. Ba’al is the Canaanite fertility god at whose sacred groves the Israelites knelt in idolatry. But ba’al—meaning ‘master’— is also the Hebrew word for husband. A husband in antiquity was indeed the ‘master’ of his wife: he acquired her for a bride-price and had legal jurisdiction over her.

Yet here, Hosea is proposing something awe-inspiring. Not only is God eager to take His beloved bride back into His arms but moreover, He is yearning to develop their relationship. God appears to says through his faithful prophet that in the Messianic Era, Israel and God will not relate to each other in old terms but in new ones. Not through a model of patriarchy shall God be served, but perhaps through a model of marital egalitarianism. The poignantly neutral word ‘Ish’—man—is substituted. Can we imagine that in a time of universal peace, brotherhood and spiritual closeness it is possible that we will have an entirely new and fulfilling relationship with the Holy One? Where we are betrothed again in ‘righteousness and justice, and with goodness and mercy’ so that we may ‘know the Lord?’(Hosea 2:21-22)

It is a daring metaphor that Hosea employs and compelling in its spiritual audacity. Maybe the metaphor allows us to superimpose divine love onto human love. If we are created ‘b’tselem Elohim’—in the image of God—and are betrothed to Him in sacred covenant, then maybe we can extend that same covenant of love to other people. Maybe it will enable us to look at our partners, our husbands and wives with new eyes. Maybe it allows us to blend and redefine our notions of the masculine and feminine, of God the King of Kings and as His Shechinah on a model of God betrothing us all. Is it a coincidence that Shir haShirim (Song of Songs) that holiest of love songs speaks of such a love between lovers and allegorically between God and humanity? Of a love where the partners are equals yet at the same time entirely devoted to each other.

It is unsurprising then that this same rousing passage is recited during the ritual of laying tefillin (phylacteries). As we say these verses and wrap the strap linking the Torah to our hands around our fingers, we emulate the chuppah. We are invited to marry God each day anew, in a relationship that allows our full potential to come to fruition.

As a kallah (bride), my moment suspended in eternity did not end after my chattan slipped the ring on my finger. I proceeded to gently take his hand into mine and to slip a gold band around his finger. I too covenanted him to me—in righteousness and justice, goodness and mercy.

Together we live our lives in a tender and sacred covenant where my husband is not my ‘ba’al’ but my ‘ish’.

I can only wish the very same for all of us—both in the realm of earthly love and in the realm of God’s presence.

estherhugenholtz: Reviews, discussions, creative writing (Handwriting)

Mijn artikel 'Vatichtov Esther - en Esther schreef: de groei van een heldin'  is afgelopen week in het liberaal-joodse kwartaalblad 'Levend Joods Geloof' verschenen. Het is nu via deze link te downloaden.

In het artikel wordt Esther's karakterontwikkeling besproken en pleit ik er voor dat zij de meest complexe - en daarom ook het meeste interessante - personage is uit de Megilla (boekrol Esther).

Veel leesplezier toegewenst!

estherhugenholtz: For discussing Torah and mitzvot (V'ahavta)

Parashat Vayetzeh is brimming with potential and is pregnant with becoming. Even though the parashah starts off with ‘vayeitzeh’(he went out), this really is the parashah of women, and of girls-becoming-women.

                As with any good story, the parashah opens with a mystery: Jacob, when travelling from Beer Sheva to Haran sets up camp to spend the night. It is there that he has his fateful dream of angels ascending and descending the ladder. But as it often goes with strange and inexplicable dreams, they teach us something. As God appears in Jacob’s dream, He says: “Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go.” (Gen. 28:14) Of course, Jacob awakes startled and proclaims: “Mah nora hamakom hazeh! – How awesome is this place!” The perennial way to start a journey of becoming.

                Then, the parashah shifts. Jacob meets the lovely Rachel at the well and falls in love with her, because she is “shapely and beautiful” (29:15). Does the Torah really want us to assume that good looks are really that important? All too often women compare (and compete with) our looks from which can stem a profound sense of inadequacy. It is tempting to see this parashah as a grand competition between two sisters, both entwined in each others’ pain. It is easy to become fixed on the externals—on the good looks of things—that we forget their potential and what they could become. Rachel and Leah were so trapped in sisterly rivalry for the love of one man that they negated their own potential. Their obsession with what was blinded them to what could be.

                And so, the Torah’s remark about Rachel’s physical beauty needs not to be read one-dimensionally. The Hebrew says: “Rachel haita yafat-to’ar v’yafat mar’eh”: And Rachel was beautiful of shape and of appearance.

Rashi comments on the word ‘mar’eh’. He says that this referred to the ‘shining of her face’. Our faces can become windows through which our essence shines. It does not have anything to do with skin-deep beauty but everything with potential and confidence and kindness. Maybe Rachels’ beauty was not external but internal. It seems fitting that immediately after the Torah describes Rachel’s beauty, the narrative states that Jacob loved her. A kinder (and more emancipated) reading would be that Jacob loved her for her neshama—her soul—and all the potential her soul engendered.

Does this excuse the troubling events in the parashah? Yes and no. Rachel and Leah get switched at the wedding. Leah feels deeply and desperately unloved. And both their father Laban and their husband Jacob do not display the most moral of conduct.

All these things implicate our patriarchs (and matriarchs) and the unsettling nature of the parashah resonates on both a moral and an existential level. But sometimes that’s just how life is. And moreover, this is also just how we experience life—our Biblical forebears being no different. We can all feel loneliness or self-deprecation. We punish ourselves with our insecurity and sense of inadequacy. This human condition applies to both genders but it is no surprise that the sisters Rachel and Leah seem to act as an example therein. All too often it is women who experience these emotions.

And so it is important to be aware that this is all part of being human and of self-actualization. Yet the beginning the parashah, featuring Jacob’s dream, could provide us both insight and comfort in this process. In the dream, the Holy One blessed be He said that He would always be with Jacob.

If emunah (faith) is to teach us anything, it is that in the hard moments of our lives, when we are fighting hard to become someone new and for our place in the world, we can trust in ourselves. Emunah lies not only in seeing the awesomeness of the place in which we stand or to feel loved by something greater than ourselves, but also in the ability to see ourselves as whole: as beautiful in both form and appearance.

So, whether we travel from Beer Sheva to Haran or any other of the myriad destinations of our lives, we can and should extend the kindness of angels to ourselves. In our coming and going as the parasha suggests, we can feel protected. But we can also protect ourselves by faith and trust and profound self-love and self-respect. Only then is the journey not merely on of travels and travails but also of becoming fully who were are, a mirage of the divine.

Sexy Time?

Nov. 15th, 2009 10:13 am
estherhugenholtz: Reading, book reviews (Book)
I must admit; some things are remarkably Dutch about me and one of those things is my complete happiness to discuss sexual matters in a spirt of openness. (Although I suspect that having both parents in the mental health industry might have had something to do with that too - I was reared on Freud).
So, I was excited to hear about the project of a former schoolmate (and future colleague, God willing) of mine:
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. She had edited Yentl's Revenge and written her own book Surprised by God before bringing to light (as we say in Hebrew) her latest (editorial) work: The Passionate Torah.

As soon as this anthology of essays discussing Judaism and sexuality came out, I rushed to the library to read it.
As suggestive as the sexy cover with the ketubah hanging over the unmade bed is, be not mistaken: 'sexy' doesn't begin to describe this intelligent and cutting-edge anthology with its stellar contributors.
'The Passionate Torah''s sex-appeal is not steeped in graphic depictions of eroticism but rather in rigorous and daring scholarship. Divided in three sections according to the Buberian worldview of relationships (I-It, I-Thou and We-Thou), the various contributors write about anything. From a fresh approach to hilchot niddah/family purity laws, winding through controversial discussions on the eroticism of Jew-Gentile relationships, to a reconstruction of a progressive form of tzniut (modesty). Other topics ranged from prostitution, the Sotah trial as rabbinic pornography, queer theology and masturbation. 

Although the book is not as sexy as the cover suggests, it is tantalizing in its courage to 'go there' and discuss issues that are taboo, villified or just plainly misunderstood. Some of the stellar contributors are Jay Michaelson, (female Orthodox) Rabbi Haviva Ner-David and Rabbi Elliot Dorff.
Pieces that really had me riveted was "Queering God, Torah and Israel" by Jay Michaelson as he constructed a more gender-fluid and queer theology understanding God to be the biggest dragqueen and gender-bender of them all. Not only is this liberating to GLBT people but also helpful to heterosexuals who would like to expand their experience of gender and the Divine.
Danya Ruttenberg's piece "Towards a New Tznïut" was both brave and innovative in her insistence of addressing subject matter that has traditionally been the jurisdiction of Orthodoxy (and men). With great sensitivity to women, their bodies and self-images, Ruttenberg crafts a new vision of dressing with self-love and self-respect.
In terms of theoretical discussion for practical application, Haviva Ner-David lowers the threshold on the ancient mitzvah of mikveh and Family Purity by offering alternative readings and practices helpful to non-Orthodox Jews.
Finally the book closes in a vein of Messianic hope with Arthur Waskow's "Eden for Grown Ups" in which he cites the Song of Songs as a new ethic and eros helping us to understand our relationship to our sexuality, our planet and to the Divine.

"The Passionate Torah" is a beautifully crafted and balanced piece of work that manages to combine inclusivity with an engagement of traditional Jewish texts and traditions. As a traditionally-observant but progressively-minded Jew, it was heartening to read essays on gender and queer issues side by side studies of Talmudic passages and ancient observances.
In conclusion, I have high praise for "The Passionate Torah", which should be a must-read for every (formal or informal) student of Judaism. However, a mild critique remains. As I read the various essays, I sometimes found myself a little resistant to the (righteous) indignation the writers brought to our ancient texts. Maybe I am overly apologetic (or helplessly naive) in my reading of Biblical or Talmudic texts, or maybe I take a feminist worldview for granted, but I felt that I did not really need that anger. I didn't find that anger conducive to the reading of the book and found it a little distracting: don't we all know by now that most of Jewish (and human) history is patriarchal? I am far more interested in finding a way of overcoming that and making women and men love themselves, each other and Judaism within their own (denominational) framework and terms.

Apart from this mild critique, "The Passionate Torah" is a wonderful book. I also think it would be great if it could have a companion volume in which the abstract discussions of this volume are illustrated by real life experiences and examples--this would help these discussions come to life in rich and meaningful ways.  

All in all, this book is worth your time and money and skillfully balances modernity and tradition--no easy feat. Sexy? That it is not. But it's title is accurate in one regard: this book will make you passionate about Judaism. And dare I say it? That's sexy.
estherhugenholtz: (Header)
Dit artikel verscheen eerder dit jaar (lente 2009) in Ha’Isha, het kwartaalblad van de National Council of Jewish Women, the Netherlands.


Het voelt nu onderhand zo normaal dat ik bijna zou vergeten hoe bijzonder het is om hier in de Verenigde Staten door vrouwelijke Joodse leiders omringd te worden. En niet zomaar vrouwen, maar uitgesproken en getalenteerde vrouwen die hun hart en hoofd schenken aan de traditie.

            In Amerika is de vrouwenemancipatie bij vrijwel elke joodse stroming doorgedrongen, en wordt als daglicht gefilterd door het prisma van de eigen interpretatie.

Bij de ultra-orthodoxe Chabad beweging is het inmiddels heel normaal dat vrouwen sji’oerim voor andere vrouwen verzorgen. Vrouwen schrijven boeken, geven les en inspireren andere vrouwen tot het doen van mitswot.

In de Modern Orthodoxie is er sinds kort een andere unieke ontwikkeling: in de avant-garde sjoel in Riverdale (New York) van de visionaire rabbijn Avi Weiss is ‘MarahatSara Hurwitz aangesteld. Deze jonge gelernde vrouw heeft een bijna-rabbinale titel gekregen en vervult een gemeenschapsrol die bijna identiek is aan dat van haar mannelijke collega’s.

Binnen de ‘progressieve’ stromingen van het Jodendom (Reform en Conservative), zijn de zaden van vrouwelijk leiderschap al een generatie geleden gezaaid ontspruiten, nu de eerste vruchten. Op mijn seminarie ben ik bevoorrecht om daar van te proeven.


En zo zet ik veel zoete vruchten aan mijn lippen. Op een zwoele Californische avond eind mei woonde ik de s’micha (ordinatie) van twaalf studiegenoten bij waarvan de helft vrouw waren. Tevens werden zij tijdens een prachtige en plechtige ceremonie trots toegesproken door een fiere dame in een roomwit mantelpakje: rabbijn Julie Schoenfeld, de nieuwe voorzitster van de ‘Rabbinical Assembly’, het besluitend orgaan van de Conservative beweging.

            De effecten van vrouwelijk leiderschap zijn te vinden op vele niveau’s, van hoog tot laag. Wie geeft mij Talmoed les? Een energieke vrouw, Janet Davis, die de stof tot in haar vingertoppen beheerst en vol overgave doceert. Wie is de assistent-decaan die capabel leiding geeft aan ons rabbinaal programma? Rabbijn Cheryl Peretz. Bij wie heb ik een snuffelstage gelopen op de sjieke Joodse Milken Community High School in Bel Air? Rabbijn Shawn Fields-Meyer, die tevens ons eerstejaars Choemasj met Rasji doceerde.

            Effecten creëren ook kansen. Als vrouw kreeg ik de kans om afgelopen jaar als campus rabbijn te werken, dwz vrijdagavond diensten te leiden en d’rashot te verzorgen. In een pluralistische omgeving was het vaak uitdagend om een elegante oplossing te vinden voor bijvoorbeeld de Orthodoxe studente die toch liever een man de dienst zag doen. Met respect voor en door compromis konden we tot een oplossing komen: ze zou genieten van het Kabbalat Sjabbat gedeelte aan het begin van de dienst en daarna zich discreet terugtrekken voor Ma’ariv, het avondgebed waarvoor een minje verlangd wordt. Ik had met de studenten op campus veel leuke discussies. En dat ik als vrouw aangesteld was bleek vaak niet eens het onderwerp te zijn.

            Vrouwelijk leiderschap in het Jodendom is niet alleen een kwestie van zingeving. Hoe geven wij vrouwen de traditie vorm? Wat voegen wij toe? Ik mocht dit een aantal keren op zeer ontroerende en intieme wijze ervaren als mikwe dame op campus. ’s Avonds had ik de eer om een aantal keer een vrouw naar het mikwe te begeleiden en haar te assisteren met haar dompeling. In het zachte licht van het sfeervolle mikwe mocht ik getuige zijn van een spirituele en persoonlijke mitswe. Als dit geen moment van vrouwelijk leiderschap was, wat dan wel?


Zo vangt ook mijn prisma het licht. Mijn traditie filtert en verwerkt de vrouwenemancipatie op egalitaire wijze maar dat is zeker niet de enige manier. Als ik in de Beit Midrasj (studiezaal) samen met mijn (mannelijke) chevroeta (studiepartner) mijn tanden bijt op een moeilijke passage uit de Talmoed, als ik ’s ochtends met talliet en tefillin een sjachariet dienst leid en de eeuwenoude gebeden zing dan voel ik mij bevoorrecht.

Net zoals de rabbijnen uit de Talmoed en de gebeden uit de siddoer zijn er verschillende methoden en een diversiteit aan minhagim, (gebruiken).

Gelukkig zijn wij hedendaags bij machte om die als vrouwen vanuit onze eigen keuze en traditie prachtig vorm te geven.


Dat is een dag in het leven van ‘de’ Joodse vrouw. ‘De’ Joodse vrouw bestaat natuurlijk niet. Maar wij kunnen haar, volgens het beste wat ieder van ons kan bieden, natuurlijk wel een beetje worden.  


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Esther Hugenholtz

January 2011

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